What’s in a dream?

Dreams Road Sign

I have a dream. Not a Martin Luther King sort of dream. Or even an ABBA kind of dream. But it’s a dream I’ve had a number of times over the past few weeks. The details vary but the basic narrative remains the same. I’m just not sure what it all means.

It’s the autumn of 2026. Yes, I know that’s very specific. No, my brain isn’t flashing up a helpful chyron – those little graphic captions you see on your TV screen have a name! – with a location and date but the clues are there.

Isaac is leaving home to go up to Oxford to start university. Tall, lean and owlish in the glasses that he still insists on wearing, he looks every inch the fresh, young undergraduate.

Despite his excitement at starting this new chapter in his life, I can sense his sadness. As he is now, he’s still close to his family and a couple of tears escape his eye as he hugs his mother, brother and sister in turn.

Toby stands quietly off to the side, still a little awkward when it comes to displaying affection. A boy of actions rather than words, there’s little that needs to be said aloud between him and his brother.

He slinks off to read the digital screens in the porter’s lodge advertising various Freshers’ Week activities. I know what he’s doing. He’ll never admit it but he’s already set his heart on following in his brother’s footsteps. One of the few times in his life he’s allowed the joy to explode unfiltered from his lungs was the day he learned he had received 12 A-star-plus-merit-distinctions in his GCSEs. (Although, thanks to a long-standing government policy, the GCSE pass rate in 2026 was actually a record 114% thanks to a buy-two-get-one-free style incentive.)

Kara is 14 and is just setting out on the road to her formal qualifications. Loud and fiercely competitive, what Toby hopes for she already knows. Whatever her brothers do she will simply do a little bit better. Polite and demure when called for, her untamed hair and the twinkle in her eyes reveal the truth of her independent and mischievous nature. She will break as many rules as she does hearts.

When she hugs Isaac goodbye, it’s with an intensity that would instantly tell any passing stranger of the strength of their sibling bond. She loves Toby too, but there’s something special about the relationship between a sister and her eldest brother. There always has been, from the moment she was born.

Heather watches on, proud. Seeing Isaac follow the same path trodden by his parents – with distinction by his mother, less so by his father – is the culmination of any parent’s dream of wanting their children to fulfil their potential. Who wouldn’t be bursting with pride?

The above scene, sugary and idyllic as it is, is just a fantasy snapshot of the future. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, that’s okay too as long as the kids are happy.

But here’s the thing. I’m not sure the dream is a fantasy. I’m not sure because – no matter what variation of the dream I’m having – I’m never in it. Every time I wake up, I realise that Isaac never hugs me, nor does any other member of the family address me directly. I never see a reflection of myself in a window. My point-of-view is that of a detached observer, not of a participant in this happy family scene.

It’s all a bit The Sixth Sense, isn’t it?

Is it a fantasy or is it a nightmare dressed up in smiles, bright colours and soft focus? Is it just one of those quirky things the mind sometimes does in dreams, signifying nothing? Is it indicative of a fear that I might not be around to share in this moment? (I’ve been in poor health for the past few weeks, some of it relating to my diabetes, so maybe there’s some subconscious worrying going on there.)

Honestly, I don’t know. And I don’t think it really matters what a dream signifies. All I know is that when it comes to the real world, however the future pans out, I want more than anything to be there – in 2026 and hopefully for a fair few years beyond.

In the meantime, maybe I should be having dreams more like Martin Luther King or ABBA …

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