Now, to the crux of the matter. Above, you'll see my horribly inaccurate map that I posted in my last post, a map that does not reflect reality, except in that it is a hazy representation of the RAF Chicksands of my dreams. Keep in mind that I spent nearly three years here. And these were my late teenage years. I was 15 when I moved there and 18 when I (ignominiously) left. I did not have a car, so I walked everywhere there. If we wanted to go into the city of Bedford or down to London or to Donnington Park to catch the Monsters of Rock show, we got on a bus at the base gate, then hooked up with a train and, if going to London, bought a tube pass when we hit Kings Cross station. But on base, it was all by foot. I wish I knew how many steps I laid down on that base, but my best guesstimate is over 8 million steps. Probably more, when I really think about it. I mention this just to say that I have trod that ground so much that I am fully confident that I could walk from one end of the base to the other on complete autopilot, even in a blacked-out drunken stupor. I know because I did exactly that several times. My legs knew the way, even if the brain wasn't paying attention. And that had to have affected my dreams in some way. I don't think that dreams are a complete escape from reality. While I think there is some slippage in consciousness of space (reality? dimensions?) when one enters the dreamworld, there must also be some grounding in the waking world. Whether this is some sort of out-of-body experience, I don't fully know. But I have my suspicions that at least some of the time, when we dream, we actually travel. I can't account for the intensity of experience otherwise. Your willing suspension of disbelief may vary.
In the map above, you'll see that I've highlighted some features in day-glo orange (correct me if I'm wrong - I have some degree of hue blindness and oranges and pinks and yellows sometimes all bleed together for me). These are:
1) The woods outside the barbed wire fence, to the west, including a barrow mound that did not exist.
2) The Stars & Stripes bookstore.
3) The trail north of the River Flit that led to some woods and farms to the east.
4) The NCO club.
5) The dorm where my lost friend Greg Bohler lived.
6) The road curving up hill from the NCO club to the bowling alley.
7) The forbidden area.
I have highlighted these areas because they either 1) appeared more frequently in my dreams than other areas or 2) were the location of particularly meaningful or intense dreams that evoked more emotion in me than the others.
You would think that my home and the Chicksands Priory would be the center places of most of my Chicksands dreams, my home because that is where I lived and slept, and Chicksands Priory because it was such a unique and strange place (and may very well have been haunted, but I won't go into those stories now - suffice it to say that I saw and experienced some VERY strange things there, as have many others). But this is not the case. I've dreamed about both, or they wouldn't appear on my map. But not frequently or with any great intensity. This is in direct contradiction to my waking experience: of course I had some of my most intense emotional experiences in my home, we all do. And, as I've said, the Priory was a place of great spiritual intensity, partly because when we were sneaking about the Priory at night, we were almost always doing so illegally, so on top of the bizarre experiences I had there, there was always the possibility that we might run out of the Priory (this happened more than once) and right into the arms of a waiting Security Policeman. Truth is, though, and I learned this from an S.P., the cops never went into the Priory. If they thought someone was in there, they would wait for them to come out. They never, ever went inside. Yes, it was that spooky.
Returning to the list above, I wanted to outline the kinds of dreams I had regarding each place, to give you an idea of the dreamplace psychogeography as I mapped it. Let's go in reverse order:
The Forbidden Area: As stated in my last post, this is the geographic position of the actual intelligence-gathering machinery of the base and the interpretation of said intel. I believe I had actually seen that area in person twice, though I can't recall why I was up there. I was never allowed through the fence, as only those with the correct clearance were allowed in there, and I was just a military dependent. I never saw my Dad's workplace there, though I had seen his workplace when we lived at Offutt AFB, Omaha, Nebraska, before deploying to Chicksands. In my dreams, I picture this area as being riddled with barbed wire fences topped with concertina wire. There are lots of people in military uniforms milling about, each bedecked with numerous lanyards from which hang different kinds of identity cards. Beyond the fences, men and woman cycle in and out of nondescript Quonset huts. Beyond the few Quonset huts I can see is a mist or fog into which uniformed personnel disappear and from which they emerge. The radar array, that I know was there in real life, is lost in the mist in my dreams. This is probably my brain's way of symbolizing the hidden nature of what really went on there at the base. (note: years later, when my Dad's classified clearance ran out, I asked him. He told me some things, but others he took with him to the grave, intentionally. My Dad was an honorable man who kept his promises, even though I bugged the heck out of him to tell me more. Oh, and Area 51? It's not aliens. But it's not "normal" either. That's all he would tell me.). The feeling of my dreams here is one of being just on the tip of knowing something striking, maybe earth-shattering, but not being able to be fully let-in.
The Road: In waking hours, I rarely actually walked up this curve of road. There were sidewalks and steps that traversed the hill, south to north, and I most often walked up these or just ran up the hill itself. Honestly, there may not be a road there at all, though it seems like there would have to be. I'll be curious to look at satellite images later and see if there is a road curving up there like that. I honestly don't know. What I do know is that in my dreams, I will often be leaving the area near the NCO club and walking up this curve of road (real or imaginary), trying to get to the bowling alley. I never get there. Ever. I spent a good amount of time in that bowling alley; I even worked there for a few months. One of the very few jobs I had in high school. Now, I have to state that something happened there at the bowling alley near the end of my time at Chicksands, something that I won't relate. It's not something I'm proud of, and it is tied in closely with my departure from the base. Perhaps that is why my dreams won't let me get there. I try and try, but never, ever, can I get up that hill. One of three things happens: 1) I walk and walk and walk and don't move, 2) I make it partway up the hill and the bowling alley and the security fence there simply dissolve away and I am walking on farmer's fields toward the extensive woods to the north of the base, or 3) I wake up. I have an intense desire to make it up that hill every time, and every time, I am denied closure. It is here that I often feel the biggest sense of loss, that if I could just make it to the bowling alley, I'd find one or more of my lost friends. But it never happens.
The Dorm: In the dream world, this is a mixed bag. Sometimes I am there and there is an extensive party going on. This reflects reality. Some of the craziest parties I ever went to were in this dorm. I mean, really crazy! Military personnel know how to party, I'll give them that. Other times, my dreams are simple: I'm sitting in the day room watching TV with some other people there. In fact, this also reflects reality. Though I wasn't supposed to be there, I often was. They weren't very stringent in enforcing the rule that only military personnel who lived in the dorms were supposed to be in the dorms. I do recall one dream, however, where one of the Security Police sees me there and chases me out. I don't recall that ever happening in the waking world. Now, I have a really difficult time in parsing out one thing: Of course I saw Greg there - all the time, in fact. We'd be hanging out, listening to music or watching Robotech or playing Battletech or D&D. But I can't tell if I ever dreamt about Greg being in the dorm or not. I'm hard-pressed to separate my memories, registered in the real world, and my dreams. I think I remember talking with Greg or having some event happen, but are those real memories or dreams? Or some shading of both? I can't tell. It is one of the more confusing places in my dream world, in this regard.
The NCO (Non-Commissioned Officers) Club: Before I turned 18, this was a place where I sometimes went for a meal. They actually had really good food! After 18, I drank myself into oblivion here. This was ground zero for my teenage alcoholism. I dreamt about this place from time to time, but I had a rather intense dream just a few months back about the club. There was a certain House of Leaves quality to the dream in that the building, as I made my way through it from room to room kept expanding, becoming larger and larger. Corridors would lengthen, new stairways would emerge where there weren't any stairs before, doorways would loop back into other rooms that were not the room you saw on the other side as you began walking through the doorway, halls folded in on themselves. In this dream, I know that there was some sort of renovation going on, and that it was transitioning from a place where military personnel and dependents went to relax with a drink, to a place where civilians were taking over the management of the place. This probably has to do with my knowledge that the base was decommissioned for US Air Force use back in the '90s. But it was never a civilian-managed place, so far as I know. British intelligence runs the base now, and I have to presume that if the old NCO club is used for anything like its prior purpose, it would be run by government employees. In any case, my dream world NCO club was a maze that continued to grow and grow, like it was trying to swallow me up in its labyrinth. At the end of the dream, I was able to make my escape, bewildered and winded.
The Trail: There is, or there was, a gap in the security fence in two places. One was right by my house. The other was near where the River Flit flowed off base. The gaps were there to allow for a bridle path, in case the Queen wanted to ride her horse through the base. Literally, that's what it was for. One of the most ridiculous manifestations of the cold war alliance between the UK and the USA, but there you have it. Sometimes the CND would march right through the middle of the base on that path, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop them. Surreal. Anyway, the exit to the east led to some pleasant rolling hills populated with sheep. There were woods and proper farms further out. In my dreams, this has become a sort of golden , idyllic pasture, almost a sort of . . . heaven. I have no idea why this would be the case. It was all rather banal, in the waking world. There was a certain quaintness to the area, but nothing so resplendent as in my dreams. Maybe it was an escape hatch into some paradise in the dream world. I shall have to try to explore that possibility next time I'm there. This sounds like the great beginning to a horror story . . .
The Stars & Stripes Bookstore: Every Air Force Base used to have one of these. I don't know if they do any more. I used to spend a fair amount of time there usually reading Dragon magazine or other D&D books, or comic books. Once in a while I would browse and buy an actual book. My dreams about the bookstore are invariably ordinary. I'm just browsing books. The outside area around the bookstore always seems to change, though. At one point, it's a big concrete slab. At another time, the parking lot next to it has become larger. At yet another, the concrete slab is gone and there are well-pruned bushes and trees surrounding it. I honestly don't remember if any of these were actually "true" or not. I was there for the books, both in the waking world and in my dreams.
The Woods, the Barrow: The woods beyond the security fence were a reality. When you're a military brat who was prone to get into trouble as I was, you learned the fine art of hopping the security fence - not to get on base, but to get OFF, usually because you were being pursued by Security Police, but sometimes just because you couldn't be bothered to walk all the way to the base gate to go off exploring. The two bridges that cross the upper and lower Flit were very convenient in that they were high enough that you could climb up on the "walls" of the bridge and maneuver your way through the barbed wire and over the fence, if you were really careful. I didn't do that often, but I did a few times. The thing is, the woods on the opposite side of that fence were a marshy mess. Yes, you were suddenly "out in the country," but it was a country of disgusting-smelling mud and biting flies and gnats. Trudging through the trees, I think that we were always looking for something outre, something exciting. But we never found it . . . except in dream. The dream world beyond the fence is really something spectacular. The woods glow green (no matter what time of the day or night) and there are perfectly circular clearings in the trees, at the center of which grows a giant oak. Or the Barrow, an ancient Celtic structure people by bright, ankle-high faeries (one thinks of Machen's "White People") and the shimmering ghosts (never scary, oddly enough) of the long-departed. If I were an artist and architect, I could easily draw the structure for you. It is consistent in every dream, and the feeling of mystical wonderment and reverence that I feel there in my dreams is always the same. It is the most detailed, clear, and solid place in my dreams about Chicksands. And yet, it never existed. It is clearly a figment of my imagination. Oh, I forgot to mention, there is also a labyrinth inside of it, made of stacked stones atop which grows thick green grass. The labyrinth is never dark, always light, glowing faintly along the walls and brilliantly in the passage up ahead. It is a place of contentment for me, a place of belonging. Really, it feels like home. And yet, it never existed. This is the most enigmatic of places, when I'm trying to connect the waking world with the dream world. This is the place that feels the most real of all the places I've mentioned. And yet, it is not. I am at a loss to explain it. It just is. Maybe that's enough?