Athenia

 


I dreamt this morning between sleeping and waking of the street four years ago, and the dream I had there of the street twenty or so years earlier, so in other words I dreamt of the way in which the decision then presented itself as between two choices. All dreams are connected, and whether you like it or not they are more real than the ghostly days between them. My dream is of the street that never ends because as long as I am alive the dream will never end, will always contain all the dreams that dream now, all coming back to and leaving from the dreams of the street when I was there. So even though I will never go back there, my dreams are as much of the street as they were when I walked the street, say on a particular July evening in 1981 between one paving stone and another, between one pub and another, between friends and lovers, perhaps the air thick with lucious and heavy anticipation, maybe a spear of light in this late evening dazzling vision, and always low thunder.

It’s been a year or so since I last dreamt the dream in all its fullness, and I wrote then about it like I am now. It’s a necessary thing to do as it prepares access to the next arc, the next turning of the wheel towards the beginning, and, besides, it makes me glad to recall, see how even twenty years or sixteen years is no more important than a week or a glance in the real movement of life, story, history, whatever.

I’d finished business in Glasgow a day earlier than expected. The Lord Provost and his team required little selling from me of the necessity of a two weeks fact finding trip to Singapore, the benefits to the city’s citizens of opening up trade links being obvious to everybody.  I sold a package of five star hotel, business class air travel and  the usual premium extras for him and a team of 12 which netted me a commission of £8,000 for the day’s work. Next up was Liverpool’s Learning Quarter and organising  a tour of Japan and China for delegates from the rapidly growing Department of Eastern Mercantile Development Initiatives, a joint venture between three universities and local and regional business and political representatives. Taking into account the necessary organisation in Japan and China, and anticipating  that a team of about 60 would be sent over if the tender was approved, I was looking to make £23,000.

Reluctantly, I chose to go to Liverpool rather than stay an empty day in Glasgow. All days were empty if I wasn’t working, one city as empty as the next. But I’d been born in Liverpool and lived there for close on 30 years, so I suppose some remnant of sentimentality or nostalgia, or maybe just curiosity, made the decision for me. I had to get the train as flights into Liverpool were a joke. It was an early evening in June. Some peculiar trick of the weather meant that the same cloud formation stayed with me all the way down, broken rolls of black and white cloud, coiling around themselves. Only when the sun was covered could I see out properly, else it was all dazzling. The Solway Firth silver foil, the Lake District ominous and dark, Morecambe Bay pool on pool of liquid light. Only the motorway always remained clear, twisting under or over the railtrack, long spine of Britain, of me, a parallel life, history, past, whatever.I got off at Warrington and took a taxi to Liverpool.

I checked into the Hope Street Hotel at  about 10. Nothing special, price about right for the provinces.I opened the windows, had a shower, lay on the bed in my gown. The block of light from the bathroom fell on the carpet, the net curtains were breathing gently in and out, beyond them a deep blue night sky. I spent ten minutes lying, as I do everywhere and nowhere, empty and abstract, content with the blosk of light and the deep blue night sky and the net curtains breathing gently in and out.

Then I put on a cashmere V and pair of slacks and went out. Hope Street occupied the same place it had those many years ago, I walked the length of it as the night darkened. Apart from noticing the obvious fact that someone had put a lot of money into gentrifying the place, and  that an attempt had been made to simulate an outdoor café culture, I registered nothing, except perhaps that the gentrification had not worked, and the café tables were all empty.

I went into one of the hotel bars, had a drink and fended off a travelling salesman from Bradford who was drunk and looked like he had reached the end of the road, that maybe he was blowing everything on one night in an hotel that cost five times what he was used to paying. Then I went to my room.

With a drink from the minibar in my hand, I quickly flicked through the tourist material left, making a very few  notes  and noting one weblink.  I glanced through the public statements, plans, strategies of all the Liverpool organisations, noted their favourite phrases and words, put on my most mathematical and silver rayed jazz, had another drink, and wrote the notes for my initial presentation in less than an hour. Reality is of no concern to me, consequences, what actually goes on. All that concerns me is the clothing of words that by that beautiful symmetry of business enterprising keeps us all, including me, well on top of the game. There is nothing I do not know nor cannot present about mutuality, evaluation, policy, core values, long term capacity building. I lay on top of the bed that night. I turned off the music. There was a low rumble of thunder. The curtains lay still like becalmed shrouds.

The dream had been running trailers for years. That night it hit full on, that single pulse, that centre of everything that pulls in the whole of history, life, self, whatever, and radiates it out into the dream images in infinite pictures and feelings. The dream is about as shocking, awful, dreadful, immense as anything that can happen. The pulse is not a moment, not even an infinitessimally small piece of time, it is beyond time. Only its effects radiate into time, memory. I was taken into it and flung out again at the same time. The next day, I wrote about it, shaping in time the entire compressed life, history, biography of my secret sharer, the hugeness that lay beneath.

I was in the house we used to call Hell House, squatting, smoking, jiving, sexing with all the others. The hippies were growing marrows in a jerry built glasshouse between two wings of the castle. I poured three sacks of sawdust over Jim Kenealy who was sleeping and set it alight. I giggled as he smouldered and suffocated in his woody cocoon.The rat girl kissed me full on the lips and let her pets run over me, tickling me and making me giggle, and Tommy O’Brien joined in because his legs had turned to transparent jelly. Eddie Booth was in a safari suit and pith helemt, we sent him out on his bike for sweets and chocolate. I was trying to leave but a black dog pounced on me from behind and dug its claws into my shoulders. I was given a job though, a proper job, so with my wages we went to O’Connors upstairs and I joined a band, first I was playing a big bass drum then singing a refrain with a long baloon between my legs and everyone was cheering, then Ellie Davies stripped and we were back in her flat having sex and writing poetry.

I wrote about  all the years, wrote on and on, then realised it was all just one thing. It was many years, but it was just one tiny point in the dream. I saw that from that point of time, that dreamtime all around Hope Street, while I was there dreaming too with the other dreamers I did not see them disappearing, dying like Pex Lee who through himself off suicide rock in the cathedral graveyeard, the cemetry then a tangle of briars and thorns and bodies intertwined shooting up chemical paradise, shooting into each other hot spurts of desire. Others who died when their bodies broke down, those who linger presumably still today like hungry ghosts, half in and half out of the world, their histories, life stories, whatever  become  case records with mental health services. I didn’t notice either that I was joining the ones for whom it was a temporary game. People like Joe Breen who still lives near me in the Barbican, a tax adviser making a million a year helping companies fiddle their books. The actors and musicians who are now household names, who had talent and were putting in the work, the artists milking fortunes from advertising accounts, The International Socialists and Revolutionary Communists who became academics or MPs, the poets who became rgional managers  of building societies. And me.

In the dream I was on a country road waiting for a bus that never came, walking through rain and mud, across endless fields shrouded in mist, fighting in council estates, up near Balloch escaping from a gang, crawling on my belly through undergrowth with a kinife between my teeth, then I was in a lorry cab driving into a blizzard.

I lived two years on the motorway. We were a loose community of about 400, some joining, some leaving, always on the move between the far north and south, hardly ever seeing each other, never meeting more than maybe 30 of the whole group. I was a ghost tenant in a place in Carlisle where I’d get my dole, splitting the housing benefit with the landlord. I might just travel on a whim all day or head to a place to hang out in a dream with others. I got to know some of the lorry drivers, the best places to get a shower, the tales of pity to hoist a meal from a travelling sales rep. It was all perfect preparation for doing what, at least until that morning, I had been doing so respectably and successfully.

Greg Paulo picked me up one day. Like me he hadn’t been back in Liverpool for a while, but he had already made the leap. His car was state of the art, the jazz from the music system like ice. He took me back to his apartment in Salford, and I stayed there a week, snorting coke, drinking, meeting his new mates down at the Quays. He fixed me up with a job selling palm oil. Three screens to my left, three to my right, four phones and more or less a guaranteed thousand pounds a day commission. Then I moved to London., the rest being history, biographical detail, life story, whatever. Only it wasn’t. It doesn’t feature anywhere in the dream. And I had the dream again four years ago and this morning, and it wasn’t in those dreams either, because there is really only one dream.

The dream this morning included the dream from four years ago which was the earlier dream with different images, stories, pictures, and the dream this morning included the past four years of my life and also set like a dazzle of sunlight splitting a dark cloud for an instant the empty years when nothing happened. A long time for nothing to happen, so full of days, so large, growing larger by the second in forgetting for there is nothing to remember. The dream this morning was confirmation, the turn of the circle towards the end and the beginning and the promise that life will move not only under its own drive towards the end, but that  I will always be connected with the momentum of that turning.

Four years ago the dream reached out to me and I tried as I had been doing for so long to keep it away. I had a migraine. I wnet down to breakfast. Everything seemed too real, the people in the dining room were cut too sharply from the air; they seemed the same actors from any place, anywhere, anytime. I was too ill to eat. I went out. I had a day to kill. How to kill time? How to annihilate it? It was Wednesday but felt like eternal sunday. Hope Street was empty in broad daylight. I walked upon the expensive pavements, down the refurbished Mount Pleasant, up the sugar candied pavements of Rodney Street, through forests of signs and heritage markers, in fron of the cathedral, along Gambier Terrace, up to the Philharmonic pub with its golden shaded drinkers. I was disconnected, a ghost, recognising each weary building and made nauseous by the new signs that glistened on the walls. Tour buses passed me, I passed empty tables outside empty cafes. I walked down to O’Conors; it had become a costume hire shop. Everything in this city, any city,  seemed to be a range of costumes and styles, my own immaculate business suits just one of many coverings.

Sickly light glared up from the road and pavement. I walked around the back of the catholic cathedral looked onto the Learning Quarter where I was due to make a deal the next day. The sun savaged me in glints from black clouds. The razor edges of the cathedral’s wicked architecture span in my stomach and guts. I was overtaken with diziness and had to sit on the high steps. The wheel, the Liverpool Wheel, the wheel that carries tourists round and around was turning in the distance. The wheel was turning.

Sweat glistened. Sun broke shards of light from the glass of the cathedral bistro below me, and before me a great miasma of weariness rose from Hope Street towards the purple and green clouds that had covered the city. Lightning shook the buildings, ancient catacombs stirred in multiplied rolls of thunder. I fled, as if I would be safe back in the hotel, but kept on, down to the cemetry at the end of the street, sure a sick joke had some meaning in this dream that every grave seemed covered by a couple in fierce, writihing embrace even as the rain fell in torrents, turning the paths to streams, blackening the gravestones into nightmarish hyper-reality. Above it all the dreadful bulk of the sandstone cathedral towered like the monument to a huge infernal grin. Through the darkness I saw a figure plunge from suicide rock..

The storm passed and a violent light flooded the cemetry sending silver daggers reflecting of the glistening stone. My head was stabbed with an excruciating pain across my temples so that I almost cried out, and then it passed, and the world was calm and lit transparently, innocently. I pushed away the ide that a mere migraine had unsettled me. I knew that I was temporarily unsettled from the mathematical fictions of my life by the drem power but that now I was returned there, my history, life, story biography, whatever as cool as abstraction and easy to plot as geometrical forms. It was inescapable that I had to make a decision, one between two choices.

I walked into the cathedral and went with tourists up in the lifts over the great bells to the top of the massive spire. Looking towards the river I made a quick, compressed note to myself of plans for a first rate conference facility, better than anything else in Britain to be built where the poor neighbourhoods below me took up space with rows of cheap housing; envisaged the major expansion of the city’s airport  to long haul international standards funded by the present owners’ negotiating subsidies and tax breaks as part of their ongoing regeneration plans on the river front; I mapped out the privatisation of the river side of Dingle for the construction of hotels and apartments, restaurants and leisure facilities and behind them service industry offices to be moved from the south thus filling the city’s empty upmarket flats with junior and middle managerial personnel; then I drew in the private road and rail links to the airport. Finally, I set down the basic spine from which economic arguments, deals, national and local political  endorsement, and swathes of public money would be available.

The tourists were pointing and talking excitedly, cameras  taking blurred images of the Isle of Man or looking back down Hope Street, or across to the hills of Wales or the smudge of the Pennines. My own lens was crystal clear; from the highest point in the city I surveyed and plotted the future.  I overlaid onto my initial plan a natural development, to move eastward from the Dingle Quarter through Toxteth and back towards the Learning Quarter, bulldozing the small acreages of defunct neighbourhoods and completing a circle now including a discretely named Cultural Quarter. A final piece would be luxury pedestrian and road access to Liverpool 1 and the Plaza district. I had enough contacts who had contacts ensure a development board of UK venture capitalists, government ministers, Russian, Indian  and Chinese bankers, and, of course, myself. While there was a time that bank robbers got jail sentences these days they get huge bonuses instead, along with their clleagues, including me. The rest would be sucked into the scheme with wads of cash and building developments for cultural and arts regeneration, international learning zones, grants and tax breaks for relocation of global research centres, and the occasional state of the art holistic health complex for the poor and disadvantaged thrown in. It was all so easy.

I looked at the Liverpool Wheel turning slowly. I looked at the drop to the ground. I looked at the emptiness of the sky. I would or would not be making a presentation in the Learning Quarter the next day. I looked at the wall, easily climbed, between me and the short fall to oblivion. I surveyed the City of Man, how broad and far the city, this city, any city, how short the fall into oblivion and rest.

That was four years ago. When a choice like that came up, made inevitable by the dream, it didn’t occur to me standing up on top of the cathedral for an hour that the two courses of action were the same thing in different guises, images, feelings. The dream had shown me the real choice to be made, and because like most people I could not hear my dream, because I was so entangled in my fiction, history, story, biography, whatever, I thought the choice was to be made within the story. Let’s just call it luck, say I’ve been one of the lucky ones, but I came down that day and walked out on the story completely. I gave most of my money away, the bulk of it going to an undercover team of legal whizzkids who have created a sense of doom in certain sectors of society as more and more prominent members of their ranks have been exposed as liars, crooks, and worse. I’ve kept some things in a storage place in Shoreditch, and have kept open some credit accounts and a sum or ready cash for use when, as I do occasionally, I don my suit and go off to cause a bit of chaos in the world, sewing discord, discontent and paranoia among the corridors of power.

I’m working as a cook in a caff just now. I’ve done stints loading planes at Heathrow, worked as a porter in two hospitals. I’ve driven wagons to Scotland, and done a stint as a deckhand with Caledonian McBrayne. The good life is surprisingly sweet and simple. Walk on.

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