Time Travelling Through The Ages

Time travel is curious thing.  Better still, it’s not nearly as tricky as people like to make out.  Sure, you can obsess over wormholes, DeLoreans and flux capacitors if you like but, in truth, time travel happens everyday without these things.  In fact, I’ve been time travelling all week and I can honestly say I didn’t come anywhere near to reaching eighty-eight miles per hour.  Instead, I’ve been unpacking books.

The first thing to say about books is that I’ve got a lot of them.  No matter where I go, they attach themselves to me and rarely, if ever, let go.  Having moved house a few months back, the time had come for me to address ‘the messy room’.  That is, the one room of the house that, for whatever reason, is never quite finished.

There were books from my childhood, including an old hardback picture book of Dick Whittington, its edges worn.  There’s also the book I wrote in Grade Three.  I should clarify that when I say ‘book’, I mean pieces of paper that were folded together and stapled to a cardboard cover.  I should clarify further that when I say ‘wrote’ I mean attempted to transcribe a Monty Python sketch I heard another student describe on the bus to school.  You’ve got to start somewhere.

Adrian Mole holds a special place in my heart.  I don’t know why but there was something about the story of a shy, nerdy aspiring novelist that I connected to.  It seemed as if Sue Townsend wasn’t so much writing these stories as simply taking dictation.  They perfectly captured what it was to be an adolescent boy – the anxieties, the hopelessly unrequited crushes and pimples.  I could relate.

I have a few ‘prize’ books in my collection.  These are the tomes I won either for academic excellence or, possibly, punctuality.  Without exception, these are all very serious books with atrociously small print.  Usually there’s some kind of sticker on the inside cover explaining what I’d done to deserve a book.  I’ve not read any of them.  They feel too special to enjoy.  Ideally, these books would be mounted on the wall like hunting trophies. 

Things took a dark turn in my late teens and early twenties.  For reasons that elude me now, I decided the best way to demonstrate to the world at large that I was an interesting, sensitive young man was to buy certain kinds of books.  It started with a Patrick White obsession – I spent weekends hunting down first editions all over town and regarded anyone who’d even heard of Patrick White as being something of a kindred spirit.  But despite all my Patrick White first editions, not once did someone sidle up to me and remark what an interesting and sensitive young man I must be.

Things turned darker still.  I started reading Camus, Sartre and collecting hardback editions of Francois Mauriac.  Before I knew it, I was a complete Francophile.  If these books didn’t represent who I was, they probably said something about who I wanted to be.  Sometimes books are aspirational.  But I was a long way from being Camus, Sartre or Mauriac. 

I have a lot of books from my father.  These fall into two distinct camps.  There are those that he gave me, usually as a gift to mark an important event like a birthday or Christmas.  Then there are those that I took, most likely with a promise to return promptly that, at least to this time, remains unfilled.  (Where else am I going to get a complete set of Spike Milligan’s war diaries at this point?)  The gifts are all inscribed – nothing too fancy – just my name and his, the event and the date.  These books are like signposts.  Books had been my father’s go to gift of choice.  But, at a certain point, they stopped.  Perhaps the risk of repetition was too great.  The ones I took are, well, probably more comfortable staying with me at this point.

Different stages of my life have seen me buy different types of books.  Prolonged periods of melancholy saw me buy a lot of Michael Leunig.  There were assorted self-help books that probably followed my Michael Leunig marathon and then more cook books than I care to mention that I bought before every recipe you could ever want was available on the internet.  Clearly, life had changed.

Books are shadows.  You can’t shake them off.  I’ve packed and unpacked my books more time than I care to mention and spent hours fussing over how to arrange them on the shelves.  Books can’t appear randomly, there has to be some kind of underpinning logic.

And so it is that I’ve once more had to unpack my books.  Reaching into cardboard carton after carton, I’ve pulled out fragments of my life before deciding what order they should go in.  It’s almost as though they’re puzzle pieces and I am slowly putting myself back together.

Some books I’ve read multiple times – ‘Catch-22’ by Joseph Heller, ‘The Heart of the Matter’ by Graham Greene and ‘The Man With The Gold’ – the autobiography of Mr. T. Others I may never get around to reading.  I’m okay with that.  Just the sight of them instantly transports me to another point in time.  They connect me to other points in my life.  Or, if you prefer, to other chapters.  The end.

There Ain’t No Millisecond Prize

Time is a relative concept.  Not an especially close relative – probably a second cousin twice removed or an odd uncle who smells strange – but a relative nonetheless. But just as a malodorous uncle can muscle his way in on the queue for the Christmas pork crackling, fuelled equally by a sense of entitlement and brandy eggnog, so too can time throw an almighty spanner in the works when least expected.  Time, it seems, is speeding up.

Actually, that’s not entirely accurate.  It’s the earth that’s getting faster by taking less time to rotate on its axis.  In June, our planet recorded its shortest day ever, clocking in at 1.59 milliseconds quicker than average.  No wonder I felt rushed.  This, of course, creates a problem much bigger than a millisecond.  For whilst the earth might play fast and loose with time, the same cannot be said for clocks who are incredibly stubborn about it.  As a result, things are ever so slightly out of step.

I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that it’s this kind of confluence  of circumstances that makes time travel a reality.  I’m tempted to take the Holden Astra up to eighty eight miles an hour in the Woolies car park and see if I end up somewhere other than in the back of the discount bottle shop.  All I need to figure out is which year I should return to.  In truth, the answer is obvious.

In the movie ‘Back to the Future’, Marty McFly is transported back to 1955 in order to help Chuck Berry invent rock and roll.  This must have come as something of a shock to Chuck when he saw the film. For me, however, I would use my time machine to return to the Year of Our Lord 1987.  

There are many reasons why I’d choose this particular year.  It was the year the Berlin Wall came down – crumbling as it did when subjected to a performance of ‘Jump In My Car’ by David Hasselhoff.  1989 was also the year that Microsoft first released ‘Office’ – which is the version I use to this very day.  It was the year of Milli Vanilli and ‘Pump Up the Jam’ by Technotronic. Of Cher and a revitalized B-52s. But my reasons for heading back to 1989 are not to be in Berlin as the Hoff sang or to encourage Cher to wear something more suited to standing astride a Navy destroyer but, in truth, to tell me to pull my socks up.

If I could travel back in time, it would be to cut my mullet off and explain that no good ever comes from acid wash jeans. Ever.  I feel this advice would have changed my life for the better.  Also, I would have encouraged my younger self to learn how to dance.  Footage from that era survives of me out the front of a band doing something that I thought, then, was dancing but know now to be something akin to wriggling like an electric eel after a nasty surprise.

As exciting as it is to consider that there’s now time unaccounted for that can be claimed back at will, there are questions of a more troubling kind that need to be answered.  Namely, if the world is getting faster, how much faster can we expect it to get?  I remember once taking my nephew to Luna Park and discovering that this quiet, unassuming eight-year-old feared nothing and insisted on experiencing the most terrifying theme park rides known to humanity.  One such ride involved leaning against a wall which then span around until somebody lost their lunch.  I don’t remember what it was called, but always think of it as ‘the Vomitron’.

I, for one, am not looking forward to the day I wake up only to find the world spinning at such a pace that my car keys are stuck to the wall and I want to lie down.  Soon will come the time when the entire planet is spinning like a top, until it falls from its axis and tumbles into space.  Chances are, it’ll happen before I’ve had a chance to use the last of my JB Hi Fi gift vouchers.  Typical.

Funny thing is, the world wasn’t always in such a hurry. Until a few years ago, the general consensus was it was slowing down, necessitating the introduction of ‘leap seconds’ to keep everything in line.  Now that it’s gone the other way, some are advocating that we ‘drop’ a millisecond.  This is new territory. Its impact on technology is, apparently, unknown.  All I can say is in the event of a negative leap second, there’s not a chance in hell that I’m going to try and synchronize the clock on my microwave. It’s a risk I’m prepared to take.

 It’s no surprise, really, to hear that the world is speeding up.  Most of us feel that every day.  But amongst all the chaos and noise and pressure, I hope there’s still time to slow down and appreciate things.  Time may change and so do we.  I think there may have been moments when I’ve resisted changed – which is why I still had a mullet and wore acid wash jeans until November 2013.  But it’s different now.  

Even if the world speeding up creates a wormhole through which it’s possible for a Holden Astra to slip, I won’t be going back to 1989 after all.  What’s done is done. I like it here, instead. And I’m more interested in what’s happening now than anything behind me.  Bring on the future.