A wheelbarrow full of hedgehogs.
A lad from Primary school, who I haven’t seen since, pushing a wheelbarrow full of hedgehogs (who seemed quite happy – maybe thankful for the lift) down our old road. A road on which a friend now lives, but in a house with windows a disconcerting shade of Manchester City blue – something that frankly, would not be tolerated by him much beyond getting the key on moving-in day.
But the dreams during Lockdown have been getting weirder. In one, mimicking reality, I ordered a copy of the classic advertising text, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This online, only to have Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree delivered as a ‘suitable replacement’ (even more bizarrely, a few days later Girl Unknown* by Karen Perry* was delivered mistakenly in its place – any one want it?).
But in the most vivid, I was trudging up a cobbled hill – setts, really, as they were laid with continental precision. Up a hill that led away from a bridge over a river. A medieval magpie-style building was built out into the river with an annexe, presumably once a mill – but there was no wheel present, no rotation and the river wound its course unnoticed. Nor was it a Cheshire-style magpie building -black wood, white wattle and daub, nestling into rolling hills – but German style; taller, narrower, ornate ironwork, a steep-pitched, tiled roof, handsome gables. In the roof, triangular dormer windows, angling down rather than out.
And a golden pretzel, hanging over the window of the shop as the street wound up and round. Nope, this wasn’t Nantwich. Or Bunbury. And the Pretzel certainly wasn’t hanging outside Chatwins.
It was the dream-real smell of wood smoke that gave it away. Neat awnings, drawn out from the building fronts; bench tables; baskets of bread and glasses of dark beer. Cold, dark beer, with a caramel-white head, an inch deep, thick and tinged with wisps of smokey brown, like veins of chocolate shards running through stracciatella. Griddle pans, like square paella dishes, sizzling hot with thin sausages, onions, skinnily-sliced, tangled and interwoven like sauerkraut, caramel brown and honeyed, and the sweet-sharp smell of tangy, mild mustard, peppered with mustard seeds and caraway.
Bamberg, maybe, but a Lego-village version of it, built from half-formed highlights of days past, imagined futures and twisted memories. Groups of laughing people sitting shudderingly close to one another; the melodic runs of chords and finger-clacks of an accordion, played by a Moor wearing a hat full of pheasant feathers.
And always the beer. The dark, lagered-beer, brown like a chestnut, shiny and deep, but not opaque, rather, a refracted ruby lens-light, a malt-hopped prism, separating the components before melding them together in that delicious, longed-for, first sip.
*No, me neither.