Tuesday 6th December

Speculation intrigues singleton when 5-a-side cancelled (8)

To sleep, perchance to dream … here I am, gasping for air, just below the surface of a swimming pool. My strength is failing and the sides of the pool seem impossibly far away. All memory of how to swim has gone. I break the surface for an instant, gulping in the air and catch a glimpse of Winnie-the-Pooh at the far end of the garden. I have no idea why I am drowning at Cotchford Farm, but drowning I am. I see Mick Jagger and Bill Clinton chatting at a poolside table – why do they do nothing to save me? Is it because I know that my head has morphed into an actual hog’s head, possibly even that of a groundhog or the extinct hog-like creature named after the Stones’ front man, Jaggermeryx naida? Must I endure this torture every day, like Tantalus in his own private hell-pool?

The water engulfs me again but I fight my way back to the surface. Now I am outside college on Oxford’s High St. I realise that I am at the very spot where Turner set down his easel. But this is no peaceful, academic scene. A torrent of water is flowing down the High from Carfax, a flood far beyond any that Oxford has suffered to date. How can I save myself and why am I wearing Mick Jagger’s Hyde Park tunic? I reach out for a suspiciously familiar life-belt that has been thrown down from the window of Bostar Hall but it rushes by, just beyond my grasp. Too late I realize that the Shelley Memorial, released from its Univ mausoleum, is hurtling towards me, several tons of white marble and wrought iron, somehow borne darkly, fearfully aloft by the current. It seems certain to run me down. But this is no lifeless Shelley – like Hermione in The Winter’s Tale, he is suddenly re-born. He reaches out his right arm and plucks me out of the water. For a moment I am locked in his cold, damp embrace but then I am released again. Shelley has passed by.

I go down for what must surely be the last time …

Perhaps someone can tell me why you always wake up at the moment when death seems to turn from probability to certainty? But wake up I do. I sense the proverbial hot sweat on my arms and legs. It’s good to be alive, after all. I want to clear my head of these images, so I decide to go downstairs for a mug of tea. As it is 3.57 a.m., I’m a little surprised to find my pyjama’d father already up, studying a sheet of paper. It’s the sort of document I have seen many times because he brings one like it home from each evening at the bridge club. It is a computer print-out of all the hands played that session.

“Couldn’t sleep at all,” he explains. “Board 3 has been bugging me all night. Maybe you can see where I went wrong?”

I don’t even pretend to look at the information about Board 3 on the sheet.

“Dad! It’s four in the morning! Hours before the dawn. I would have trouble playing snap at this time of day so there’s no point even guessing. Perhaps I should tell you about the nightmare I just had instead?”

“It’s a fabulous layout. Perhaps I’ll use it in one of my Hideous Hogg stories.”

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