Harold J Wilson




We recently purchased a mattress pad which was dreadfully expensive and made all sorts of extravagant claims about comfort etc. Well now we are paying on time but meanwhile it is purely luxurious. Ah, you spend so much time in bed, especially as you get older. It’s kind of like quality in shoes, well, male shoes anyway. I don’t want to touch female shoes. But what you learn in bed is also fascinating. It is one of the last protected preserves of private life; your moments of sodden unconsciousness, dreaming awareness, and closeness to a chosen Other.

There is so much that you only learn by sharing a bed with someone. Think of the Eighteenth Century inns where perhaps eight (or more) people would sprawl upon straw mats under some kind of coverlet (how on earth did they get to the chamber pot?), all farting, sweating, and huddling together for warmth. Or consider the high privileges of a medieval Irish  King (there were four at any time) whose private bedroom was overswarmed by a wife, children and dogs, all seeking the same refuge against the wind. That must have been a learning experience surely, especially for the nose, but it’s not quite the same thing that we learn now, is it.

So then what is it that is taught at this different table of experience which we call the bed but which is so much more important than that mere item of furniture? I will not pretend to summarize everything offered in its singular curriculum, but just to begin with:

Reflections upon the Day: this is where all of the detritus of remembered images of the day past achieves some temporary focus, possibly offhand, or perhaps deliberate.
Truths get told, one way or another. What is actually heard is up to you, obviously. Differences frequently get confessed before the blessed surcease of sleep, “Why did you once again go on and have to say that ….?” “Do you have some problem which impels you to ask people on the brink of departing for the night why they ….?” “Cannot you for once let me get on with serving the meal without…?” Does all this sound like something which rolls back the oncoming wave of unconsciousness? Not for me it doesn’t. I would rather listen to it all now and then roll over and sleep soundly without having to wake up to a well-rehearsed recital of my sins.

Humorous remarks: this is another precious area of sharing. Things you couldn’t say during dinner and didn’t have time for while washing up, preserved gems of observation, saved from the day until now. “Did you notice how she looked when he ..?” These are gifts to each other, either on the twilight threshold of unconsciousness or during those intermittent moments of post-midnight clarity. There is nothing like a mature woman’s loud throaty chuckle to post me off speedily to another bout of dreaming.

Fleshly Epiphanies: is another subject which could take a long time to treat of adequately. For instance, when you are sick drunk a bed is a bad place to be because you cannot stop it from spinning rapidly about. Sharing a bed with others who are untrained in the art and manner of Bediquette is another problem. My stepbrother Norman was a great late-night soccer player, thrashing and kicking in all directions. I well remember sharing a tent with Norman and his wife Cathy in the Sierra Nevada for a couple of nights back in the eighties. It was up at Bear Flats above Huntington Lake at about the 8,000 foot level. Thinking about bears discouraged me from sneaking out of the tent for some much needed relief, but it was dear old Norman’s kicks I mainly feared returning to. Or how about when you are paired with an expert turn-and-tug person who continually removes the covers from you? Then there are the mysteries and joys of eros which are often pointed bedward, although I remember one dear lady for whom the couch or the floor were a preferred alternative for keeping you away from her sacrosanctuary bed-world. But this topic is better dealt with under the heading of Polar Explorations.

It may seem a little trite or tacky to comment on the Cuddling Effect but it is surely an important part of the planned regression program of bed and sleep. Huddling is a natural herd instinct and Cuddling is a slightly more individual and intentional variation of it. A herd of two. How people fit together, especially after years of practice, is a wonderful shared contortion. It can survive even slightly eccentric and sudden movements of elbows and knees. I am always careful, however, just in case, particularly right after hernia operations.

Dream sharing is another sub-literary activity which privileges your overnight partnership with a chosen other. This however depends somewhat upon the other person being able to hear and entertain your own dream images. A partner who invariably responds, “All those figures are just aspects of your own personality, aren’t they dear?” tends to depress and foil any pleasure you might take in relating a narrative from what I often call ‘My Night at the Movies.’

I have known several women who were adept at hearing what your dream had ‘said’ to you. They didn’t always have to gather it into an interpretive package but only perhaps to play with the images a bit in order for you yourself to have a small breakthrough of understanding.  This is all providing that it was, in fact, a dream that was trying to communicate something and not just the odd narrative ramble playing itself out in your early morning near-consciousness. For there are also all those leftover scraps of the day past which are somehow resurrected from the cutting room floor and spliced into dream fragments and segments on your way back to waking up – somehow as if they were afraid of being left out of any future awareness. Well, but now thank goodness, they have been.

And then there’s breakfast and the newspapers which are such a relief after the usual strenuous night with all its uncontrollable and slightly out-of-focus activity!


This is a subject which I think belongs with Bedlife, although they are obviously not quite the same topic. Even if omnibus schemes to ‘explain’ your dreams to you are, in my opinion, simply minor publishing scams to sell books to the curious reader,  that does not rule out meaningful explorations of a subject which is a perennially interesting and significant one.

Dreaming frequently takes place during a ‘twilight’ state when one is beginning to sink into a deeper slumber or just emerging from its depths, but this is not to say that dreams or dream fragments may not occur at other times. Similarly with the subject matter of dreams, it may vary from a random collage of images and fragments of speech which take off from whatever one’s last coherent waking thought was and then evolve nonsensically into a jumble of visual tapes and vocal scraps.

Then there are ‘story’ or ‘journey’ dreams which have some sort of narrative structure and in which you encounter other persons and hold conversations. I have sometimes come back from those with fragments of tunes or poems which I made up in my sleep. The only phrase I can think of right now is “Arhantz, the mock-dance of objectlessness.” Perhaps that was some sort of improvised reflection on the plasticity of dream images. But since it dates from a dream in Brooklyn Heights way back in 1965 I can make no real comment on its origin.

Archetypal Dreams are frequently ones which date from childhood or from some life-crisis and which may contain a larger symbolic meaning. I believe, as the Jungians contend, that one should never seek to ‘cash in’ any dream in terms of some prosy message or Advice From the Unconscious but should seek to ‘entertain’ the dream and let it inhabit you and be run through again, softly softly, the best you can, as when you are trying to remember a lost word, forgotten name or the last known location of your house keys.

Thematic significance may inhabit any kind of dream, but here again, one must tread warily in interpreting lest you force some meaning upon it which is purely external to the dream itself. Obvious references to phallic images and other Freudian tags fall into this category. As Freud himself once said, “Sometimes a cigar is only a cigar.” 
Dreams may also contain conversations with people who are gone from us now, especially parents. Sometimes these dreams are highly significant but then sometimes perhaps not. Dreams may also foretell a future happening or connect with an incident which has just occurred (e.g., an earthquake), perhaps not in every particular but in an informational way. I am sure that there may be other sorts of dreams but these are they which occur to me now and it is quite a long enough list to consider.

The first Archetypal Dreams which I personally remember are mainly two and they recurred during my early childhood. One had to do with the overall resolution of the basic complications of Life. Though a young child, I was aware of this frightening complexity and its conflict was imaged to me as a continuously evolving thicket of black tangles and twists, such that it could never be unravelled or sorted out. I was a little in despair at this but in the end what happened was that all of the dark tangles were finally blotted out and absorbed into a glowing gold-orange field of light. The color of this light it later seemed to me was something like my mother’s lovely gold-orange bedspread.

The second archetypal dream concerned the magnetic power of bodies of Water, so strong that they could suck you down into them. I always had an abiding fear of the depths of water and it was with difficulty that I eventually learned how to swim, but swim I did and then the quality of water in my dreams changed from threatening to something still alive and full of hidden things, but no longer so dangerous. My dreams have often been full of rivers and streams which I float on and swim down as well as of oceans and islands with journeys to and from.

A third archetypal dream had to do with the power of Evil and the concealed chthonic powers which hide both in the earth and in the sky. There were frequently places deep under buildings, down partly walled-up passages, or which one could access from attics, where I could feel the horror of their vanished presence. Auden has a wonderful evocation of the terrifying emergence of this power from an abandoned well. Often I could sense, dreaming, where they had been in a deserted factory or other ruinous place which still contained their scent.

 Perhaps a fourth archetypal subject was the power of Wilderness which I have mentioned in my memoir. This wilderness was located in the Madison Valley in Montana originally, or more precisely in the bordering mountain areas of the Madison Range. I have revisited there often in my sleep, mainly to gaze over its borders from some adjoining vantage point near a town into the unsettled areas which still emit their own mysterious signal of hidden life and ‘Otherness’ from what we humans have contrived. Some of this mysterious power still radiates from the forests of the eastern United States or from its seashores and I have travelled there often in my dreams as well as in my actual waking life.

A thematic subject which borders on the archetypal is the presence of lions or leopards in such wooded areas, creatures which, though they do not seem to take much notice of me, could easily move to catch and kill me in the open before I could reach a tree or a door to safety. I am apprehensive about these predators though they do not seem to pose any immediate threat. There are also dreams full of strange spider-like crabs and huge insects which inhabit the undergrowth and which are horrible and potentially dangerous, especially in the semi-dark which is their natural environment. But somehow none of these creatures ever harms me.

I know a number of  teachers who still have all those old ‘Teacher Dreams’ about  it’s being the beginning of term and they don’t know where their classes are or what time they meet or even what they are going to teach. Aside from those same ones of my own, I have had any number of amusing dream scenarios about imaginary schools and campuses where I had either taught before or was a new instructor. They invariably look different from the last time and never show the slightest resemblance to any place where I have taught. There was one center city building down in a fairly grotty location in Philadelphia, where the half-dark classrooms held a few uninterested students who only talked to each other and took no note whatever of me. In one sequence, they only dropped off  tapes of their compositions and no one was actually present. Of course this building never existed and where it ‘stood’ there is actually a Salvation Army hostel for the Homeless! I have attended a number of universities as well and in my dreams am sometimes enrolled in a class which I don’t seem to take too seriously. I have returned many dream times to my actual college in New England, and it does look somewhat the same from dream to dream – though not much like what it is in waking memory.

I have had many Church dreams which are somewhat similar to the Teacher ones though by no means identical. They sometimes concerned a Liturgy where I lost my place in the service book and couldn’t refind it or was absent for an extended space because I went back downstairs in the middle of the service in order to find  something, or because I wandered out of the Church and couldn’t find my way back in. In one of them all the lights went out and when I finally groped my way to a light switch, I discovered no congregation present.

Another repetitive theme had to do with taking my clothes off, sometimes all of them, or perhaps down to my skivvies, and then having enormous trouble putting them back on. This has recurred countless times and I can never, even in the dream, figure out why I am compelled to do this. Even in the dream I find it embarrassing though fortunately it does not happen to me in a classroom or in a church service.
Then there are the automobile dreams where everything seems a little out of control because I am trying to drive from the back seat and cannot reach the steering wheel or brakes. I am frequently involved in purchasing ancient vehicles for a couple of hundred dollars and then wondering how to work them. Fortunately there are a couple of garages (in my dreams) which are always willing to provide more of these.

I should note, just for the record, that I have driven quite happily for 47 years and only had a few small accidents, that I have driven all kinds of vehicles in all kinds of weather on all kinds of road and on three different continents as well as in England. I have also functioned competently as a teacher and as a clergyman in different countries and over a similar period of years without experiencing either great anxiety about it or any misadventures such as my dreams offer to me. Sometimes I wish I could meet with my dream Director and Scriptwriter for a periodic review to indicate some dissatisfaction with these comic roles which have been allotted me for so long a time.

Classics scholars are familiar with the idea of the Fescennine License by which when a Triumphal parade was awarded a winning Roman general, his bound captives would be displayed in their misery before being strangled or fed to the beasts at the Colosseum. But the loyal soldiers of the great leader would go dancing down the avenue behind him, drunk as newborn newts and shouting the most scurrilous lies (and truths) about his various appetites and vices. Perhaps my unconscious, if not yours also, is licensed to tell these lies about us in our dreams as a sop to the Fates, lest our pride bring us to misfortune.

Dream Memory is not a concept I have read about, but oddly enough, over the years, I seem to have developed an archive which cross references dreams in such a way that I can remember past dream experiences from within a current ( ongoing) dream. This relates particularly to the geography of the U.S. so that I now have a dream geography of the Northern half of the US from coast to coast so that I can identify where I presently am from remembering a past dream about the same area in New England or California or Utah or Montana. I have a similar virtual map-memory of southern England.At other times, of course, these ‘memories’ are made up on the spot in the dream.

I used to dream a visit to Whitstable on the North Kent coast every year to see old friends and drop into a favourite Irish pub. I did live in Whitstable from ’63 to ’65 as a parish curate, but I assure you that there are no Irish pubs there or I would certainly have found them. Nevertheless, I always feel welcome at this place. The ale is good but the appearance of both the outside and inside is always totally different. Oftimes it’s just a little corner stall at a strip mall, at other times a proper building. I also enjoy in my English dreams occasionally visiting the Royal Family for tea as I have done periodically for some years. Strange, that when I do occasionally go to Windsor with friends for the odd function, the Royals never seem to recognize me. One of my most memorable ‘English’ dreams involved my finding an underground chapel in the Kentish woods with beautiful stained glass windows in its roof where, if you made your way inside, you could hear “all the poets of the British Isles singing in their sleep.”

Erotic dreams have never greatly troubled me but I have often had what the Jungians would call ‘anima dreams’ where a young lady embraces me almost to the point of
no return when we are (invariably) interrupted. From a Jungian standpoint these figures might be considered ‘archetypal,’ since they do represent something in your psychic development rather than a real woman or a fulfillable erotic drive. A double-barrelled dream I once had involved my re-encountering an old lover who invited me to dinner and then appeared seductively en dishabille. At this point I woke up in horror, but then settled back to sleep, restarted the dream, and turned down the dinner invitation.

One of the general rules I discovered for dreams, and I have read this elsewhere as well as finding it out for myself, is that you must not look too hard at anything in a dream or it will fade and you will wake up. I once viewed a green crystal city from a distance and was so entranced by its beauty that I gazed even more intensely upon it. The green crystal flattened out into grey and I woke back up to my interfering left brain, alas. But I put this principle into action during dreams about my parents where I was/am careful not to gaze too intently at them.

Although I am not a developed ‘Psychic’ like some others whom I know, I do have psychic links with people I am close to; my wife and I  read each others’ minds routinely in the sense that one of us starts a conversation on some new subject which the other is just about to mention. I have been able to ‘feel’ people’s unseen presence on the street whom I knew well, even though I had not seen them for a year. I can sense influences and sometimes intuit things about people. I think that this all goes into the mix of what sorts of dream-imagery and scripts you will be furnished with in your twilight sleeping hours.

The next subject I want to touch on briefly is ‘Flying Dreams.’ Many people have had such dreams and there are varieties of opinions about what they portend. Since I have dreamt of flying over a long period of time, I can only report my own experience of what I felt was not a personal ‘ability’ to fly but a way of engaging with some energy which lifted me up. This was tremendously enjoyable and fun and I employed it both indoors and out in order to travel about, to gaze with pleasure upon parks and land underneath me, and also to land on rooftops and in trees. Once I landed somewhere I began to be a little nervous about getting back down but usually could manage it. Often I tried to impress people with this gift and found that the more consciously I tried to employ it, the less it worked until finally I couldn’t ‘lift off’ any more.

While flying I sometimes noticed small children doing the same thing, less self-consciously than I and more easily. Sometimes they accompanied me. What I always wanted to do was just to keep on rising above the treetop level and to go right on up until I found …what? But I could never do this because I always perhaps just managed to get through a ceiling or onto a roof and then I became too self-conscious and the power left me. One dream actually had me sitting in some sort of dojo where younger adepts were flying all over the place while I confronted my own lack of ability in this regard. I was once again only a sort of ‘yellow belt’ novice.

 Finally, however, I managed to put it all together – just once. After visiting a mall and talking with some older black ladies, a few young juveniles joined me and started flying about. I then began going right ‘up’ into the sky, and they accompanied me until we came to a place I had never been before which featured a number of hieratic statues standing amid glowing green-gold lawns. We paused before one which was a kind of small black Buddha. “Where are we?” one of the young people asked, and I replied, “It’s the Heaven of Childhood Archetypes.” Believe me, I have no idea of where that one came from.

At this point I note that I have forgotten to mention the family ghost, Diarmuid Macmurchada, the king of Leinster, circa 1160. It was Diarmuid of the broken oaths, the terrible temper, and the wandering eye whose people and enemies deposed him and who went into exile to Henry II of England and Normandy to ask for knights to gain him back his kingdom. He did this with the aid of the Norman panzer men, knights with stirrups and lance and mail who were the armoured tanks of their day against the Irish who rode as yet without stirrups. But I first met him when I was seventeen.

My Uncle Jim worked on the Hodges Ranch in the Madison Valley of Montana and in 1951 I joined him for a couple of months to work hay on this 50,000 acre spread. It was more like five ranches actually with different centres. The morning after I arrived at this place I awoke paralyzed by the grip of some strange presence. I could see my Uncle Jim across the room but I was unable to move while this entity laughed at me. Then my uncle woke up and the paralysis lifted. This indicated to me that the revenant was from my mother’s Irish side of the family and perhaps had drawn some energy from my uncle. Later that Autumn at school, it came back to me one night and it laughed again. My eyes would fill with tears when I thought of it.

In dreams I reencountered Diarmuid as a tall robed figure whom I wished to kill but was not strong enough to resist. Finally, in dreams again, I began to walk sometimes with him and realized that he was, in some way, related to those intimations of evil which I had intuited previously, but that he was very much alone and might not mean ultimate harm to me. It has now been a long time since I have dreamed of him, but he has been an odd footnote to my life, as perhaps I have been to his.

I think perhaps I should end by relating my ‘Strangest Dream’ to you. It is about a lady named Magda of partly Hungarian and Gypsy inheritance. She seemed a much older soul than I and was in fact a few years senior to me but was also an artist, had studied Medicine, gotten her flying license at one point, and then done a Ph.D. in Art History. Magda was an exceedingly sensitive woman who had had the horrific experience of being attacked by a pack of feral dogs when she was three and had her face ripped open so badly that she required a great deal of plastic surgery to rebuild it. Although she still suffered from the trauma of this event she was a powerful person and possessed of a lovely sense of humour.

Once Magda asked me to do a Tarot reading for her. I had an old pack of cards which were blank on the backs, but since I had already caught my hands cheating on me a couple of times, I had devised a foolproof method of randomising my readings by shuffling the cards myself, asking the subject of the reading to cut the cards, and then dealing them out of sequence without looking at the backs ( in case my eyes were cheating on me as well). I did three consecutive readings for Magda and in each of them her Identity card came up the Ten of Swords (Diamonds) which bears the image of a man lying in a pool of his own blood with ten swords sticking out of his back. It may well denote a future injury. I told her to drive carefully going home but she called later the next day, saying that she was in hospital from a medical reaction of some kind. After she left I had dealt the cards again and the same Ten of Swords had come up in the same place. Of course it may well have referred to the person she would marry and how he was to treat her. In that the ten swords in the back would not have been in error.

It became apparent that, as fond as Magda and I were of each other, I at least was not ready to commit to her permanently. Once, just before leaving for my annual trip to central California, Magda spent the night at my place and early in the morning, I had a somewhat prophetic dream. I seemed to be driving a bus around a lake and Magda had to get off the bus. I dreamt that we were in the water together and a sort of rainbow of light fell upon us. Then as I began to wake I became aware that she also had experienced this, and turning over, I looked into her eyes and saw that she was afraid. “Where were we?” I asked her, and she answered, “Driving around a lake but I could not come to you.” When I returned from my journey I found that she had a new friend and a diamond ring on her finger.

This is only my small contribution to a subject which is never ending. Sometimes keeping a dream book helps if you want to start remembering your dreams; though a girl friend once tore my dream book up when she found Magda in it. That was the woman whose dinner invitation I dreamt I cancelled. One might call her the Muse of Polar Explorations!