Who needs escapist fantasies when you can conjure imaginative dreamscapes even more depressing than the real world? Not all of these nocturnal sojourns follow that theme, but enough of them bloody do.
I Think You Mean 'Francophile'
I'm on a family holiday in an old town in France or something, which is nice. And I'm being kept from boredom by a copywriting project for the British company I used to freelance for ages ago, so that's nice too. Until their correspondence becomes suddenly cold and uncertain one afternoon, and I notice further down the email chain the internal discussion they forgot to delete about whether I'm a potential paedophile.
It seems they've hacked into my private email exchanges with my wife, in which I liberally cracked tasteless paedophilia jokes with a false sense of impunity. I start to draft an angry explanation, but the Operation Yewtree inspectors have already arrived and lock us all out of our hotel rooms until they can inspect the premises.
After a long wait we're finally in the clear, the only suspicious item being a rotten egg in Dad's fridge that they remove for further testing. It's like that bit in Life of Brian where they find the spoon.
The school I work at receives an unexpected visit from the late David Bowie, who takes to the stage in the cafeteria to play a couple of numbers and convince us he's not really dead.
There's no doubt that this is an impostor, but it's such a flawless imitation... and why would he go to all that trouble just to play a non-paying gig to some school kids who don't even know who Bowie is? I consider the conundrum as I eat my lunch of corned beef and rice off the dirty table, having forgotten to pick up a plate.
Ready... set... go! The challenge has begun, and I don't much fancy my chances against all of these more athletic and motivated competitors, but it's the taking part that counts, innit?
My attitude brightens when I show compassion to an injured polar bear cub that reveals itself to be a friendly spirit guide thing and promises to help me in return (it's a bit too friendly if you ask me. I don't swing in whatever direction that is, but I'll let it down gently after I win this thing).
Sure enough, we complete room after room in good time, solving puzzles and collecting objects with ease, but then the time's nearly up and I realise we missed a few. It turns out that having supernatural assistance can only supplement your limitations so much.
One of my secondary school teachers (embarrassingly real) announces she's leaving for the foreseeable on maternity leave, and as a reward for a good year she pops her top off to an enthusiastic round of applause from the underage lads. Jesus Christ.
When she leaves the room, we discuss what present to get her in return. Stanley says he can throw another aquarium together - he's been doing them all week - and I spend the rest of the dream gazing hypnotically at gigantic, panoramic marine life.
As If You Needed Further Evidence of the Paucity of My Imagination
Holodecks are real! And I've got one! So like any red-blooded male would do when getting his hands on this technology for the first time, I recreate a used book shop I visited once and spend my allocated hour per day browsing the shelves of leather-bound first editions and tutting at all the rubbish, unlicensed Red Dwarf novels (a self-aware dig at this dream basically rehashing the plot of 'Better Than Life?')
It's all lovely and boring until there's a change of management and the new proprietor injects unwelcome liveliness into the place. He informs us in no uncertain terms that things are changing around here, and that while his mild-mannered predecessor "thought he was Skinner, he's found out he was only Baddiel!"
The book shop quickly becomes a hangout for bike gangs, prostitutes and creepy Muppets, and I decide to take my business elsewhere. Computer, end program.
- "Authentically simulate any environment you can possibly conceive..."
- "Just the grid will be fine, thanks."
I'll Be There for You
I'm back in violent, crime-ridden Edinburgh, where my divided loyalties between middle-class and working-class acquaintances threaten to erupt in a way that doesn't happen in real life.
I attend an old schoolmate's posh wedding out of politeness, but abandon the canapes when I get an urgent text from another old friend from the judgmentally wrong side of the tracks... who proceeds to mug me with the help of his friends.
Following a swift recovery, I decide to get back into the creative writing scene and bring an interested female friend along to a writing club's Leith Walk address. We spot the 'Boys Only' sign too late, and I can only watch horrified and plead impotently as she's swarmed by thugs and brutally beaten.
I'll Be There for You Too
The same Edinburgh "friend" who mugged me in the previous dream unexpectedly shows up in whatever exotic destination me and the wife are currently hanging around in. We have a chat in a cafe, or rather he brings us up to speed on his nefarious antics, until a heart attack cuts the conversation short. That's what you get for living dangerously, my subconscious seems to be moralising.
After the paramedics have taken a look at him, he comes back to our hotel where we let the cheap invalid take the spare bed. An act of unwise charity that we regret upon waking to the sight of an empty, unfurnished bed and vandalised walls. I inform reception, and the understanding lady explains that I can either pay for the damage and theft or repaint the wall. I take out my debit card.
Aware that I'm waking up, and not wanting to leave things on this sour note, I force a "happy" ending in which he's apprehended at the airport and extradited to British authorities for his various crimes, but I'm not fooling anyone.
Richard Herring's rollercoaster is a big hit, but as much as it warms his heart to let us all ride for free, he has to avoid making a loss, and I for one am happy to pay for an optional upgrade that will keep this joyful enterprise alive. I don't put any thought into my selection of the 'Evil Upgrade,' but I regret it when I line up at the entrance the next day and see that Richard has gone to the trouble of gathering the obscure ingredients for me.
I'm wary about putting on the hollowed-out elephant's head, ear-holes stuffed with leaves from the tree under which JFK was assassinated, but I don't want to disappoint him, so I hold on tight as we loop-de-loop. Next time I'll just make a donation. A Kickstarter rewards anxiety dream, how about that?
As the world panics over an anonymous terrorist's threat to blow up significant buildings in major cities across the globe, I retreat to a hidden room where 12 old desktop computers are wired up and counting down. I watch with no feeling other than curiosity as the first counter reaches zero and the TV newsreader in another room informs me that the maniac has gone through with it. One down.
My dark secret is discovered when my housemate walks in, deducing what he needs to from the scene and imploring me to stop. I obligingly switch everything off and we both try to get to the bottom of exactly what I think I'm doing. Don't ask me.
But then I'm in the clear, as the news reports that the real culprit has been found and the threat extinguished. So I was just a wannabe psychopath copycat playing terrorism with obsolete equipment that wasn't connected up to anything. Finally I feel an emotion: what a relief!
A glitch in the Matrix leads to the temporary flattening of the 3D plane. I calm down my wife, who's freaking out over her own hand's distorted shadow, while I consider with dismay my collection of Ancient Egyptian antiquities that take up so much space in the living room, cursing the completist compulsion that made me buy all this junk.
When the third dimension returns and the room fills out into the z-axis, I'm pleased to see that the sarcophagi and pottery have been spirited away, which I interpret as a personal reward for my patience during this technical hitch. Thanks, benevolent machine overlords! We celebrate with macaroni fruit salad.
Image: Kawaling Pinoy
Soylent Is Green People
It's Friday, it's 4PM, which means school's out and we have the chance to pick up a human meat ready meal before we mosey on home. I decline that tempting offer this week, as I'm busy helping out friends and family with various pressing issues, though I don't end up being much use.
Dan's worried about getting arrested tomorrow, but I assure him that as long as he doesn't miss the appointment, he'll be fine. Someone else is concerned about their hefty £900 fine for abandoned parcels at the post office, which I sympathise with as I've had my share of dreams about that for some reason. And Jackie wants me to update the child safety articles I've written for various clients over the years in light of these borderline-apocalyptic earthquakes we've been having recently - careful, there's another one. Everyone alright? - but I explain that the world of corporate SEO articles doesn't really work like that. And anyway, they won't pay me twice.
I notice there's an unusual number of green people around this afternoon and then I realise I'm dreaming (what tipped you off?) As I start to wake up, the immoral fog clears and I suddenly realise that human meat ready meals are a horrific, sick idea. Especially if it's made from those guys, yuck.
Shipwrecked and Comatose
I've made a new friend at a Red Dwarf studio recording. Not that kind of friend, it's perfectly innocent... at least on my end. As we head out past the other studios, I'm disturbed to see Jimmy Savile, seemingly alive and well, wining and dining with cowardly BBC turncoats (oi, granddad subconscious, Red Dwarf's made by Dave now).
When we reach the guy's place, I accept his invitation to come in for a (genuine) coffee (look, fair enough, I might have had some dreams like that, but this isn't one of them), and then I start to feel woozy. He and his housemates go through the motions of being concerned as they restrain me, but I fight the light-headedness and resist, stumbling around until I black out.
Waking up in the street the next day, I don't know exactly what happened to me or what their motivations were, but I figure they're just into evil kicks for their own sake.
Meeting up with a fictional friend at the airport, I have the suspicion that something isn't quite right with him, and it's not just that he seems to be played by Leonardo DiCaprio circa Shutter Island. When we check into the hostel and head up to our bunks in the colossal honeycomb of sheets and mattresses, I suddenly remember that this turns out to be a Hostel-type prison run by insane sadists. I'm about to warn my "friend" when I see him chatting cordially to one of the "staff" who isn't bothering to hide his axe very well. I'm on my own.
Since this is my third time through the loop, I learn from the mistakes that got me discovered and/or killed those other times and sneak around until I find an open window. Stealthily yoinking a guard's mobile for evidence, I escape into the street and leap over the corrupt cops outside to find an honest, trench-coated inspector behind them who believes my story, despite the confusing fantasy elements and the presence of urine on my robe and shoes from when I pissed in the hostel shower and the drain kept moving. I wouldn't believe me.
Happiness Is Literally a Place
I'm feeling a bit down in the dumps when my curiosity is piqued by a cryptic email from an old work colleague:
You probably forgot to be HAPPY.Venturing out to explore the serpentine streets of the Edinburgh Old Town type place I live, I discover there is indeed a Happy Street, and #119 is a cosy bakery. I tuck into a gingerbread man... and smile.
Scorpy 'n' Cheese
During the course of various exciting Farscape-style space adventures, I chance upon a secret meeting held by my arch enemy Scorpius. When his defences are down, I grab a bottle of squeezy cheeze sauce from the table and squirt it over the half-Scarran tyrant, causing him to liquefy and his fair-weather minions to scatter.
Looking down at the pathetic pool of bubbling gloop (with a hint of cheese) that's slowly starting to reassemble, I know I have the chance to rid the cosmos of this evil once and for all. But I refuse because I'm a hero. And anyway, we'd only have to introduce a new, more powerful villain in his place. Better the BDSM-clad devil you know.
Been there. What the hell is this?
Image: Jim Henson Company / Hallmark / Nine Network / Sci-Fi, something like that
Worthless Time Machine
Hang on... didn't I discover an ancient Egyptian tomb several years ago? Funny how something like that can slip your mind. (I've written about this recurring dream theme before, so can confirm this is a genuine sequel and not just my brain tricking me this time). I wonder how the renovations are getting on.
I visit "my" tomb with a non-descript companion and on stepping into one unassuming stony chamber, we realise that we've stepped back in time. I'm not sure how we know this, as there are no windows or other cues, but let's not start questioning dream logic now. Heading back into the corridor, we find ourselves back in the dreary present day again.
Incredible, we've found a time portal! Though I am a little irritated that its narrow field limited to a sealed room makes it essentially useless, but maybe we can still leave messages or objects in there that could trickle benefits down to us through time. As if we really needed another moral fable about not abusing the miracle of time travel for selfish ends, I place a message inside containing sensitive future information, but it turns out I wasn't the first to discover this place after all as generic corporate baddies swoop in on us and wipe our memories or replace us with robot duplicates or something, I gave up and woke up at that point.
My old paranormal investigation group has re-banded and re-branded with the slightly more practical objective of looking after abandoned and mistreated animals. I join them on an island-hopping mission across the North Sea, scooping up Andrex puppies and kittens as we go, until my simmering guilt bubbles over and I confess how I just ignored all those stray dogs and cats back home in Davao.
I made this announcement during my interview slot in our vain project video, and I'm now watching myself back as I explain the whole thing using the analogy of a flatscreen TV. I can't remember exactly how I joined those dots, or if anything even followed the confident opener "you know those flatscreen TVs?", but let's assume it was gold.
Have You Tried Turning It Off and On Again?
After my brother discovers that he has frog DNA (not the rest of us though - what are you implying about my mother?), I visit him at his commune of fellow hoppers where they live a rustic life in treehouses but are all paradoxically skilled in IT. They're not very hospitable to outsiders either, the cafe refusing to serve me real food and only offering the choice of stale cereal or a deep fried Snickers with fries. I choose the latter.
Homo amphibia are the custodians of the source of the Internet, which resides inside a mighty tree and is notoriously jittery. I tag along with my brother's technician squad and watch as they carry out emergency repairs to the trunk while dodging fireballs. It's one of those volcano internet trees.
As We Approach the End, It's as If My Dreams Feel Pressured to Justify That Title
I'm already worried I won't have enough money for the night bus, so I don't appreciate this greasy cafe mistakenly serving us too many of these hash brown things that I'll now have to pay for too and are horrible anyway. Why is it so impossible for me to imagine nice food?
There's a stroke of luck as I notice that some of my coins bear unrealistically high values over ₱4,000 (N.B. the highest value coin is ₱10), so we'll be alright after all. But when the night bus arrives, it turns out to be more of a shared minibus/taxi and I have to sit next to a misbehaving dickhead who keeps ineffectually trying to mug me.
I don't remember if I got home. I was home already wasn't I? It's not real.
Whale of a Time
Anti-feminist troll Milo Yiannopoulos is hosting a conference aboard a houseboat about some contentious topic or other, but like someone who keeps getting mistakenly recommended his videos by a YouTube algorithm that doesn't understand his tastes, I'm not really paying attention and just hanging around outside.
I can't help but notice that a humpback whale has been cruelly tethered to the mast and is flicking its tail in desperation. I seem to be the only one who's noticed though, at least until Milo cracks a joke about a woman going overboard and points outside to illustrate his punchline with this prearranged spectacle. The gathered twats guffaw and applaud his edgy humour. Clearly I'm the only one here who's sensitive to the creature's plight. Though evidently not enough to do anything about it.
They go to lunch and no one bothers to untie the whale, which has now twisted and tangled in the ropes and is letting out a ceaseless, quivering cry. Eventually its struggles are successful and it breaks free, only to flop around the decks like an aquatic mammal out of water. The noise alerts the port authorities who run to the whale's aid and condemn Milo's inhuman actions in the strongest possible terms, announcing that they're "gonna kill that faggot." For fuck's sake, can we stop complicating good and evil?
Image: Maui Whale Festival
Art by Zdzisław Beksiński