posted Tuesday, 1 January 2008
It wasn’t that it was a nightmare in itself. The nightmare was simply the fact that I didn’t know I was awake or asleep. That it may not have been a nightmare was the nightmare.There was a contraption on my workbench.

This workbench had an unused inkwell embedded in one corner and a runnel for pens and pencils together with a large sloping lid that was the work area. It was not really a workbench, but a desk. But workbench seemed more manly, more …. more workman-like. I would have loved to have fitted a lathe to it. Or a vice.But there was already a contraption on my workbench.

I knew instinctively many things that were happening, but not whether this was a dream or real life. The contraption? I did know what it was – although I’d never seen one before. It was a means of using credit cards in walls to get money from money machines without having to attend in person. You see, I had a phobia of money coming out of walls without a real cashier person handing it to me over a counter. And this contraption solved this. It was a sort of computer in itself. It was activated by sending an email to it from another computer. The actual process of sending the email to it was an on-off switch mechanism. So I would need to scuttle off to my laptop in the bedroom, open Hotmail, and write an email to the contraption’s own in-built email address. Then it would be activated and I would be able to hear whirring noises from my workbench as it set about its business in acting as …. as a ‘brainwright’. A brainwright is something or someone that acts for your own brain when your own brain is not capable of doing what the brainwright is doing for you. In this case, using my own credit card in a wall. Presumably by remote control – it being a wall in some vague remote locality. And in this case the brainwright was a contraption that was fuelled by emails. This was a contraption that sat on my workbench: a workbench disguised as a desk. This must be a dream, judging by what I’ve had to laboriously describe. Sounds too far-fetched to be real life. Which brings me back to the nightmare of simply not knowing whether it is a dream or real life. Perhaps it’s neither. Or was. I’m getting time mixed up. Am I telling the story of something that has already happened? Or is happening? Or will happen? Or would have happened, given certain eventualities?I need to pinch myself. That’s what they do in dreams to test out whether it is a dream or not. If the pinch hurts, it’s real life. If it doesn’t hurt, it’s a dream.

Indeed, I have just noticed, upon returning to the workbench, that the skin of my forearm is nipped tightly by some metal teeth in the contraption on the workbench. I have accidentally become entangled in the workings of the contraption as it goes through the paces of its duties of delivering financial services to its master: me.

It’s as if my loose flesh is a credit card being scoured for its PIN. And as soon as it lets go, the contraption shakes, rattles and rolls with a clatter and a shudder: delivering several loose coins (from an abruptly revealed delivery hatch in its base): coins that proceed to roll on their milled edges towards the inkwell … as if this were an ancient game on a pleasure pier in some past when such old-fashioned amusements were active.I examine the pinched area of my forearm and see definite bite marks: already festering with a speedy septic virulence unaccountable in a logical universe. Though I seem to be thinking of everything quite logically which belies the fact that the universe in which I happen to inhabit is wholly illogical.

I then collapsed upon the workbench, the brainwright contraption shuddering to a halt at the same time.

Brainwrights cannot exist without the master it serves. A symbiosis stalled. The gears crank to a slow-motion churning, eventually reaching a silence that anything that doesn’t work ominously demonstrates: like an unrebootable computer. It is silent. I am dead. The poison has reached the deepest, deadliest artery, the one which sits just behind the eye’s optic fuse in most human bodies.All is dark. Nobody is left to see that all was as it once was in the ancient schoolroom. The inkwell is brim-full of a black shiny Quink. The teacher scowls at the class. The children light their Bunsen Burners. A lesson in Physics or Chemistry. They cut open a dead rat to see the pattern of its organs. They write notes upon the pages of their exercise books: in neat columns to be added up, like accounts. Accounts about life, the universe, the workings of time and space, diagnosing the disease in the equations: where x = x + 1.

One little boy takes a rusty screwdriver to a contraption that he has suddenly found in the Nature Study cupboard. It’s like dissecting an animal. Although a machine, it’s furry to the touch and has membranes within the very gear-systems that should be free of anything approaching the nature of animal tissue. There is a sump: a balloon-like blood-blister behind one of the iron stanchions. The boy is bemused. He puts up his hand to draw the teacher’s attention to what he has found. This is not just simple Science. It’s more as if he’s invaded someone’s nightmare during the lesson.

He hears his pocket-money rattling in his grey short trousers. A few threepenny bits and a shilling. He’s actually rich this week, as he did lots of jobs for his Uncle in the garden shed. Putting nails into jars. Screws into other jars. And oiling the vice. And watching his uncle plane some particularly ill-knotted wood. Not that the wood needed planing. It was only firewood. But his Uncle wanted to try out his new plane.

The workbench was covered in sawdust and shavings. The wood eventually had a slot: where his Uncle’s plane had accidentally gashed in a mis-manoeuvre: but then his Uncle pretended it was a coin-slot for a bagatelle game, which they then both imagined playing, till it grew into dusk outside the shed. His Uncle was a wheelwright by profession, recently retired.The teacher says: “Yes, boy? I see you’ve at last stopped dreaming the day away!”

“What’s this machine? The cog-wheels are all sticky with something,” said the boy.

Another boy – or was it a girl? – made a side comment: “Looks like a small car crash!”

“I think it was once the headpiece of a Grandfather Clock,” piped up another bright spark of a child.

The teacher strode down the aisle between the desks, flanked by the blue-spouting Bunsens, and confiscated the contraption and took it to the ‘woke-bench’ at the back of the room. He wanted to find its brain.

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