I just gave two children a dream. This is an example of the oral tradition still alive in modern society. Caxton rang the death knell. Berners-Lee compounded it. But dreams. Dudley used to give me dreams and they were good.
Party downstairs at Eyreton, the huge house I grew up in. My dad had a bar put in under the stairs. I was barman at his wake. But back when I was ten I was upstairs, in my little room, aware that the grown-ups had a whole different world of entertainment and were noisy. Even aged 6 I didn’t want to miss out on the party.
Dudley bridged that gap. He was the soul of the party. Vast, eccentric “cuddly Dudley”. He would come and give me a dream. He’d gather up the dream dust that had accumulated on me throughout the day and he’d make sure it was all shining in the palm of my hand. “Can you see it? I can see it.” I’d help him get bits he’d missed. Then he’d tell me how I had to go to sleep quickly so I could have the lovely dream that the dust wanted me to have. And so I would.
Dudley was my first friend to die. A different generation. Technically friend of my dad not mine, but he knew how to be friends with kids, and he understood imagination. A compulsive gambling bankrupt spendthrift madman, so of course he was friends with a kid. My buddy. Primarily because he was so careful and so specific in giving me my dreams, and because he listened to me rather than assuming he knew what I was going to say like most grown ups.
He didn’t make up the dream thing either – no way. He was an empath, but someone else had given him dreams like that as a kid, for sure. There’s a specificity in that sort of imaginary work, and a history. You can’t phone it. He’d stagger in to my restless room, full of whisky and charm, and twenty minutes later I’d fall asleep happy clutching the dream that he’d given me that was mine and mine and mine. I was already dreaming reasonably lucidly and he helped steer.
I don’t know how many hundreds of years that particular comforting ritual has been passed down through his family, but this evening – being the dissipated godfather at bedtime – I found myself offering dreams as a service. “I was taught this a very long time ago by a wonderful man called Dudley.” Not quite the same context. But as with any ritual it needs time. As a comforting sleep-aid it is extremely potent and it allowed me to get out and down and wind them down from getting excited. My presence was not helping those kids shut down. I’m generally willing to turn them upside down or get engaged in whatever ridiculous game is being improvised, and so I’m not much use at bedtime because I represent fun. So I thought I’d try Dudley’s dream technique. Nobody could give dreams like Dudley. I tried to homage the old guy.
He died when I was 12, I reckon. He still lives in me through that legacy. A kind, huge storyteller. I miss the dreams he gave me.
Meanwhile, you’re never too old to learn. “Snapdragon seed heads look like skulls,” says Hester – 7. She’s not wrong…