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Tales from the back of the eyelids

London

This dream began in England. Mrs Greenley, my elderly neighbour, was showing me photographs of London from before the Second World War. We were sitting in her very English sitting-room drinking tea. I was amazed at the artistic black and white shots which showed London as it used to look: narrow, winding cobblestoned streets lined on both sides with picturesque buildings. It was quite unlike contemporary London, with its ostentatious and impersonal structures. And the traffic now! Then, all was quiet, provincial, very nineteenth century, very middle European. Yes, that was it! London before the War looked very much like the old centre of Prague does today. I looked at the pictures with dismay: how London has been ruined! What a mess has been made of it! London had been all but destroyed during the War and afterwards it was rebuilt without any proper plan, completely chaotically, without any respect for the harmonies of nature. The former London was so different and such a long time ago that it was hard to believe that it had ever existed.

But existed it had. Mrs Greenley, here beside me, was living proof. She was a connection to that old, disappeared London. Not many people alive can still remember how it used to be and all the time they are getting fewer. Mrs Greenley was still here, though, and as long as it remained in her memory, the past city would continue to exist. One day, when she and all her contemporaries are gone, no-one will be sure any more about how it really was.

On seeing my enthusiasm, Mrs Greenley decided to organise a trip to see this old London, which was still existing, albeit barely, in the present. I eagerly joined the excursion, of course, as did a group of other people, some of whom I knew. Naturally, Mrs Greenley was our guide and because she was a sprightly old lady some of us had trouble keeping up with her. We began our walk at one of the corners of London's biggest park, Hyde Park, where nowadays there is a busy roundabout roaring with traffic that hurtles at it from other parts of the city. Even before the War, the Marble Arch monument sat in the middle of this roundabout and the broad Park Lane still ran south from it in a straight line, separating the park from the town buildings. But in those days, as we discovered on our walk, there was little traffic and this boundary of the park marked the beginning of the town. On the other side, beyond the sloping green lawn of Hyde Park, there were only fields and a few isolated palaces.

With Mrs Greenley leading the way, we headed for the centre, first taking Oxford Street from the top of the park and shortly afterwards turning off into the dense maze of streets on our right. The streets were truly romantic and when, on occasions, they might have seemed too narrow and dark, optimistic shafts of light from time to time would stretch diagonally across the road, shining through spaces between the buildings. The narrow alleys all at once opened up onto a small cobblestoned square with a splashing fountain in the middle. We then followed a narrow passageway between the buildings opposite us and arrived at the Old Town Square.

At this point I realised that I was in Prague, which initially was confusing because up to that point I had been convinced that I was in pre-War London. Nevertheless we pressed on and took a short street - a Georgian crescent, such as is found in London, with iron railings in front of the houses - and arrived at the top of Wenceslas Square. It was when I saw the square stretched out in front of me that I realised that I was in a dream. I mean, in real life you can't start at Hyde Park and after a few minutes walking, end up in the centre of Prague, can you? Even assuming that I had made a mistake and that we had been in Prague the whole time, there is no short cut from the Old Town Square to the top of Wenceslas Square via a London crescent. There was no doubt about it: this was definitely a dream.

Along with realising that I was dreaming, I also realised that I was in a rare and peculiar state of mind. This is the state of mind, in which one is aware of dreaming, while one is dreaming. The correct term is for this is "lucid dreaming". In these kind of dreams, we can control our actions and so we can decide where to go and what to do. Even more bizarrely, some experts claim that what we do in these dreams can be transposed into real life. You could, for example, drown your bitterest enemy in a lake in the dream, and the next morning you'll see a headline in the newspaper - "Man found drowned in mysterious circumstances" - and, of course, it is your enemy who has drowned. The great advantage of this is that no-one can ever prove you murdered him. Here's another example: if you make love in your dream to someone you know at work, the next day, when you meet and give that person a big smile, you will see how he or she smiles back in embarrassment and in general acts bashfully. All sorts of exciting things can be done like this.

Now, seeing as I was in this special state of mind, I wanted to try an experiment to see if what these experts say is true. I could not think of anyone at that moment whom I would like to murder or alternatively to whom I would like to make love. What should I do, then? I decided on a less exciting type of experiment: if I agreed with people in the dream to say or do specific things, then in the morning when we woke up, we could get in contact and tell each other about this remarkable dream we jointly have experienced.

I approached Mrs Greenley and told her that this wasn't real and that we were only dreaming. It was an opportunity not to be missed. We should remember this dream and, in particular, this conversation I was having with her and talk about it tomorrow. Initially she looked somewhat surprised, but then seemed to realise that what I was saying was true and agreed that she would try to remember. We continued on our walk and were alongside some buildings near the Florenc bus station, when I stopped by a tree which was planted in the pavement and tore off a leaf from one of its lower branches. I showed it to someone in the group.

"Remember that I showed you this leaf!" I said to him. "You'll be surprised tomorrow when I tell you that you dreamed about it."

We already getting close to our hotel on Sokolovská Street, which we knew was our exit point from the dream to get back to reality. Because the dream was coming to an end, and time was getting short, I was beginning to get agitated. I wanted to be absolutely sure that before we woke up as many people as possible would have something to remember for tomorrow. I went up to Mr Kapr, who was in the group and who also is an employee on the family farm, but when I spoke, I couldn't think of anything by which we could remember the dream.

Finally I said: "Why don't you think of something, and I'll tell you about it tomorrow?"

He thought for a moment. "All right, " he said, "tell me tomorrow that we agreed to mend together that broken fence."

"Good idea!" I said. "That's what I'll say to you."

Despite taking all these precautions and despite everyone assuring me that they would remember all these details and that we would contact each other the next day and talk about them, for some reason I still didn't feel sure that everything would go to plan. It wasn't every day that one could telepathically communicate with people through a dream and I didn't want to miss the chance to try it out.

"Come on!" The others cried out to me, seeing as I was dawdling. "We have to get out of here!" Mrs Greenley put her arm in mine and began to tug me along.

"All right!" I said, "I'll come. But just let me quickly try one last thing." Saying this, I tore myself away from Mrs Greenley and walked to the patch of green near the hotel. In the middle of the lawn there was a tree and on its broad trunk, half as wide as the tree itself, was a huge caterpillar crawling downwards. Its two bulging eyes on the side of its head looked at me from the wrong way up.

"What can we remember for tomorrow when we wake up?" I asked the caterpillar.

The caterpillar lifted its head off the trunk and waved it from side to side, thinking. After a second or two, having made up its mind, it swung its head upwards in an arc and leaving its hindquarters stuck to the tree, and slapped its head against a computer screen that was sitting in the saddle between the two main branches.

"Yes!" I said. "We'll remember a computer when we wake up!"

I ran back to the others who were impatiently waiting for me.

"At last," said Mrs Greenley. "Let's go!"

We all then ran across the road and into the hotel's foyer which was full of live plants and brass fittings. The receptionist looked bemused as we rushed past him and piled into the lift. We were all aboard and just about to leave - Mrs Greenley was reaching for the button - when I announced apologetically that I had to stop off on the floor below to collect my things. Mrs Greenley rolled her eyes and gave out a sigh.

On the next floor I got out and began to gather my clothes and other belongings which were strewn about near the lift and began stuffing them into my suitcase. Everyone inside the lift was looking at me in annoyance. Have you any idea how hard it is to pack in a dream? It's similar to packing in real life, only worse. I was looking everywhere for my coat and then when I had found it, I could not find the suitcase and when I had found that I couldn't remember what I had already packed. Had I put my toothbrush in or not? So I had to rifle through the suitcase looking for it. On top of this, the whole time I was aware that everyone was silently but irritably watching me from the lift, which, of course, only made me even more nervous and less efficient.

In the end I just closed the suitcase, forcing the top down on the clothes bulging out, locked it and rushed with it back into the lift. And off we went, out of the dream.

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A moment later my eyelids opened and I was lying in bed. When I fully came round I said to myself that I would contact everyone immediately who was in the dream. I thought about whom I would try first. Mrs Greenley wasn't, in fact, my next-door neighbour but was a teacher of mine when I was at primary school in Norfolk in Britain. I had loved her because she would always laugh if I did something wrong rather than scold me as others did. However, it had been almost forty years since I had seen her last and we had not been in touch since then either. There wasn't much chance that she would remember me or, coming to that, that she was still alive.

Then there was the fellow to whom I had shown the leaf. The problem here was that I could not, for the life of me, remember who he was. So, that was no good. Perhaps I should contact Mr Kapr and mention the fence. We had talked about that fence many times and I had already promised that I would help him to mend it. I was not keen to remind him about it. I just hate that kind of work, especially in the cold weather we were having now. Forget about that idea, then. And as for the giant caterpillar dangling down on a tree which raised itself to bang its head on a computer - that was completely useless! What could I have been thinking of?

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