Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Fish Dreaming

I don't know if this happens to other people, but I often dream about old toys. Not about old toys as a class of objects, but rather my own old toys. To be more specific, I dream about the toys that I have completely forgotten - or rather, in light of the recollection the dreams bring, the toys that I think I have completely forgotten (although in fact I don't think I have forgotten them  - that is, I'm not conscious of having forgotten them; it is simply that I no longer remember them - until they come to me in dreams).

Usually, the things that come back to me are ornaments - china animals mainly, (for some reason, for a while when I was young I liked to have a little china dog or rabbit about my person; it was oddly comforting to put a hand into a pocket and feel the smooth contours of a tiny creature lurking in its depths). Sometimes though something else appears from the recesses of my memory. The other night for instance I dreamt about a game.

The game was, I think, called the Fishing Game. It used to be one of my favourite possessions. It came in a box that was decorated with a watercolour picture of fish and waterweed. Inside the box were the various bits and pieces that went to make up the game.

The largest component was a cardboard folding enclosure, its exterior painted, like the box, to look a bit like a pond. You unfolded this enclosure and set it on the table and then you dropped small cardboard fish with magnets on their faces into the middle of it. Once you'd done this you picked up the tiny fishing lines that were the final items in the box. On the end of these lines there were also magnets so that, when you dangled them into the enclosure, you were able to 'catch' the fish within.

Curiously when I woke up from dreaming that I'd been playing the Fishing Game and turned on the radio, the first thing I heard was a man from Cambridge explaining that 'scientists' - (that shadowy group of beings we are always being told about; I imagine them faceless and silent, a stream of cybermen flooding across Westminster Bridge) - have discovered that salmon have tiny iron crystals in their noses that help to orient them when they migrate. Leaving aside the fact that I didn't even know salmon - or fish in general - actually had noses, (isn't that what gills are for?), this information struck me as truly extraordinary.

The man from Cambridge then went on to tell us that in the Czech Republic in all the markets at Christmas time they have tubs full of carp, which people buy, either to eat or to throw into the rivers - (this latter option raises many questions, but I'll resist asking them here) - and the cybermen, (sorry, I meant 'scientists'), have studied these carp in their tubs and discovered that, utterly mysteriously, they all - every single one of them - no matter how crowded their tubs are, turn themselves round so that they are oriented north to south.

Isn't this wonderfully strange? And what if it's not only fish? What if we too are at the mercy of overpowering impulses that we're not even aware of? What if, believing ourselves rational and in control of our destinies, we are really being tugged this way and that in some huge and complicated game? 


  1. With the earth's magnetic field being reasonably constant over a long enough period, evolution gives advantage to creatures [fish, birds, mammals…] which have for whatever reason been able to benefit by it. I daresay that sometimes miniscule advantage at one time is enough to see the disappearance of a species and the dominance of another. Not to mention our butterflies in Beijing.

    The cardboard fish had quite a magnetic advantage when we were kids because we also had them, and I'm sure many others did too. Whether it's now been lost in toy evolution to 'smarter' toys I'm not sure, but I imagine so.

    I'm certain that unless physical destruction to the brain occurs, we forget nothing, ever. The more useless things just get pushed to the darker recesses of the increasingly cluttered attic we store it all in. Those need a trigger, and they may reappear in memory, sometimes disconcertingly, at any time. Very likely it was the radio in this case.

    I agree that the 'problem' is recall, and I'm rapidly finding it's a growing one; not just because of age in my case. But that's part of another story.

    Even so, it's all part of a great mystery, and we can revel in that. I've seen the scientific explanations for the evolution of life, but to me it's still the most wonderful and beautiful mystery of all.

    1. Furious agreement, as they say, from me.