All You Ever Wanted To Know About Dreams, but Were Afraid To Ask


You all know the scene: you are late walking into the examination room at school. As you enter, you become aware that you are not wearing shoes. You barely have time to wonder why, before you grow volcanically hot upon the discovery that your tootsies are not alone in their state of undress, and that your whole body has joined in the fun. The whole class, which by now contains everyone you have ever known, turns towards you and starts to laugh and you use your hands to cover up as much of yourself as you can while you wait for the alarm clock to go off. It’s a common dream I believe, but none-the-less, one that will have earned Mr Freud and his acolytes many a hot supper.

Dreams are a kind of surrealist re-boot for the brain: a means of finally closing down the half dealt with bric-a-brac that constitutes a day. So why do they contain so many scenarios that would have no place, either in your conscious or subconscious thoughts, within your wakeful hours? And why do these mad scenarios keep replaying in your dreams? If dreams are intended to purge this useless nonsense from the brain, then clearly they fail in their duty, when the very same irrational situations play out again and again.

Some people can recall their dreams in frightening detail. Others dream in monochrome – presumably because they prefer a 1950’s film noire-style defenestration for their unheralded meanderings: dreams through the window to the soul. I have no idea how well-filmed my own dreams are. I very rarely recollect exactly what I have dreamt. I remember the sense of them, but seldom the detail. Perhaps just as well, I think: my sense of confusion with real life is bad enough. To be honest, I find the very notion that anybody who is not paid to do so, would find any interest at all in the content of somebody else’s dream, to be very odd. Is there anything in the world as boring as another person’s dream?

There are, according to the internet, a couple of dozen commonly recurring ‘themes’: falling, being chased, being naked at school (so at least I’m not alone), flying – all at a rate of about ten million people per theme anxious to interpret them for you. The ‘art’ of dream interpretation seems to me to be staggeringly simple:
“What do you dream about?”
“I’m running away from something.” – (We all do this apparently.)
“What are you running away from?”
“I don’t know.” – (Nobody does.)
“Are you worried about anything at work or at home?”
“Yes, I suppose so.” – (Isn’t everybody?)
“Well, that’s what you’re running away from. That’ll be £500 please.” (This is the point at which you realize that it is bankruptcy you are trying to escape.)

The principle is the same as clairvoyance: find me a room with enough people in it and there will always be somebody who has lost, or knows somebody who has lost, someone with the initial B, or possibly R… Dream catching with ectoplasm.

I would imagine that most people have, at some time, experienced dreams associated with falling – and we all know that, having fallen for some time, if you ever hit the ground, you die. The same fate as you would face in the conscious world I would surmise, unless you’re in a soft-play area.

Another common dream is that your teeth are falling out. This is not a dream! This is the consequence of a dental pay-per-filling wage structure in the 70’s. This is real life for a man of my age. I do not need to be asleep to realise that a crunchy bit in my porridge is either:
a) A piece of grit (on which I will almost certainly break a tooth).
b) A piece of already decomposing molar.
c) A woodlouse thoughtfully left there by the grandchildren.
It is one of life’s little ironies that each time a piece of my tooth breaks away from its moorings, I manage to chew on it and break another tooth.

A further almost universal theme, apparently, is ‘flying’: not in an aeroplane or a helicopter, but just flying, with your arms outstretched and the wind blowing through what remains of your hair. This, presumably, is the precursor to the ‘falling’ dream. From my very limited experience of such things, I would have to say that being up in the air without something or other wrapped around you (like, for instance, a Jumbo Jet) seldom ends well. I don’t suppose that many ‘flying’ dreams find you touching down safely in the Seychelles, where you spend a pleasant week of sun and cocktails before returning via Dubai for the Duty Free. In real life, ‘flying’ for the average human being is more correctly known as ‘the short interval between falling over and hitting the ground’. The most likely destination is Accident and Emergency.

One or two further dreamscapes are familiar to us all. Their meanings, I might suggest, are both obvious and banal, and really not worth even discussing until you’ve cracked open the second bottle:
• Driving a vehicle that is out of control – interpretation: some element of your life is out of control. (My word, that took some working out, didn’t it?)
• Being pregnant – interpretation: you are, you fear you are, or you want to be pregnant (as above – particularly if you have sore breasts). I’m guessing this only applies to ladies. (I’ll be honest – I started to read the proper explanation, but there’s only so much Freud you can take, and I gave up, so it is possible that the real explanation is very much more exciting – although, frankly, I doubt it.)
• Your partner is having an affair – interpretation: you believe your partner is having an affair. If he/she is having an affair, then this hardly qualifies as a ‘dream’ does it? It’s the same as being awake – except that you are asleep. If he/she is not having an affair, then this qualifies as a neurosis. Either way, wake up and face it. The conversation will probably go like this:
“I know you are having an affair.”
“A what?”
“An affair. With your secretary.”
“I don’t have a secretary, and I am not having an affair with anyone. Where did you get this from?
“I dreamt it.”
“Oh God, not again…”
“I know you’re having an affair.”
“Well, don’t you want to talk about it?”
Either way, it probably beats falling to a certain death…

It seems to me that for most of the time dreams are little more than a mashed-up re-run of everything we thought, saw and did during the preceding day, stripped of chronology and rationality: liquidised and gobbed out one random spoonful at a time. Conscious and subconscious bonded together into a bland, unpalatable emulsion that would probably get you summarily dismissed from Masterchef. Thus, reduced to an homogenous puree, the humdrum constituent parts of an ordinary day meld into something that is at once both fantastical and lacklustre: like ‘Lord of the Rings’. I imagine that during times of stress, dreams become more vivid – with the consequence that you are more likely to recall the nonsense when you wake. Dull rememberings taking on huge significance in those grey-light moments when consciousness is kicked awake, but your hand is still wiping the stream of dribble from your chin. I guess that most people, like myself, find it difficult to recall dreams-gone-by in any detail simply because, by and large they are very, very boring.

I began my last post, ‘Dreams are dreams; nothing more, nothing less’ and it was this short sentence that set me hurtling off along today’s winding path. On this one occasion it is possible, I think, that I was right and, truth be told, I’m a little bit miffed about it because it has just occurred to me that I could have just left it at that, saved myself a thousand or so words today and had a little snooze instead…

“Trust in dreams, for in them is the gate to eternity.” Khalil Gibran.
“I had the one with the giant doughnut again.” Colin McQueen.

Envoi: moving slightly off-piste here – I would like to propose that we add super-consciousness to our list of consciousnesses: it is the only possible explanation for the feeling that we all get when we know in advance what record is going to be played on the radio.