10 March, 2021 – Santo Estevão, Portugal

By Philippa Harland

For me, the boundaries between days and nights, sleeping and waking, are beginning to melt and warp in a way that is slightly concerning.

I had heard stories about lockdown dreams — reports of people’s dreams becoming more like fever or cheese dreams than the usual jumble of instantly forgettable scenarios. But I did not see any changes in my dreams until the last few months.

Maybe it has been the series of family bereavements we have experienced, or just the fact that this lockdown seems to have lasted an eternity with a barrage of bad news banging on our doors. So many tales of illness, bad politics and injustice across the world on top of the never ending reports of collapsing medical institutions and persistent death rate levels.  My brain is evidently working overtime to compensate for this with dreams of lavish society get-togethers. This has been surprising and delightful but, as I say, disturbing, as it is getting me to the point of desiring bed and slumber much more than the dull yet stressful reality of every day.

And my dreams are getting wilder. Nearly every night I spend with people from my past and present (both the living and deceased) — relatives, friends, and celebrities I have never met. The locations are always interesting, sometimes even exotic. There have been parties, banquets and even a full on costume ball in a crumbling marble mansion (which a fellow guest informed me was located in the heart of Brooklyn NYC).

Recently I found myself at a smaller, al fresco affair in an Italian marketplace. I could feel the warm night air and hear a small jazz band in the background. A few tables were dotted between market stalls selling delicious food and wine.  I met a friend who, dead these last ten years, offered me a twist of paper filled with warm salted walnuts and insisted I try one. As I popped it into my mouth I woke up and, like Caliban in the Tempest, “when I waked I cried to dream again’. The taste of the walnut still echoed in my mouth.

I turn sixty years old in April, as does my husband later this month. Our last birthdays were in lockdown when we made do with home crafted gifts and a small meal à deux. Last summer we had started to plan a huge get together, inviting friends and family to Portugal for a joint celebratory barbeque. Currently, the Portuguese government is looking at keeping all restaurants and bars closed until Easter or even the end of April, which means we have given up on planning anything other than staying at home. Even trying to plan a future summer celebration has become depressing as there seems no point in looking at spurious timelines for the lifting of travel restrictions and ever changing isolation laws.

At least I have my dreams to give me the social life I no longer experience when awake. I just hope that I do not get too hooked on this private dream world and start staying longer and longer in bed. If this is the case, you are all cordially invited to attend my extravagant sixtieth birthday party – just get your pyjamas on and close your eyes.