Keep all disturbing dreams away

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I suppose what counts as disturbing depends on the sort of person you are, so to me, with any amount of psychoanalytic assistance over the years, a dream about holding the Queen’s hand and saying a prayer for her has to be struggling to say something.  The line – “keep all disturbing dreams away” – comes from the compline hymn; one of few the monastic offices to survive into the present day and a pretty  constant companion on retreats – unless you’re an ultra evangelical when you spend an hour telling God (in tediously repetitive language) what he needs to do in the morning.

I mentioned Dick England, the miller, yesterday.  What I didn’t say was that he had the most exceptional tenor voice and sang in the church choir where I was training.  I always loved singing and so on Thursday evenings in Lent I would go to choir practice and then, after the young members all left, the rest of us would sing compline in the darkness, illuminated only by a few lights in the choir stalls. In those few moments we sometimes seemed to enter a different dimension where past and present were continuous. Whatever had happened during the day; the disjointedness of events, the triumphs and disappointments, felt as if they were being taken back into a great dark and forgiving silence. Do I sound as if I miss it?  Well the institutional church ‘moved on’ to spreadsheets and brisk improving homilies and ‘going forward’ became a synonym for going nowhere. 

So why the Queen? I’m a lifelong soft republican ; all that stamp and circumponce leaves me cold; so is this about continuity? Did my mind come up with a convenient – if slightly embarrassing – symbol for continuity and security at a time when nothing seems to work properly?

Here we are, locked down in the city and doing our best to cope and comply with the rules, while we are lectured from afar by celebrities in their gilded retreats. All manner of people who we assumed to live in London turned out really to be permanent residents of somewhere else a long way from the viral hotspots. Solidarity turned out to be a one way street patrolled by a policeman with a blind eye. I was horrified to learn yesterday that council food waste collections have increased by 20% this week, presumably down to panic bought food going out of date.  Meanwhile dairy farmers are reportedly pouring fresh milk into their slurry tanks because it’s not needed by processing factories.

So in the midst of a life turned upside down I dreamed about the Queen because I desperately need some sort of continuity,  and bizarre though it seems to me, my mind came up with her. The news is studded with miserable statistics and I read yesterday that old age is becoming a criterion for withholding treatment- not, we’re assured because we’re worthless but because other younger people are more worthy, for which read profitable and, no-one thought that closing down hospital beds, shrinking the National Health Service  and making nurses pay for their training might have consequences. A thousand people died today and all we get is anodyne ressurances that everyone is doing everything possible. Our GP neighbour said today he and his wife couldn’t sleep – they’re not the only ones. Sans tests, sans ventilators, sans vaccine – sans leadership or strategy in fact sans everything!

So allotment therapy was the only relief today and we spent most of the day up there sowing, planting and picking. We came back for lunch with the makings for our first rather spartan summer snack, a few sticks of asparagus, some radishes, some home made bread and some shop mayonnaise.  I’ve never quite got the hang of making our own mayonnaise reliably. But the disturbing dream never quite left me and I’ve never felt quite so undervalued – and that, for someone who’s worked as a parish priest, is quite shocking.

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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