The heart of the house and a toothbrush

Last week, on the morning of Tuesday, 17th April, a dream lingered in my mind when I awoke. The more I think about it, the richer and more resonant it seems, hence my decision to post it here.

I am outside in morning Spring sunshine in the garden of Emerson College. Paul Matthews – the college’s resident poet, writing guru, and author of Sing Me the Creation – is stretching, doing his morning constitutional exercises when he flinches in agony. He’s sprained his ankle. He declines my offer to help. He keeps on talking about the ‘heart of the house’, the hidden centre of the college about which I know nothing, gesturing to the main college building, Pixton House.


Click on the photo to go to the Emerson College website

I go in. Walking down an unfamiliar gloomy corridor on the first floor, I meet three young soldiers in desert-combat gear walking purposefully in the opposite direction. I ask, “where is the heart of the house?” One of them points me further along the corridor and around the corner. I carry on to find the entrance to a low-ceilinged room I’ve never been to. Its ‘doors’ are floor-to-ceiling Venetian-like slatted window-shutters that seem to hang loosely off their hinges; they’re not well fixed, don’t close properly, and clatter when I enter the room, where people say, ‘Shhh!’ Someone comes over with the head of a toothbrush, which they wedge somehow in at the top of the ‘doors’ to stabilise and close them. Looking around the room, it’s bizarre: there’s no natural daylight; it’s blacked out; and there are rows of seats facing a glass-enclosed recording cubicle in the middle. A variety of people sit on the seats, whilst priest-like figures in the recording cubicle are trying to carry out some kind of mystical Christian ritual. The atmosphere is one of a secret society, much like the one to which Sophie’s grandfather belonged in the Da Vinci Code. Because of the constant interruptions, the ritual and its recording are constantly having to stop and start. It strikes me that the room is singularly ill-equipped for the delicate purpose of making recordings! I also think it ironic that people are trying to set down a definitive recording of something supposedly meant to be life-affirming as the Christian ritual; to my mind, the production of a recording takes life and freshness away from the spontaneity of the moment. I scan the spare seats and eventually choose one on the right-hand flank of the glass cubicle. I sit down, and people still seem agitated. The elderly couple behind me seem particularly annoyed with me. The old man reminds me of a mischievous, spiteful Norwegian troll, with a hooked, bulbous nose and glinting eyes; he begins pushing at the back of my chair, aggressively rocking me up and down. Eventually he and his wife decide to leave, causing more disturbance to the proceedings, and I settle into my chair awaiting whatever comes next.

The dream has a number of associations for me, the main ones being as follows.

  • I’ve had the thought at the back of my mind for a while that ‘hearth’ (i.e. the heart of the house where the heart and earth come together), ‘heart’ and ‘earth’ all have the same etymological root; thanks to Stella Kassimati for making this connection for me. Stella is a storyteller spearheading a community arts initiative in her beautiful home village of Amari in the heart of Crete in the Mediterranean.
  • The toothbrush plays an important role in keeping some sense of privacy in the dream, and reminds me of my cousin, Francesca, who wrote her Steiner Teacher training dissertation on the significance of teeth in human development; Francesca set up the Beechtree Steiner Initiative in Leeds, Yorkshire in the UK. She also made me a brilliant, lurid chessboard and chess set a few years ago out of recycled materials; the knights were ingeniously made from upturned toothbrush heads. (You woudn’t want to meet the queens on a dark night; they were made from upturned razors – the throwaway kind and not the Contour Plus, thankfully: see post below.)
  • Finally, the appearance of Paul Matthews in the dream makes me think of Paul’s use of social writing in his writing classes and his own relationship with nature. All of this increases my desire to get my hands on a copy of The Song of the Earth by Jonathon Bate, who is a leading Shakespeare scholar. He has just completed a five-year project for the Royal Shakespeare Company, in collaboration with twenty-five scholars worldwide, to publish the most authentic complete works of Shakespeare along with the most up-to-date research. He’s also written a well-received biography of the Northamptonshire poet, John Clare, who lived during the Enclosures.


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