This week has been quite odd. I’ve been feeling a little out of sorts emotionally. I think that’s partly down to the weather. We’ve had a peppering of cold sunny days, one warm one and the rest of the time it’s been a high of five degrees but the wind chill will make it feel like minus fourteen. OK not minus fourteen; according to the ‘real feel’ thing on my phone it’s usually minus one or zero but it’s all pissy and grim.
Alexa has been giving us a permanent flood warning since about mid December and it is either pissing it down, snowing or horrible yellow/grey smeary skies, pregnant with impending snow, like the one in this picture, taken just now.
Every single permutation of weather we are given involves an icy north or north east wind and being fucking freezing. Being cold is getting fucking old. I am wearing a thick Norwegian style jumper, a polo shirt, silk thermals, a vest and a green v-neck Wallace-style tank top. I’m still cold.
God bless the electric blanket and all who sail on her. That’s all I can say, although it is annoying, now that we don’t have an en-suite anymore, to have to go up to the the next floor for a wee in the night. In theory we do have an en-suite but the loo broke and a plumber came and looked at it about three weeks off, went away to get a part and … Schlepping up to McMini’s loo tends to wake me up in a way that staggering a few steps to the en-suite doesn’t. On the other hand, at least the knee is past the crutches stage now. Yeh, I know. Listen to me, whinging cow! First world problems.
The other aspect of emotional out of sorts-ness is is down to difficulties with what Mum and I refer to as ‘the tentacles’ which has left me with a rather unsettling feeling that I’ll be dead by next Tuesday. I know. A bit stark isn’t it?
On the other hand, it does give me an excuse for a ‘where do you get this shit?’ style post. This is going to sound weird but I’m going to explain to you the tiny grain of … thing … upon which I constructed the giant sandcastle of bollocks that is Natterjack’s box of frogs in the K’Barthan Series. Ready? Right then, off we go.
As well as the Discworld novels, Terry Pratchett wrote three other books which are more straight sci-fi. One of them, I think it was called Strata, is about this race of people who have what they call ‘future echoes’. They’re not exactly precognitive, they just get deja-vu a lot and … it’s a long time since I read the book but I think they sometimes know the future in small ways. Say X and you will have a row with Thingwot, say Y and you won’t kind of stuff.
The thing is, from time to time, I do have a vague fuzzy outline of the future in exactly the same way. Yep. I get future echoes myself – as does my mother and other family members. There. I’ve said it. Except we call the whole ‘sensitivity’ thing, our ‘tentacles’. The biggest problem I have with future echoes is that I tend to try and read too much into them. Which leads to a certain amount of unnecessary worry. There are a LOT of future echoes in my life right now. Which is a little disconcerting and part of the reason I thought I’d talk about them now.
As a nipper, right through to the age of about 16 I used to have precognitive dreams. Lots of them. It was all very simple. I’d have a dream that felt different to proper dreams and was about normal life. While I was dreaming, I’d also be able to observe what was happening and think about it with non-dream, spectator cogency. I called them deja-vu dreams because they used to come true.
There were three types: the first was about a choice, talking to someone I could say x or y and two different outcomes would occur. Usually it was about falling out with someone or … not falling out with them. Second, there was a, if-you-do-this-it-means-you-have-irrevocably-changed-the-course-of-time-and-x-y-or-z-thing-will/will-not-happen. The third type would be just a snippet of me wandering about during a normal day. Usually the bit that was predictive was simply because I was wondering about during a normal day in six months’ time and the background knowledge in my head contained events that hadn’t happened yet. Looking at that background knowledge during the dream I’d be having conscious thoughts along the line of, ‘Oh! Oojah is going to buy a red bicycle!’ or whatever and I would remember these thoughts, as well as the dream.
On the whole, despite having remembered thoughts about them as I dreamt them, it was only as the events I’d dreamt in advance began to unfold that I’d remember anything. Hence my calling it ‘deja-vu’. That meant that the I-know-X-will-happen-because-it’s-part-of-my-background-knowledge-during-the-dream, dreams were pretty rubbish and the, if-this-happens-x-y-or-z-thing-is-irrevocably-set-in-stone dreams were absolutely fucking pointless and about as much use as a chocolate teapot. That said, the knowing-what-to-say-(or-not-to-say)-to-Thingwot-to-avoid-a-row type of dreams were actually quite handy to a hot-headed child with a tendency to state things rather baldly.
There’s a long conversation between Sir Robin Get and The Pan of Hamgee in Few Are Chosen (it’s Chapter 35 if you’re interested) when Sir Robin explains how small and seemingly inconsequential decisions can change the course of events. And also how Arnold, The Prophet, had to predict the future. All that stuff about walking either side of a lamp post and changing the course of time? That’s a slightly inflated version of the premise behind the knowing-what-to-say-(or-not-to-say)-to-Thingwot-to-avoid-a-row type of precognitive dreams. Obviously in real life these decisions don’t necessarily alter anything as drastically as Sir Robin says! Or at least, not as far as I’m aware.
As a small child I was intrigued but also quite sceptical and I tried to pursue an exhaustive scientific testing programme, in so far as you can be scientific about something as intangible and bizarre as this. I tried to remember scenes from my dreams and generally spent a lot of time attempting to note and remember markers over the course of each dream to see how ‘true’ they came, how long a period of time the whole deja vu thing lasted for and if there was anything constructive or helpful I could do with my slightly rubbish gift.
If I could remember the dreams far enough in advance then would I be able to help people? The way it was, my gift of … whatever – precog lite? – wasn’t really much good for anything, except, perhaps, avoiding the occasional argument. But imagine if I remembered, beforehand, that I was going to get bollocked for not doing my homework! I might remember to do it as a result of a dream and avoid a bollocking. That would be epic. And useful. If I could only remember the bloody dreams for long enough after I woke up to write them down. But how?
In the 1980s I had no idea where someone with this sort of affliction would go for advice, training or whatever, outside the crushed velvet and melodrama brigade. Remember, Hogwarts was not a thing at this point, indeed, I’m not sure JK Rowling was even born and even if she was, I doubt she was any older than I was. I hadn’t read Strata at that point either, so it wouldn’t have occurred to me to write to Terry Pratchett, who had described the exact same thing, presumably from his own experience or that of a loved one, and called it future echoes. Anyway, email for the normals was another fifteen years away so the gatekeepers would have chalked me up as a nutter and it’d never have reached him.
One day, watching a film on BBC2 in the 6 o’clock spot while the normals were watching the news on BBC1 or ITV I discovered that I could remember about twenty minutes of the scene I was watching word-for-word. This one was vivid enough for me to be able to say the lines before each of the characters. It wasn’t a film I had consciously seen although I didn’t rule out having seen it and forgotten (it would have been the first and last time but still not ruling it out). But that was a hell of a lot to remember from a very ordinary scene. It wasn’t like I’d remembered the script from any of the exciting bits. Something was definitely going on. I decided I would tell Mum. So I had a chat to her.
‘Mum. Every now and again I have these dreams that aren’t like other dreams and I think they’re coming true.’
‘Do they scare you?’
‘Good. Well, I wouldn’t worry darling, I had those, too. They wear off when you get older.’
Was I weird? Possibly, but at the same time, if Mum had those dreams then, only a little. Was I unique? Not particularly. Was I relieved? Hell yeh! Gotta love Mum.
Things came to a head when I was sixteen. I dreamt my brother was injured and I was holding a bowl of blood. He was in bed, and I didn’t know if he was going to live or die. This one was different. I knew that whatever had smashed my brother’s face in, and caused him to bleed into the bowl I was holding in that dream, had happened in a game of football. I also knew that said game of football was about three weeks away. I’d never had any useful information like ‘when’ in a deja-vu dream before. I also knew, instinctively, that I would remember this one after I woke up. At this point a voice in the dream explained that I could choose to refuse this gift. If I wanted to accept then, when I woke up, I could write the dream down. If I did that, I would remember it and retain the gift. If I decided not to write it down, it would be taken as refusal.
I woke up, turned on the light and had a quick cry, as any rational human being would when confronted with this sort of nuttery. I also got out my diary and a pen just in case. Now to think practically about this. What did I know? That the injury was football related and would happen in three weeks. Presumably a Tuesday or a Saturday then.
OK that was the knowledge. What could I do about it? Well, I could warn my brother. But what would that do? Scare him? Yes. And would I be able to stop my brother from playing in the school team? No. Should I? No. And if I did, could I prove that my intervention had saved him from anything bad? Unlikely. And then we came to what I didn’t know. What would I be saving him from? If it was just a black eye and a broken nose he wouldn’t care, it isn’t pleasant but it happens if you’re the goalie. All I really knew was that he was going to get a kicking. How serious was it? I didn’t know.
Plus there were all sorts of social sides to it, ‘I can’t play because my sister has had a premonition,’ maketh not for a safe spot as the first eleven goalie. On the other hand, what it does do is to turn Bruv into a laughing stock. The only thing accepting the gift would do was equip me to embarrass my brother and make myself look like an absolute lunatic.
Also, I’d had enough deja-vu dreams by this time to know that they were usually a bit crap. This was about the best it got. Usually, there was enough information to get me rattled but nothing that would be any help avoiding whatever disaster appeared to be looming. If you dream you’re reading in the newspaper about a friend’s death, in an air crash, months in advance but have no flight number, airline, country, date or time it’s fuck all use really. Yeh. Thank you but no, I decided, dried my eyes, put the diary and pen away and went back to sleep.
Three weeks later my brother got kicked in the face playing football exactly as I had dreamt. He had a broken nose and a black eye and had swallowed a lot of blood which he threw up into a bowl, which my mother handed to me. At which point I thought, Hmm, this seems familiar … hang on a second! That was the bowl of bright red liquid I’d thought was blood in my dream and, as I stood there holding it, I remembered everything.
Naturally, I spent a night worried that the dream meant more. That things would go wrong and my brother would die. I also fessed up to Mum about the dream and refusing the ‘gift’ because precognition seemed a pointless source of misery unless it contained the kind of useful intel I could do stuff with. She proceeded to share some of her experiences with both precog and creepy dreams and I suspect that made us both feel better. Most importantly, she reassured me that the dream was just that. A dream. It foreshadowed my brother getting injured but nothing more. It didn’t mean anything. As Dad later said, ‘you have to be very careful with these things because it’s so hard to see what is something else and what is your imagination.’ It’s true. It is what it is. The way to react to is is, ‘oh, I think I might have had a dream about that, moving on …’ It’s always unwise to speculate or seek meaning.
Refusing the gift hasn’t really made much difference. I do still get deja-vu but less often. I had one about my then completely bald baby boy having tumbling blonde curls which, when his hair finally appeared, he did. But usually when it happens it isn’t quite the same. I don’t immediately remember that I’ve dreamt it or recall what’s going to happen next with the same vividness as before. I do know what people are going to say but the whole choices aspect has gone. Which was the only useful bit, to be honest. The only one that still works, really, is the pointless if-this-happens-x-y-or-z-thing-is-irrevocably-set-in-stone dreams, except it’s no longer x, y or z thing it’s just SOMETHING which is even more fucking useless than the original.
Other times if something major is about to happen, I wake up, aware that I’ve been having deja-vu dreams. I get that sort of heavy, prescient feeling you get before a thunderstorm when your head feels all buzzy. Or it’s as if you have tentacles and someone’s standing on the end of one. Hence Mum and I call the whole thing ‘tentacles’. The events can be good or bad, but unfortunately, deaths tend to make for wobbly tentacles, as a result of which any kind of tentacle-based disturbance in the force makes me very nervous, no matter how much the sensible rational part of my brain is pointing the finger and laughing at the superstitious stupidity of the other bits.
In these instances I always assume someone is going to die, and while, occasionally, they do (and it’s never the person who looks most likely) I find that more often it’s just a precursor to big changes. As if they are like thunder in the distance and I can hear them coming. Precog dreams and recognition of them is rare for me these days but I am having them now and after a particularly strong if-you’re-doing-this-you’re-fucked one while I was putting the washing out yesterday they are making me very jittery.
Looking at what’s going on in the world and the pandemic, and also where I am, personally, it’s clear that a lot of changes will be happening over the next few months and years. That’s not exactly a hard thing to spot. Plus, I’m about to release my first full length novel since 2015, and that seems to be, like its title, too good to be true.
Indeed, I’m now at the point with Too Good To Be True where the epub is formatted and uploaded everywhere and I am starting on the paperback. It was touch-and-go whether I’d get them all done in time for the pre-release deadlines but it’s happened! The first one is on Monday.
For all the hard bits in life, I am, basically, happy. And I think there are times when believing my future is … short … is a way of manifesting a feeling of not deserving to be happy, or loved or all the things which I actually am. This is also too good to be true. It can’t last. Something’s going to fuck it up. I know! I’m going to die, that’s what it is! Yeh. I’m going to peg-it because that would be fucking inconvenient right now. Even though I am much less of an idiot than this post makes me look, and I can see and appreciate the factors I’ve just outlined, I am still completely convinced, as I write this, that I, or someone or other of my loved ones, will be dead by the end of next Tuesday.
A bit grim but, on the other hand, it will make for a joyous evening on Wednesday if we are all still here and nothing’s happened.
Incidentally, I would like to think I approach the whole precognitive thing this with what I’d call open-minded scepticism. I suspect it’s probably rubbish, but if there is something in it, something that can be explained by science like … I dunno, folds in time or similar, I wouldn’t be surprised. When you hop in the car and McMini says, ‘we are going to see the street sweeper today’ and he tells you exactly which road and describes the vehicle. When it then appears, on cue, exactly where he said for the first and only time in two years of commuting along the same route, three times weekly. When he tells you he knew it was going to happen because he dreamt it, it’s difficult not to be intrigued. We’ve had the tentacles conversation too and I played it exactly the same way my Mum did. I also know her father, my grandfather, had them too. Four generations then.
Many years ago, when I was still writing Few Are Chosen, I went to my writers’ group and read out the thinly veiled description of my tentacles, pitched as a conversation The Pan and Sir Robin Get have about poor old Arnold trying to get his prophecies right. One of the ladies cheerfully piped up, ‘Oh my son is a theoretical physicist and he’s been working on this, do you know anything about …’ I think she called it, ‘black physics?’ or possibly dark physics? I replied that I didn’t and that I’d just made this up. But apparently no. It is a thing – or at least a grain of it is, naturally I have taken that grain of vague theoretical truth and used it basis upon which to concoct a gargantuan sandcastle of bollocks. Because I’m a writer and that’s what I do.
Although having said that, maybe I’m not so nuts after all. This is a health advice site. I was intrigued precognitive dreams were even mentioned there. https://www.healthline.com/health/precognitive-dreams
One day, if I can stump up the courage, I’ll tell you my theories about telepathy and esp. As it is I think that’s enough weirdness for one day.
Briefly … Mum was even more chirpy this week. We went out into the garden and she sat on her rollator and chatted to me while I dug holes in her lawn. I managed to unearth a fabulous button; Royal Dragoons from between 1797 and 1820. Was it dropped by a soldier? Or did it fall off an ancient trench coat at the turn of the 20th century? One which had belonged to the farmer’s Grandpa in the Napoleonic wars, perhaps? Then again, I think they were a cavalry regiment, therefore posh so possibly not, unless he was there to look after the horses. Anyway, I was chuffed. Here it is.
If you’re interested, and you feel like it …
Too Good To Be True is out on 18th March, fingers crossed. Amazingly, I have, finally got my shit together and it is live for pre-order everywhere – if buying from retailers is your thing. Or you can pre-order it from my website or my web shop for a whole £1 less than it is everywhere else! Mmm. By Grabthar’s Hammer! What a savings!
Anyhoo, here’s the gen …
Too Good To Be True
When the finger of fate points … hide!
When The Pan of Hamgee encounters some mudlarkers trying to land a box on the banks of the River Dang he is happy to help. Having accepted a share of the contents as a reward he cannot believe his luck. It contains one of the most expensive delicacies available in K’Barth, Goojan spiced sausage. If he can sell it, the sausage might spell the end of his troubles. On the other hand, knowing his luck, it could bring a whole load more.
Suggested UK cinema rating for this one PG (parental guidance) there’s a slightly saucy bit and a bit of light violence.
Even so, this is a humorous science fiction fantasy story set in a parallel reality.
To find out more, and for links to pre-order it if that’s your thing, go here: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/infotgtbt.html