Friday, 3 April 2020

Sleeping and dreams in times of crisis

Dreams (pic Steve Miller Band album cover Your Saving Grace)
How have you been sleeping? Have you been like me, and been sleeping like a baby, or like my wife, finding it hard to relax due to the uncertainty? Whilst I've slept like a log, I've had all manner of quite bizarre dreams. Last night was no exception.  Yesterday was my Fathers birthday. Had he not passed away in 1987, he would have been 103. I had been thinking about him all day. To counter the lockdown boredom, we watched Casablanca, the 1942 classic.  When the film finished, I went off to bed and had a very vivid dream that I was having a drink with him in the garden. It all seemed quite normal, and was  really pleasant. His passing did not seem to be an issue.

I mentioned to him that this covid19 thing was pretty grim. His response was that nothing was better than to have an excuse to lie in bed all day, have steak for dinner and wash it down with a beer. He said that if I’d been stuck in a POW camp, having just identified the body of your shot up best mate, you’d know what pretty grim was.

When I woke up, this was on my mind. Dreams intrigue me. I have long wondered whether they are simply figments of our imagination, or a glimpse to something above and beyond our existence on this plane. Clearly the vast majority of dreams are just our brain working out the stresses and strains of life. However occasionally, I have certainly had dreams that are more vivid and way beyond the norm. One of the most troubling examples of a dream having a deeper meaning was a story my father told me. I have thought about this many times and never really had a satisfactory answer.

As I've mentioned many times, my father was a bomber pilot. In Italy in 1944, he was part of the 205th bomber group, attacking targets in Italy, Germany, Yugoslavia and Rumania. His crew was experienced and on their final mission of the tour of duty. All were looking forward to a break. For an RAF crew to complete a tour was a big matter. The average crew undertook 5 missions before they met their fate. My father's crew had flown 37. The crew had bonded and were firm friends. One of the first  blogs I wrote was for Remembrance Sunday in 2008. I transcribed my fathers diary from 1944.  His squadron were busy supporting the Allied effort in Southern Europe. For remembrance day last year, I reproduced the story of his final mission, as kindly documented on the aircrew remembered website.

The website tells the story, but there was one aspect that it doesn't recount. On the morning of 2nd July 1944, as the crew assembled for breakfast. My fathers rear gunner, F/O John Charles Murphy, AKA Spud, took my father to one side and said "Laurie, I had a terrible dream, we were on a mission to Ploesti (a Rumanian oil field), an ME110 attacked us and I was dying as I'd been shot and the turret was engulfed in flames". My Dad was fairly dismissive and said "Spud, we all have nightmares like that". Later when they assembled for briefing, Spud turned white when the target was announced. It was the Ploesti oil fields. My father said to Spud that the crew couldn't opt out of missions every time someone had a nightmare, but Spud was not at all comfortable. Like many RAF heroes, he knew the risks, had seen a lot, was not superstitious, but this seemed very different.

Sadly, Spuds nightmare came to pass. My father carried the guilt for the rest of his life. He knew Spud was convinced he was going to die and his premonition had come true in the most awful fashion. During one of the last conversations I had with my Dad, the story came up. He felt he'd done the right and proper thing by airforce regulations, but had he trusted Spuds instincts, the war may have ended rather differently for Spud. I am not sure how a mission could be ducked, but my father was troubled enough for me to realise that he probably felt that there was some way.

I guess none of us will ever know whether Spuds premonition was anything more than a logical processing of information and his mind trying to give him a get out. What I do know is that it was something that my Father never came to terms with.

Perhaps the dream I had that could have changed my life, was one I cannot even remember. Back in 1991, we were watching final Score on Match of the Day. The presenter announced, to my great delight that Manchester City had beaten Crystal Palace 1-3 at Selhurst Park. Clare turned to me and said "How much did you win?". I was bemused and asked wat she meant. She said "You woke me up in the middle of the night and said 'I just dreamed that City beat Palace 3-1 today, remind me to put £20 on that score at the bookies' ". I was not happy. I had no recollection of this at all. I said "Why didn't you remind me?". She said "I thought you'd remember, you seemed quite excited about it".

Unlike the current team, City were certainly not a sure fire bet back then. I'd have got a very good price on that. If I'd stuck the house on it, who knows how the '90's might have been different, although it'd probably just given me a gambling habit!

What I am finding rather odd is that I am feeling more tired and have less energy than ever. This is nothing to do with feeling ill. I just seem to be rather demotivated. I have been getting up late, going for naps, dozing off watching the telly and going to bed early. As Mrs T is having the opposite problem, she is getting cross with me for not getting up at 7am to do the dishes. I've realised that I only really do stuff when I have to. I am no good at all at doing stuff without a deadline or a reason. I had dreamed of practicing guitar to death, becoming the next Jimi Hendrix and writing a stack of songs. The trouble is, as we are all in the house, there is no opportunity for practice without people yelling at me. Watching the dog lick its bum and tidying the fridge is uninspiring in the extreme. I have realised that my songwriting is inspired by external stimulus. There just isn't enough at the moment. I get inspired seeing dodgy dudes walking out of bookies, drunkards regaling bored pub punters with tall tales and the smell of hot dogs on the way to football. I've actually seen nothing interesting or inspiring for nearly two weeks. I think that is why I am dreaming so much!

As to last nights dream, strangely I remember it. It was magnificent, if truly bizarre. I dreamed that Woolworths in Mill Hill (now Iceland) had reopened specially to stage a Finchley Catholic High School reunion dinner. I found myself chatting to a schoolfriend, John Whelan. I last saw John when I was around eighteen and we had a form 5B reunion. As I recall he was a trainee nurse, although I may have imagined that. If he is still in the NHS, I hope he is safe. We had a great chat, then I realised that we were being highly irresponsible, going to a dinner when we should be socially isolating. Woolworths in Mill Hill used to be cinema. Although it is now Iceland, I realised that it would make an amazing music venue/community centre. So yes, maybe there is something in this dreaming business after all. Maybe we can get Iceland to move to new premises, then it might just happen!

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