THE AMAZING GENESIS OF MY “ARK IN TOLEDO” STORY
It was one of those moments during sleep where “God” speaks to you, in a voice like that bloke in De Milles’s movie of The Ten Commandments. Except in my case, without the American drawl―I suppose because I’m English? God had a decidedly English accent.
It must have been around 1990.
My fiancé Dido and I were en-route from southern Spain back to London and we were spending the night on the Spanish side of the border with France in a one-street mountain town called Bossòst.
Bossòst was a typical Pyrenean set up. Picturesque in a rugged grey sort of way, all slate and stone and wooden shutters built either side of a fast flowing, silver flecked stream. And of course it was raining an icy, relentless mountain rain.
We’d eaten a typically good Catalan dinner; I distinctly remember we had roast wild rabbit with prunes washed down with a moderate amount of the local red, just enough to make us pleasantly dozy, not drunk. We certainly went to bed replete and content and I must have been sleeping for several hours when I had the dream-like event.
As a rule, I’m not great at recalling dreams or dream-like events of any description, even powerful dreams, even waking dreams.
But this was different. There was no forgetting this.
After all, one doesn’t hear from God every day, or every night for that matter. At least not these days―except perhaps if one is an Evangelical Christian. Especially an Evangelical Christian from the American Midwest (they seem to be on regular speed-dial terms with God). But, I’m not an Evangelical anything.
In fact, I am now and was then a non-practising Jew and an atheist to boot. And God hasn’t spoken to any Jews since God-knows-when, and He’s certainly not spoken to lapsed Jewish atheists like me.
So, imagine my surprise―even in sleep―when God announced himself to yours truly in the aforementioned mellifluent tones.
No fanfare, mind you. No heavenly choirs. No winged chariots. Just the blackness of sleep. And that voice, in my right ear.
And He didn’t hang around for long.
It wasn’t some tedious, rambling, revelatory rant. No sublime psalmist prose either. Rather, just a couple of very brief statements.
The first no doubt to grab my attention―which I can tell you now, it did, big time.
And the second―to give me the ‘gen’.
I say the gen but in reality we’re not talking major details here, which would have been so much more helpful in the long run. No, this gen was to information what IKEA assembly instructions are to…well, assembly instructions.
But, for all its minimalism it was still impressive enough to have me wake bolt upright, eyes glazed in terror, cold sweat pouring down my back—the whole cliché.
It will hardly surprise any psychologists reading this that the event coincided with a particularly tumultuous time in my life, both personally and professionally.
Dido and I had become engaged to be married just days before setting out on our drive through France and Spain.
We were also involved in planning an epic journey to Chile early the following year (Dido had won a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, and the trip was planned for just after our wedding).
In addition to this I was in the midst of the busiest and most lucrative period I’d yet enjoyed since graduating from art school some seven years previously, having just a few months earlier made the momentous decision to shift my artistic direction, from the ostensibly noble but hard-up path of fine art towards a ‘shallower’ but more financially secure future as a commercial illustrator.
By the time of the dream I’d been working as an illustrator for only six months but had already won myself the services of a top agent, who in turn was getting me almost more work than I could comfortably handle, some of which paid extremely handsomely.
So it was that by mid-1990, although I was feeling pretty good about life, I was also going through a period of radical change.
Change, however potentially life enriching and fulfilling can still be emotionally unsettling. And, unsettled emotions, in my case at least, generally lead to disturbed sleep—only this time the disturbance was particularly violent, waking the wife-to-be into the bargain.
Now I don’t know how many other people might have noticed this but as a rule blond people take their sleep far more seriously than do dark-haired people.
In fact, I would say, through personal experience, from sharing dormitories at boarding school with blond-haired schoolmates and then later in life, occasionally sharing my bed with the odd fair-haired lady, that the amount a blond person cherishes their sleep is in direct correlation to the degree of their blondness. It must be that growing blond hair utilises more energy than dark hair or something like that, but whatever, Dido was a very blond person, and her annoyance at having her sleep disturbed was almost more dreadful than the dream itself had been.
Sympathy and concern were in distinctly short supply.
‘What in God’s name is your problem?’ she growled contemptuously from beneath her luxuriant flaxen locks on the pillow next to me.
‘Funny you should ask.’ I muttered nervously in reply.
‘Funny? What’s so fucking funny?’ Dido normally only swore when driving. She really was very angry.
I took a deep breath and braced myself before continuing.
‘It’s just funny that you should have mentioned God. That’s all. You see…that’s what woke me up.’
Still growling but incredulous now, she queried; ‘Did you just say God is what woke you up!? Is that what you just said!?’
‘Yes. I mean…in a sense. You see, I just dreamt that God spoke to me.’
At this point I was relieved it was too dark to see Dido’s face. It was awkward enough trying to tell her about the dream while merely hearing the derision in her voice without having to witness it in her eyes too.
‘I warned you not to have that cheap Spanish brandy just before going to bed. It’s enough to give anyone nightmares.’
‘It wasn’t a nightmare and anyhow, I didn’t have any brandy. That was last night.’
‘It’s even stronger than I thought then!’ She said, only half joking.
‘It wasn’t a nightmare but it was very…very…it was dreadful. Yes, actually dread-full.’
She sighed; ‘Then lets cuddle up and go back to sleep. Nothing like a nice cuddle to make the dread go away and you can tell mummy all about it in the morning…’
‘It was a very short dream. Actually, you couldn’t really describe it as a dream. Not in the usual sense. There was nothing visual…just a ‘voice’ in my ear…a very fleeting voice.’
Dido sighed again, rolled away from me and pulled the duvet up so that it covered most of her head. Realising that this was intended to signal the end of proceedings I sank back down under the duvet and snuggled up against her warm naked back.
Our bodily contact must have mellowed Dido’s mood.
I heard her say; ‘Go on then Joseph. Pharaoh’s all ears. What didst the Lord have to sayeth for himself.’
‘Actually, you’re technically incorrect. It was the baker and the butler who told their dreams to Joseph and then Joseph interp…’
‘Oh Adam! For goodness sake. Just get on with it.’
‘I can’t.’ I replied. ‘It’s too silly.’ Now that she actually wanted to hear what God had said, I was truly embarrassed.
‘Silly and dreadful? Or just dreadfully silly?’ she then paused before adding; ‘Sorry, I wasn’t making fun, it just came out.’
‘I know. It’s bonkers.’
‘Bonkers or not, I’m waiting! You’ve got me all agog now. Or should I say all a-God?’
‘It’s daft, and anyway, it won’t mean anything to you.’
‘But it meant something to you?’
‘When your subconscious tries to tell you things it generally has some kind of resonance.’
‘So it wasn’t really God?’ She said sarcastically.
‘Of course it wasn’t really God!’
‘Well, thank goodness for that. I was getting a bit worried there.’
‘Worried about what? That God was taking time out from the cares of the Universe to whisper sweet nothings into your fiancé’s ear?’
‘No. Worried that my fiancé had suddenly reverted into a believer.’ She then rolled over to face me and I could sense her large grey-blue eyes staring at me through the murk as she said; ‘I’m asking you for the last time, before I go back to sleep, what did Go…what did your subconscious say to you?’
I took a moment to remember exactly what I had heard then I replied; ‘The voice said to me―You, Son of Kohath―My Holy Ark―The synagogue in Toledo.’