Meanwhile, Deep in The Author’s Subconscious …

In which The Author remembers a fragment of a disturbing dream

Well, boys and girls, in spite what I wrote in The Perils of a Proofreader, the freelance work hasn’t gone away. If anything, I’ve been somewhat in demand over the last couple of weeks. I blame Rowland, personally.
As I’ve mentioned previously, my friend Josie is on the verge of gaining her PhD in Psychology. It’s not just any aspect of psychology, either – her research deals with dreams, and the extent to which they may (or may not) incorporate elements of our waking experience. Her supervisor, Prof. Mark Blagrove, is something of an authority on the subject, and has published a number of papers in journals over the years. In fact, after the last few weeks, I’d probably rank him up there with Diekelmann, S., Nielsen, T.A., Paquet, J., Powell, R., Schredl, M., Stickgold, R., et al. As a field of study, it’s right up my neural pathway.
Josie asked me ages ago if I’d be interested in joining one of the study groups, but I decided against it. For one thing, I don’t remember enough of my dreams in enough detail for the data to be of any use. Moreover, my daily routine was (is?) so predictable that it would be almost impossible to discriminate between ‘day-residue’ (what Freud called Tagesreste) and ‘dream-lag’ – two of the key theories on the current scene.
To cut a very long story short, the ‘day-residue’ theory holds that we incorporate some of the events of the day into our dreams the following night. The ‘dream-lag’ theory is more complicated, and revolves around the way that our short-term memory is transferred to long-term memory, through neural transfer while we’re asleep. There should be a peak at about the second day after the waking experience, then a trough, then another peak around the five-to-seven day mark, when the long-term memory is established.
Here’s a classic day-residue. I was in the library one day in the week when someone came in with yet another family tree enquiry. She had a name, which she was hoping to follow up. I overheard the conversation, and was able to inform the lady that the subject of her enquiry not only still lived at the same address, but that I’d spoken to her a couple of days earlier (she lives around the corner from me). That night, that same neighbour appeared in my dream. She wasn’t part of the action, so to speak, but it was unmistakably her.
I remember seeing a TV documentary on the subject of dreams a good few years ago, featuring an interview with Sir Francis Crick. (I don’t think it was Horizon. It might have been Equinox, on Channel 4.) Not content with being one of the team who discovered the secret of life itself, back in 1953, in his later years Sir Francis turned his attention to consciousness research. He wrote a book called The Astonishing Hypothesis, based on his later work. I’m fairly sure I had a copy once. (Then again, I might have dreamt it.)
It piqued my interest, as I’ve been experiencing strange dreams for as long as I can remember. I’ve read a great deal about them over the years. I was even able to lend my copy of Celia Green and Charles McCreery’s book Lucid Dreaming: the paradox of consciousness during sleep to Gareth M. (our lecturer) when I was in my second first year. Therefore, I toyed with Josie’s invitation for a while before deciding that I wouldn’t be able to contribute much useful data.
Anyway, after spending a very long time immersed in the literature (trust me – I’ve seen the bibliography!), collating masses of data and feeding it into SPSS, co-publishing a couple of papers on dreams, and working on her thesis for what must seem like an eternity, Josie put a shout-out on Facebook a month or so ago, asking for volunteers to help with the proofreading. I saw the posting and kept schtum. I’d had some bad proofreading experiences recently, and really didn’t want any more. I was on the verge of chucking the whole thing in. Thus, I kept my counsel and pretended I hadn’t seen Josie’s post.
Then Rowland stuck his oar in.
He and Josie know each other because they’re both members of Mensa, the society for people with high IQs. Rowland has asked me to take the Mensa test a couple of times, which I’ve found rather flattering, to be honest. I’ve always declined, however, for a number of reasons: part of me finds the whole Mensa thing rather elitist, flying in the face of my deeply-held anarchist beliefs; I’ve also used the old (Groucho) Marxist defence that I wouldn’t want to join any club which would have me as a member; and, above all, I’m deeply terrified of the prospect that I’d be found wanting on the day.
Having said that, we had an entertaining afternoon and evening in Aberdare in January 2012, when the Mensa gang had their Xmas meal (see – high IQs; take nothing for granted!) at Taste of Raj in Aberdare. Rowland invited me along to meet some of the gang, Josie seconded the invitation, and between them they fed and watered me in fine style. When I got there, I was pleasantly surprised to find Kathy K., who used to work in Dillons, among their number. (Or maybe Neil, Kathy’s other half, is the Mensa member and she was his Plus One. I didn’t like to ask …)
As Rowland, Josie and I all know each other, we’re obviously all friends with each other on Facebook. Therefore, when Rowland very kindly volunteered me, saying that I was a ‘top man for the job’, I couldn’t really say no, could I?
On Thursday, after working his way painstakingly through some 100,000 words, a staggering number of tables of data, a bibliography stretching over some forty pages of A4, a fair number of charts which had to be beaten into submission by the GIMP (the GNU Image Manipulation Package, before you get the wrong idea), the world’s only Consulting Proofreader was on the case and pulling an all-nighter. He was armed only with a handful of Miles Davis CDs (by coincidence, Miles died 22 years ago today), a large bar of plain chocolate, a packet of bourbon biscuits, The Chambers Dictionary (12th ed.) and the latest edition of Cite Them Right. Things were going to get messy.
(Incidentally, Jamila somehow mislaid my copy of the 8th edition of Cite Them Right when she was moving house. As it turns out, the American Psychological Association have changed their citation guidelines, so it was a good time to upgrade.)
In amongst this chaos, I’d managed to fit in a brochure for Tantrwm, a local multimedia production company run by an old friend of mine, and an afternoon drinking session with Gema. Andrew C., Tantrwm’s director, was my first paying client, and it was nice to have something relatively straightforward to work on as a bit of light relief. When Gema called into the library with the offer of a couple of pints or five, it seemed like a good excuse to chill out. Until then, I’d been bogged down with reading about early sleep oxytocin levels, Spearman ρ coefficient correlations, and odd goings-on in the cerebral cortex, to name but three of the many things I’ve learned from working my way through Josie’s thesis.
It’s made me realise just how much I’ve missed studying. I’ve been vicariously immersed in Josie’s weird world for the past month or so, and even the abstracts of the papers she’s cited have made for far more stimulating reading than anything else I’ve picked up for ages. I’m still loving Ben Aaronovitch’s books, of course, but they’re a bit of light relief – the piano scherzo in the midst of grand opera, so to speak. I’m reminded of the oft-heard claim that the English natural philosopher Thomas Young (1773-1829) was ‘the last man who knew everything’. (If you’ve heard of him at all, it’s probably because demonstrating Young’s modulus is one of the experiments everyone remembers from GCSE science – it’s the one where you keep adding weights to an elastic band and measuring the length until it finally breaks.) When you realise just how much information is pouring out from the world’s universities and research facilities, you wonder whether even Young himself was close to the mark.
My own chance discovery, while proofing Josie’s bibliography, that there is a scientific journal named Hippocampus (which does exactly what it says on the tin) was a source of great joy to me. It means that in neuroscience departments across the world, in the year 2013, there are people who know vast amounts about this tiny seahorse-shaped structure of the brain – and in the rooms on either side, there are people working on the medulla oblongata and the corpus callosum with equal determination.
Next time one of Aberdare’s increasing population of Loteks says, ‘Hey, Steve, you know everything, don’t you?’ I’ll be able to reply, ‘Not yet – I’m only halfway through reading the latest issue of Psychoneuroendocrinology.’ (I haven’t made this journal up. Look it up on Google Scholar if you don’t believe me. Just don’t try it in Aberdare Library where, apparently, all serious academic research is prohibited, in case the proles get ideas above their station in life.)
And so, gentle reader, at 0420 BST on Friday morning, I finally made my way up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire – for the second time in five minutes. I’d emailed the swollen appendices back to Josie five minutes earlier and, notwithstanding the sugar and adrenaline high I’d inflicted upon myself, had decided to try and get some sleep. I’d put my pyjamas on and then found myself wondering whether I’d remembered to send her back the bibliography I’d been working on all day. I went back downstairs and sent her another email with the file attached, headed Brain completely fried … I had a strange feeling Josie would understand where I was coming from.
At some point during the late morning (see, I told you that participation in her study would have been a waste of time) I had a very odd dream. I can only remember a small aspect of it, but it’s worth recording.
I was in charge of somewhere. I don’t know whether it was a workplace, or a prison, or a dungeon, or (quite possibly) a university faculty. I just remember being in an old building, dimly lit, and obviously with the weight of centuries hanging from its walls. There were a number of women walking around wearing identical uniforms – short black skirts and black poloneck sweaters, with calf-length boots, and they had their hair tied in pony tails. All of them were wearing masks: some of them were plain dominoes; some were Venetian carnival-style half masks; some were full-face blank masks such as a mime might wear;,some were full hoods, with only their eyes and mouths visible, and their hair threaded through a slit at the back. It was obvious to me that they were subservient to me, and all of them kept their eyes down as I walked past. I walked around a corner and bumped into two of them having a chat. I told them that if I caught them talking again, they’d be locked into their masks and gagged, except at mealtimes, until I decided they’d been punished enough.
Jenny and I once talked about buying plain mask templates from The Works (you can buy them in craft shops, the idea being that you can design your own) and wearing them to go out together in Aberdare. Lady Gaga’s song ‘Poker Face’ had been a massive hit a couple of months earlier, and I remember saying, ‘Let’s see if anyone can read our poker faces.’ She thought it sounded like a fun idea. She never saw my hood, though. The last time we spoke was over Xmas 2009 (see New Year, New Start.)
C— was alternately terrified of and fascinated by my leather hood, as I related in Behind the Mask. We talked on several occasions about going out together wearing masks, although nothing ever came of our idea. We haven’t spoken for months. Whether Friday morning’s dream came about via Jenny or via C—, that’s one hell of a dream-lag!
Anyway, I woke with an erection and had what my schoolmates would have called ‘forty pulls’ – the first time for several weeks I’ve been turned on at all.
Rate for: Bizarreness; Pleasantness; Erotic Content – compare with events of previous day/week.
Now you know why I didn’t volunteer for Josie’s study group.

A Bridgend Too Far

In which The Author goes for a wander

In W.W.W.W.W.W (Part 1) I outlined the ongoing ‘slight technical problem’ which prevents anyone from accessing the WiFi in Aberdare Wetherspoon. Yesterday I spent a couple of hours in Pontypridd. As my Facebook friends will have read, I’d really had a gutsful of people I kind-of know disturbing me when I was busy. I decided it was time to finally embark on my quest for Wifi in the various Wetherspoon pubs around South Wales.
There’s an odd ‘industrial hangover’ mentality in the Valleys which states that you can’t be ‘working’ unless you’re down a colliery, in a factory, wearing a uniform of some sort, dressed in overalls covered in cement, paint, and/or tarmac, sitting at a desk in an office, or standing behind the counter in a shop.
The Twenty-First Century concept of the Information Economy has yet to filter through the thick skulls of a fair number of people I’ve come across. The very notion that you might be working on something creative – something that calls for vocabulary and imagination and a fair amount of Tech know-how – has yet to make it into their lives. To these meatheads, creative people are either the sort of people who wear cravats and go to cocktail parties, or the sort of people they used to kick the crap out when they were teenagers. Or both.
The meatheads are mostly, but not exclusively, blokes. A lot of them are guys who apparently went to school at the same time as me. They insist on dragging me into pointless reminiscences about people I didn’t much care for at the time, and whom I haven’t knowingly seen since (at the very latest) the day we got our O level results, back in August 1982. Quite frankly, I’ve no idea who most of these blokes are. They all remember me, oddly enough. Perhaps I made a deep impression on their adolescent minds. Then again, maybe I just haven’t changed that much. Mind you, once they’ve shaved their heads they all look alike anyway. I’m going for the ‘James Burke in the Late 1970s’ look, personally – although (so far) I’ve drawn the line at the safari suit.
Some of the others are the pub bores I first mentioned in Freaks, Geeks and Space Invaders, and who seem to multiply with each passing day. Some of them are the older alcoholics, the Time Loopers who don’t realise that every day is Groundhog Day. Sometimes, only Rhian, Martin H. and I are the only people in the Prince who are aware that the sun has set at least once, and subsequently risen on a new day. Everyone else is trapped in the Time Loop.
I’m also convinced that I’ve got at least one stalker.
I’m serious.
He’s a guy named Mike, whom I first encountered in Aberdare Library. I was in there one afternoon, a year or more ago, when this chap rocked up to one of the PCs and started typing. After a while I decided to sneak a glance at what he was typing. To my amusement, he was typing the same piece over and over, deleting the whole thing whenever he made a mistake and starting again. I made a wry comment about it on Facebook, suggesting that maybe I should volunteer my Tech Support skills and show him where the Delete and Backspace keys were. But it was more fun to watch him crash back to Square One every few minutes, so I kept my emergency fund of IT knowledge to myself.
It wasn’t until several such encounters had passed that I was drafted in to help. Steven G., the Reference Librarian, as I’ve noted previously, is a fount of knowledge and wisdom when it comes to local history – but he’s strictly a child of the Paper Age. Mike had encountered a small problem, and Steven asked me if I knew of a way around it. (I think he was trying to type an accented character using the standard QWERTY layout, and between them they’d got themselves into a knot.) I had to show them how to access the extended character menu, for which I earned Brownie Points and a free printout of the weekend crossword.
However, Mike latched onto the fact that Mother used to go out with Peter D. (see Musings on the Loss of an Old Friend and the Misplacement of Another) – he works in the same care home where Peter was the maintenance man, and where Denis spent his last months. That meant that (in Mike’s mind, at least) we had something to talk about.
He’s a Christian. I don’t say that lightly, because (as I noted in Identity Crisis), about ninety per cent of the population of Wales is nominally Christian. He’s of the happy-clappy, low church, evangelistic type. He tells anyone who’s interested, and if they’re not interested he tells them anyway. A couple of months ago he latched on to a poor unsuspecting girl from Southern Africa who was using the computer next to him, when he heard her humming the melody to one of the modern hymns. He’s mentioned his ‘girlfriend’ a few times, but he’s very effeminate, and I think his girlfriend (if she exists at all) is a beard at best.
Now, this is why I think he’s stalking me. One evening, I’d stayed in the library until closing time, and Mike was there as well, hammering away at the keys of the PC in a vain attempt to reach the end of his second paragraph. By now, I’d realised that he was teaching himself to touch-type (a skill which I could do with perfecting myself, if the past few minutes are anything to go by. Then again, I’m in a pub, so I’ve got two excuses). We knew from our brief but frequent chats that we’d be heading in the same general direction – somewhere to the north of the town centre – and he offered me a lift home. It was pissing down, and the buses keep their own counsel after six o’clock, so I accepted his offer. His car was parked a short sprint away, so we piled in and he drove me as far as my street.
Now, if you’re unfamiliar with the South Wales Valleys, I should explain that the side streets were never designed for cars. In fact, they were designed for nothing bigger than the horse-drawn coal wagons which would ply their trade back in the Victorian era, when the towns and villages in this part of Wales first burst into life. This means that when my neighbours have double-parked their cars the entire length of the street, stopping outside my house is well-nigh impossible. That, as it turned out, was probably a Good Thing.
Mike had to squeeze his car through a tiny gap between a small open-backed lorry and a fairly substantial car, so that we were well beyond my house when he pulled up. He decided to try and continue the very boring and one-sided ‘conversation’ about his church meetings, which had started before we’d even left the Library. After Mike continued in this vein for several minutes, throwing in several gratuitous mentions of his ‘girlfriend’ for good measure, I told him that I really needed a pee, and I’d have to go before it was too late.
I waited until he’d driven out of sight before I made my way back to my house and opened the door. I had an uneasy feeling that, if he’d had known which house I lived in, Mike and a band of tambourine-wavers would turn up out of the blue one Sunday morning and try to drag me along with them. I had enough of that nonsense with Florence, and then with C—. I don’t need any more of it.
Anyway, I didn’t think any more of this incident until the day Martin, Huw F. and I went to London (see A Day in Parliament). We came back on the last train, and I called into the Prince for a swift pint to round the day off. I left when Rhian was closing up, and made my way through town, toying with the idea of buying a pizza from the takeaway in Canon Street. To my surprise, Mike pulled up in his car and offered me a lift home. He might have just finished a shift at the care home, or have been on his way to work, but it seemed a bit odd for him to be driving around town at midnight. Still, a lift was a lift, so I accepted gratefully.
Once again, he had to stop well past my house, as the parking situation was even worse at that time of night.
Anyway, Mike is in the Library pretty much every day, determined to crack the 60 wpm barrier if it kills him. (I can do 130 wpm on a good day – unfortunately, only about a quarter of them are real words. Then again, I can find my way around some basic HTML tags, which are way out of his league.) Considering that he allegedly works in a care home, he never seems to do any day shifts. But here’s the really weird part:
Three or four times I’ve been walking home from town, and he’s pulled up just opposite the Girls’ School, offering me a lift. The first time I had a good excuse – I had to call into LIDL on the way, and it’s just over the brow of the Gadlys hill, hardly worth stopping the car for. The second time, I told him the same thing (even though I was skint).
The third time was last Saturday. I was on the way home after a very disappointing day (see the last few entries for details) and Mike pulled up again, in exactly the same spot as before. This time, the alarm bells started ringing in my head, so I told him I was going for a pint in the Glandover. (I wasn’t really, but I bumped into Lew M. outside, and Ed L. was inside, so I ended up having a pint with them anyway.)
The most recent occasion was on Thursday. I really wasn’t in the mood for company, and while I was walking home guess what happened in exactly the same place
There’s a traffic roundabout on the outskirts of Aberdare, with one spur road that leads to the car park by the Library. It’s a favoured spot for police to park up at night, so that they can pounce on speeding motorists and drunk drivers as they hit town. It would also be a very convenient place to wait while someone crosses the bypass link road and continues walking past the school.
Maybe I’m just paranoid, but this time the alarm bells in my head were deafening. I didn’t even reply – I kept on walking and after a few moments Mike drove away. Yesterday, when he came into the Library in the afternoon, he didn’t even look in my direction. I think he’s got the message.
Anyway, Pontypridd was a bit of a fool’s errand. I’d gone there in search of a new net curtain for my front window. There used to be a shop called Roseby’s in Taff Street, which sold bedding and soft furnishings. I didn’t know that it had closed down. There’s another drapers called Shaw’s a few doors down, but the only nets they had were enormous. I found a stall in the indoor market, but it looks as though I want anything to fit my small window it’ll have to be made to measure. That left me with time to kill.
The town’s branch of W.H. Smith is nothing to get excited about. Neither is the indoor market, which makes Aberdare’s look positively bustling. The Morgan Tavern, which used to be the Criterion before it was the Celtic Pride, was closed. I had a look into the Greyhound, which has ominously rebranded itself as the Skinny Dog, but it seemed a bit chav-heavy. I decided to execute Phase One of Operation W.W.W.W.W.W. – the World Wide Web Wetherspoon Wifi Walkabout.
I’ve been into the Tumble Inn in Pontypridd a few times. I’ve never had food, but I’ve found the service quite quick. I toyed with the idea of ordering fish and chips, but the Wetherspoon chain generally isn’t noted for its food. I had a pint and tried accessing The Cloud. It took me about six attempts to get through the authentication protocols, and halfway through downloading a software update it crashed entirely. Phase One wasn’t an unmitigated success.
On the way to the station, I had the misfortune to encounter one of Aberdare’s ever-growing number of smackheads, alcoholics, shoplifters and least-wanted about town. She’s on Pubwatch, and is subject to an ASBO which keeps her out of the town centre. It didn’t take a genius to work out that she’d simply wash up somewhere else. I’ve only spoken to her once before, when I was doing that work placement in the summer. She was the girl whom I was supposed to helped to upload a CV and equip for job-hunting in the New Millennium – the one who didn’t show up on the day. She must know my name because of C—, I suppose. The addiction counselling service users all tend to stick together. I don’t want anything to do with her, and I certainly don’t want her junkie friends to think that we’re any more than passing faces in the crowd.
I called to the Prince and found the usual gang locked into their Time Loop. I had one pint there and then decided to get the bus home. In fact, I missed it by seconds, having been detained by one of the Time Loopers, who wanted to re-enact a conversation we’ve had several times already. I walked as far as the Library anyway, wondering when the next bus would come along.
A car pulled up when I was waiting, but to my relief it wasn’t Mike. The driver wanted directions to Aberdare Police Station. I tried not to laugh as I directed him to the roundabout and back into town along the one-way system. I was glad I wasn’t the only person who hadn’t been on a fool’s errand (see Oranges and Lemons.)
It started to pick with rain, so I headed (against my better judgement) to Wetherspoon. The idea of fish and chips was firmly lodged in my mind. Olly was in there with a few guys I know by sight, but the bar area was rammed, and I remembered that I had fish in the freezer anyway. I decided to have a last one in the ShiteLighthouse, and regretted it straight away. There were fewer than ten people in there (including the barbint), and one of them was a Lotek. At one point he asked me for help using the jukebox. I refused point blank. He didn’t need help anyway, as he only knows three songs by two different bands. I didn’t even bother making my excuses before I left.
That’s why I’m typing this particular entry in the Wyndham Arms in Bridgend. It’s a Wetherspoon, and I was able to access the Cloud immediately, with no buggering about. This morning, I couldn’t face another fucking day in Aberdare. Instead, I decided it was time to to do some more work on the Vanishing Valleys Project (see Where Do We Draw the Line?) I haven’t touched the area around Bridgend at all yet, so I thought I’d make a start on the town centre at least. I caught the train to Cardiff at lunchtime, and was in town just after two o’clock. I haven’t been here for ages – not since Rhian and Lucy split up, in fact – and it’s changed. It’s really changed.
I thought Aberdare was run-down. Considering that it’s always been a fairly affluent part of the country, Bridgend is dying on its arse. The top end of the town, near the railway station (in other words, the first thing visitors see when they leave the train) consists of a pub on one corner, a huge pub with no sign of life directly opposite it, an enormous chapel, the office of the two Conservative AMs, a taxi office, and a load of closed shops:


Bridgend, even more than Aberdare, clearly has a fault-line amongst its young people, dividing them either into chavs/gangstas or rock/goth/emo types. It’s always been a fairly rocking town, as I recall from frequent visits here when I was younger, but there seems to be a dearth of places for people to go. I suspect that, like Aberdare, everyone starts off in ‘Spoons’ before moving on later. I passed several pubs which were closed this afternoon. Maybe they open in the evenings. I’ve got a funny feeling some of them don’t open at all any more.
I followed my nose and found my way to the cemetery, where I couldn’t resist this photo. Remember not to blink …


There’s some very nice architecture here, mind you – I won’t upload too many photos, as I want to keep them for my project. I haven’t got as far as the huge and imposing church on the hill above the town centre yet. The rain started in earnest when I was walking around town, so I dived in here and wrote this blog instead. Next time I come over I’ll bring a map with me, and try and rope in a couple of local contacts to show me interesting things I’ll miss otherwise. Before the clocks change and the nights draw in too much, I hope to have covered a fair bit of this area photographically.
Most importantly, I’ve been able to sit in a pub, undisturbed apart from the delivery of a bowl of chips, for over two hours. That could never happen in Aberdare. It seems impossible to enjoy a quiet pint without being dragged into an unwanted conversation, or enlisted into providing Tech Support for someone who still doesn’t know that Elvis Presley is dead. Next spring, when the weather changes, I think I’ll be spending an increasing amount time away from Aberdare – simply so that I can have some time to myself.