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.

2 thoughts on “Meanwhile, Deep in The Author’s Subconscious …”

  1. haha! you’ve obviously read that oxytocin effects on the penis during sleep paper! Glad you enjoyed it, I enjoyed reading this – interesting to see a different perspective on my thesis, seeing as you’re probably the only other person who’s read it all through so far!

    1. I found it fascinating – and very frustrating, as it made me hate the University of Glamorgan for fucking up my second year repeat. You know where I am if you need any help before the viva 😉

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