On Monday night I had a very strange experience. It had almost the quality of a vision. We had spent the weekend in Wales with my daughter and her family. On Monday morning we had left early to travel back by train, and I had stopped off in Edinburgh on the way home for a meeting. It had been a long day and, unusually, I had gone straight to sleep without reading.
Sometime during the night I had a dream. I remember almost nothing about it now, except that two words surfaced. I didn’t know what they meant but I could see them very plainly, as if printed in bold capitals: TYCO BRAHE. I tried to understand them but couldn’t and so, since they had no obvious meaning for me, I began in the dream to imagine that they might make a good name for a fictional character, an Albanian perhaps or some other Eastern European. They remained with me for the rest of the night, very insistently it felt, almost as if someone was shouting them at me in my sleep. And they were there in my mind, perfectly clear and still perfectly inexplicable, when I woke up next morning.
I mentioned it to Sarah as we were getting up. She suggested I google the words. I did, over breakfast, and almost fell off my chair when up came Tycho Brahe (correctly spelt with an ‘h’). A sixteenth century Danish nobleman, astronomer and alchemist, Brahe, it transpires, was a major figure in the development of science. Way ahead of his contemporaries in the accuracy of his astronomical observations, he was the first person to argue that the heavens were not perfectly fixed and immutable. He was also extremely wealthy and a wild character who had lost the bridge of his nose in a duel when he was young and wore a metal prosthesis throughout his life. He held lavish gatherings in his castle, kept a dwarf jester, whom he believed to be clairvoyant, beneath his dining table, and also a tame elk that was said to have drunk so much beer at a party one night that it fell down the castle stairs and died.
As I read all this, a very dim bell began to ring. Brahe is just the kind of character that crops up on Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time. I checked and sure enough he’d been mentioned in the programme back in January 2008. Now another even dimmer bell was ringing. In 2007 I had researched medieval perpetual motion machines for my novel The Reckoning, and I thought it possible that his name might have come up then. But my notes are in a box in the attic and I didn’t have the energy to go rootling for them. Not that it would have made a great deal of difference, for even though I had now established that I probably had heard of him before, it was at the very least three years ago.
So I’m left with the question, Why now? And why so insistent? I’ve looked for connections. My son-in-law is quite knowledgeable about esoterica, but Brahe definitely hadn’t been mentioned over the weekend. Perpetual motion … well, I suppose I could argue that my new granddaughter represents the genetic version of it. But even so, what then? Am I supposed to write about him? Am I meant to learn something from his life or his studies? Or has my sub-conscious simply bowled me a wide? What on earth, if anything, am I telling myself? Answers on a postcard, please …
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, In Our Time
, Melvyn Bragg
, The Reckoning
, Tycho Brahe
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