From 1988 to 1991, I worked on a mediaeval jousting tournament that was based at Breamore, just outside Salisbury. I always worked with the touring unit, so my travels took me around the British Isles, Europe, Scandinavia and Russia in a partly customised articulated lorry that was euphemistically named “The Black Hotel”. I have hundreds of photographs of this infernal contraption here somewhere, but until such time as I dig them out and post them, I’ll simply invite you to take my word for it that this vehicle was Hell on Wheels.
There was a compartment for six horses, with other spaces for the horse feed, lances, shields, swords, metal gibbets, flags, fence posts and other hardware, which left little room for the ten of us who travelled thousands of miles in a cramped setting at the back for hours on end. There were rudimentary wooden bunks, but no toilet, shower, running water, storage space for our few belongings or even windows, aside from the small door at the back of the vehicle whose upper portion could be opened to let some air in, while the space by the door was so cramped that it was impossible for more than two people to stand there at any one time.
There was no ‘prized’ bunk, because they were all equally awful for one reason or another. During the trip to Russia, I slept in a confined space above the horses, which meant that I was always baking hot on account of the heat the creatures beneath me gave off. The truck’s suspension was very hard, presumably to stop the horses being catapulted into the air whenever we drove over a bump, but I was still frequently hurled bodily upwards at the roof or else violently jarred as the vehicle made its way to our far-off destination.
As such, sleep was a rare commodity and I was frequently exhausted by the mere act of travelling; in addition to this, the horses often escaped from their enclosures when we stopped for the night in the middle of nowhere, so we’d spend endless hours trying to entice the creatures back, as pursuing and catching them was impossible.
For years after I finished these tours, I had only to imagine I was in the Black Hotel or else in some Finnish or Russian wilderness trying to catch runaway horses for me to sink into the deepest, most peaceful slumber, wherever I was, because absolutely anywhere was a Paradise after enduring all this. Inevitably, I suppose, this blessing eventually wore off and now I find myself searching for elusive sleep once more on account of having to keep my dog Blueboy company in the dead of night as he pads about, whines, barks and comes to me for company.
His nocturnal perambulations and vocalisations are completely random, because he’ll be relatively quiet on some nights, then like a hyperactive poltergeist on others for no reason that I can ascertain. This frequently continues until rosy-fingered dawn appears in the skies, after which my sleep is still fragmented on account of phones ringing, the doorbell going, the cacophony of the dawn chorus and many other rural noises, as well as the increasing light of day percolating through the curtains. As such, my sleep is fragmented, to put it mildly, although I don’t begrudge Blueboy my company, while I’ve also noticed that my dreams are taking on a particular aspect.
For as long as I can remember, which is as far back as roughly 1963, I’ve experienced protracted vivid dreams, as well as a generous helping of nightmares. In the mid-1980s, I experienced a series of nightmares in black and white that revolved around a vast, empty field and the flitting image of the nightjar, a British bird I don’t believe I’ve ever seen, while these nightmares were ‘narrated’ by the voice of an unknown person or observer relating a verse about the nightjar, which I wrote down after waking and which I still have here somewhere.
A few years ago, for no reason that I can fathom, I experienced a series of lucid dreams about a triangular stone structure on some remote desert island, while this dream sequence began in a London tube station with a real person I used to know many years ago saying to me “So, you want to know the secrets of Stonehenge?” I nodded assent to this, after which the series of ten or so dreams began, all of which I recorded upon waking in meticulous detail.
I haven’t checked the dates, but a year or so later, I had another two or three in a row, followed a month later by another two or or three dreams that followed on in a linear fashion from their predecessors, so I intend one day to unearth all these notes and present them in the form of a short book.
However, since my sleep has been disturbed by illness and by my restless black dog, my dreams have taken on a singular, repetitive pattern. I sometimes have nightmares that are fairly standard fare, in which I inexplicably find myself in a large, gloomy deserted mansion in a vaguely familiar setting, alone apart from the suspicion that I’m sharing this dream space with someone or something that means me no good at all.
I’ve had nightmares of this kind on and off for years and I gather that many others have experienced similar settings and a comparable sense of unease or latent menace, so while these nightmares are sometimes unsettling enough to wake me from my fitful sleep, I’m unconcerned by them and they aren’t particularly interesting, either.
By contrast, I’ve also been having gorgeously-coloured dreams that are frustratingly brief, although these nocturnal visitors have arrived sufficiently often for me to be able to establish a theme to them. I find myself luxuriating in a small spacecraft, with subdued lighting and every creature comfort including gravity, where I spend the majority of my time seated in the cockpit, gazing out in wonderment at a succession of images presented to me in my waking life either from the Hubble telescope or else from the opening sequences of the Star Trek television series.
However, this is no mere interstellar sight-seeing trip, nor, I’m certain, is it any reflection of the stories of ‘cosmic horror’ by H.P. Lovecraft that I’ve been reading lately. I’m keenly aware that I have company in this space ship, that there’s something of “the ancient of days” about my experience and that there’s a profound purpose to this journey, although I’ve yet to become aware of how it began.
“Sleep shall neither night nor day
Hang upon his penthouse lid.
He shall live a man forbid.
Weary se’nnights nine times nine
Shall he dwindle, peak and pine.
Though his bark cannot be lost,
Yet it shall be tempest-tossed.”
William Shakespeare, Macbeth