T E Lawrence (of Arabia) maintained that 'those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity', in comparison with daydreamers, who would try and turn their dreams into reality. He wasn't absolutely right, as at least one writer, R L Stevenson, claimed to have dreamed the plots of many of his novels when he got stuck.
Nowadays, maybe because I don't have a very active subconscious, I don't remember my dreams much. I had one dreaming conversation with the late Mr B, who asked me what had been happening during his absence. I thought it best not to tell him I had rapidly abandoned trying to back the car into the garage after that dent – which the insurance dealt with – and was now using it as a storage facility. He had probably worked that one out anyway as he'd always joked I would never use the garage in the event of his demise.
But during my adolescence I had a series of very vivid dreams in which I had interesting interactions with several famous people. I can't remember what Oliver Cromwell told me except it had to do with pruning a gardenia tree rather than setting up a republic. Lady Hamilton turned out to be a charming elderly lady who wanted me to go with her to put violets on Nelson's grave, as she was too hassled by the paparazzi to go by herself. She was keen I should impress on posterity that she had certainly not been as vulgar as she had been portrayed by contemporary journalists – so I have now, like Nelson, done my duty. As Mrs Mozart, I had to make an excuse to disappear every Wednesday to receive the medication from the future that would keep Mozart alive after the age of 36 to produce a whole series of extra masterpieces. If he had made it, young Beethoven wouldn't have stood a chance!
Like Stevenson (my only link with the great man, I fear) I dreamed the plot of Eric the astral-projecting bear and friends. Having produced a rough draft of the subsequent 'novella', I sent it off for perusal to friends and family, thinking at least they would be diplomatic, as I had been with my brother's attempts at producing an autobiographical 'my life and hard times'. Sadly not – typical reviews went: 'I've tried to read it all morning and I can't get past page 6', 'It's far too highbrow for me' (this is a story about a talking bear!), 'It's very different from anything I have ever read' (although that one might
Two friends with whom I had been in regular email contact requested to read the story then suddenly stopped responding. Such silence is the worst sort of feedback – I once paid the local printer £20 to professionally produce my 'magnum opus' on John Buchan and Jungian archetypes, as the famous writer who had agreed to look at it had requested a paper version – then this individual never responded. If you are reading this and recognise yourself, can I please have my manuscript back?
As an academic, I was always urged to offer students 'positive' feedback, but that can be anodyne and sometimes tough love is needed. The best piece of advice I discovered about giving feedback was in the Marks and Spencer Guide to Childbirth
– a mine of useful information in my experience. It's 'the yes but/yes and' rule. If your child draws a blue sun and a yellow sky, you shouldn't say 'that's nice, dear, but you have used the wrong colours', but 'that's nice, dear, and it's interesting you have used those colours – do tell me more'. Another tip from this excellent volume that I found particularly useful with students: don't say 'Did you copy this from Alec's essay?', but 'Why did you copy this from Alec's essay?' It caught the naughty ones out every time.
One of my (hopefully plural number of) readers asked why I referred to 'beautiful downtown Banchory'. For the very old like me, this is a reference from that brilliant 1970's American comedy series, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In
, set in 'beautiful downtown Burbank', as the characters called it, a suburb of Los Angeles where the programme was made. I adored this programme in a way that I never felt about Monty Python and co. For me, the latter was often quite cruel, probably because of the number of ex-public school individuals who wrote it, whereas Laugh-In
was often rather sweet humour, sometimes more like pathos, but certainly surreal.
I'm not usually a fan of American culture, but I think the programme was in the tradition of Thurber in its wry self-deprecating style, or maybe like Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon Days
. I would be intrigued to revisit it, as often humour does not survive the change in the zeitgeist, although more recently I watched The High Life
again – the adventures of the staff of the Air Scotia airline, led by the brilliant Alan Cumming and friends. While I didn't quite roll on the floor laughing (as I literally did when I first saw it, especially the team-building episode, which mirrored many such events I have unfortunately attended) I still found much to chuckle over.
A couple of years ago, I did an enthusiastic review of The Windsors
for The Scotsman
and received hate mail from those who thought the royals should not be figures of fun. Clearly these critics had never encountered Ancient Greek comedy which took no prisoners from the ruling class. Yet the portrayal of Charles Windsor and his extended dysfunctional family was essentially affectionate when it could have been much more hard hitting. Even those peripheral characters: Harry, Beatrice, and Eugenie, were given some redeeming features. But for those of us who look forward to the Scottish Republic, the real thing is more of a soap opera than the TV series could ever be.
Dr Mary Brown is a freelance education consultant