Sometimes, in the minutes between waking up and coming to full consciousness, when the mind is still free-floating, clinging to the thready vapours of dreams, and deliberate thoughts such as 'What have I got to do today?' have not yet formed, interesting things can happen. In this period when real life seems suspended, I have had poems form, melodies create themselves, ideas for novels pop up.
Today, I woke with the words of a Leonard Cohen song I haven't heard since the 1970s running through my head: 'Seems so long ago Nancy was alone. Looking at the Late Late Show through a semi-precious stone/In the House of Honesty her father was on trial./In the House of Mystery there was no-one at all/There was no-one at all...'
The song, Seems So Long Ago, Nancy, about a girl who commits suicide by shooting herself, was on the album Songs From a Room. My local chemist's shop in South End Green, Hampstead, was called The House of Mistry and every time I played the song, that phrase made me smile. The song always intrigued me. Why was Nancy's father on trial? What had he done? Why did she shoot herself? What was the 'House of Mystery'? Was it spirituality? Was it death? Did she want her friends to make a suicide pact with her?
There was no Google in those days, of course. Although my friends discussed it earnestly late at night over bottles of wine and funny cigarettes, we gave up and I had completely forgotten the song until this morning. I got up with Leonard's lugubrious voice clanging sonorously in my head like a mossy old bell and straight away I wondered if there was a message for me in the song. There had to be, otherwise why did I wake up with it on my mind? I don't know anyone called Nancy. I don't know anyone with a gun (at least, I hope not; I've sometimes wondered what Mr Grumpy keeps in the hole under the floorboards which he scooted his computer chair over when I once walked into his office without knocking); I hope I don't know anyone who is thinking of suicide. The dread thought struck me (and was instantly dismissed): 'am I going to hear some bad news today?'
As soon as I'd finished breakfast, I decided to key the song lyrics into Google and see what came up. And I found a fascinating article written by the niece of the actual, real-life Nancy. Here it is:
And I found out there was a message for me in it. Nancy had gone mad after her parents had forced her to give up her illegitimate baby in the Sixties. I, of course, had had to give up my own baby, back in 1969. Several times in the year before she died, my mother asked plaintively, "Isn't there any way you could find your daughter? I would so love to meet her." At the time, I didn't know how.
I didn't find R till nine years later.When I did, and was telling her all about my family, I told her Mum's name and she blanched and said that very same name had been in her head for years and she had always felt someone called Muriel was her guardian angel. Yesterday, I wrote up the story of the supernatural experiences I had had when my mum died for a book called Death Is Not Goodbye, that is being collated by an acquaintance. It is Mum's birthday in a few days' time. I think I now know why the song came to me. Now I just have to chew over the resonances. Hamlet said, 'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.' Shakespeare knew so much, didn't he? He was definitely tapped into The House of Mystery!
2 days ago