One of my recurring dreams takes place in the church and churchyard of St Mary’s, Ross-on-Wye. The churchyard extends infinitely in all directions, or wraps around so that walking far enough in any direction will eventually bring you back to where you started. There is no visible exit. Let us call this the land of the dead; certainly there is no-one living in it, but gravestones and monuments as far as the eye can see. The church itself is sometimes visible and sometimes not. One can wander for hours and not find it, and then turn around and find it suddenly close at hand. Day and night are indistinguishable, the sky grey and immobile. Time is coming to an end.
There is a hidden system of tunnels below the churchyard, the entrances and exits to which are concealed beneath various monuments both inside and outside the church. Each entrance bears a name, the name on the monument that conceals it. To know the tunnel system is to know the names of the dead. There is a large statue inside the church, inscribed to a local notable although it is rumoured to be in the likeness of Charles I. The entrance below this statue is connected to every other entrance in the system, the very centre of the maze.
If there is a way out of the churchyard, out of the land of the dead and back into time, it is through the tunnel system. If one could only learn all the names of the dead, one might at last come out behind one’s own name. But the tombstones are worn down, the inscriptions illegible on all but a few. The system of names is decaying, and when the last name is effaced time will stop and the land of the dead will vanish completely away. There is no solution to the puzzle posed by the churchyard: it is incomplete, like a jigsaw missing half of its pieces.
Sometimes the dream does not end when I wake up. I open my eyes and I am still in the land of the dead, which has stretched out and enfolded the land of the living. Everything is connected under the surface. I travel to work, enter the tube at Euston, exit at Old Street. I sit at a computer, mapping entrances and exits, naming inputs and outputs. Time is coming to an end and when it stops the land of the living will vanish completely away, bringing you back to where you started. There is no visible exit, no solution.