Category: memories

The Lessons of Dreams

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The novelist Henry James once said, “Tell a dream and lose a reader.” Perhaps he’d have sold more books if he’d ignored his own advice, to judge from the success of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol and Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories. And think of the impact Martin Luther King made with I had a dream

For what it’s worth, then, here’s one I dreamed last night. I was taking a class of Year 8 youngsters on a country ramble – something I used to do in reality when the school where I taught had an outward-bound centre in the Peak District. There’s nothing like a long walk for getting to know the kids in your tutor set and my dream was completely faithful to life in that respect.

We end up on a railway station platform. It’s dusk and the lights are coming on – ornate, old-fashioned Victorian lamps – while trains with brightly-lit carriages lumber slowly past us on either side in both directions. I ask the class to get into groups of 3,4 or 5. They disperse into waiting rooms and other nooks and crannies. I go in search and find they’re all in groups apart from 3 kids – 2 who want to work together and 1 nobody else wants. After some gentle diplomacy, I fit these into other groups and bring the class together to explain the task – not easy above the racket of trains and station announcements.

I’m just getting going when something bumps me sharply from the side and an eccentric figure runs past in Dickensian gear – top hat, cream-coloured coat and long leather boots.  Just before disappearing round the corner of a station building, coat-tails flapping like the White Rabbit, he turns to me with a mischievous look and I see a face that resembles Robin Williams …

I’m awake. My wife has nudged me in the ribs. It’s 3.33 am. The cat is scratching at the bedroom door. I stumble downstairs to the kitchen and point the sleepy animal at the dried food still in his bowl. I go into the lounge and scribble down the main points of my dream.

Back in bed I lie awake, words of explanation to my dream class forming effortlessly in my mind. Turns out I want them to come up with creative responses to school life – they’re already experts on that subject, with more than 100 years of experience between them – working together to fashion poems, improvised drama, scripts, stories, letters, cartoons, research projects, you name it … and I fall asleep practising my speech in the hope that we are just about to meet up again.

There are many things I could say about dreams (and just as many about teaching) but I am curious to know what other people think. Do you have any observations to make? I would be very interested to read them.

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There’s A Whole Generation …

When we first heard this kind of music, we little thought that we’d still be listening to it half a century later.

50 years ago, old people in Britain sang sentimental music-hall songs like ‘Nellie Dean’ and cherished wartime performers like Vera Lynn and Gracie Fields. Old men wore their de-mob suits on the beach and old ladies ate bread and dripping and wore whalebone corsets. This was the world of charabanc outings that the Beatles satirised in their underrated film Magical Mystery Tour. They – along with most of their musical contemporaries – believed that pop culture was ephemeral, something you did before you got a proper job. And when you retired with your gold watch, you’d be sipping warm Mackeson in a smoke-filled pub singing along to ‘We’ll Meet Again

But something had shifted. A fault line opened up. Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey still perform ‘My Generation’ with its now ironic line Hope I die before I get old. The Stones continue to defy gravity and strut their stuff to thousands of new young fans. Even the warring Davies brothers have buried the hatchet in a Kinks reunion. And tomorrow night I’m off to see the Pretty Things perform their still exciting 60s-style blend of rhythm’n’blues and psych-rock, with a new album described by Mojo magazine as ‘almost unfeasibly vital’.

As the great Bill Hicks used to say, ‘Who woulda thunk it?’

 

Subversion, 60’s Style …

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What chance did we stand? Comic strips like this and the Bash Street Kids – see the previous post for my favourite adventure – introduced us Brit baby-boomers to surreal satire of conventional thinking. In the States it was Mad Magazine … were we the world’s luckiest ever generation, I wonder?

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Share the fun, kids, it’s still being published! And here’s one for Opher, whose blog opherworld.wordpress.com I can thoroughly recommend … some more artwork to die for!

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The Kids Are All Right

One of the Bash Street Kids spots a poster – Modern Art Competition, Big Money Prizes. He tells the others and their ‘thinks’ bubbles show all the grub they’ll buy with their winnings. They set about creating a masterpiece along American Expressionist lines.

They lay a huge canvas on the floor and splash paint on it, even ride bicycles over it. The result is very Jackson Pollock, all lines and swirls and splodges. They take the painting to the gallery but find it won’t fit through the door.

End of story you might think, but no, the last frame shows their cunning solution. They have cut the painting into three separate pieces and each one has a rosette attached – first, second and third place in the competition. Their dreams of food now run amok and the comic strip ends in an explosion of ‘thinks’ bubbles with a delicious profusion of jelly, sausage and mash, pies, cakes … what you might call a Beano!

I’ve looked online but can’t find it. Perhaps it’s better left in my memory, two pages that have everything: visual humour, satire, teamwork, rebellion, social comment … best of all, it’s kids putting their heads together to outwit the daft adult world.

What’s not to like?

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Part of the Problem?

It behoves us oldsters once in a while to put aside the comforting toys of our second childhood and consider the state of the world we leave our children. Against a background of rising inequality and failing ecology that surpasses the foggy 19th century, we witness religious upheaval that seems to emerge from murky mediaeval mists. Wasn’t the Enlightenment supposed to banish the Dark Ages for good? And who in the egalitarian and optimistic 1960s would have predicted such a lurch into irrationalism and tribal conflict?

E.P. Thompson in his brilliant book The Making of the English Working Class (1963) suggested that history showed a desperate oscillation between periods of political activism and religious fervour: whenever one was seen to fail, the other would be tried once more. And as in the macrocosm, so in the microcosm … if my own experience is anything to go by.

I was a churchgoer as a child and would sit in my pew searching for spiritual illumination through stained-glass windows with the best of them. Left to my own devices I would later climb tall trees to the sound of church bells, as if to gain a higher perspective. The voice that came to me in the wind through the leaves spoke a different truth than the preacher below. Two voices, then, and both of them in my head still …

 

“I am an actor mouthing another’s words, my days spent in drab rehearsal for the cavalcade that shimmers behind death’s parting curtain. I want to know nothing beyond scripture, for it is blasphemy to search out divine purposes. I seek only to assuage an angry deity, despising and even persecuting those who fail to observe the little rituals and shibboleths that may keep the wrath of heaven at bay. I think of Us and Them. I am generous to those whose ways I approve because I yearn for eternal reward. No matter what else I may say, my one concern is personal salvation.”

 

“I search for the voice that nature and experience will give me, each day until my last a new voyage of discovery. I want to know everything because I seek to become as whole as the world. My happiness and security are founded in the union of equals. I think only of Us. I study the ways of every creature and strive to be generous to all. I do not fear death because it brings value to life, which I hold sacrosanct.”

 

A third voice might point out that the other two are polar opposites, exaggerated and even caricatured. Most of us are strung out on a ragged continuum between those positions, with many believers more charitable and many non-believers more selfish. My only question in these turbulent times would be,  which perspective is most conducive to peace?

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