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Trout Beck

Dreamed summer 1933, by Nancy Price


Here is a perfectly related inconsequent dream by the busy actress and producer, Miss Nancy Price. It occurs in her book Shadows on the Hills. She was on holiday, on the Cumberland fells, and sitting beside a beck watching the trout, she dozed off.

--R.L. Megroz, The Dream World, 1939


I began to count them--a hopeless task it seemed, though I felt it to be unusual and worthy of congratulation that I reached two hundred and ninety-nine without seeming to draw breath. Then one young trout jumped out of the water--the three hundredth.

I was a little surprised when it remained suspended in the air, gills disappeared, fins softened into feathers; it grew wings--and even as I marvelled at this wondrous trout it turned into a gigantic crane. Then I became aware that I too was suspended in air and was swaying to and fro; on the seventh sway I landed on the crane's back. It turned and looked at me. I saw it had turquoise eyes; suddenly its wings began flapping, and we rose into space, higher and higher.

We passed two redfaced women seated on a cloud, playing poker; they were community singing, and the chorus was:

"'Eh, she's that wicked,
a-flying on the Sabbath."

I clung desperately to my crane's neck. "Where are we going?" I shouted as loud as I could, but I realized with horror that my voice was soundless.

"Take her to Long Sleddale," the red-faced women sang. My steed shook his head and sang even louder than they:

"Next stop


I looked down at the fells floating away beneath me and realized for the first time our immense height. I felt sick and giddy; below me the stone walls were spread out like the markings on a Gordon plaid. Here and there purple patches showed like wine dropped from giants' goblets. A flock of sheep flew by, singing in a toneless voice "Tarry Woo'," and one, lagging behind, chanted in a grumbling Lancashire, "I likes it pewer."

The face grew larger--I saw its eyes--pitiless, piercing, turquoise eyes, like twin harvest moons. They shone on a glittering goblin crop no man would dare sickle.

Clinging in terror to my crane for fear I might fall into goblin hands, I tried to stop him, but he flew faster and the face loomed larger. "Who are you?" I cried. Then I saw, to my relief, the corners of the face's great mouth turned up and in a kindly bass the mouth intoned: "I am a Coniston Old Man." The face vanished, and all the time my crane steed was shouting:

"Next stop

Next stop

but they seemed as distant as the caverns of Kubla Khan.

My steed knew my thoughts, for, turning his head, he said: "I am Kubla Khan--and perhaps you would like to know we are on our way to Rock Bottom, where all the Second things go, where all people over forty-one line up for their second breath and one or two drop in for a second chance--while as for trade in second love--we've had to open a new department."

Then in turquoise letters screwed on to the sky I read CORNER HOUSE and at the door stood Mrs. Marks-and-Spencer.

"Please drop me anywhere but there," I cried, but the crane swooped and stopped; my feet touched sand.

"Yew must have yan o' t'latest," said Mrs. M. and S., and, opening a little blue bag, she took from it a skein of 'tarry woo,' dozens of bottles of ink, a packet of forked lightning, a factory chimney, a twopenny tram ticket, and a bunch of Belisha bubbles. I protested that I didn't want the latest but she persisted, towering over me till she was taller than the sun and moon, and, shaking her finger, chanted threateningly, "Yew-must-have-yan-o' t'latest."

I seized her bag and threw it with all my might; it landed in the midst of a herd of sheep with freckled faces: all but the ink bottles; they crashed on a macadamized road and a hundred road drills immediately came into action, the grind of a thousand motor-brakes and the blast of ten thousand motor-horns--it was Piccadilly Circus. The ink turned into an unlighted subway.

I made a dive down it, and there stood Beelzebub wiping ink off himself with a Woolworth towel and looking every inch a gentleman. He was patting a bull in a silver halter; on catching sight of me it lowered its horns and bellowed fiercely.

I ran from it as hard as I could, yet for all my pace I knew my feet were not covering an inch of ground. Its horns were just about to pierce me. I turned to face it, but there was nothing but the horse with the turquoise eyes plodding along a little track drawing a burning haystack on a float made of gingerbreads borne on two dripping mill-wheels.

I now felt ink trickling down my fingers.

"She must find her way home in the dark," said the Devil. "It's a test. The prize is a box of Kendal mint-cake."

The Devil flicked his wet towel in my face--my dog was licking my cheek to wake me; I had rolled over and lay perilously near the water.

--Nancy Price


This seems too crazy to be real. But I've had a few dreams like it, such as Old Hat. Many of Price's oddities are things she'd recently seen in the Lake District:

So even such a chaotic dream ("inconsequential" as Megroz calls it) isn't really; it's a memory-collage. In fact, the dream is so rich in images from her holiday I suspect waking embroidery. It sums up her whole trip (and book) rather too neatly and comically. My own experience, and, I think, that of other epic dreamers, is that when you go to the trouble to cook up a dream-epic this long and extravagant, it usually has its own agenda and less day-stuff; a hash of day-concerns is more typical of short dreams in the surf zone between this world and the other, not out in the deeps.

But I could be wrong--again, compare this to Old Hat or Maude Meagher's A Word Dream. Both read like fakes--just too dreamlike to be true. But they're real. They do happen now and then.

In any case, Price wasn't a dream researcher. She was a playful writer spicing up a travel-journal--not sworn to accuracy, nor obliged to confess if she touched it up later. But how I wish I could see her journal!

--Chris Wayan, 2008


Well, I got my wish. 16 years later Price published a dream-journal, Acquainted with the Night, and it's clear she really did dream like this--epic, anxious, vivid dreams, full of talking creatures and restless seeking...

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