Several journalists came to interview me after the confrontation with the terrorist in Edinburgh. None of the reports were very clear and some were wildly inaccurate: a young woman from The Sun newspaper, called Serena, said she wanted to compile a profile of “The Royal Mile Hero who thwarted the terrorist attack” and subsequently wrote that I was “a bigger nutter than the Jihadist.” I read all the reports — a melancholy duty — and decided that really the only way to put the record straight was to set down the story myself. So here it is…
It was the first Friday in April. Nearly every Friday since I retired, I catch the train into Edinburgh and spend the day on research in the National Library of Scotland. I’m planning a monograph on Emanuel Swedenborg, the eighteenth century Swedish scientist and mystic. I imagine that it was my unguarded maunderings about Swedenborg that led Serena of The Sun to describe me as a ‘nutter’.
Serena: “So this Swedeburger wrote books about visiting Heaven and the moon, and the people he met there?”
“Swedenborg was his name. Yes, for example when he visited Heaven, he described his conversations with the deceased Queen of Sweden, whom he knew from his court connections.”
Serena: “Right. Okay. And have you got a publisher lined up for this book of yours on this Swedenborg guy??”
“Well, not yet, no.”
To be absolutely clear to all readers of The Sun, my interest in Swedenborg is not primarily about his travels in Outer Space, or wherever, but as a visionary and a seer. And, for the record, he was an accomplished mathematician and metallurgist who oversaw the Swedish mines on behalf of the Swedish crown; he had strange gifts — he accurately described to some dinner guests a disastrous Stockholm fire that was occurring while they dined nearly three hundred miles away in Gothenburg; he was beloved by William Blake and Jorge Borges and Carl Jung; and his religious writings inspired the founding of the Swedenborgian Church, an institution that still exists today.
But it was a quite different set of Swedenborg writings that proved important on that particular Friday: he kept a journal of his dreams in 1743-44 — the oldest continuous series of descriptions of dreams in any language.* It’s become my habit every Friday lunchtime to have a read of Swedenborg’s dream journal for the following day. The entry for the night of April 2nd-3rd reads as follows:
[It seems there] was a beggar, that cried out that he would have bacon; they wished to give him something else, but he continually cried out, “Bacon!” Wakened. [Swedenborg, 1989, p.15]
A peculiar entry, but not uniquely peculiar in Swedenborg’s dream journal entries. I pondered it as I took my lunch into Greyfriars Kirkyard. [Memo to the editor of The Sun: Greyfriars Kirkyard is not in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile]. Edinburgh is saturated with tours — ghost tours, literary tours, pub tours, even literary pub tours — and the Kirkyard is a popular tour stop. A Chinese tour was just leaving and an American tour had just entered. I watched the group, about a dozen strong, as they flowed and coalesced around their kilted tour-leader. They were standing just in front of me. There are many tales that could be told about the Kirkyard’s mouldering inhabitants, but only one tale is ever told on these Kirkyard tours: the story of Greyfriars Bobby, the dog that came every night for thirteen years to sleep on his master’s grave. It’s an affecting tale, heard the first time, but repetition has hardened my heart. So I set about unwrapping my lunch, a small pork pie, still thinking about Swedenborg. Then everything happened very fast…
A small, bearded man carrying a large golf bag came quickly between me and the tourist group. With his back to me, he opened the golf bag and pulled out a sword (I think it was what is known as a samurai sword). He raised the sword above his head and shouted “Allahu Akbar”. I was the first to react: the tourists all had their backs to him, while I had seen the sword emerge from the golf bag. I roared out the first word of warning that came into my head:
“Bacon! Bacon! BACON!!”
The swordsman swung round. I could see the surprise on his face. I had leapt up from my seat, but was still holding the pork pie. I think it was the pork pie that saved me: with his sword still held high, he stared at the pie, as if he momentarily thought it might be some kind of weapon, rather than yet another pork product. This gave me the chance to grab his sword arm with my other hand. We grappled only for a second or so before a burly gentleman from Denver, Colorado (he asked me not to mention his name — we’ve been in email contact) crashed into the swordsman from behind and wrestled him to the ground.
That was it, really. Except that, if I were mystically inclined (which I’m not), I’d be thinking that Swedenborg’s dream was more prescient than peculiar. And, for the present at least, I seem to have lost completely my appetite for pork pies, bacon, ham, sausages and pork chops.
*Swedenborg, E. (1989) Swedenborg’s Journal of Dreams, 1743-1744. Stockholm: Swedenborg Scientific Association.