About the Author
Ray Wilson was born and brought up in Co. Durham in the U.K. After Durham University and Teacher Training, he completed his National Service in the Royal Army Educational Corps in Malaya (1956-58) during the Emergency.
From 1958 to 1967 he taught English in schools in Durham and Surrey. He then moved to Westminster College of Education (just outside Oxford) as a Lecturer in English.
In 1992 he took early retirement and in 1996 with his wife, Sylvia, he emigrated to Australia to join his family in the Brisbane area.
His hobbies include writing, reading, singing, acting and travelling. He has had two books of poetry and a novel, A Garland of Jasmine, published and two plays performed in Queensland and N. S. W. Repertory Theatres.
Read a sample:
The night was eerily dark, the pale moon filtering only fitfully through the swirling fog. The boy wasn’t sure where he was and the heavy silence − save for his own faltering footsteps on the cobblestones − was filled with foreboding. The pervasive stench that assailed his nostrils did nothing to reassure him. Was someone lurking in the shadows, watching him, following him? He stopped, his heart pounding, and listened. Nothing. It must be his imagination. And yet …
‘Are you still with us, Watson?’
There was an explosion of light as the sun splintered the classroom window. Mr Stevenson stood above him shaking his head in a mildly disapproving fashion. ‘Daydreaming again?’
There was a ripple of laughter from the rest of the class.
Mark didn’t know what to say, so he said nothing.
Mr Stevenson, with another shake of the head, turned to the rest of the class. ‘As I was saying, this last batch of essays was, generally speaking, quite good. There were some thoughtful and imaginative approaches to the topic, so I think we’ll have some of them read out. And that doesn’t mean the rest of you can switch off or, as the case may be, daydream.’ He didn’t direct the last comment at Mark – he didn’t need to.
Mark shuffled uncomfortably on his chair as the teacher continued.
‘I want you all to listen to these essays very carefully because I want to hear your comments – your sensible comments – and criticisms, good and bad. All right?’
There was a half-hearted murmur of assent.
After a few of the essays had been read out – essays which Mark did not find particularly interesting – it was Jonathan Woodgate’s turn. He was a gangling, bespectacled boy with rather large ears and thin, black hair always plastered close to his scalp. In spite of his spectacles – or perhaps because of them – he often appeared to squint, which didn’t prevent him from nearly always having his nose in a book. Even in the playground he could generally be found sitting by himself engrossed in some book or other. He never joined in any of the usual playground games and in the compulsory games lessons on the sports field always tried, generally unsuccessfully, to make himself invisible. He was a loner and didn’t seem to mind a bit. But he generally came into his own in the classroom, particularly in the English lessons, and most of the other boys didn’t begrudge him this little bit of limelight. It wasn’t as if he was big-headed about it; in fact, at times he seemed as reluctant to take the spotlight in the classroom as he was on the playing field. Mark didn’t know quite what to make of him. Sometimes he considered Woody, as he was invariably called, a wimp; at other times he couldn’t help but be envious of Woody’s superior knowledge.
Mark found himself listening to Woody’s essay with genuine interest. All of the class had been given the same topic: ‘An Unforgettable Experience’, and Woody had described a meeting with one of his favourite characters from fiction, Oliver Twist. His essay ended:
When Oliver told me about his fear of Bill Sykes, I could feel my own flesh creep. Then we heard a dog growling and a heavy knock on the door.
‘It’s him!’ Oliver cried. ‘It’s Bill Sykes come to get me. Run and save yourself!’
Too late! The wooden frame splintered and the door burst open.
My mother hurried into the room. ‘Time to get up.’
It was all just a dream.
There was a moment’s silence in the class; the essay had obviously gone down well and Woody’s reading, after a nervous start, had certainly done it justice.
Mr Stevenson smiled, nodding his head appreciatively. ‘Very good, Woodgate, well written and well read.’ He turned to the rest of the class. ‘Any comments?’
There was the usual silence and apathetic reluctance to say anything, let alone anything constructive.
‘Come on, there must be something you can say.’
Eventually there were a few comments on how ‘interesting’ the story was – the usual bland, noncommittal remarks.
The teacher then turned to Mark, never one to volunteer information unless pressed.
‘Any thoughts, Watson?’
This time, however, Mark felt there was something he wanted to say. ‘Yes, sir. I liked the essay. It was … interesting.’
Mr Stevenson smiled wearily.
‘It was different … original,’ Mark continued.
The teacher looked more attentive.
‘But I think it would have been better if the ending had been changed.’
Mr Stevenson stroked his chin thoughtfully. ‘How do you mean?’
‘Well,’ Mark said, ‘without the last bit – the bit where he tells us it was just a dream.’
The teacher smiled. ‘What do you say to that, Woodgate?’
Woody nervously adjusted his spectacles. ‘But it was a dream. It was just a dream.’
‘Just a dream,’ Mark repeated, feeling, for no reason that he could fathom, annoyed with Woody. ‘What do you mean, just a dream?’
Mr Stevenson sat back. He rather enjoyed listening to the cut and thrust of debate in his classroom; it didn’t happen very often.
Mark was now in full flow. ‘Why does anything out of the ordinary that happens always have to be explained away by saying it was all imagination or just a dream? Why can’t we believe in … in the unreal … in the …’
Mark’s words tailed off but Mr. Stevenson finished the sentence for him. ‘In the dreamworld?’ He smiled at the two boys. ‘I think we’ve got a bit of a paradox here. Note that I said paradox and not contradiction.’ He paused for a moment. ‘You do all remember what a paradox is, don’t you? I know that this is just your first year at grammar school, but we have talked about various figures of speech, including the paradox. Haven’t we … Jenkins?’
Jenkins, a blond-haired boy with an impish grin who wasn’t the most attentive of pupils, started behind his desk. ‘Er … yes, sir.’
‘A paradox is … is … a …’
‘An apparent contradiction, sir.’
‘Very good. And what is a contradiction … Johnson?’
Although a rather shy boy, Johnson was ready with an answer. Indeed, by this time, the entire class were ready for they knew that whenever Mr Stevenson got into his question-and-answer routine, he would always leave the pupil’s name till last. So they soon learnt that it was advisable to be prepared to answer any and every question. If they could.
‘A contradiction, sir,’ Johnson said, ‘is when you have a … a statement that contains two direct opposites.’
‘Very good. An example … Meadows?’
‘Er … er … “He was an ignorant intelligent pupil”.’
Mr Stevenson smiled. ‘Right. So, back to our paradox. An example … Smith?’
‘Hmmm … “It was a bitter-sweet goodbye”.’
‘Very good. In fact, the example you have given is of a particular kind of paradox.’ The teacher surveyed his pupils. ‘I wonder if you can remember what it’s called … Ashforth?’
‘I … I can’t remember, sir.’
‘I think it’s an example of oxymoron, sir.’
‘Very good. Yes, Simpson, have you something to say?’
Simpson, who rarely volunteered any information, had suddenly thrust up his hand, a broad grin splitting his face. ‘“Parting is such sweet sorrow”, sir.’
Mr Stevenson’s grin complemented Simpson’s. ‘Excellent. And might I ask how you come to know that particular quotation, Simpson?’
‘My sister, sir. At her school they’re reading Romeo and Juliet and she’s mad on Juliet—keeps spouting her lines all round the house.’
‘Good for her,’ Mr Stevenson said, his face wreathed in smiles. ‘Well, after that little diversion into figures of speech and William Shakespeare, perhaps we can return to Woodgate and Watson and the paradox I was referring to arising from their, let us say, difference of opinion. On the one hand, Watson is critical of Woodgate’s explanation of the unreal or imaginary as being “just a dream”, while on the other hand, Watson is standing up for the reality of the dreamworld.’ He looked questioningly at the two boys. ‘Would that be a fair summing-up?’
They both nodded their heads. ‘Yes, sir.’
‘Good.’ He grinned at Watson. ‘I take it that the dreamworld that so fascinates you can also from time to time include the daydream?’
There was an audible chuckle around the class. Mark returned Mr Stevenson’s grin but said nothing.
‘Well, Watson, I think that brings us quite neatly to your own essay, although nightmare might be closer to the mark in describing it.’
He motioned to Mark who came out to the front and started to read:
The night was eerily dark, the pale moon filtering only fitfully through the swirling fog. The boy wasn’t sure where he was and the heavy silence, save for his own faltering footsteps on the cobblestones, was filled with foreboding.
* * *
The stench of the open sewer made his stomach turn and he had to stop for a few moments, retching. The pale moon finally managed to infiltrate the swirling mist and as he looked about him for some familiar landmark, he knew that he was lost. The distant eerie sound of a foghorn on the river intensified his alarm and he prayed that the fog would lift before something unpleasant happened to him. Because something was going to happen to him; he felt it in his bones. He was now worried about his father and young sister. They too would be anxious as he should have been home by this time. The street took a sudden turn and went sharply downhill. He could now hear the gentle lapping of water against the Embankment. And he could hear something else – footsteps behind him.
Mark awoke, his heart pounding, his sweat-soaked pyjamas clinging to him. That dream again, that frightened lost boy who also invaded his daydreams.
It was only in the last few weeks that he had experienced this recurring and frightening dream. Before that he had dreamed the usual – or unusual – mixture of dreams: the running, falling, drowning, flying and a hundred others. Many of them he couldn’t remember but others remained with him, fresh and real. He had briefly talked to his dad about it and had come to the conclusion that although most people dreamed, he seemed to dream more than most.
‘I don’t know about that,’ his dad had said. ‘Most of us apparently dream most of the time when we’re asleep. It’s just that you seem to remember more of yours.’ He laughed. ‘We should have called you Joseph.’
Mark looked vacant.
‘What do they teach you at school? They still teach RE, don’t they? Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of Joseph – Joseph the Dreamer, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat?’
‘Oh, him,’ Mark said.
But when Mark found he was also beginning to daydream, his mind able to shut out the real world at the blink of an eye, he began to wonder if there wasn’t something wrong with him. And when both his night dreams and day dreams began to overlap and repeat the same dream, he was definitely worried.
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