Jeremy Clarke

Low Life | 24 January 2009

Looking for answers

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Over the Christmas holiday I read a collection of essays edited by Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols, which Jung kicks off with an essay entitled ‘The Importance of Dreams’. Dreams ought to be taken seriously, says Jung. They are a specific expression of the unconscious and as such ought to be treated as facts. He concedes that a fact expressed by the unconscious, primitive, symbol-encrusted part of the mind is never going to be easy for the contemporary, rational, conscious part of the mind to interpret with any certainty. But Jung contends that anyone equipped with an understanding of primitive symbolism can learn to interpret correctly at least some of their dreams, and perhaps take advantage of the guidance and prophesy that is being constantly offered by the unconscious mind.

I need all the advice and prophesy I can get at the moment, so I’ve been keeping a notebook and pencil by my bed, along with Jung’s book to refer to, and without fail I’ve written up my dreams on waking each morning. But so far my unconscious mind hasn’t offered anything that might be construed as counsel. Gaza city, of all things, has featured a lot. One night I was driving through its deserted streets. In another dream I was watching it being bombed. My dream views of Gaza were identical with views I’d seen on the BBC’s ten o’clock news before going to bed.

Similarly, the origin of a dream about Barack Obama could be traced to a news bulletin I’d seen. Rather than trying to advise me, my unconscious seems merely obsessed with what it watched on TV last night. In the dream about Obama I was dancing at a house party, and he was seated on a sofa with his wife. They were both laughing, snapping their fingers and swaying in their seats to the rhythm of the music. The context in which I saw the news footage of President Obama snapping his fingers was rather unusual, however, and I noted that down, too, in case it proved significant.

Most days I take an aged, arthritic collie called Joe out for a walk because Margery, his aged, arthritic owner, is no longer up to it. Last week when I called for him, he wasn’t there. The home help, Edna, had earlier found him lying semi-conscious in the hall and in a lot of pain. Thinking that Joe was at death’s door, she sent for the vet, who came and took him away, and that, we assumed, was the end of Joe. With the light of her life gone, Margery, promptly suffered a mental collapse and asked to be put away for good in an old people’s home, which Edna managed to organise at short notice.

A week later the vet rang Edna. Joe was much improved and could she return him? Edna went to Margery’s now empty house to receive him. He was a new dog. A course of antibiotics and painkillers had completely rejuvenated him. But who was going to look after Joe now that Margery was in a home? Edna decided that she would.

We tried to talk her out of it. Edna wasn’t well herself. Arthritis, a leg ulcer and poor circulation meant she could barely walk. And she had an elderly, blind, arthritic collie of her own to look after. Plus a cat. And Joe doesn’t like cats. Joe will lose the use of his back legs very soon, according to the vet. Why not have him put down? we said.

Edna wouldn’t hear of it and took him home to see out his last days at her place. But a week later I got a phone call. Edna. She was at the end of her tether with Joe. He’d bitten Snoopy. He’d bitten her daughter. He’d torn up the carpet. He was terrorising the cat. Could I possibly have him for a couple of days while she tried to figure out what to do about him?

So I went round there. Dollops of pale dog mess littered the tiny front garden and path. Edna was standing in her narrow kitchen pulverising one of Joe’s painkillers with a claw hammer and weeping. And that’s when I caught a glimpse of Obama. The television was on in the tiny sitting room with the sound turned down. And there was the Noble Moor snapping his fingers at the pre-inauguration rock concert.

Last night I dreamed I was fighting my way out of a burning building. Funnily enough, even as I was dreaming it, I was reminding myself to write this one down because it was a corker. And then the smoke alarm in my bedroom went off and I woke up. I’d left my bedside light on and the hot bulb had scorched and then set fire to Man and His Symbols, a flammable paperback, which had somehow fallen against the bulb during the night.