I had a spare few hours a couple of days ago. I was in the City with my wife and the British Museum was nearby, so we thought we’d go and have a bit of a nosey.
My wife and I live fairly close to the centre of London. Far enough away to not be stifled by the incessantly fast pace of life, but not too far to make a jolly jaunt feasible. We’ve lived down here for a couple of years and never seem to make the time to DO stuff in the city. There are some of the world’s greatest art galleries, museums and theatres on our doorstep, so this year we have decided to make a conscious effort to take advantage of it all.
I’d never been to the British Museum before. I vaguely remember going to somewhere similar when I was very very young and lived in Northern Ireland. It was either in Dublin or Belfast, I can’t remember which, and I was terrified by the embalmed body of a mummy in one of the cases. So terrified that I had nightmares about it that night. Nothing else stands out in that faded memory, so it was with almost completely fresh eyes that I visited.
The first thing that struck me was the sheer size of the building. Its great Corinthian columns which hold up the edifice could have hewn from rock by giants. The main entrance doors were absolutely dwarfed by the magnificence of the front façade. Once inside, I was in the central hall (The Great Court) which is absolutely cavernous. It is dominated by the museums’ Reading Room which is a building-within-a-building. We bought our tickets for the Grayson Perry exhibition, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, and wandered up the stairs on the outside of the reading room and into the gallery.
The first exhibit is the motorbike which Perry had custom-built for his pilgrimage with Alan Measles (his teddy bear which was given to help his recovery from a childhood illness). This is more of a metaphorical banner for the exhibition than an interesting piece in itself: an avatar for Perry’s chatroom persona. Once inside, the first piece is Perry’s “You are Here” vase, and the usual description board with Perry’s statement of intent as curator of the exhibition. “You are Here” is a witty comment on the exhibition’s potential visitors and sets the tone for the whole experience.
The gallery is divided into several sections, beginning with and introduction to Alan Measles and working its way through Cultural Conversations, Pilgrimage, Religion, Sexuality, Scary Figures and finishing with The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman. It is an amusing, intelligent and refreshing exhibition which combines Perry’s own work with pieces from the British Museum. Some of the best humour comes from the odd juxtaposition of the old and the new. In the first room is a case featuring Perry’s “Early English Motorcycle Helmet”, a cast aluminium helmet reminiscent of an antiquarian artefact straight out of the horde at Sutton Hoo. Made in 1981, it made me do a double-take, thinking it had been mis-labelled. The fault was entirely my own and gives a clue how to approach the rest of the exhibition.
Other notable pieces for me were the tapestry “Map of Truths and Beliefs”, the “Tomb Guardian” and the “Head of a Fallen Giant” from Perry’s own work, although there were many other excellent pieces which I don’t have space to mention here. Of the Museum’s own pieces, I found that the pilgrimage collection and sexuality pieces worked well, though none stood out in the same way as Perry’s work did.
The overall impression that I got from the exhibition was a positive and enjoyable one; Grayson Perry’s work comes across as thoughtful, funny, accessible and articulate. I’ve never seen any of his work before but have been aware of his presence in the media for some time, so it was good to familiarise myself with his art. It doesn’t try too hard but neither does it dumb down. It’s not an enormous, weighty exhibition and Perry’s work was endearing enough to hold my attention from start to finish. This particular exhibition reminds me very much of Julian Cope for some reason. The emphasis on religion / spirituality / pilgrimage, the conflict of male and female aspects of personality and society and the antiquarian nature of the exhibits all provoke that association for me. I would certainly recommend seeing it if you’re in the city and have an hour or so to invest.
It’s not quite the middle of the night. Not yet, but I’m guessing it will be by the time I’ve finished this post. I’ve already tried to get to sleep and have managed about an hour. Maybe an hour and a half. I’m not entirely sure. I’ve spent about an hour searching the internet and it’s now 2.25. I’m not sure if that’s important or not. I’ve had a good meal, a bottle of wine and a good evening tonight before heading off to bed. This isn’t in itself anything to report. I went to sleep with my mp-3 player on (not wanting to favour any specific brand…). I woke up after maybe a couple of hour’s sleep, with a bit of an idea in my head. I can’t quite explain everything quickly, so this post is probably more for my own benefit, than anything else…
I wasn’t especially disturbed when I woke up. I was aware that I was listening to a particular piece of music which I had just installed on my (generic) mp-3 player just this morning. It’s a piece of music which I’ve owned for a couple of years, (since it became available on a popular, and legal, music download site) but which I knew from about 1995-ish. I should probably describe a little background now, as it might be helpful in the overall narrative of my post and provide a bit of context with which to understand my current predicament….
I’ve never really been a particularly religious person. I was brought up in an anglican family (please note the lower-case “a” in anglican!). At the risk of contradicting myself now, I probably have been or am a religious person, just not in the way you might expect. I studied the psychology of folklore as part of my bachelor degree, which gave me a particular slant on my religious upbringing. I then went on to a masters degree in Cultural Studies, which showed me some of the techniques of semiology (the science of understanding symbols). That gave me further understanding of my upbringing and perhaps consolidated some of my ideas about religion, ethics and philosophy, and how they related to my particular set of beliefs.
I know I’m being a bit vague about all of this, but I don’t want to go into the whole religion story in this post; I want to concentrate on the events leading up to me being awake now and wanting to write a blog post. I’ll leave those other stories for another time… The rest of the story might help me make sense of who I am and how I fit into the world. For now I just want to get some ideas down; I’ll figure out how they relate to everything else in the coming days.
Well, with that extensive introduction, I now feel that I’m able to get on with my story… I’ve always had peculiar dreams. Ever since I was young, I had recurring dreams when I was ill. They had no relation to my illness and were completely abstract. I’ve had more interesting dreams since I’ve become an adult and I don’t always remember them but always get a sense of them being incredibly vivid. Of course I do remember some of my dreams and those that I am aware of are still incredibly abstract, but I can sometimes draw some meanings out of them, no matter how bizarre they are.
I always wanted my dreams to be more important than they actually are – I wanted them to have some “mystical” significance and tell me something about myself or the world in which I live. Of course this never (or rarely) happened, or they were so abstract that only a Freudian psychoanalyst or pseudo-religious charlatan could make any sense of them. The point is that I wanted them to signify that I was somehow “special” or “different” from my peers or friends. Yeh, sure, they have lucid dreams every now and again, but I go through patches where I’ll have two or three lucid dreams a night and I’ll be aware that I’ve dreamt two or three nights in the space of a week.
I suppose my dreaming activity has peaks where I’ll remember or at least be aware that I’ve had dreams. I’ve given up semi-consciously noticing whether I can read or see colours in my dreams (which are apparently indicators of having lucid dreams), as pretty much every dream that I have is in colour. I used to try to notice whether I had remembered a colour or whether there was something which I could read. I could never control the dream, but was usually aware of something which would give me a semi-conscious indication of whether I was dreaming lucidly or not – walking past a shop and being able to read the sign above it would be a good example.
Anyway, I’m at risk of getting lost in the detail here, so I’ll try to take a broader view of what happened to me tonight, and what prompted me to write a blog in the middle of the night. I didn’t have a dream tonight; it’s not impossible to dream in only a couple of hour’s sleep but tonight wasn’t one of those nights. I woke up and realised that although I don’t quite understand the dreams that I may be having, or if I do they are very personal, the fact that I do dream is probably important to myself (if to no-one else). I started researching dreaming in a little more depth, but have so far come up with nothing. Many of the site on the internet are either Freudian analysis sites (which really isn’t much help to me) or (to try to put it politely) new age hocum.
I suppose what I’m looking for is a connection with some people who I can talk with about my dreaming experiences and who also share a similar philosophical and spiritual set of ideas (I use the word spiritual in place of religious as I’m self-shielded against that sort of dogma…). I’ve probably not come to any conclusion in this post, which I acknowledge must be frustrating for anyone reading it, but I don’t think that has made it any less worthwhile for being so. If nothing else, it has helped me to at least start writing about and recognising the fact that I dream more lucidly and more often than most of my peers, and that somewhere, there’s something hidden in amongst the dreams which might be important (to me, if to no-one else).
If you’ve got this far, thanks for reading. I hope it hasn’t been too bland or boring, and I hope you’ll comment with your thoughts on dreams and philosophy. I will try to post something in the next couple of days about my personal beliefs which should give a little bit of context to what I’ve written here….