Diarmuid Breatnach

          I awoke from a dream, unsettled.

          I and another man had been burgling a building, one which I later recognised as bearing a resemblance in part to a place in which I had once worked. My dreams are often located in scenarios reminiscent of my working life but usually they are of the industrial period, factories, vast or small and dilapidated. The building in my dream was in part from a later period and the office space was reminiscent of a hostel for the homeless in London, where my job had been that of the Deputy Manager.

That hostel had been of course in 24-hour operation, with staff on rota throughout all those hours but, in the dream, it was open only during the day (like some facilities for the homeless whose management have the confidence to tell those who run 24-hour operations how they should manage their establishments and whom they should not exclude).

In the first scene I remember I was in an alley outside the target building and my accomplice appears to have been inside already. The building’s doorway was near the mouth of the alley, which opened on to a main road. I shrank back into the doorway as someone left a nearby building, either at the corner or just around it, calling out something to whoever he was leaving behind. Then the door was opened by my accomplice and I stepped inside.

Having closed the door, I saw that somehow he was already in the office while I was in the entry passageway. Looking at him through the glass of the reception office, I saw he had the safe open already but was awkwardly keeping the office door open with an outstretched foot. He beckoned me in with an impatient gesture.

Entering the office, I kept the door open while he emptied the safe of money. I knew that if the door was allowed to close it would set off an alarm (yes, I know, crazy and why did we not just wedge it open?).

Soon, I was further down the corridor and opening up another safe and taking out bundles of currency notes. Closing the safe, since our intention was to delay discovery of the theft, I brought the money up to the reception office. Now, at this late stage, I began to worry about concealed video recording cameras and drew a scarf partly across my face.  I mentioned my fear to my accomplice, who commented that if CCTV cameras were installed, they already had our faces so why worry?

Of course, that was not very reassuring. I began to regret the whole operation.

“So what do you want to do?” he asked.

“I know what I feel like doing,” I replied. “I feel like leaving the money here and leaving. But I am not sure what I really want to do.”

“Leave the money, after all we’ve gone through to get in here?”

“I know, I know. OK, let’s just finish the job.”

“Just keep denying it and they can’t prove anything,” he replied and that is about when I awoke.

***   ***  ***

(Image source: Internet)

As noted earlier, I felt very unsettled by the dream and could not get back to sleep – so I switched on the bedside lamp to read awhile, a novel by a Cuban writer called Leonardo Padura.

Sometime later, I switched off the light and was soon back asleep. And dreaming again.

***   ***  ***

There is only one scene from that dream I remember: a plain room, perhaps a kitchen, a rectangular table, at my long side of which one woman sits on a chair, another on the other side and yet another on the short side, both also on chairs. There is another chair in front of me, empty, into which I am ushering a youngish and tall man I know to be my Irish cousin.

The woman to my left might be my mother but if so, much younger than matches my adult age. The other woman nearest is to my right, sitting back somewhat from the short side of the table and is in her early to mid-twenties. On the opposite side of the table to me, is a somewhat older woman who appears to be in her thirties. Again improbably, I think she is the mother of the younger woman.

I seat the young man on the empty chair and then go to the youngest woman, whom I now know to be a cousin also. She bends towards the older woman and whispers something to her but I take her by the elbow and steer her towards my male cousin, reflecting while doing so that maybe I should have done this the other way around.

As I reach him, I say to my male cousin that “I wish to introduce the delectable S—-” (I am uncertain about the exact adjective I used but it was something like that).

I think they shook hands and then she sat down again.

***   ***  ***

The mobile alarm woke me but I was tired, so reset it for another hour and was soon asleep. And dreaming again.

The scene this time was similar to that of an Asian buffet in Moore Street, Dublin, that I frequent from time to time. But the man behind the counter was Latin American, not Asian. I asked him about the Mexican Bay Tree – were its leaves used for flavouring as with the bay tree with which we are more familiar here in Ireland?

He seemed puzzled and asked me where I had heard about this tree.

I replied that it had been mentioned in a book by a Cuban author, Padura. He burst into scornful laughter and exclaimed something like “Ni vive, ni siquiera estuvo nunca ahi!” (“He neither lives nor was even ever there,” i.e in Cuba). And he called out in Spanish to another staff member of the restaurant.

I said then that I was not surprised, for Padura’s main character Conde comments quite negatively on the state of affairs in Cuba, which reflects badly on its management and I felt he could hardly continue doing so if he actually lived there.

The reset alarm went off and I awoke with the rapidly-fading memory of yet a fourth dream (now gone completely).


          I would have loved to take these dreams to my mother for analysis but she is dead a dozen years now. She followed the Jungean method and had done some amazing analyses of dreams for members of the family and also for some close acquaintances. Amazing, in terms of perceptiveness and apparent relevance to the individual concerned.

The basis of the Jungean system is to recognise that everything in a dream is from the subconscious, which speaks to the conscious mind in symbols. Therefore things, words and people dreamed of tend to be representing something else and people in particular, whether male or female, young or old, known or unknown to represent parts of one’s subconscious.  Carl Jung also spoke of archetypes, representations of events, figures and motifs which he believed all humans shared from the earliest beginning of the human race but which are also overlain with their own specific ethnic and period culture.

The Burglary

          So what would my mother have made of the burglary dream? She would of course consult the known archetypes but would also interrogate me about some of the dominant aspects, asking what they represented to me, personally.

What would she have made of the fact that the representation of my accomplice was an Irish “dissident” Republican known to me, along with my fear of discovery? The man could represent dissidence, disobedience of authority (in the conscious world of reality, both of State and of some party leaders) but also honesty, dedication, courage. And my fear? Maybe a real one, of danger from the repressive apparatus of the State. Nothing new there, however.

Then there was the reception office door that must not be closed!  I must be open to receive something?

The building in part represented a place in which I had worked once and had been treated very badly as an employee. In the course of my work there I had to take two separate grievances against my manager on the grounds of his impeding my professional development, in both of which I succeeded in gaining access to the steps I sought (training and practice). My manager had taken out two disciplinary procedures against me, both of which turned out to be unsuccessful but which naturally, caused me a lot of stress.

The background was that he had wanted another candidate to succeed in the interview procedure in which I had come highest and he had objected to the decision of the interviewing panel; subsequently they had announced that no-one had reached the required level. I sought feedback on this, seeking the scoring in my case and a senior manager ordered another round, this time with a union rep and an Equalities rep on the panel with the manager in question. Although, as I learned later, I had come highest again, due to the sitting manager’s insistence on another candidate, the panel recommended an isometric test to decide between the two top applicants and I had come out on top of that procedure too.

I was appointed to the post.

When I first met my manager-to-be some days later to discuss starting work at the hostel, he told me he had not been pleased with recruitment procedure. I replied that there were some aspects that had not pleased me either but that we had best leave all that behind us. It was subsequently clear that either he was unable to do that or did not wish to.

But a building in dream analysis often represents one’s own head or, more precisely, one’s brain ….

And stealing from it? I don’t know.

Ma! Are you there? Ma! Ma!

The Cousins

          The lack of detail apart from the figures in that dream is striking, forcing one to concentrate on the actors, without distraction.

In reality, on the Irish side of my antecedents, only one siblin of my father had children (six, five brothers and one sister, also just like ours). In the real world, my female cousin is actually named S— but although she might well be considered delectable, is not tall and fair-haired, as she was in my dream. And ALL my Irish cousins are siblings, which made the introduction of one Irish cousin to another ridiculous. In the real world, ridiculous yes – but in the world of symbolic representations?

There were three women in the dream and one male, other than myself. Two of the women played observing roles while the third seemed somewhat reluctant to be introduced to the male cousin. It seems to me that this represents a need for some female parts of my brain to come to greater ease with the male parts. The female represened is family, so is close but as a cousin, slightly distant; the mother figures, one very close (mother) and the other (aunt) slightly distant, observe rather benignly. The male cousin, willing to be introduced, would be a representation of a male part of myself.

The Cuban Author

           The book I had been reading was indeed by Padura and in reality I had been wondering about this “Mexican bay tree”, making a mental note to ask the Oracle (Google) about it. And I had wondered about Padura’s comments about Cuba (through his main character). Although I was sure Cuba was no paradise and had heard of a decline in revolutionary standards of the leadership and in society, I wondered whether a) things were as bad as Padura’s character Conde thinks and says and b) how or why Padura lives there if that’s how things are.

So, a straightforward carrying through of waking questions into a dream? Perhaps. But why would they be of such importance as to be dreamed about? It seems one should dig deeper.

The scene presented in the Asian buffet was familiar and yet exotic too, in the food on offer. Cuba is exotic to me as would be, I presume a Mexican bay tree, whatever that is. But the bay tree with which I am familiar has fragrant leaves and I use it often in cooking.

And that’s as far as I can get.

Ma! Are you there? Ma! Ma!


Mexican Bay Tree
(Photo source: Internet)


According to Wikipedia

Leonardo de la Caridad Padura Fuentes (born on October 10th, 1955) is a Cuban novelist and journalist. As of 2007, he is one of Cuba’s best-known writers internationally. In his native Spanish, as well as in English and some other languages, he is often referred to by the shorter form of his name, Leonardo Padura. He has written screenplays, two books of short stories, and a series of detective novels translated into 10 languages. In 2012, Padura was awarded the National Prize for Literature, Cuba’s national literary award and the most important award of its kind. In 2015, he was awarded thePremio Principe de Asturias de las Letras of Spain, one of the most important literary prizes in the Spanish-speaking world and usually considered as the Iberoamerican Nobel Prize.[1]

The reference, mostly about the writer, has some passages which are critical of the regime. And yes, Padura does live in Havana, Cuba.

According to one site, the Mexican Bay Tree (Litsea glaucescens) is an uncommon shrub:

A small, evergreen tree growing to 15-20 feet. Leaves are leathery and elongated in shape, growing up to 3″. They are distinct in having a blue-green coloration to their undersides. Flowers are small, white-green in color. Fruits are small, at most 1/2″ across and ripen to a deep purple-black. There are supposedly a handful of varieties or variants of this species, though minimal attention seems to be given to propagating select types.

According to Wikipedia,

It grows in the mountains, on the banks of rivers and is planted in the garden of houses. It is used as seasoning. It is in danger of extinction,[3][citation needed] because it has been used extensively for various uses, medicinal and culinary purposes even religious during the celebration of Palm Sunday. The species is one of the most important non-wood trees of Mexico. This species has been exploited for different purposes: religious,[2] dietary and medicinal, where the young branches and leaf tissues are used. This has resulted in a considerable exploitation in virtually all their range.

Of course, these aspects of the plant would have brought a whole lot of other aspects into the dream analysis, except that I didn’t know them then.

Or did I, subconsciously somehow …..?


Diarmuid Breatnach

Around 6am I awoke, still half in the script and trying to figure a way to win through. But not for long, as I was driven stumbling by the urea imperative – I had to go to the toilet. In the hallway I switched on the light, still thinking about the situation I had been in and, turning into what I thought was the open doorway, immediately stubbed my toe and nearly my nose on the door. After suitable curses, I stood in front of the enamel directing the hose while I thought about the damned situation.

I had debts. And there was a gang …. or gangs … and I was kind of in one of them and the big boss was putting the squeeze on me. Now, in my other life, the waking one, I’ve never really been in a gang, not even in my teens, although that’s not to say I didn’t have anything to do with them. I did – running from them, hiding from them, sometimes fighting and (of course) getting beaten up by them.

My social class set, the lower middle class, didn’t have gangs. The working class had them and curiously, the upper middle class had them too. The Geldoff types (he was from my home town). And since I didn’t usually have money to go to dances and discos, the dangerous times in my hometown were mostly daytime. The Geldoff types hung out in the Bamboo café across the road from Murray’s record shop, where us gangless lower middle class hung out. And the working class had no café or record shop, just their areas – the ‘Noggin, York Road ….

They weren’t anything like the legendary Ringsend or Dolphin’s Barn, but they were tough enough in my book. Ringsend lads came to the Top Hat Ballroom in my hometown once to settle a score and chased the locals all the way up to the ‘Noggin and the Farm, over a mile away. Local folklore had it that as they queued up in Ringsend earlier that evening to get into taxis for the foray, old dockers had handed each youth a docker’s hook.

There were times when walking down the main street in Dún Laoghaire had felt like something out of High Noon or some other western film, when the hero doesn’t want to go out in the street, he knows death is waiting there – but he has to. In his case, it was duty or some kind of fatalism sending him out there. In my case, it was fear of isolation. I didn’t want to end up cut off from my contemporaries – the boys and, yes, especially the girls. Where they hung out, I would have to go. Of course death wasn’t waiting for me, unless it were accidental …. only a beating.

Anyway, I deviate. Which doesn’t make me a deviant, by the way ….. Anyway, back to the script.

One of the things I was being pressured about had to do with promoting the gang leader’s mice. Yes, mice. Don’t ask me – I didn’t write the script.

For some reason the boss’ mice needed to be distributed, to take over everywhere. And one of the places Big Al wanted his mice installed was in a closed down fairground. It was in my area, so of course Big Al thought it was my responsibility to do it.

Big Al, photo taken during one of his philosophical debates
Big Al, photo taken during one of his philosophical debates

The thing is, that abandoned fairground already had mice, as I tried to tell Big Al. I’d hardly ever actually seen one but you could hear them, rustling, scratching and sometimes squeaking as they fought.

Big Al wasn’t interested. Were they HIS mice?

Well, no ….

Well, didn’t I see the problem?

I nodded. I could see I had a problem and I’d have a worse one if I didn’t do as he wanted.

Big Al’s mice arrived next day delivered by motorbike courier, in a plastic bag. Yeah, I know … but remember — I’m not the script writer.

I took some of the mice out. They were sleek, strong, well-fed, pinky-white mice. I carried the bag to the empty fair ground and let some of them out, to see how they got on. They scurried eagerly down lots of holes and there was suddenly a lot of squeaking underground. Then silence.

After a while, one came back, mauled and bloody. I waited but no others arrived. I put the rest of Al’s mice on the ground so they could avenge their mates. I had no choice, unless I wanted to tell Big Al I had disobeyed his instructions.

Those mice knew what was waiting for them and not a single one went down any hole. They milled around above ground. Then they found an unopened can of beer left by some inebriated street drinker, bit through into it …. and proceeded to get really, really drunk.

Some of Al's mice before they discovered the beer can
Some of Al’s mice before they discovered the beer can

They were still drunk when Big Al dropped by to see how his mouse colonising was progressing.

“What the fuck is going on?” Big Al and his bodyguard were looking in amazement at his carousing, stumbling mice.

I told him what had happened. He shook his head, muttered something, shook his head again, then went off grumbling to get some more mice – maybe Super-mice, or Ninja Mice, or something.

I knew the drunken mice would be history. If a cat or a kestrel didn’t get them …. well, Big Al had a low tolerance for failure. I should have felt sorry for them …. and I kind of did … but also a kind of contempt. The fairground mice had lived a hard life, braving flood and ice, finding what food they could, breeding, tunneling, avoiding alley cats, kestrels …

Big Al’s mice had been fed high-protein diets, reared in secure environments, built up muscle, each probably outweighed the biggest fairground mouse by a couple of ounces. But those scruffy, lean, dirty mice had finished off the advance guard of Al’s mice in minutes. And the rest? Didn’t even have the courage to make a fight of it but went and got drunk instead!

I left them to it. Al would be back and he’d probably want to supervise the operation against the Fairground Mice himself. That was fine with me. I didn’t like the job and I secretly wished the native mice well.

Anyway, I had other problems to deal with. I still had to organise my area for Big Al’s other operations – or else. I didn’t know exactly what the “else” might be and truth to tell, I didn’t even want to think about it.



In the end, I couldn’t do it. I could fool myself that I could manage the area for Al in a more decent way than somebody else working for him …. maybe. But I would still have to become too much like Al himself to do it. So, one alternative only – get out, go on the run and hope Big Al or his goons couldn’t find me. I didn’t even know where I was going to go – just out.

In my benighted life, I had one bit of success.

I ducked into a shop and got to use their phone. That’s right, no mobiles – maybe this script was set in the 1980s …. Not that I remember seeing big hair, shoulder pads or baggy trousers …

Anyway, I phoned up the electric phone company and got to speak to the Area Manager about my bill …. yes, the actual Area Manager! I told him I was going out of business and after a little haggling he agreed to accept 20% of the bill in payment and to wipe the slate clean.

Then I phoned my cousin, also my best friend and told him I was getting out. He was disappointed in me. Really, really disappointed. I could imagine him shaking his head.

“What about community organisation, man?” he asked.

“I can’t do it, Mort. Big Al is too much to go up against.”

“I can’t believe it – and you from a long line of trade union organisers.”

That got to me because, in the script, it was true. My Da had been a union organiser most of his life. My Ma too. And one of my Grandas as well. Strikes, union meetings, pickets, marches, police stations and courthouses had been a part of my childhood, almost as much as school throughout the year and the seaside in summer.

In real life, of course, my Da had been many things but never a trade union organiser. Active trade union member, yes – organiser, no. And my Ma – well, maybe if there had been a Housewife’s Union …. she would have probably been the General Secretary.

Anyway, in the script, Mort shamed me. And talked some more. And I argued. And he put forward a plan.

For some reason, this plan, which of course required community organising, needed a public appeal by television. Mort said I should do it. I told him I couldn’t – I’d freeze on camera and anyway I was too closely involved. I begged him to nominate someone else. He thought for a little while.

“Ok, but you have to go with whoever I choose – no backing out.”

“Sure! Thanks!” I gulped, relief flooding me.

His next words ejected that relief right out again.

“Ask your Ma.”

After I recovered from the shock and hung up, I went to see Ma. This was Ma in the script and nothing like the Ma I had in the real life, the one who was born in the Basque Country and spoke English with a German accent, because her Da had been a German.

And this script Ma was easy-going, unruffled …. Still, she took some persuading before she agreed. And while she was getting ready for her TV appearance – having her hair done, rehearsing her appeal, buying new shoes (who was going to see her shoes on TV?!!) — I was down on the street in my area, doing the rounds, talking to shopkeepers, community workers, youth, pensioners ….

Of course, Big Al was going to get to hear what I was doing. But the gamble was that my Ma’s appeal would be broadcast before he could make his move …. and after that, it would be much more difficult for Big Al to demonstrate the full meaning of that “else” with which he had threatened me. And hopefully the community would start to solidify and be able to resist. Doing nasty things to me wouldn’t be that productive any more. And whatever else Big Al was, he was a pragmatist.

Yes, of course, there’s always the unpredictable emotional element ….

I was pondering that when something pulled me half out of the script.

It was around 6am and I was still half in the script and trying to figure a way to win through. But not for long, as I was driven stumbling from my bed by the urea imperative – I had to go to the toilet.

In the hallway I switched on the light, still thinking about the script I had been in and, turning into what I thought was the open doorway, immediately stubbed my toe and nearly my nose on the door. After suitable curses, I did the business in the toilet and thought about the events in the script.

Then I wondered whether I could somehow get hold of the scriptwriter and how I could make him pay for what he put me through.

Had I met him? No, never. How did I know he was male? I don’t know, but for some reason I was sure he was. Which is strange, because nobody in my life had ever fucked with my head the way some women had. But yes, he is male – I’m sure of it. Now, where could he be hanging out ….?