In your dreams

14th September 2001 at 01:00
Margaret Leeson retired as head of English at Dover girls' grammar, Kent, this summer In my dreams I fly breaststroke. I have astounded many of my classes with this confession. The thought of their sober, middle-aged English teacher propelling herself through the air in such an ungainly fashion takes them by surprise. I simply push off, and up I go. As I rise, the land falls away until all I can see is a thick carpet of treetops.

It is always an effort. Often I barely clear the tops of the trees. And while I can vividly recall the sickening sensation of losing height, I have no idea what lies below. Is it an Ofsted inspector? Or those targets I once rashly promised to meet? All I know is that I have to keep flying.

There's certainly enough in my life to escape from - books to mark, reports to write, even the weeds in the garden. But is it an escape? It's lonely up there and, while I am safe, I am solitary. On waking, I often want to go back into the dream, it seems so vivid. I suffered from ME a couple of years ago and have just retired from teaching. I'm not sure what to do next.

Petruska Clarkson writes: This sounds like a wish-fulfilment dream. But somehow Margaret doesn't get as much pleasure - or escape from responsibility - as she seems to deserve.

Breaststroke is fairly strenuous. She has to propel herself instead of being lifted by the wind. It sounds forced instead of relaxed.

She does manage to escape the promises she cannot fulfil. But if she didn't keep up her efforts she might fall. Her story reminds me of a struggle against drowning - the desperate effort for a tiny bit of freedom.

She describes herself as "sober, middle-aged and ungainly" in the eyes of her pupils. Yet she also sounds fond of them and appreciates being able to astound or amaze them. I wonder if she feels appreciated enough as a teacher. I guess not. That she has given up teaching seems psychologically a good decision. One way she could try to find out what to do next is to attempt conscious intervention in her own dream - so-called "lucid dreaming". By self-starting the dream when she goes to bed, she can decide to influence its nature and outcome. If she allowed the wind to be beneath her wings, who knows what green and pleasant field she might choose to land in.

Margaret Leeson and Petruska Clarkson were talking to Harvey McGavin. Send 300-word descriptions of your dream, with contact details and a photograph of yourself, to Jill Craven, Friday magazine, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX. Email: jill.craven@tes.co.uk. Petruska Clarkson says anyone wanting to understand their dreams more fully should contact a psychologist

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