Awaking from a dream


24th September 2023


9th May 2024

I awoke from a dream in which I had been at my childhood home, a post-Victorian end-of-terrace cottage in a quiet street backing onto a recreation ground (the rec — as in, “see you up the rec”, although I was in my twenties before I realised what it was short for). Standing in the alleyway between two blocks of houses, I had been considering knocking at the door (was it the same high, heavy, black-glossed knocker that our cat, inspired by Neil Armstrong, had taught himself to operate?) to ask if I might stand in the back garden for a few minutes.

I had no interest in seeing inside their home, my own memory of when it was our home being fully intact (brass bottle taps and painted brick walls of the bathroom covered in condensation from the Sunday night bath, an Ercol dining suite in the lounge, the roaring coal fire, the stereogram, grasses in the “drunken bricklayer’). There was a deep urge in the dream to see my old friend, the silver birch, who had been planted in the days we had lodgers from the Tab1 to help fill the penny jars (one for rent, one for electricity, one for the Pru, one for groceries…).

We had found ourselves, alone together, time-warped from new life in Miami in a sequence of events (and not a few conscious choices) that placed us back in leafy (and yet socially diverse) Letchworth, the First Garden City, established by Ebenezer Howard in an attempt to mitigate the suffering from reckless exploitation of people for capital greed (picture Lowry, sing “Jerusalem”). Our family had helped to build the town.

As I stood in the alley, I replayed home movies in my head that were made in that space (birthday parties, cats and dogs, Liz with MS and a dog called Chutney, which I thought a ridiculous name for a dog, other women with bright red lipstick that marked tea cups and cigarettes, practising on my first bicycle, posing with my first bass guitar). I wondered fearfully if my friend was still there, and how grand and bent over he would be with age and wisdom.

What is remarkable in this dream scenario, as much as in the home movies, is the absence of sound, as if the silent cine-film is the only way to recall these times. Aural memories are separate in my mind and no less emotive (Sunday night Rachmaninov, Torna a Surriento and Ave Maria at full voice, cassette recording the top twenty, JigSaw Puzzle Blues over and over again). They are different memories, almost never contemporaneous.

The rage of progress pulled me back from the bosom of old time to the island life of the new. A voice reminded me of the signs of now that were there, then (they were the reason we left that place behind, the vicious consequences of her next door’s parenting, or lack of it, which manifested in her nasty teenage son’s cruelty). Contempt displaces respect as entitlement displaces resilience (they push the last of us out of those ways of being and pursue us to each new hiding place, even here and now). We feel (not persecuted because we are not the object of their aggression, every living thing is) out of time and place.


  1. International Computers and Tabulators Ltd, who had a training school around the corner. They used local landladies to provide digs for their engineers.↩︎