Childhood dreams in which I was falling alarmed me enough to make me wake myself up. Then one night I deliberately didn’t, to see what would happen. It was exhilarating. I enjoyed the flight, for that’s what it turned out to be.
About nine months ago I began having dreams in which I was back at school, anxious, perplexed, and fearful about failing chemistry and physics. I was wandering around on my own, observing fellow pupils in groups. The dream version of Penrith Grammar School was pretty much as it was in the 1960s.
Other dreams were about Cambridge and medical school—King’s College Hospital in Camberwell, south London. In these, there was no topographical resemblance to the real thing, then or now. There was a post-apocalyptic air of dilapidation, oppression, grubbiness and decay. Buildings were crumbling, streets dirty, pavements littered with rubble. Corridors became labyrinths with unattainable goals. I was back for resit exams, usually biochemistry or physiology (odd, since the subject I actually failed was pharmacology). The really curious thing is that in these dreams I was always aware of thinking “hang on a minute, why do I have to be here? I qualified as a doctor in 1975 and I’ve been a Professor of Anatomy?”
Last night I dreamt I went to Cambridge again, though it was nothing like the real thing. In a haze of perplexity and indecision, I’d not found my timetable, so I’d missed three days of lectures and practicals. I was already notorious as the only person out of about 250 students who hadn’t attended anything.
Someone told me that I should be at Gordon Wright’s neuroanatomy lecture in half an hour. Gordon, let me tell you, in real life taught us neuroanatomy with great wit and style; he subsequently gave me helpful criticism on my textbook Cranial Nerves, so it’s not surprising that he has an honoured place in my memory. But why, having written two anatomy texts—and I was aware of that in my anxiety—should I have to attend his lectures?
Then it came to me what this was about.
It’s obvious now. Retirement means starting again. There is apprehension. Rubble is cleared away. It feels like going into a labyrinth. I was slow to see it.
Aren’t dreams clever? It takes the conscious a fair old time to catch up with the unconscious.
I hope the dreams continue. Enlightenment may dawn.