Up to the week beginning 26th March 2012 I had only encountered time travel in books, movies and television.
Then it happened to me.
Some Joys of Time Travelling
The first traveller who broke the time barrier for me was not from this planet. He had many different faces and travelled around various universes as well as time in a blue 1960’s police box which defied the laws of spatial relations.
Dr Who was so much of an inspiration to me that I once began a story about his ‘cousin’, Dentist Who, another Time Lord whose first adventure was to Dublin on Easter 1916, his time machine looked like a giant Colgate Box… that’s about as far as it got, the idea was left squeezed out on the edge of my subconscious.
A few years later I was about the same age as Kevin when I saw Time Bandits. I left the movie thoroughly entertained and brimming with jealousy.
Then I watched the 1960’s adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. A far bleaker vision which properly introduced me to the perils of Time Travel.
Some Perils of Time Travelling
It was after I had watched the Terminator and Back To The Future franchises. I realised that if it were ever possible to actually move into the past we would have to be careful about how we interacted with the worlds or the entire fabric of space time could come crumbling down around our ears. It did not bother me at all that Doctor Who had not encountered such problems. Thus is the forgiving nature of my imagination.
In the meanwhile I enjoyed the adventures of Star Trek: The Next Generation who would find themselves in different situations many involving time travel and particularly irritating time loops.
Twelve Monkeys brought a proper emotional as well as physical sense of peril to i.e. messing with time can easily mess with your head.
More recently I fell for the charms of The Time Traveller’s Wife both the novel and the movie.
My Trips this week
I did not have a TARDIS, nor steal God’s map, nor drive a Delorean, nether am I the to-be leader of the revolution against the machines nor was I chosen from a futuristic dirty prison and flung back in time using malfunctioning equipment.
I am a much more important sort of character. I am a person, a spectacular specimen of the ordinary human without whom the world would not turn.
I try to help to make the world a tolerable place to live. I don’t cheat, steal from or kill my fellow people and I do my best to live a good life and have a few laughs along the way.
I believe that these are the reasons why I was chosen.
London Circa 1889
On a cool Sunday night in March 2012 I packed my overnight bag and went to stay with friends Simone and Mark. They are not quantum physicists as you may have thought but they did provide me with a lovely dinner and chats plus a bed for the night before my trip to the time portal. Early the next morning I took a cab to the unlikely destination of the abandoned Clancy Barracks in Islandbridge in Dublin.
There were just over 40 other travellers. We lined up to collect the appropriate clothes. Before we had actually crossed the invisible barrier it felt like walls of reality had already begun to crumble as my fellow travellers appeared from present day corridors dressed as Policemen, Dock Workers, Prostitutes, and Beggars from the late 1800s in England. My own clothes were that of an English Gentleman from the same time period. My suit was brown, my face sandwiched between the matching bowler hat and a convincingly buttoned on cardboard collar.
There was a hairdresser who shaped my beard point. Coal Workers were blackened and beards stuck on. Hair was curled and prostitutes were dolled. It was imperative that we did not stand out in any way or the late 19th century Londoners would notice.
As we waited in a barrack forecourt, fop watches were sewed on and period glasses were handed out. Without warning we were shepherded around a corner.
I felt nothing, no jolt, pain, or electricity, but suddenly we found ourselves wandering through the cobbled streets near Whitechapel, London, circa 1889 in the aftermath of the Jack the Ripper murders. It was amazing to see the London of Dickens and Sherlock Holmes or Wilkie Collins unfold before us. Top hats, bowlers, walking sticks and petticoats were suddenly not out of place.
Maybe there was a glitch in their machine but I found myself whisked from the street and suddenly at a bare knuckle boxing match, cheering for a fighter in two bouts. There was some sort of sting operation and I left after losing my money.
We were so close to the action that I was nearly hit a few times and had to dodge out of the way. In what seemed like somewhere between a few seconds and an hour I then found myself sitting above the action as two fighters were locked in combat at my feet.
It was not long before I realised that I was caught in a time loop, over a period of twelve hours I took part in the same five minutes countless times. By the time we got back to 2012 we were enriched and fit for our beds.
There is a chance that you will be able to see evidence of my trip as somebody managed to smuggle a camera through. The experience was documented and will be shown on the BBC later this year.
It is called Ripper Street.
California Circa 1983
It took me a few days to recover from that strange experience. My week tried to return to normal. But on the next Thursday another ticket landed in my possession which gave me another chance to experiment in time travel.
Once I had made my way to Dublin’s second portal it was obvious that this was a very different method.
Before me was a broad, sweeping stone stairway, cut into levels below the city. I clutched the pass tightly in my hand and descended two perpendicular flights before finding the portal. It was surprisingly comfortable and looked much like a large room with many seats in many rows. We were not asked to change so I took my place. This time the transition to the past was almost instant.
I found myself as part of the audience at the Pantages Theatre in Hollwood in 1983. In front of me was a stage littered with parts of backstage scaffold.
A man walked on carrying a ghetto blaster. It was a very young looking David Byrne. As he started the first chords of “Psycho Killer” from the album “Stop Making Sense” ( for a moment a memory brought me to the top of a bus on the way home from school when I was first schmoozed by the giddy satire of Talking Heads).
Back again to the Hollywood concert, every subsequent song a member of the band and their equipment was added to the stage. Once they were all aboard they broke into “Burning Down The House”.
By this time the entire room of fellow travellers were already up dancing to the music. By the end of the trip we returned infused with their good humour. Strangers chatted to strangers and people were grinning contentedly.
Unfortunately the portals to these particular times have closed but others are opening all the time.
How was your week?