“A candy-colored clown they call the sandman
Tiptoes to my room every night
Just to sprinkle stardust and to whisper
“Go to sleep. Everything is all right.”
I close my eyes, then I drift away
Into the magic night, I softly say
A silent prayer like dreamers do
Then I fall asleep to dreams, my dreams of you.”
In Dreams by Roy Orbison, February 1963
Those reading this who have shared my experience will not find my description exaggerated, metaphorical or even unusual. Morphine dreams have no beginning, middle or end. They are a bandage wrapped around the eyes, tight as a mummy’s bands, taking out all the air and sight and smell in one moment, then crashing you on to a shore of broken shale and stones the next, cutting your skin in a thousand deep incisions, like a mad vit kong who has finally stripped you bare and meted out all the revenge stored up from countless generations of oppression. Then you are pitched bare legged, three years old, on to the rusted big wheel at the summer fair which you knew in advance was too high, too fearful and too grown up but which your mother and sisters cajoled, bullied and lied to get you harnessed in.
You lurch over the horizon and scream; you are propelled into the void, leaving your stomach high above your head. Then you are laid to earth trembling and wet and cold until you are blasted with the breath of the coin-copper winged dragon you have fought every stoned night of your adult life. The dragon has vanquished you at last, because this time you did not awake at the last moment, in your own room, terrified but safe.
There are those of us who will still wedge a chair under the handle to the bedroom door, if we wake up spooked at 3am, convinced that an unseen terror is waiting on our vulnerability. Yet on other nights we will sleep under the stars, or on a train, or in a strange bed of a new friend and we will experience none of this foreboding.
The operation I had on my right eye in 2012 lasted 12 hours. I awoke screaming with pain and fear. My eye did not hurt but my arm had spasmed from the antibiotic canula and, to me, was being hacked off at the elbow. I was held down by four orderlies and pumped with enough morphine to keep my old singing partner Nico tranquil for a week.
When I awoke hours later in the hospital bed, I was immediately gripped with the idea that the NHS trial was actually a Nazi Aryan dominance laboratory. Having failed to cure my defective eyesight I was to be eliminated and the parts re-used. The four cannulas in each arm were filled with formaldehyde to preserve the useful organs and limbs for other experiments. I screamed and swore and snarled and bucked and ripped the needles out, lashing at a small, bespectacled teak-skinned nurse who was trying to calm me down. I fought on, swearing in English, French, Irish and my mother’s Guyanese bad Patois. “Vous etes cons! Christ on a fucking go-kart! Ras Clat!”
I only know all this because other people told me. All this happened in London, in a teaching hospital. All this came from what I had read, what I had experienced through my British life.
So the Syrian Kurds are being bombed into the rust red sod of northern Turkey by a man in western dress who plays checkers with Assad and who breaks up families by violence on a whim. And the Donald says staying out of this is smart. And warm, comfortable well-fed men and women are experiencing the exhilaration of being pushed gently into a black van and taken to a warm cell for a few hours and, in the process, will save the earth.
Oh well, it must be me who has my priorities wrong. Stupid. And there’s me imagining that my worst morphine nightmares are nothing to what the Kurdish women, children and frightened grown men are experiencing every day right now and that staying out of it being described as very smart is truly bizarre and that not shouting at the Turkish embassy but at someone driving a diesel car is weird and that actually it’s not the planet they want to save but the human race – like we deserve to be saved? There is not the slightest chance that human activity will render the planet extinct, a frozen lump of iron gradually disintegrating around the cooling sun. It is however, highly likely our activity will lead to the eventual destruction of all human life and a lot of animal life …
… but the planet will undoubtedly right itself, once people are out of the way!