My relationship with sleep has changed over the years. Into my late teens I considered myself a night owl; I just had too much racing around in my head to get a good night's sleep, and when I did drop off my dreams were fractured and generally went unremembered.
It was when I hit adulthood and finished university that things began to change. I could suddenly sleep anytime, anyplace, and could never get quite enough of it. Eventually I was diagnosed with CFS - Chronic Fatigue Syndrome - which is kind of like having flu all the time, for months and months and months. That diagnosis, combined with endless self-help routines and an influx of pregnancy hormones, enabled me to largely conquer the physical aspects of CFS and get back to living a normal life.
What it didn't do was help me find a way around another well recognised CFS symptom.
Horrible, vivid, regular nightmares. Before CFS I had these kind of dreams a couple of times a year, at most, and even then they only depicted a single scene or two before I woke up and struggled to recall what had been so terrible about them. Now I have at least a couple of nightmares a week, and they're in a whole different league. They're long, complex, and on waking I remember the vast majority of the detail - my 'regular' dreams are like this too now, they just don't scare me quite as much!
Here are a few of my 'favourites':
Mold is a town in Flintshire, North Wales, with a population of around 10,000. It's famous for, well, not a lot, but in the dream was the site of a nuclear bomb dropped on the UK by Russia and China. My parents' place was now a safe house for some of the few survivors in Cwmbran, mostly made up of me, Rhys (my brother), and some of his friends. We watched the half hour TV broadcast everyday for news, although it was usually an entertainment show from before the blast, and Rhys went out on regular foraging quests for food and luxuries like toilet paper. On one of these outings he had most of the flesh on his back burned away by acid rain, which meant we ended up having to finally move to the government shelter where life sucked even more than it did already...
Mold. (Credit:Phil Williams [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)
This was last night's nightmare, and the inspiration for writing about this topic today. We were living in a maisonette near the canal and, for reasons that made perfect sense in the dream, had a cat flap in the door of the main bedroom which also opened out onto the garden. Unfortunately this made it very easy for the spider-rats, rats with extra legs they could deploy at will, to gain entry. They scuttled up the walls and made life (understandably) very unpleasant. A high ranking politician was due to visit the area and I made it my mission to get them to visit our street, and see the spider-rat infestation for themselves.
No picture because, ugh, spider-rats!!
The Feet People
So far we've had weird dreams, but at least the weirdness has been understandable. Rats, spiders, and nuclear explosions are all perfectly legitimate things to be frightened of and have nightmares about. What follows is a story so weird, so off the wall, that it haunted me for weeks afterwards...
It was late at night and, to fill the TV schedules, they were airing an old black and white Scandinavian kids' show in the UK for the very first time. It was from the 1950s or 60s, and the continuity voiceover explained that it hadn't been deemed suitable for British sensibilities at the time.
We would soon learn why.
It opened with the main character, whose name we either didn't learn or I've since forgotten, who was played by a kneeling actor with feet attached to their kneecaps and, more bizarrely, feet for hands. It made sense in the dream. We followed this character over his first few days in Hell. Like, how everyone in Hell got their ever diminishing food rations of hardtack biscuits from a vending machine and ate together in a big communal canteen, worked all day, and slept in big dormitories at night.
To prevent them from getting up to any mischief, they had what looked like big cage style fireguards placed over their heads and necks, with handles to hold it up by the arms if they needed to move - the idea being that they would wake everyone else up if they tried anything.
Our character decides he has to escape from hell, and carefully makes his way - cage and all - to the toilet block one night to achieve just that. Another little footperson from his dorm wants to come with him, and the two meet up with a whole gaggle of schoolgirl feetpeople in the toilets.
Footperson the first uses the cage to help him brace himself against the walls of the toilet cubicle and, although they lose the other male along the way to the security sweeps, manages to shimmy the girls and himself up into heaven. When they arrive it's the middle of the night and St. Peter, who looks like a little cartoon ghost with head and tail, is all put upon and tells them they shouldn't be there, and he would have to fetch God for them.
God has an emergency meeting with the newly arrived feetpeople, and tells them they can stay if they prove themselves worthy. All the next day they spend hard at work in heaven - cleaning, polishing, and generally being good little souls. After a few days God calls the main character into his office to say that he can stay, with a heartwarming little speech.
He then asks where the girls have got to.
"I'm sorry," the main character says. "I just couldn't help repeating what I did to them in life."
At this point the camera pans out on a little garden to reveal twelve little freshly dug graves.
I hope you have enjoyed this foray into my subconscious. Be thankful you won't need to visit again!