VISIONARY DREAM - 2021
I awoke to find myself as a middle-aged man in the presence of a wonderful golden boy-child of about ten years old. My heart surged with an inexplicable affection for this shining child such that I felt I would burst from the overload of such novel and intense feelings, the like of which I had never before experienced.
We were sitting side by side on the steps of a large, ruined house which I somehow knew was my boyhood home. We looked out together upon a serene Arcadian landscape. Whilst all around us was calm and penetratingly pastel, in the distance we looked toward a violent sea, the setting sun engulfed by apocalyptic storm clouds.
The boy-child took my hand and led me towards the oncoming tempest until we reached the edge of a high cliff. The sounds of the roiling ocean rose up from far below, echoing repeatedly in a series of bewildering cross-rhythms. In my anxiety due to the extreme proximity of the terrifying precipice confronting me, I momentary forgot about the boy-child as I was compelled to lie down, paralysed with dread.
The boy, on the other hand seemingly oblivious of the ever-present danger before him, moved to the very edge of the abyss and peered over. As he turned to look me in the eye, his foot slipped. I instantly forgot my fear and still in my prone position tried to reach out and grasp his hand as he clung to the edge of disaster. Inexplicably my arm extended itself enabling me to stretch out and save him.
At first, he seemed as light as air itself. But as I tried to pull him back from the brink he grew steadily heavier. I felt myself begin to slip as an ever-increasing weight pulled me toward mutual oblivion. Just as the load on my extended arm became relentless, I became aware that my inexorable slide toward the cliff’s edge had ceased. A contrary force was pulling on my legs.
In my dream, I was able to look down from above and observe. My limbs had transformed themselves into tentacular roots, now firmly planted into the rocky terrain upon which I lay, solidly anchored to the Arcadian landscape of which I was now an indivisible part. My extended arm had become a sturdy bough onto which the boy-child clung. It was at this point that I realised that his fate was no longer in my hands.
As he let go, I felt everything that was “him” jump across the synapse which separated us. In the electrical epiphany of the moment, I realised the “he” was “me”.
Soon my life will be over. The end of winter is fast approaching. Now an old man at peace with the past, I sit in solitude upon those same steps leading up to the front door of my boyhood home.
A searing memory of that epiphanal moment drops unbidden into my mind. Having no agency to do any other, I turn and walk up the steps. For the first time since my prepubescent childhood, I confront that forbidding place.
Upon crossing the threshold, the crumbling interior quickly fades to black. Facing me at the end of a long corridor the old familiar backdoor stands provocatively ajar: willing me through.
Across the threshold, I see my mother and father as I remember them best, standing in an oasis of summer lawn surrounded by a wilderness of long-abandoned farmland. The Nepalese Himalayas dominate the horizon.
Between them stands a sparkling boy-child.
Maidstone is the county town of Kent and it stands on the banks of the River Medway. Maidstone’s oldest surviving building, the Bishop’s Palace, fronts the river beside the great medieval church of All Saints. Much of the town’s historic heart survives, including buildings such as the museum. Just a few miles outside Maidstone, at the foot of the North Downs, is Leeds village. It is where I was born on July 30th 1947 and is best known for its fairytale castle. In my childhood days, it was an attractive village living up to every modern romantic notion of what an old fashioned village should be. Back then there was a working forge on the main street where the blacksmith did every job from shoeing horses to making and mending things like wrought iron gates, grilles, railings, tools, and agricultural implements.
In the early 1950s, there was still serious food rationing in the aftermath of WW2. Thus the local butcher’s shop was no longer what it was in the pre-war years. Nevertheless, there was plenty of game hanging up in the window – rabbits, hares, ducks and pigeons. And under the counter? All manner of wicked things including pheasant and partridge poached from the estate
At the centre of village life was the post office. It was here that all the gossip took place; where the female servants and other domestic staff working in the houses of the well-to-do gathered to report on their employer’s “doings”.
In those days, telephone exchanges were manually operated, needing an “operator” to “connect you”. In these small rural exchanges, such as that which served Leeds, eavesdropping was irresistible. Nothing remained secret for very long. The doctor’s house was a favourite: From pregnancy to piles – cancer to alcoholism; no one could be ill without word getting around.
There were two pubs, The George and The Ten Bells. It was in the public bars of these pubs that the corresponding men-folk exchanged their news. And after hours? The parties got together at bedtime and compared notes, cross-fertilizing the fruit of the day’s intelligence-gathering; - thus replenishing the stock of tittle-tattle for another day. It was all very “Miss Marple”.
The village school educated “the village kids”. “Posh kids” went elsewhere. There was strict segregation maintained between the children of the well-heeled and the kids of the working classes. All contact was discouraged if not completely forbidden. From my side of the tracks, the parental concern was with things like head lice, disease and foul language. From the other side, it was stuff about not mixing with “your betters” and the risk of being made to take the blame from any likely trouble.
The village church of St Nicholas, whereas a teenager, I spent many maniacal hours thundering at the organ, was originally Saxon. A massive Norman tower was added in the 12th century. It contains a fine 15th-century rood screen. Inside the tower, the ringing chamber has seen regular strenuous activity for centuries. The ten bells are housed in an ancient oak frame, one of the earliest surviving ten-bell frames in England. My great grandmother and “Gramp” are buried there. Her first husband, my real great grandfather, is buried somewhere in India.
Leeds Castle has been the home of kings, queens and noblemen for almost all its history, and for three hundred years during which it enjoyed the status of 'The Ladies' Castle,' it was home to no fewer than eight of England's medieval queens.
Throughout history, Leeds village has been dominated by the castle. Once upon a time, the castle would have shared the local limelight with the great medieval abbey church. Alas, that was destroyed by Henry VIII's sweeping Reformation in 1536 and is only remembered now by my birthplace, Leeds Abbey Farm, a substantial medieval building in its own right located just a few hundred yards from the old ruins.