I stay in a College Fellow's Guest Room when I use the Oxford libraries. It's always the same room. I have read the peerless ghost stories of M.R. James, yes. And while I'm not the kind of person who watches Most Haunted or crosses myself when I see a magpie, there's something seriously creepy about this particular room. I wake with horrendous indigestion every single night I sleep there. And when I'm not desperately searching for antacids in my suitcase, I have the most disturbing dreams. Vivid, apocalyptic, murderous, despairing dreams. Not my normal cheerful hullo clouds hullo sky dreams.
No, really. Listening to people's blow-by-blow accounts of nightmares and bad acid trips is the most tedious thing in the world, but just to get across the unnecessary weirdness, here's a bit of one dream.
I walk out into my garden. All the grass has gone. Instead, there are drifts and heaps of riverworn, dry pebbles. I pick one up and look carefully at it. It has distinct growth rings, like a tree. All the pebbles have them. A flock of sandgrouse are foraging in the pebbles and they have the same odd patterns all over their plumage. They all take flight, explosively, in alarm, and as they fly up into the sky, I think they're taking all the water with them, and the sky starts to darken because the world is ending.
Fun, eh? What a cheerful death dream. And that was a mild one. They scared the bejesus out of me. So after a few nights of indigestion and apocalypse, I'm glad when they tell me they must move me to another room; a twin room next door. Someone else needs the single room, they said. Good luck to them, I thought.
This new room was cheery and much calmer. Wooden casement windows that look down on the quad, a mirror, old prints on the walls. But there's a mystery door near my bed. It's locked. Very C.S. Lewis. There's a wide gap at the top, and light spills over into my room. Strange, I thought. Hey ho.
I went to bed early that night, and woke to the sounds of a cocktail party. Animated voices, laughter, toasts. People milling around under my window. I rolled over sleepily. Later I realised there was a hard frost outside. Realisation struck like a slap on the forehead. The door next to my bed led onto the Senior Common Room. The wall was thin. The voices were loud. It was like trying to sleep under a restaurant table. It was interminable. At about 2am I heard muttered goodbyes, a dread, Woosteresque titter, and then three younger voices, presumably exactly my equivalents, uttering, with a whoop, "Gosh! We're the senior fellows now.... we're the senior fell-ows, we're the senior fell-ows"
Talk about holding a dark mirror up to my life. Next time in Oxford I'm staying with friends.