I had that stress dream last night. I was on a beach, a rocky one in the Highlands this time. The tide was racing through an inlet, spume flying in the wind. In the nick of time I realised the water was surging up to reach me where I was standing. Leaping and scrambling back onto the rocks above the beach, I escaped with only the heels of my new black boots wet. A small water-mark on new boots is not the worst of outcomes: I had a laugh with my husband about my near miss as we walked back to the car.
I don’t know what Jung or Freud would say about this but, since I was a teenager, my recurring dream at times of stress has been about high water. (Possibly it has something to do with nearly drowning in an undertow as a child?) When my life was still in flux – with universities to apply to, exams looming, a thesis to finish, a career to plan, a flat/ job/ life to find – the water was a tidal wave, vast and dark, roaring towards me, swallowing cities. I was intrigued when I discovered that J.R.R. Tolkien used to have a recurring dream of a tsunami too: he incorporated it into his mythology as the drowning of Numenor. Perhaps there is indeed something to the idea of the collective subconscious.
Then came a dream when I found I was able to escape the wave, taking refuge in a wild garden full of animals on a hilltop. (Have fun with that, psychologists.) And ever since, the tide has threatened at times, but never risen to the heights I used to fear. In fact, a laugh about wetting my heels is the most benign version of the dream I’ve ever had.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying, I think I’m as relaxed about Christmas this year as I’ve ever been. We are planning a small, quiet one, which makes a healthy change. No big family shoot to cater for; our thirty-a-side, multi-family Hogmanay football match is taking a sabbatical after thirty years (!) and someone else is cooking Christmas lunch. So the presents are wrapped, the freezer is filled, the cards are sent: and the high tide dream is barely a trickle.
Water has been on my mind for other reasons, however. We have plenty of it, but not where we want it. The mild, wet, windy weather has continued. It is pretty soggy out there, when we have become used to expecting snow for Christmas. A sharp frost caught us all out yesterday morning, turning the roads into a skating rink and causing several of us to have scary skids on the way to school; but the windswept rain is back today.
On the other hand, while there is rather too much water outside, inside the house there is not enough. Our water supply to the castle is in trouble. Ten days ago we suddenly had no water in the taps at all. Eek! Coming a couple of days after the storm that caused a two day power-cut, the absence of water put other problems into perspective. Cold water and candelight is a far more manageable situation than light but no water. We are managing now on a makeshift tank and pump set up promptly by the plumber: the supply, while back, is still depleted however, and our clerk of works is tearing his hair out trying to track down the source of the problem. He thinks that the old pipework must have been cracked by a tree root shifting in the storm. (The last storm, that is: there is another one brewing tonight.) Oh, the joys of being responsible for and dependent on a private water supply. Where do you begin, to find the crack in a network of century-old, underground pipes serving half a dozen homes across several miles? And where do you end, with the work and expense? Yet again we find ourselves weighing up the blessings of this unusual life against the burdens.
But, you know, Christmas in a castle… We really are so lucky to be bringing our children up here, power-cuts, rotten roof, dodgy water supply and all. Today I dragged home some fir branches from the woods, and tomorrow I plan to enlist my elder son to help me begin decking the halls and hanging old glass baubles from antlers. A little less rain and a little more tap water would be good. But if we look like getting our heels wet, well, there are plenty of boots lined up in the hall. We can always put on our wellies.
Other challenges of life in a castle feature in the post In which I talk rot.