The Somnopolitan Line
I’ve talked before – both here and in other blogging arenas – about how locations and landscapes in dreams seem to be consistent from dream to dream, almost as if there is a place we go when we sleep, or if the brain retains the architecture of dreams like a computer storing the map of an imaginary place on its hard drive ready for when we next play that game. I don’t think we’re computers though, and even though people describe the latter as “electronic brains” I suspect they way they work is very different, just as different as eyes and cameras. A lot of what we see and the resolution is down to the brain interpreting visual (and I suspect other) signals to give us a picture that makes sense.
This is probably why I see cats both when there are cats there and when there are not. It makes sense for there to be cats.
But I digress.
There are a multitude of dream buildings and cities that are often there when I fall asleep – the twisted versions of childhood houses and the large oceanic version of Brighton the most distinguishing feature of which is the fact that the land to the east is flat, almost at sea level as opposed to on cliffs – but there is one place (or collection of places) in which I often find myself, especially in dreams about travelling.
It’s the dream version of the London Underground. I’ve written about it before in various places as part of larger blog entries, but I thought it was about time it had a piece of its own.
Never mind the Night Tube, this is a whole Somnambulent Network at another level of complexity all together. Everything is bigger and better but in a grimy and very nineteen seventies way. And of course this explains why everything is bigger; I first started travelling on the tube in the nineteen seventies when I was around eight years old. I was a small child. This subterranean world I started exploring had been designed and built for creatures much bigger than I was at the time. Part of this sensation of not quite fitting has carried through into these dreams.
But to me the most significant thing about this version of the tube is its permanence. There’s a lot of it. Quite often the dream takes place during a modernisation period during which deep-level “express” versions of some of the lines are under construction or already in use. I get tantalising glimpses of maps with extra lines on them – often multiple new branches of the District Line crawling all over south east London like a particularly virulent species of vine. There are also branches of the Metropolitan and Central lines way beyond the wilds of Buckinghamshire and Essex, far further flung than Amersham and Ongar could ever hope to be in real life. One of the dream Tube’s Metropolitan line termini is in mid-Wales and takes over a day to get to. The Bakerloo Line sometimes runs as far south as Haywards Heath in Sussex while the Victoria Line reaches Luxor in Egypt.
The Circle Line runs through a natural subterranean cavern at one point where if you stare out of the window hard enough you might be lucky enough to spot one of the troglodytic inhabitants of this undercity.
In an echo of the Northern Heights scheme (long abandoned in the waking world) there’s a huge depot with tracks that fill an entire valley before heading off eastwards from the environs of Highgate and Crouch End. There’s an orange line – possibly a reflection of the real world Overground – which travels through a dystopian police state version of East London still containing bomb sites from the Second World War.
It’s more than just the routes themselves that are special. There’s the architecture as well; a lot of it still seems to be of Edwardian construction with post-war fixtures and fittings bolted onto it much like a lot of the real network forty years ago. It’s all yellowish, smelling of burnt dust with a hint of urine. Huge brass and glass indicator boards hang on chains from the ceiling, lit from inside by tungsten filament incandescent lamps. Ticket machines stand like sentinels, their illuminated wedge shaped faces beaming the price of 15p out in huge red type.
Getting about the stations can be hazardous. There are pedestrian walkways and escalators like nothing you’ve ever seen in the real world. They’re often too long and some of them are too narrow; occasionally you have to squeeze through an incredibly narrow passage between adjacent platforms and sometimes it’s even necessary to walk through the train tunnels to the next station for some unfathomable reason.
And then there are the escalators. Invariably of the old wooden variety (which in reality were removed from use after the Kings Cross fire of 1987), they don’t always travel in a straight line. Sometimes they descent at a very shallow angle, sometimes a steep one. Some are helical. Some travel very fast so you have to be careful when stepping off at the end. There are often great ranks of them funnelling passengers towards odd ticket gates, complicated mechanisms distantly related to the old variety fitted with what I always called “pincer cushions” upholstered with red and black moquette. A lot of it has a deep level, Northern, Bakerloo quality and yet on the other hand some of the places on the real tube that feel most like this subterranean dreamscape are parts of the subsurface interchange at Baker Street where the Metropolitan Line peels off from the Circle in order to head off northwest; the scissor gates, the old signage the sensation that people have been walking the same corridors for over a century and a half…
As with all dreams, this account barely scratches the surface and only gives a distorted view of what’s it’s like when we’re actually there. If only I could bring a camera with me next time. It would make it easier to compare notes.
Because I am beginning to get the impression that it’s not just me that uses the network. Jung spoke of the Collective Unconscious; perhaps it has its own transit system?
Silhouette photo © Alexandros Plakidas on Flickr