Who could deny it? The lowest form of human discourse — lowlier than wisecracks on putting greens, or boosterish holiday form-letters, or overreaching puns at merger announcements — is the sharing of dreams. And by dreams I don’t mean Visions for a Better Future. I mean Delusional Narratives Generated by a Tortured Mind while Snoring. Because no one asked, because no one ever would, it is with some reluctance — not to say mild shame — that I confide …

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The fuel pump. Again.

… my sudden recollections of last night.

We seem to be in an unlit cobbled alleyway of El Mourouj. Aromas of shakshouka, mint, and kerosene mingle in the pre-dawn heat. Eminent literary critic Terry Castle and I, having wriggled beneath our 1957 Fiat Nuova 500, attempt to repair a fuel pump. Yes, our Fiat. (Perhaps before going any further I should mention that we shall remain — I believe this to be the case — fully draped for the duration of this dream.)

Supine, we riffle to and fro among tatty, oil-smeared pages of our  — yes, our — Chilton repair manual, bickering over which diagram most accurately depicts the defective mounting bracket in question. I’m sure you’ll agree: nothing particularly strange about my dream so far.

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Monsieur Breton

Finally the André Breton moment — le moment d’ — arrives when Baroness Castle insists that what we are looking at is, in fact, scordatura tunings for the main strings of a seventeenth century Baryton.

“Really?” I say. “What about the sympathetic strings?”

Her eyebrows arch, then squinch. I sense scorn, impatience. “Obviously we would be fools not to stick with the so-called Haydn-type tuning for the sympathetics.”

(I’m not joking. This was the actual phrase she used. So-called Haydn-type tuning.)

Lips, two pairs

I remain silent; merely scowl, knowing perfectly well that as a scholar, a thinker, of some renown the Baroness is probably making a valid point. After upbraiding me for my (again, her words) “monochrome pessimism,” she declares with what I take to be unswayable conviction that this minor inconvenience needn’t interfere with our repairs.

With her right hand she mimes a grasping gesture close to my face. “Hand me that ratchet and a, uh, 7mm socket.”

At which point I awaken, lurching upright and sweating, mouthing the inevitable banality: “JESUS, THAT SEEMED SO REAL!”