Posts Tagged ‘time travel’

Still with me after part one? Much appreciated. Let’s see where this goes. So,…

We’ve skipped ahead a little now, consulted our almanac, and there’s a full moon on the ecliptic this evening. I’ve checked the earth’s geomagnetic signature on the Internet and sure enough, it’s been plummeting for days, so now’s our chance. I’ve tickled round the garden with a hoe, tidied up the borders and mown the grass, which ought to keep Faye off our backs for a while. If you think you’re ready, come down to the shed, and I’ll boil us up an infusion of hedgerow clippings. Take a seat, make yourself comfortable – go on – settle back.

Here we go,….

There! see how easy it is? We’ve slipped back to ’83 without much trouble. The only problem is we’ve missed the best bit and we’re already half way through Dodman’s lecture. Mhor’s Circle is up on the blackboard, which means Serena’s long gone. That’s a bit of a drag, but maybe you’re right and trying to cop off with a dream-girl from my past is like trying to run before I can walk. So, maybe I should start with something simple like,… I don’t know,… how about if I just,…. stood up?

Okay! That seemed to work. Here we are, standing up in the middle of Dodman’s lecture on Mhor’s Circle. Weird! It seems we’ve just created another future because Dodman, interrupted mid-sentence, is now looking at us over his spectacles in a way he never did in our original past, at least not at this place and time.

“Yes?” he asks.

He’s a pleasant chap, old Dodman, and we’ve no need to fear his wrath, but all the same it’s an embarrassing situation and I’ve no idea what to do next. To be honest I didn’t expect things to be as easy as this.


“Is everything all right, young man?”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Dodman. I think,… perhaps,.. I need,… to excuse myself.”

I could just have sat down again and maybe time would have flowed back into its normal course, but, really, this is too interesting a thing to let it go just yet. So, we’re outside the room now, breathing hard, sweating like we’re sick and shoving our college notes back into our bag. What now you ask? Well follow me and I’ll show you.

I’m of an age when I can look back fondly on the 80’s, and even though it doesn’t seem that long ago to me, the fashions, the styles, the cars,… when I see these things in movies or pictures from that period, they conjure up a feeling of such nostalgia it’s like I’m sure I misplaced something back here that was really important to me. I’m also sure I know what, or rather who it is:

We’re talking about Serena, of course!

The girls were mostly into big fluffy hair, and shoulder pads in those days. I remember it as a very glamorous, sexy and confident time. As for my car – I drove an RS 2000, painted a gloriously unsubtle shade of yellow. It had alloy wheels, fat tyres and a Cosworth engine. If I’m right I’ve left it parked around Avondale Road, where it’s all quiet and residential, and where the parking’s free. But that’s for later. For now though, I’ve just remembered a coffee shop in the old Market Hall which is nearer, so we’ll check that out first.

Okay, here we are. I know it’s not much of a place but the coffee’s really good, and is very straight forward to order – just coffee – none of the endless choice that’s supposed to be the mark of a sophisticated free-market society. It’s pretty busy, it being market day, you see? But if you follow me quickly there’s a table just over there. We can hunker down, sip our coffee and try to work out what to do next.

Excuse me,… coming through!….

Wow, did you see that girl? She looked like a movie star! I used to sneer at all this glam stuff – plastic people I used to call them – but now I really miss it! By the way, if you don’t mind my saying so you seem to know your way around here pretty well.

Anyway, where were we?

Oh,… hold on. Something really strange has just happened. Serena’s walked in. She’s over there, ordering coffee from the counter – baggy striped sweater and jeans, big satchel. Isn’t she gorgeous? Do you see the provocative tilt of her hips? Oh,… now she’s looking for somewhere to sit. Ever heard of a synchronicity? Well you’re in one. We shouldn’t get too excited though because, considering the way she last looked at me, I’ll be lucky to get a smile out of her this time. Still,… she can’t find a seat, and we’ve got this whole table to ourselves.

I wonder,… Okay, she’s looked our way now and I’m sure she’s recognised me. I can read her mind: she’s thinking she can either beg a corner of that table with those old dears by the window, or she can come and sit with me. If she’s kind hearted, she’ll know I’ll be hurt if she chooses the old dears, but I don’t want her to be uncomfortable either. And I don’t want her to feel sorry for me. I just want her to want me.

Right, she’s coming over! You’d better slip off into the background, while I deal with it. No,.. don’t go too far; I don’t mind you listening in and, anyway, I may need your help if I get into trouble.

“Hi,” she’s saying. “Do you mind if I join you?”

“Of course not.”

I can feel myself tingling now, like she’s emitting a force field and it’s exciting every particle of me. Once again there’s that startling awareness of every detail of her, and she looks so cute and cuddly in her sweater. Surely, no matter how long I live, I will never desire anyone as completely as I desire Serena at this moment. No,… I’m not talking about sex here; it’s more that I can’t remember a time when I’ve ever wanted just to be,… with anyone so much as this. But I’m confused because, of course, this moment never happened. If this truly is, or was, my past, then it’s following a different track now.

And that’s progress.

Isn’t it?

Serena’s nervous. She can read my thoughts, she sees the desire in my eyes, and she doesn’t want any embarrassment. She just wants to sit and drink her coffee without some hormone-inebriated youth making a pass at her.

“It’s okay,” I tell her. “You’ve nothing to worry about.”

Now it’s her turn to be confused. “Oh?”

“I’m not really here, you see?”

She smiles. She has a lively sense of humour and thinks perhaps I’m joking with her – thinks perhaps she’s misjudged me, been too hasty in setting a distance between us.

“Really?” she asks. She has the most beautiful dimples, and those lips? Do you see those lips – how wide her smile, how white her teeth?

“It’s true,” I’m telling her. “I’m actually sitting in my shed some time maybe twenty five years from now, thinking back on this moment.”

She takes a sip of her coffee, and I can see her running this one through her mind, her eyes making little oscillations while she weighs me up. She could easily think I’m a wierdo and recoil, but instead she tiptoes politely into my joke, and now she’s asking me: “So, what’s it like then: twenty five years from now?”

And of course I want to say something corny like: “All the poorer for not having you in it, Serena,” but that would be lame and this is a joke, after all, so I’ll have to say something light and smart and say it soon, or it’ll ruin the moment.

But what is it like, twenty five years from now? Do I say the world’s economy has collapsed, that the financial institutions these stripey shirted, brace twanging proto-tycoons are constructing around now will turn out to have been nothing more than a sophisticated con-trick? No,… too downbeat. But then I remember I was not particularly happy here in the ’80’s either – sure I wasn’t sinking in a sea of mortgage hell and torpedoed investments, but what I was, was forever falling in love with a long string of women, none of whom ever knew my name, which from where I’m sitting now, back in ’83, suddenly seems a whole lot worse than looking at my building society statement twenty five years from now and thinking: shite!

But she’s waiting – the moment sliding away and if you want to make a decent joke, of course timing is everything. I give her a smile, as warm as I can muster, and then I hear myself, like some ham actor from a ’40’s movie say in clipped English tones: “It’s all terribly dull I’m afraid.”

I’m a hit: she’s laughing now and my heart is swelling. How I wish I could simply hold this moment than have to take things any further, but the times are holding on to me, and it seems each moment from now will be whatever I choose to make of it.

“You’re a nutter,” she says, but flicks me a smile and a coy look that I take as permission to proceed – but carefully.

“Shouldn’t you be in class?” I ask.

“Study period,” she replies. “What’s your excuse?”

“Me? I’m meddling with the nature of space and time.”

But this raises barely a grin – too pretentious. Must keep it real! “Well,… seriously, I’ve attended this lecture so often I know it by heart.”

“Lucky you.”

“What time are you in college ’till?”

She pauses before replying. I’m being too obvious now but my gambit is rewarded by that coy look again. “Four,” she replies. “You?”

“I’m here ’till nine.”


“I’m a day release student,” I explain. “We get twelve hours of lectures a week – all on the same day unfortunately.”

“Ah,… then you have a job?”

“Yes. I’m an engineer.” I might have said ‘designer’, but I’m worried she’ll think I mean fashion or something. But what’s this? She’s interested: she’s lifting her chin, fastening her eyes a little more steadily upon me.


Now, it’s not that engineering’s a sexy kind of job – it’s more that just having a job at all makes me seem a little more mature than your everyday college boy. I earn real money, while the guys she’s been out with so far have most likely all been full time students and dirt poor. Sure,… this is what she’s thinking – trust me. Now, I’m not exactly a rich man, but I can afford to spend money on her, and every woman likes to be made to feel she’s worth a million dollars – it doesn’t make her shallow. Anyway, that’s the female side of the equation. As for the male: one side of my head may be pushing fifty – which is the side that’s thinking straight, thinking ahead, and urging caution, but the other side is twenty three and thinking very little, except how much I want to show her the car, or preferably get her into it. I’m young you see and I want to wave my bright yellow, two litre metaphorical willy at her.

“Do you need a ride home?”

She shakes her head and I cringe inwardly. That was too much, too clumsy, but I note she’s careful not to push me so far away. “I mean I don’t know you, do I?” she says.

“True. True,…”

“Anyway,” she goes on, teasing. “If you don’t get off ’till nine how can you?”

“I’ll probably skip the rest of today,” I tell her. “What I really want to do,…” I mean if I blow it here, I’m thinking, “is take the car for a blast over the moors – there’s a little pub I know. Cosy. Good restaurant. I’ll probably hang about up there for the evening.”

“Sounds nice.” I can see her balancing the potential of my rather subtle invitation against the risks of being stranded in the wilds with a psychopath. “Well,…. I see you often enough in the refectory at lunchtimes,” she calculates. “So, I sort of know you already, a little.”

“Yes,… you do.”

“I don’t need a ride home though – I only live five minutes away.”

“Right. That’s very,… convenient.” My how this girl likes to tease!

Is she inviting me back to her place, then? No – don’t be an idiot. Her place will probably include a mum, a dad and an annoying little sister.

What do I do? Time is ticking. Her hands are curled around her coffee cup, her arms flat upon the table and I see her turning her wrist a fraction so she can tell the time. She’s so lovely, so perfect,… but I fear I’m losing her now.

“Study period almost over?” I ask.

She nods, and though she does not smile, there is a look in her eyes that betrays her pleasure in the time we have spent together.

“Sorry,” she says. “I don’t mean to be rude.”

Our eyes are lowered a fraction. She’s waiting to see what I’ll do: if I’ll try to blurt in a last desperate pass. She’s perhaps hoping I won’t, but being terribly polite in giving me the opportunity to embarrass myself. “Well,…” I say. “Maybe you’ll let me buy you coffee next time.”

She’s surprised by this. It gives her the easy way out, the chance to smile and say “maybe”, and retreat with both our dignities intact, also the chance of a follow up if she feels like it, or the chance to avoid me if she doesn’t. Really, I wish I’d had this much sense when I was younger, instead of being so damned gauche and backing girls into corners all the time.

“Well,…” she’s saying. “If you happened to be parked down Menses Park Terrace, say just after four,… you never know,… we might bump into each other again.”

And if I’m not mistaken I think I’ve just scored.

“You never know,” I tell her. “And maybe if you were passing, I could ask if you fancied joining me for a meal,… at that pub?”

“And maybe I’d like that,” she says.

She’s in a hurry now, drains her coffee, and with a last look at her watch, pushes back her chair, flashes me a smile, and says it was nice talking to me. I nod dreamily, and she’s gone before I have time to ruin the moment by saying something stupid.

Well, come on then! There’s no time to waste. We’d better pay up, and get out of here. I know we’ve hours to kill before four o’clock, but I remember it was always murder parking down Menses Park Terrace, and we’ll probably have to circle a bit before we find a spare slot. I don’t want to leave anything to chance, you see, and it’ll give us an opportunity to get a feel for the car again. And maybe,… sure,… while we’re there, there’s somewhere else I’d like to show you.

To be concluded tomorrow,….

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It was in 1978, when holidaying in the Lake District that I heard a story about some hill walkers who’d spent a night at the Wythburn Inn, and who were later told they couldn’t possibly have slept there because the Inn was submerged by the creation of the Thirlmere Reservoir in 1894. There was a similar story about some British travellers in France who stayed a night at a quaintly old-fashioned hotel, and attempted to find it again on their return journey, only to discover it did not exist. Then  there’s the incident recounted by tourists on a bus who were looking for somewhere to stay and noticed an attractive hotel. They got off the bus at the next stop, which was only a short distance away, then walked back to where they thought the hotel had been, but the area looked different,… and there was no hotel*.  Then there were the two young women who set out one evening to walk a few miles to a dance at a local village, only to find themselves struggling to cross an eerie and unfamiliar landscape,…

These curious anecdotes are examples of a type of psychical phenomenon known as a time-slip. They seem to fall into two categories: one where the protagonists apparently blunder into a place that only existed in the past, or two, it’s a place that is contemporary and known to them, only things are altered in some way, so that they struggle to find their way around.

It’s difficult to come up with a rational explanation for this sort of thing, and if the protagonists are clearly shaken or puzzled by their experience, as it seems they are, then it’s churlish to dismiss them as liars. Also, where the experience is shared with others, blaming it on an hallucination seems also unrealistically simplistic.

Like many of the so-called psychical phenomena, it’s safer to err on the side of a rational explanation, if only for the sake of your own sanity, and I’d be following my own advice on this one if it weren’t for the fact that I once experienced a similar thing myself. I dismissed the incident  at the time as a mental aberration, but the more I’ve thought about it, the less sure I am that the rational explanation I’ve clung to isn’t the greater delusion.

It was in the Lake District again, this time in 1981. I’d set out to drive from the town of Windermere, to Coniston. The obvious route is to take the Windermere Ferry, then drive  to Hawkshead. Just after Hawkshead, the road continues northwards to Ambleside and to get to Coniston, you have to turn left at a fairly obvious junction, where you pick up a road that takes you over the fells and drops you down into Coniston. On this occasion, however, the junction wasn’t there.

I wasn’t that familiar with the layout of the Lakes in those days, having only been driving for a few years and had just begun to explore my local geography. I knew there was supposed to be a junction because the road-map told me so, and I guessed I’d merely driven past it by mistake. Maybe it was a small turning and easily missed? I turned around and came back at it from the opposite direction, being extra vigilant this time. There was still no junction, no signposts for Coniston,… nothing, just an unbroken line of hedgerows with meadows beyond. I turned around and tried again: still nothing!

I lost count of the number of times I drove to and from Hawkshead looking for that road. I remember eventually pulling over into a lay by and trying to shake my head clear of the mixture of frustration and confusion, telling myself to take a deep breath and pull myself together because the road was definitely there – I was just blind to it somehow. But it was no good. That day, the junction did not exist for me.

I did eventually get to Coniston, but only by taking a twenty mile detour.

I’ve since driven the road over to Coniston dozens of times, and whenever I see the junction near Hawkshead I’m convinced I could not have simply overlooked it because it’s such an obvious thing, well flagged by signposts in both directions – and you’d have to be really blind to miss it. What do you do after an incident like that? Well, you blame yourself for being stupid, because what other explanation could there be?

It’s perhaps not surprising that I’ve always been interested in this kind of tale. Judging by the anecdotes, such experiences can be relatively short-lived, lasting no more than a few minutes, or they can be full-blown interactions with an alternate reality lasting several hours, or even overnight in the case of travellers who have apparently found hospitality in mysterious, non-existent hotels.

If true, I don’t know what these incidents tell us about the nature of reality,  but what they do suggest to me, as a writer of fiction, is that one need not be overly dramatic in portraying the way characters can slip between worlds in our fantasy stories. I tend to avoid fantastic machines or wormholes or pixie spells, because there’s a greater probability that it happens seamlessly and spontaneously. You just get in your car and drive along the familiar old route, except suddenly your turning isn’t there any more. You’ve crossed a divide into another universe. You’ve no idea how you did it, nor how you’re going to get back.

The fascination of these experiences for me lies in their psychological plausibility. The geography, the environment and the people we might meet all appear quite normal to our senses. The experience might leave us shaken, but there is never any doubt that the alternate reality exists in a very “real” sense, at least for us; it’s tangible, we can interact with it, people speak to us, they serve us drinks, they do not look at us as if we’re strange,…

The most remarkable thing is that there’s a strongly held belief among physicists that there may indeed be alternate versions of the reality we know,  an infinite number of them actually. Every time probability comes into play, reality splits. Toss a coin and you create two separate realities, one where the coin falls down heads, and another where it falls down tails. This is the Many Worlds interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. However, although many physicists accept it at least as a theoretical possibility, they also tell us the theory rules out any chances of our being aware of those alternate realities, that the apparent line of our own conscious experience through time always plots a coherent course. We do not for example buy ourselves a red car one day, then wake up the following morning to find it is blue. There may indeed be a universe where the car is blue, but we can have no knowledge of it because it would be inconsistent with the version of reality we have already chosen.

Stories of time-slips would seem to challenge this view. They suggest that sometimes conscious awareness can indeed blunder into alternate realities, and then for a short time at least the logical consistency of our personal experience breaks down.

Or they could all just be tall tales.

* for a fuller account of this strange tale see the case of the vanished hotel recounted in: “The Personality of Man” by G.N.M. Tyrell 1947 (free download from the internet archive and a first class book on psychical research)

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