“What topics are you looking at for the exam?”
“The psychology exam”.
An exam? It would be in May. No, it wouldn’t. Open University exams are in the autumn. But what course was I doing? Where were my books?
I woke with a start. The alarm hadn’t gone off. It was 7.10 and I had overslept. I put the kettle on.
It is fifteen years since I opened a psychology book; there is not an exam, not in May, not in the autumn, not ever. I have a piece of nice cream-coloured card in an envelope on the floor beside my desk; it is the certificate for my master’s degree in theology from Bristol, awarded last year. I must get a frame sometime, or at least some blu-tack; if I stuck it to the wall it might dispel some bad dreams.
Had I paid more attention to the psychology books, I might have understood the underlying problem, but then, again, I might not. Freud’s work seemed about as verifiable as most theology; if you bought into it, then it explained everything. If you thought he was possibly a troubled man with an overactive imagination, whose theories did not stand up to the sort of rigorous testing that would be applied to physical sciences, then there were grounds to doubt much of what he said. Theories that say one thing proves the case and that another, contradictory thing also proves the case, are as scientific as the suggestion that God’s existence can be proven by him answering prayers or by him not answering the same prayers. He seems to start out with a theory and then to search for facts to fit the theory; like most preachers, I suppose.
Anyway, it is all long past, I only started psychology in the first place because I met someone on a French campsite who talked about it, and I never did the finish the honours level. There was another credit needed for the honours and I hadn’t the money at the time to pay for the course and the summer school required. Ten years later, I thought about writing to ask whether it was possible to finish, but decided they might think I needed to see a psychologist
Perhaps that was what the dream was about – leaving things unfinished: I’m very good at doing that. Maybe it was just one of those random, meaningless pieces of sub-conscious processes that remain after the alarm has rung.
Friends talk about similar dreams – turning over exam papers to see questions in a subject they have never studied; or being late for an appointment and not being able to find the way. Nearly missing the last Belfast-bound flight out of Heathrow one night; for years afterwards, I dreamt I was in Croydon and had to get a flight in an hour’s time, which was odd, because I was never in Croydon.
Dreams are strange things. Waking up is much safer.