Holland now presents to us a new view on time, or at least our marking of its passage. A couple of days ago I saw this rack of table cloths outside a shop called “Marskramer” (“Peddlar”). It’s basically a bric-a-brac kind of a shop which sells…well. Table clothes for one thing.
Much as I hate this mnemonic, it does come to mind…
“Thirty days hath September, April, June…”
Well maybe we can forgive our Dutch friends for their strange idea of the English calendar (if not for their hideous taste in table cloths). The author of the novel The Go Between, L. P. Hartley, noted the following:
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” – L. P. Hartley.
I think the same applies for Holland; Holland is a foreign country, and they do things very differently here.
Take counting. You know, like you might count the days in the month, for example 😉 Cavemen counted with stones, my 2 year old can manage up to 8 (she must be a computer!), so counting can’t be that tough can it?
Let’s take 123
English: “One hundred and twenty three.”
Hundreds, tens, units. Simple and logical. Easy as, literally, 1, 2, 3.
Dutch: “One hundred, three and twenty.”
Hundreds, units then back in the middle to tens. It’s all over the place. Easy as…1, 3, 2?
Then take 123,456
English: “one hundred and twenty three thousand, four hundred and fifty six.”
Dutch: “one hundred, three and twenty thousand, four hundred six and fifty.”
1, 3, 2, 4, 6, 5
(Oh yes. And there’s the use of a comma in place of a decimal point!)
And telling the time. This was possible as early as 1500 BC with sundials (source: Wikipedia.) So it shouldn’t be complicated, right?
Ha! In Dutch, “Half two” means “half one”. It’s an optimistic outlook where the Dutch look forward ‘two’ the hour rather than back to the ‘one’ that’s passed. (See what I did there?! 😉 )
It’s really tricky to remember 10 minutes later when it’s embedded in a string:
English: “twenty to two”
Dutch: “ten past half two”
Are we going backwards or forwards here? Is the big hand going 10 minutes past the 6, or forward to the 2? Who knows?
I think the Dutch are surely they are the true masters of time – they’ve even come up with an extra day in June!
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Nature is driven out to make way for these temporally displaced humans until it is safe, peaceful and clean again. And I think I count myself amongst those persecuted creatures. My natural aversion to time shifters makes me wonder. Would I be welcoming to a true time traveler if ever I should meet one? I hope so, but maybe evidence is pointing otherwise 🙁
This weekend we realign ourselves with astronomical time when we set the clocks back to a longitudinal basis and not one of human desire for lighter evenings.
This is good…
Summer time is like lifting up a stone or a rotten log when the insects, now exposed to the light, come out and play…pretty much like how people go out on their summer holidays, or venture out into their garden for the first time (in the boreal year) and bring with them their loud music, picnic hampers and state of panicked chaos.
Crowds hit open spaces, throwing or kicking balls and frisbees, screaming in excitement; exhibitionist boys vying for the role of alpha male in their prime, so too the girls, feigning disinterest in the testosterone driven spectacle despite layers of make-up plastered on and layers of clothing pulled off.
Nature is driven out to make way for these temporally displaced humans until it is safe, peaceful and clean again. And I think I count myself among those persecuted creatures.
So the return to natural time will be a blessing. I’ll have my dark evenings back again when I can look upwards at the stars at night, and I can do things in peace during the day. The rotten log has been returned; non compliant temporally displaced humans put back into place.
There is another bright side…the lie in. What used to be 6:15 am (and a severe difficulty to negotiate in getting out of bed) will now be 5.15 am…giving me an extra hour in bed. It makes my 7:00 am train less of a burden to catch.
I choose the lie in, but others who are tied or handcuffed more firmly to their rigid daily routine will rise out of their slumber an hour earlier and begin their day an hour early.
I have no problem with this…unless they usually catch the train at 8:00 am but now sit on my already over-crowded 7:00 am commuter train. Now there are less seats, less standing space, and more germs.
It will take a week or so before these time shifters revert back to their home time and their home train. I look forward to that time, as I also look forward to my arrival at my destination train station in one healthy piece.
Meanwhile, I sit at the front of the train. Upon arrival at most stations, the front carriage ends up furthest from the pedestrian exit, ergo, most people sit at the back of the train to give themselves a shorter walk. It suits me – I have a quieter spot, but I can’t call them lazy, after all, it’s me choosing the lie-in!
This aversion to these time shifters…it makes me wonder. Would I be welcoming to a true time traveler if ever I should meet one? I hope so, but maybe evidence is pointing otherwise 🙁
Still, there is another solution…
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One of the Goodreads time travel group moderators commissioned an artist to draw The Temporal Jester. Here it is!
One of the Goodreads time travel group moderators commissioned an artist to draw The Temporal Jester for his avatar. I’m not usually much of an art lover but I think this is fantastic – so it has a place here!
(If you have an interest in time travel fiction, be sure to check out the Goodreads time travel group for friendly “…people who enjoy books that transport them to a different time and place through time travel”. Hope to see you there!)
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I must admit I’ve never even held an e-reader, but I guess at heart I’m just an old fashioned tree chopping dinosaur who prefers paperbacks over ebooks! I tried reading An0ma1y by C. J. Moseley in ebook format. It has a fantastic first chapter with an incredible amount of thought behind it, but I’m having troubles reading in electronic format.
In a recent post I described my anxiety in deciding what to read next: Somewhere in Time with an irritating writing style but a nice plot and a discussion in the Goodreads time travel group, or An0ma1y with a fantastic promotional video, promise of solid time travel intricacies and a gripping start…but in e-book format which I don’t get on well with.
I chose An0ma1y.
I do most of my reading on my daily commute on the train so in the past few weeks week I’ve joined the fast majority of other passengers in gormlessly staring downwards at a phone screen.
The first chapter is fantastic! A superb blend of aliens, time stasis and a fascinating main character. I feel that every sentence has an incredible amount of thought behind it – there is real depth to what I’m reading which makes it feel solid; definitely not a superficial smearing of words to beef up a page count.
It’s written in the present tense – a style I’ve never read before. It took me some getting used to and at first I felt a little disconnected, but now I’m well settled in and find that it adds to the eeriness of the alien encounter.
The reason why I chose An0ma1y over Somewhere in Time is that after reading just the first couple of pages I wanted to know more.
But finding out more is taking too long! Chapters 2 and 3 are additional settings with additional character introductions which no doubt will tie together at some point. This is a bit of a distraction when I’m so eager to read the alien / time travel line, but I know it will make later stages of the novel a really good read when it all comes together.
The problem is the dratted e-book format, or at least, reading it on my phone. I’m somewhere in Chapter 3 with no idea when the chapter will end, or indeed, if the end of the chapter will return back to the alien plot. I can flick through easily with a paperback, but swiping one page at a time is…a snore chore.
But maybe I should be patient and wait it through. Everything in its own time, right?
A new start
Last week saw me attending a conference away from home. The funny thing about conferences is that despite the overall high level idea that they are a good place to mix and mingle with other like-minded professionals in your area of expertise, there is a significant underground sub-layer of introverted geeks such as myself who are most comfortable to simply be left alone.
So in the evenings after the talks, posters, discussions, etc. whilst some 25% of the attendees go on to visit the sights and sounds of the city, the rest of us retire to our hotels rooms and work on our papers, and after sobbing a little bit because we miss our family at home (the dust in the hotel rooms really gets in your eyes) we settle down with a good book.
And so I had time to return to An0ma1y.
Life after Chapter 3
So what happens after Chapter 3?
I can report that…I never got that far. The kindle app had updated and my place was lost. I swiped a gazillion pages to where I thought I was, read a couple more pages and hurled my phone on the chair on the other side of the hotel room in total and sheer frustration.
To be clear…not because of the book, but from reading on a phone.
I was never picked for sports at school. Here’s an example why: from 2 meters I missed the chair.
The phone sailed past the chair, and into the wall. And when I say “into” I mean “against and along”. The screen now has a crack. I thought with present tense reading I was disconnected…now the same was happening to my family too during my skype connection.
The author of An0ma1y, C. J. Moseley, mentioned in a tweet that phones aren’t the way to read ebooks. And I believe him.
Would a proper e-reader be better? Or would they, as I suspect, repeat the same kind of problems by providing a series rather than parallel reading experience, limiting the reader to swiping a single page at a time rather than flicking through whole sections in one go?
I must admit, I’ve never even held an e-reader, but I guess at heart I’m just an old fashioned tree chopping dinosaur who prefers paperbacks which give me a better overall view.
So what do I read first? Somewhere in Time: a rehashed novel, poorly written but with a good plot and a lively Goodreads discussion, or An0ma1y: a cracker of a novel with promises of well researched time travel intricacies but on a medium which will drive me nuts?
I’m torn between which of 2 books I should read first: Somewhere in Time, or An0ma1y?
Somewhere in Time (Richard Matheson)
On one side I have Somewhere in Time by Richard Matheson – a book I’ve already read after seeing the movie, but it comes to my attention now as it will be read as a group read by the Goodreads time travel group and I’d like to take part.
Against it though is my memory of the writing style. My recollection is that it is written in a rushed and lazy way, perhaps what you’d expect from a teenager rehashing a piece of work his heart’s not in.
Why do I say that? Because Somewhere is Time is a rewrite of Bid Time Return written by the same author. The latter is not readily available, and it’s very expensive.
Whilst I might be able to put poor writing style aside, Somewhere in Time has another nail in its coffin. It simply didn’t make an impact on me. I saw the movie first which I loved, and in fact this is what brought me to reading the book (after I couldn’t get hold of Bid Time Return). That’s personal…I usually prefer originals (i.e. the version I’ve come across first).
But the story line is great…and I’m keenly waiting an interesting discussion on Goodreads.
An0ma1y (CJ Moseley)
On the other side is An0ma1y by CJ Moseley. CJ has written a fantastic page on time travel paradoxes so I know that the time travel element is going to be executed well.
Actually, CJ’s web page lead me to subscribe to his website and the next thing I know I’m watching a fantastic promotional video clip for An0ma1y. Time travel, science fiction, fantasy, paradoxes, excellent Amazon reviews…and before I know it I’m clicking through to make a purchase –
– of a paper back. Whoa! $8.75 sounds a bit steep for me as I usually buy paperbacks second hand. I read my own paperbacks several times over…I try to do the same with other people’s!
So now I have the Kindle version. A snap at less than $2 and I can’t wait to get started. So I do.
I swipe and I read and I swipe and … it turns out I hate ebooks! I’ve read a few short stories and that seems to go OK on my phone, but I’ve only read one full length novel (The Mindtraveler). The reading experience was terrible but the story pulled me through the ordeal.
So. I don’t know what to read! A rehashed novel, poorly written but with a good plot and a lively discussion, or a cracker of a novel with promises of well researched time travel intricacies but on a medium which will drive me nuts?
Maybe the proof is in the pudding. I’ve started both! I’m further in Somewhere in Time than in An0ma1y but that’s because I’m skim-reading the crap. And the discussion doesn’t start till tomorrow.
With An0ma1y I’m only on page…actually, I’ve no idea. Apparently I’m on “location 82 out of 4524” whatever the hell that means, but despite considerable swiping I’m certainly not yet 82 pages in. But the opening pages are gripping and I want more!
That’s it then. If I want more, then surely An0ma1y it is! Maybe I’ll be able to dip into the Goodreads discussion from memory. Or recommend An0ma1y for the next group read!
It will be slow reading on my phone…but stand by for the review!
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Time travel offers another chance to relive parts of your life which don’t turn out the way you’d like. Scientist Margaret Braverman discovers how to travel back in time by transporting her 60 year old mind into her 35 year old body and hopes to do things differently this time around.
But time travel is never as simple as it seems. She can only move a few fingers in her younger body and is forced to watch with fascination and horror as history repeats itself…and she has plenty of trouble in store for her when she returns to the present.
The Mindtraveler is a captivating time travel romance novel with scientific oomph! Unafraid to delve into the realms of time travel and its complications, it provokes moral and philosophical questions if we were given the chance to live our life again. Marrying romance with science and divorcing ignorance from time travel, The Mindtraveler is novel which you can’t put down!
The Mindtraveler by Bonnie Rozanski
The Mindtraveler by Bonnie Rozanski is a captivating time travel romance with a firm footing in science. It’s unafraid to delve into the realms of time travel and its complications, provoking moral and philosophical questions if we were given the chance to live our life again.
Margaret is a 60 year old scientist living with the regret of a failed relationship. To the annoyance of her colleagues she develops a time machine as sideline research and finds a way to transport her mind back in time into the body of her 35 year old self.
From this perspective she is able to relive her past – her affair with her colleague Frank, witness of police brutality, victim of an attack and the development of her time machine.
Unfortunately Margaret finds that she can take barely more than a passive role, able at best to move only a few fingers of her younger host body. This means that she can’t pass on or share her 25 years worth of wisdom (and hindsight foresight), and is forced to watch the same mistakes being made again.
In a wild flurry of necessity Margaret finally discovers how to move her host body and manipulates it so that a key moment in her history is changed.
She returns to an altered present where she discovers that her younger self has hitched a ride with her, and who now knows that her time machine works. The young ambitious scientist wants wants to publish the results in scientific journals of her time, but is advised against doing so by the older Margaret.
This is a sting in the tail for the elder Margaret whose present is once again altered.
But is it for the better?
The underlying science
The Mindtraveler is a centipede of a book with many feet in many camps; romance, drama and sci-fi. But what makes this novel different from many others is how it intertwines real science within the narrative.
It’s beautifully done; the story is told from the viewpoint of a lady in her sixties who’s a lecturer and researcher at a university. When she explains science to the reader it’s as though…I was never quite sure…we were either her students or her grandchildren. I was happy with either.
So the science behind her experiments, her thought processes and the methods she uses to solve them are all explained to us clearly and fluently and we get to understand the mechanics of the time machine.
Bonnie has clearly looked into underlying scientific principles and applied them well as the basis for her main character’s time machine – and explanations of it to her colleagues.
And here’s a direct example of how well Bonnie understands the subject area:
In Chapter 3 Margaret describes an experiment which shows how 2 particles are entangled in time: a laser fires a beam to a crystal where twin photons in each split beam take different paths. The photons in one beam are delayed so they arrive later than it’s entangled photon in the other beam. The setup of the cameras to detect the photons capture the image of the earlier photon, but who’s pattern was determined by the latter photon.
Let’s jump away from the novel for a moment and dive into real life.
The image to the right is taken from an article in New Scientist, published on 27 August 2014, and shows cats which:
“…were generated using a cat stencil and entangled photons. The really spooky part is that the photons used to generate the image never interacted with the stencil, while the photons that illuminated the stencil were never seen by the camera.” (Quoted from New Scientist article)
What I find spooky is the similarity between Margaret’s experiment and this one! Kudos!
The time travel
Time travel is an integral part of the novel – not simply because there’s a time machine, but because the story involves its development, and crucially, the scientific thinking behind it.
The time travel method is to map the quantum state of the mind, and establish its quantum connection to another point in time. The mind can then travel through time (backwards or forwards) as long as the host body is ready to receive it.
This reminds me a little of the movie “Being John Malkovich” where a puppeteer enters the mind of John Malkovich and sees and feels everything that John can, but all the while maintains his own sense of self.
Unlike the puppeteer in the movie, Margaret finds it more difficult to control her host body, and asks herself the question “what was the point in going back in time if you can do nothing to change it?”
This is a key part of the novel – can (or should) you change the past? And likewise…can you change the future?
Whilst reading The Mindtraveler I also came to think of The Mirror by Marlys Millhiser. Admittedly I found The Mirror to be a huge disappointment and non-event, but there is a similarity in the novels in that there is a transference of mind from one body to another body in another time.
In The Mirror there was an interesting point where the mind that had gone back in time ‘caught up’ with its own body in the present.
Whilst this didn’t quite happen in The Mindtraveler (though I think would have given rise to some interesting implications!) there was an interesting Looper-like argument between young and old Margaret when two minds were in the same body at the same time.
Something which I thought was particularly good was how Margaret’s memory was preserved – both in the 60 year old’s memory of the past, and when she came back to the alternate present (i.e. no new memories were instilled, or original ones taken away). Whether this was due to the ‘mind mapping’ time travel technique, or something more philosophical I’m not sure – but it’s a really nice touch!
There is also a brilliant segment on Margaret’s lab assistant Morgan – pay attention to her!
The time travel element in The Mindtraveler isn’t simply a vessel to describe things in Margaret’s past; indeed, its description is done through thoughtful contrast with the perspective of the present.
So we’ve done the time travel…now what do we do now that we’re back in the past? Instead of droning on and on about the past as Jack Finney does in the dreadful Time and Again where nothing happens, The Mindtraveler is thankfully different.
Margaret cracks time travel and tries to change things, notably, her failed relationship. Whether the relationship between Margaret and Frank is the primary or secondary plot (after the time travel – getting to be in a position (i.e. a time) when the relationship can be salvaged) is probably a matter of personal perspective.
Margaret herself of course takes two personalities – those of her younger and older self – and this makes for some pretty interesting reading when it comes to her thoughts about Frank. (It was also interesting for me as a man to read about how women (or at least, this one) feel about relationships and things.) I’m generally not into romances and stuff, but it came across nicely here.
Something which immediately struck a chord with me (and perhaps this is because I’m a scientist by profession) is the accuracy of Bonnie’s insight (or research) into the negative side of academic politics – the petty mindedness and ambition of individuals, personal vendettas for selfish reasons.
You do get complete self serving and inflated s*its like Caleb, and you do get researchers on the fringe of the norm but who are academically excellent. These characters aren’t necessarily likeable, but they’re real.
However, the novel is about Margaret (and Frank), and about her research in time travel. It isn’t about her colleagues, friends or students – they feature because they make up part of her history, but they’re not the main focus. (Although as I mentioned earlier – pay attention to Morgan!)
Quite shockingly there are two violent episodes – police brutality and an attack. At first I wondered why they were included…but it was a natural read and the events didn’t appear to be contrived and added for the sake of it. Violence itself is shocking, but for me, what added to that is the fact that these events persisted to the memory of a 60 year old.
Well…understandable I think, given the circumstances.
For me the weak point in the novel is when Margaret returns to the present and hears that she’s won the Nobel Prize; I thought the timing was strange and too coincidental in that we’ve already seen that there can be an alternate history so the award of the er…award at exactly the point of her return seems too unlikely.
So is it better to have known love and lost it to a Nobel prize in physics, or to never have known [that] love at all?
When Margaret was in the ‘with-Frank’ future, she didn’t seem to take time to enjoy it fully, though I suppose the scientist side of her took control to see what had happened and how to preserve it. Her efforts are hampered, but it did leave me with an unanswered question: why didn’t Margaret go back in time again? Perhaps there is room for a sequel…I certainly hope so!
The Mindtraveler by Bonnie Rozanski is due out in February 2015 and will be published by Bitingduck Press. Unless you can get hold of a time machine, you’ll just have to wait until then! 😉
Rating * * * * *
The Mindtraveler by Bonnie Rozanski gets 5 stars for all the reasons I’ve written about above!
The Mindtraveler: A captivating time travel romance novel with scientific oomph!
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Disclaimer: A PDF copy of The Mindtraveler” was sent to me free of charge so that I could read and write my honest thoughts and opinions. These are they!
| 5* Excellent! | 4* Good | 3* OK | 2* Not good | 1* Crud |
The Accidental Prologue by Andre Mazeron is an absolutely cracking time travel short story with a wonderful writing style which endears you to the first person character. The mechanics of time travel are integral within the plot which even describes experiments helping to understand how time travel paradoxes can be avoided.
The writing style is wonderful, immediately endearing me to the first person main character. This is even more marvelous when you consider that the author is Brazilian and is writing in English as a second language. Indeed, there are a few grammatical errors, but they really don’t detract the reader from the plot. And only a fool would let them.
Short stories often end quickly and suddenly, giving the reader a sense of “Eh?…Ah yes!”. I was pleased that that this short story continued a little further, nicely rounding things off, and yet still providing me with that “Ah yes!” feeling at the end without any perplexity beforehand.
Do we have a subconscious perception of time? Something deeper than our inbuilt body clock and connects us intricately with other souls or times?
Most of us have probably heard of our body clock – the internal clock that roughly speaking helps us to know when-abouts in the day we are. It might get scuppered a bit with long distance travelling in the ‘wrong’ direction (jet lag), but generally speaking it does pretty well (maybe with the exception of some self inflated middle managers who can’t seem to hold meetings to time!)
Birds and other creatures of nature seemingly set their body clocks to natural phenomenon like sunlight; studies have shown that they go doolally during total solar eclipses when it gets locally dark at a time not in sync with their body clock. Some marine life uses moonlight, and in some cases, even moon phase.
Perhaps us humans are not so different from animals – every now and then our body clocks need calibration – why else do we check our clocks and watches to make sure that we’re on track?
I think this is shown most clearly in the act of waking up – our bodies often wish to continue to sleep, despite years of training, when external time would suggest that it is time to rise and shine.
OK, it’s a fair point that there maybe biological requirements for sleep and energy recuperation.
But does it go deeper than that? Do we have a more subconscious perception of time? Something which goes deeper than our inbuilt insular body clock and connects us intricately with other souls or times as some say dreams do?
Why do we wake up just before the alarm clock rings? Are we subconsciously aware that the the time is nigh? Or that the ringing of the clock is timed with an event in our dreams?
Some say that dreams allow our minds to wander through time…to stir up memories or to presuppose the future.
Or are dreams, as spiritualists might dare to believe, Plato’s realisation that they are a memory of the future?
Either way, alarm clocks pull us out of them, and we either fight to resist it or succumb to their calling us back to the fixed temporal time line. To recalibrate our sense of time, or at least to the frost of social agreement, if not convention.
I’m not convinced that we really need alarm clocks anyway. I found a brilliant article written by “Big Guy” at bigguymoney.com who indirectly holds the same view – alarm clocks wake us up in the wrong part of our sleep cycle, so we wake up disorientated and groggy. We’re better off without them (aside from social requirements such as work!).
The timing of our natural sleep cycle is at odds with external time; arguably the alarm clocks offers calibration. But it’s not always wanted!
In that article there is also a video clip about the snooze feature – which generally I love (it gives me more time in bed) but my wife hates (it wakes her up several times and yet at the same time doesn’t provide enough time to return back to a deep sleep.).
She has a point – indeed, the video suggests that if you just get up when the alarm clock goes off you’re more refreshed and awake than getting up after using the snooze feature, or simply sleeping for an extended but uninterrupted period.
An experiment to sleep through
There may be truth in that and being a scientist I had to test it! I repeatedly hit the snooze button…so many times that without realising it the hour hand eventually moved over and past the alarm hand and no longer triggered the alarm.
Yes, I overslept.
The following morning I switched off the snooze feature and aimed to get out of bed as soon as I woke. But I was too tired to get up, I fell back asleep, and with no snooze to reawake me…
Conclusion: I’m screwed either way!
A crazy notion anyway…
The idea of alarm clocks is crazy – that we desire an interruption to our normal biological requirement of sleeping.
But they only work in the morning. Obviously you can’t wake up in the evening before you’ve slept (time travel aside…!) but I’m talking here of the attitude; the expectation of a right to sleep in the evening isn’t carried through to the morning where we take efforts to bring ourselves out of sleep with an alarm clock
We’re much more likely to hear our neighbour banging on the wall late at night calling “Don’t you know what time it is? I’m trying to go to sleep!” than having him at the front door at 11:00 in the morning complaining of noise and demanding his right to a lie-in.
Perhaps teenagers are the most sensitive to this conundrum – they don’t want to go to sleep at night and don’t want to get up in the morning. Are they out of kilter with society, temporally displaced by a few hours, or more in tune with their inner sense of time?
A natural call
Before alarms clocks we woke with the sound of a rooster, who, I guess, woke with the rising of the sun. It seems to be more harmonious, more natural to our own internal rhythm.
Yes, using alarm clocks seems to be altogether cuckoo!
Further experimental trials
A far cry from the call of nature is a call from the differential of space (i.e. motion!).
Apps exist which monitor how your body moves whilst it’s asleep, and from that determines which part of the sleep you’re in and when the best moment to wake up is. So a use of spatial motion to call us to time.
My experiment on that didn’t work either – my wife’s movements ‘contaminated’ the measurements. Although a former (single) colleague told me he had tried the app..
He told me he had tried it…when he got into work late as he’d overslept.
First things last…
My last trial (which really as a baseline should have been my first) was to wake up completely naturally with no alarm clock…except my oldest daughter (coming on 5) ironically woke up earlier on a Saturday morning than on a school day, ran into my bedroom and jumped on my belly. (Which woke me up!)
The seemingly overall conclusion is that the mind is [sometimes] willing but the flesh is weak. That is to say, tired.
Exception to the rule: Unless you’re a child (i.e. younger than our late-nighter / lying-in teenagers)
And what can we learn from this? That indeed an hour before midnight is worth 2 in the morning? An improbable route for time dilation, (just as “a stitch in time can save nine” – though seemingly a lot more efficient!). I don’t think so.
So much for the morning calibration of our sense of time. It doesn’t always work, and indeed we often wake up with not only temporal disorientation (“morning already?”, “what happened last night?”) but also spatial (“where am I?”, or “who are you?”).
So we turn to validation.
(Calibration is setting ourselves to be the same as everyone else; validation is making sure it’s been done correctly.)
How does coffee sound? Or an energy drink (or some other caffeine based product), children, or pure requirement?
Or simple resignation – usually reserved for Monday mornings…if you know when that is!
Dating for Geeks cartoon strip asks: What would you like most if you were like Marty McFly in Back to the Future?
I found this cartoon in a Dutch newspaper (“Spits”) on the train this morning (click to enlarge). Dating for Geeks…with an ounce of time travel! 🙂
And the loose translation into English is:
– What would you like most if you were like Marty McFly in Back to the Future?
– A time machine? A hover board? Shoes that tie their own laces?
– Hmm, no…
– I would like to choose something that in real life I would never get…
– What’s that then?
– A girlfriend.
Actually, it’s not that funny is it? I’m feeling sorry for him…
Then again, it seems as though the hover board and the self tying shoes might soon become a reality…so there’s hope yet for our geeky friend! 🙂
A huge obstacle in time travel is the vast amounts of energy needed to power it. What if we could borrow and pay back energy by moving it through time?
A thermodynamic conundrum
One of the biggest obstacles in time travel is summoning the vast amounts of energy required to power it. I’ve often wondered whether we could use the energy from one time and return it in another during the time travel expedition the same way as we move physical objects around according to our transient desires.
So far it would seem not; the laws of thermodynamics mean that there cannot be a creation (or destruction) of energy and moving it from one time to another (forwards or backwards) is essentially the same thing (removing it from one time is ‘destruction’ and replacing it in another time is ‘creation’).
Looking at it another way, does time travel imply that there is a creation or destruction of energy? Perhaps thermodynamics hints at the importance of direction, at least in the temporal field.
A matter of direction
Most of us have probably heard about the direction of time, or time’s arrow. In these cases the direction is linear, that is to say, forwards, backwards or if we’re being creative, sideways.
Equally creative, but perhaps more conventional given the motion of hands on a clock, have we ever considered a rotational direction of time?
In H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine (or was it that b***dy Baxter’s The Time Ships), the Time Traveller talks of a twisting of the spatial and temporal dimensions so that all 4 dimensions are transposed and travelling through time could be done so as easily as easily as travelling through space. Give or take a bit of nausea.
(Yes, it was Baxter. I remember now; he [appears to have] nicked the idea of rotating of the 4 dimensions (and inducing sickness from centrifugal and Coriolis forces from Poul Anderson, or at least the rotational aspect from Michael Moorcock’s Flux. )
It seems to me that if we’re going to play about with thought experiments and how time moves (or at least, how we move through an otherwise static time), then we should at least pay a bit of homage to the idea that it might twirl about!
Indirectly, my wife and I recently had a conversation which lead to these kind of musings.
I’ll say upfront that the conversation wasn’t directly related to time travel or even about time…but it did involve a clock. Note the manly pink colour, but please recall that I am a father of 2 daughters!
A few nights ago my wife exclaimed surprise that the bedside clock still worked even when the battery is put in with the knobbly bit on the wrong way reversed polarity. “Even the light comes on!”
Why wouldn’t it? In a general and simple electrical case (e.g. one without diodes), it’s not the direction of flow of electricity that makes light light or clocks tick (that’s an expression…digital ones don’t!) – rather, it’s the flow itself.
[Aside: an economist friend of mine once told me that the value of money is unimportant – it’s that it changes hands. Not spending a million dollars is the same as not spending 1 dollar. Movement, or flow, of money is important…though in this case the direction is important too…we’d rather receive a million dollars than part with it!]
My wife (who I should add, didn’t marry me for my money!) said that given all the warnings in the instruction manual about taking care to observe the correct polarity, she’d expected the clock to simply not work. Or blow up spectacularly.
At the very least, that it might run backwards.
Whilst this wouldn’t explain the workings of Edward Page Mitchell’s The Clock that went Backwards (which was a wind up Grandfather clock), the comment did lead to the usual cart-before-the-horse question: was our hypothetically backward running pink clock marking a backward motion of time, or was it actually driving it?
And if I can milk the driving metaphor, was our reverse polar battery the equivalent of the flux capacitor in the Back to the Future DeLorean time machine?
Now that the horse is well and truly trailing the cart, my wife and I turned to thinking about the local effect of a backward trip in time. As local as the battery squeezed in its compartment with the knobble against the spring.
In the usual case, the battery discharges and powers the clock. The corollary, if we’re going back in time, is that the battery is now charging – electricity is coming out of the clock and into the battery.
But if the battery isn’t discharging, then it can’t be powering the clock to drive the time backwards, and that means it should be discharging. We have the classic Grandfather Paradox…nullifying our speculative thought experiment!
Well! Paradoxes such as these are common place in time travel, so perhaps we’re on the right track…
But something else is at odds here – power is required to push time forwards (or to maintain it’s ambient rate of natural progression), and now it looks like energy is released in time travel when we go backwards!
This sounds counter-intuitive, but I wonder if it’s something else entirely…I think the clue is in the battery not being charged but recharged – the energy it spent in pushing time forwards is now being paid back.
It’s a subtle difference, but this idea of a return can be taken further in the case of time itself in that it’s not a backward motion of time but a return to some state of equilibrium, like an aeroplane doesn’t expend energy to fly downwards, but returns to the ground and gives up energy doing so.
This seems to be more in line with thermodynamic principles where energy is required to bring order and expended to return to chaos, and indeed…we have a battery with increasing energy.
A reversal of time is an increase in order(!)…the matter of the universe, going back in time, will become more ordered. Perhaps, into a singularity rather than an expanding universe.
So what’s all this got to do with rotational time?
Well OK, you got me! Clock hands rotating the wrong way doesn’t signify a rotational time direction any more than a digital clock counting backwards signifies time going backwards. Does it?
Maybe we’ll never know. If time is going (or rotating) backwards now how would we know? It would be normal to us; the definition of a direction would be a matter of convention.
I can’t help thinking though, that a time might introduce some twirling about, some seemingly random changes in direction, or loops or somersaults to avoid those pesky time travel paradoxes we’d have with a linear motion in time. And it would be a much cleaner solution that just making up a new multiverse to get out of the conundrum.
Don’t you think?
Well, we’ve talked and thunk ourselves into a tighter and ever decreasing circle, and like the Time Traveller, probably feeling quite dizzy and nauseous from it!
In short, this is a masterpiece of literature! It mixes fantasy with science fiction and has a multitude of story lines woven together with such intricacy that the resulting tapestry is a true marvel.
The Anubis Gates had me hooked from the beginning. Time travel is introduced very early on with a mixture of gadgetary and philosophical ideas about time travel, with a motivation about as strong as you can get…albeit truly revealed quite late on in the book.
The novel opens with a prologue that reads rather like an opening sequence in a movie – a couple of mysterious characters in ancient Egypt in a fantasy setting with an odd mix of horror and magic. It is abstract and vague, but you know that in time all will become clear…
Brendan Doyle, a literary scholar, is asked by Mr Darrow to go back in time with millionaires who are paying to attend a lecture given by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Doyle’s role, given his academic knowledge, is to provide his expert opinion on the lecture.
Brendan is abducted shortly after the lecture from which moment on he’s thrust into a world where he tries to piece together who he really is, who his kidnapper was, and why he’s of interest to them. This is more complicated than you might imagine thanks to a body changing werewolf (“Dog Face Joe”) hidden identities, magic, a surprising Shakespearean style romance and of course the time travel!
The time travel element
Time travel is introduced early in the novel; there’s no hanging about waiting for it to come, and no annoying confusion from the main character about “ooh-la-di-dah everything is so 18th century, but after 4 chapters I still haven’t worked out what’s going on”. No, thankfully Doyle has his head on straight and gets straight to business and deals with events as best as he is able given his very tricky circumstances!
Doyle is sceptical of time travel so this affords Darrow the opportunity to convince him (and us, the reader) of the reality of it. Darrow describes time as a river and uses this as a really good counter argument to the butterfly effect (i.e. that a small incident in the past (e.g. the flap of a butterfly’s wing) can affect the future on a much larger scale (like causing a hurricane); small disturbances in the river effect the flow downstream (i.e. in the future)…but some ripples are so small that actually it makes no difference to the bigger picture!
The analogy of time being like a river is taken further where Darrow suggests that you can step out of the time river and re-enter it on another part of the river bank. Or that the river could be frozen but that there are holes in the ice which can be passed through.
Despite these beautiful ideas, the aspect of time travel is not the main theme of the book and it is not a vehicle to transport the reader to a different setting for the characters. Rather, it’s a subtle mechanism to move and swap characters around within the plot.
The mechanism of time travel is done so through magical means (or an effect from) which is the first time I’ve come across this method and naturally fits in well with the fantasy part of the novel.
There are many clever time loops and the ontological paradox is taken to the extreme. There are also several examples of the “Hitler paradox” where history cannot be changed, altered, or escaped from. There is a therefore a clear sense of destiny and a strong sense of curiosity, especially in the submissive yet climatic conclusion.
These time travel themes are brilliantly executed and fit well within the general story line.
Although there is one central character, we are also introduced into the thoughts and feelings of several other characters in the novel. This helps to paint a complete three-dimensional picture of the events taking place and creates a deeper understanding of both characters and setting.
There is naturally a lot of swapping between the plots but it is not disruptive, and neither do the shifts seem to be timed to be cliff-hangers. The changes were natural and helped with the chronological narrative – as well as it could be in a time travel novel!
The main story line which comes together at the end wasn’t the one I was expecting…what I thought was the main story turned out to be an initiator, and then as a reoccurring side plot. Very clever!
I think this is a love or hate book (I loved it!). There is a lot of chopping about which means that the main character is difficult to follow at times…in body and in time. I can see that some readers may find this frustrating, as well as the diffusion between fantasy and science fiction.
My only slightly negative point is that I found the Egyptian story line to be a little confusing but that probably reflects more of myself than of the book – I must confess that I’m not really into fantasy so I read these sections very lightly and no doubt I missed some crucial aspects.
That said, the ‘fantastic’ line (is there another adjective for a fantasy section?) played a minor role in the whole scheme of things.
I found this excellent infographic over at techeblog.com which explains 3 theories of time travel; fixed timeline, dynamic timeline and multiverse.
As I commented on the original site, I have a problem with multiverses! They’re too much of an easy ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card and I can’t find any sound scientific basis for the creation of all the additional energy and mass required to go round creating new universes willy nilly…let alone specify a defined moment for divergence.
So many problems, so little time…I think I have an idea for another blog post!
As time travellers we don’t want to wait for a moment or an event to reach us at the ambient rate of 1 second per second. We want it now.
When I show frustration born from impatience, there’s always some idiot telling me it’s “…a lesson in patience”.
How the hell is that? All I’ve learnt is that I’m still impatient, and it’s usually the patient people trying to make me more like them; to be more patient whilst I wait for them to just get on with it.
The cure for impatience
Apparently help is available in dealing with impatience. Not that impatience is a disease…more like patience is a resignation to the idea that we can’t change (speed up, in this case) the rate of time. And I don’t like that!
The suggestion comes in two forms: either we either hold tight, or that we let go completely.
Here’s the thinking:
Holding on tight
This means keeping focused on the end goal, and working hard to achieve it.
Letting go of the end goal
Read here…forget it. Que sera sera (whatever will be, will be), and presumably, whenever whatever it is, will be ready. Do something else. Take your mind off it. Stick your head in the sand. Pretend like you don’t care.
I reckon that sounds like giving up doesn’t it!
Or…could we consider it more as parallel time line jumping? Fill your waiting time with another activity, i.e. instead of waiting on the same time line, jump to another parallel one and bypass the wait by doing something else. Then return to your original time line where the perceived time will seem shorter, like starting a chapter in a book which returns to a story line dropped a few pages ago.
It’s ironic that the time will then seem to pass quicker when you don’t concentrate on it. Like a kettle boils quicker if you don’t wait for it. Friction works harder against you the more you try to overcome it (by pushing harder or going faster).
The more you earn the more you’re taxed. Love comes to you when you don’t look for it. Yeah I know – it’s all messed up…so forget all about it! Besides, it’s not fair that this form of ‘apparent time travel’ comes quicker to those who don’t want it!
The best things don’t come to those who wait. Those who wait are inefficient with their time and kid themselves that whatever they want to be doing now can wait till later.
So should we hold on? I don’t think so. Carpe diem. Seize the day. Seize it by the neck and then strangle it and tell it to get a b***dy move on!
The distinct resonant tock of an old analogue clock. A hammer hitting nails in the analogue coffin. Their time is up, their glory gone in a sonorous din.
I like the idea of analogue clocks because they measure time exactly.
For example, the position of a hand on a clock face can indicate when the moment of a third of a second has been reached, whereas a digital clock is inherently incapable of this feat – at best it shows an instant in time in decimal notation to a limited number of decimal points.
And for irrational numbers that’s not exact.
But my problem with analogue clocks and watches is this: that the glory of analogue and continuous monitoring of time is punctuated. And how irrational is that?
It is true that this is largely down to the inherent mechanical design of a clock or watch (although some models do have “sweep” hands) but what I find close to unforgivable is that the precise toiling of the cogs and sprockets and springs and things is deliberately engineered that it grates on the aural senses with an audible “tick tock”.
Not just every hour, or every minute, but every single second. Actually, sometimes more; smaller watches have the rapid tick-tick-tick-tick, a tick every half second or so.
This ticking and tocking is arguably worse than the Japanese water torture where the irregular dripping of water causes psychological neurosis. But the regularity of the tick-tock means that the next one is expected. So we wait for it. And the next, and the next and the…
It’s an irrational crime against Analogue to interrupt or to mark the passing of predefined moments in such a way.
Tick tock cuckoo.
In this post I revealed what a Dutch clock is. Dutch clocks and grandfather clocks are the worst culprits as the swing of the pendulum creates such a thud of a tock that the body reverberates in an anti-echo of antagonised yearning of peace; their analogue glory gone in a sonorous din.
And if that’s not enough, most models mark the passing of each hour – sometimes even each half and quarter hour – with further exclamations emanating from the time piece to remind us of their presence. Aargh, the distinct resonant tock of an old clock.
A hammer hitting nails in the Analogue coffin. Their time is up, especially for those which have cuckoos or hideous figurines which come out and make quite literally a song and a dance about the time.
The chimes of Big Ben (London) are world famous. Not so well known is The Peperbus (Zwolle, Holland) plays a variety of songs (including the theme song to The A-Team) prior to donging local (and some not-so-local) inhabitants to near audible death. (Or how some Londoners might pronounce it, deaf! 😉 ) Noise pollution. And yes (and bear in mind I say this as an unbiased practising Christian) I find the sound of a church bell untuneful, dull, and sickly lacking in sonic lustre or attraction.
Even my 2 year old daughter makes a more tuneful racket when thrashing a wooden spoon against the side of a baking tray (and admittedly I say that as a highly biased Dad!)
The thing about digital watches
The author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams, made the comment in the first of that ‘trilogy’ (of 5…) that humans thought digital watches were “…a pretty neat idea”. And as a human, I tend to agree.
True, we need to read the time (numerically, in series) rather than ‘tell’ the time from a bizarre form of parallel (clock)face recognition.
And it’s true that some morons set their digital watches to make an hourly chime.
And it’s true that some digital watches have so many functions that the battery size required to power them all takes more space than my wife needs to parallel park.
It’s also true some digital watches and clocks are too faint to read in daylight, or too bright to allow sleep at night and burn red holes in your retinas as you desperately try to count sheep.
But digital watches and clocks are silent. There’s no noise with digital clocks. Silence is golden…they just simply let the time pass!
A final thought: If analogue clocks have hands, shouldn’t digital clocks have fingers? 😉
People say that we are all time travellers because we move through time at a rate of 1 second / second.
I pointed out in my definition on what is time travel that this is not the case…if time is like a river and we sit on a boat floating on that river, we have an analogous case – we flow down-stream but we’re not in control. We drift; we don’t travel (except relative to the river bed).
A friend pointed out that maybe describing time as a river isn’t strictly correct. According to the general theory of relativity (GR) time is relative and should be viewed on a local scale, whereas the picture of a flowing river is holistic (and therefore not covered by GR).
However, the counter argument is that the river of time can be viewed – or indeed changed – on a local scale. A sand bank, or a large fish can locally affect the flow of water.
And as a colleague pointed out – as in GR, a moving fish can eat a smaller fish and gain mass.
“It makes sense” he added. “When I’ve eaten a large lunch my perception of time definitely changes.”
I don’t think much more can be said on that subject!
At least, this is my cover story for watching “Dora the Explorer’s Ballet Adventure” last night !;) (This post isn’t a plug by the way!)
The main ‘plot’ is that the delivery duck delivered the wrong package to Dora and her friends just before they were about to perform a dance show; he delivered scuba flippers instead of dance slippers.
Dora’s mission was to leave her friends to go to the dance school, collect the dance slippers and bring them back in timeso that the dance show could go ahead.
I know that the DVD is aimed towards young children, but I must admit that I was hoping it was also aimed for their parents who might be interested in time travel!
I can’t help wondering if our perspective on direction – including time’s arrow and direction of the flow of time – needs a little readjustment.
In this post I commented how we often tend to think primarily in the spatial direction before the temporal field. My daughter already tries to turn that on it’s head, and at times thinks Outside the Temporal Box.
Here’s another a conversation I had with her a few nights ago when I was reading her a bed time story. Whilst not technically related to time travel it’s perhaps an initial start to getting thinking more openly about direction:
Daughter: “Daddy, you’re reading backwards!”
Me: “No I’m not! I’m reading forwards – see?”
I fan the pages in a visual effort to explain.
Daughter: “But that’s the back over there.”
She’s pointing to the back of the book – the part where invariably in stories for 4 year old girls the princess lives happily ever after.
Me: “Yes, this is the front [pointing], and this is the back. So I’m reading in this direction.”
Daughter: “That’s what I’m saying, Daddy. You’re reading backwards to the end!”
A lot of people think that the first time travel novel is The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, published in 1895.
Aside from the fuzzy logistics of what “being first” really means in time travel, the above statement is incorrect. Indeed, H.G. Wells had already published a short story called The Chronic Argonauts in 1888, thus scoring an own-goal in beating himself to the title of First Time Travel Author.
A little less self-plagiaristic is The Clock That Went Backward, a short story by Edward Page Mitchell which was published in 1881, and as far as I can tell, the ‘first’ piece of fiction involving time travel.
I’ll get round to reviewing it later, but the point I wanted to make is that the story is set in Holland; a small country with a complicated language. I can’t help but wonder why Holland was chosen as the setting for this ground-breaking piece of work!
Yes it’s true…the time2timetravel HQ is situated in Holland too, where if you search hard, you can end up in some pretty quirky places!
And there is the “Dutch clock”. I wasn’t even aware there was such a thing until they kept popping in in various novels I’ve been reading, and here was a surprise…that the picture of a clock face used as a header on this site is actually of a Dutch clock…although I hadn’t realised it when I took the picture!
(Rather ironic…I live in Holland, and took this picture of a Dutch clock during a holiday in France!)
I don’t have a picture of the above clock in all of it’s full Dutch chronological glory (…in France 😉 ) but descriptively it could be described as a short and stumpy wall mounted grandfather clock. Or at least, one with its legs cut off (see image, right).
Given the story line of The Clock that went Backward irony again hits us in the face, in that there is a Dutch saying that the Dutch people are tall so that if the sea dikes break then they can keep their heads above the water.
Tall people, short clocks. But I guess they are not the only ones short on time!
Wow, wow and wow!!! This is an absolute “must have” for the time travel enthusiast! Even if I’m wrong, it’s easy reading and only some 130 pages so you may as well give it a go!
Dan inherits a time belt from his Uncle Jim. By setting the controls on the time belt Dan is able to move from one point in time to another. On his temporal travels Dan meets and interacts with himself causing countless time loops and potential for quirky paradoxes. Whilst there is no specific plot, the reader is carried along with the main character in his search for perfection in himself and in his environment.
The time travel element
The mechanics of the how the time belt works is not revealed. This is not an omission, but I think deliberately left out so that we can empathise more with Dan and his own confusion into essentially a black box time machine. How it works, or what the consequences are of its use (or misuse) is not known, and to a large extent is learnt ‘on-the-job’.
The idea of a parallel universe where time lines diverge is played through and often this leads to an alternate version of Dan coming back (or forward) to (re/post)visit himself to warn of possible dangers. This seems to be the only instruction manual.
Time loops and strange realisations of cause and effect are bountiful…but interestingly there are no paradoxes. This is because whilst there are several versions of Dan the book is written from the viewpoint of only one of them. What happens to the others is not completely known to the writing version him and so the paradoxes are not explicitly mentioned.
However, Dan does think about them and we are privy to his thoughts…which are very interesting, though by his own admission may not be correct!
This is yet another first person time travel novel but in this case I don’t think that the book could have been written in any other way. In fact the first person narrative allows for a very clever alternative to description by relating introspective thoughts to the reader which serve as thought experiments playing through scenarios and consequences of time travel.
Naturally this brings about a feeling of loneliness – Dan primarily interacts only with himself and doesn’t seek or ask for help from friends – there are very few other characters in the novel. In a way this is a little like Audrey Niffeneger’s “The Time Traveller’s Wife” where the time traveller also suffered loneliness in that he was the only one ‘afflicted’ with time travel and was disappointed that there wasn’t an army of fellow time travelers.
The copy of the Man who Folded Himself that I read included a foreword by Robert J. Sawyer. I feel compelled to mention that I found this is to be pretty lame and shallow, and to be honest, more self serving than anything else. Of far more interest (and of intelligent thought) is the afterword by Geoffrey Klempner and is well worth a read [caution: After reading the novel – it contains spoilers!]
The Man who Folded Himself is available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com (affiliate links) and comes with the highest of my recommendations – an easy 5/5 stars!
Some time ago I took a short break to Texel – one of the Wadden Sea Islands off the coast of Holland.
Quite by chance (or so I thought…) I ended up in a cafe called “De Tijd” (“The Time”).
The walls were absolutely plastered with clocks! The waitress told me that they were all gifts, donated by patrons over the years. Now (sadly) there is not enough wall space for the tradition to continue, but instead notebooks lie on each table for visitors to jot down any thoughts they might have (regarding the food they’re eating, where they’ve come from, etc.).
Above my head in the shot above is a plaque with a poem, “De Tijd”
Here’s the translation (thanks to google translate…my own Dutch isn’t up to the task!):
Whatever one does, the time passes
though it does not, time passes
whether they are impoverished or enriched
uitslooft themselves or sailing stroke
been doing it wrong, though it does well
‘t they awake or asleep, and nothing suspect
yes, which one also gets rid of
elapses from the time, time!!!
And talking of things above my head (and I’m talking quite literally here!) did I mention that the ceiling space was also used as efficiently as the wall space?
And what of the food? It was served on plates like this, which get a thumbs up from me for not displaying the annoyingly presumptiously happy ten-to-two (or ten-past-ten…)
Whilst we were waiting for the food to be prepared, my wife reminded me that we’d been here the previous year. I’d forgotten all about it! We were having about to have a ‘Deja Eat’!
So my wife as reliving her past I was living the present, and as the food was brought in, served on a time-plate, I couldn’t help thinking of Plato (sorry…! 😉 ) and his wish to remember the future.
Maybe we’ll be back next year…but I can’t remember!
I have a doppelganger. He looks a bit like me and he behaves a bit like me. But he’s not me; he’s a little taller but not as scrawny, he’s a bit less bald, and he doesn’t wear glasses. He wears a black coat as I do and slings a small grey rucksack on his back. As I do.
And he really gets on my nerves.
Like me, he doesn’t talk to other passengers on the train and avoids them by fixing his focus on glitzy but intellectually dull pages on a free newspaper. Reading about characterless celebrities with non interesting lives. Loser. At least I read books. Or write in my journal.
But sometimes he likes to watch real people.
The first time I caught sight of him I thought he was a pillock and best avoided. The trouble is that it seems he’s everywhere I am – and can’t be avoided!
He catches my train every morning. And he cycles to his office on the other side of the road as mine, pedaling the same speed as me – either just in front or just behind. He leaves his office when I do, and cycles again either just in front or just behind me, back to the train station where he catches my train to take him back to his home.
He waits on the same part of the platform every day so that he’s best positioned for his favourite seat – a single seat towards the back of the carriage where he can sit without the elbows and knees of an adjacent passenger protruding into his personal space.
I like to sit on the seat at the side with the back to the window. Many don’t like it as it means a sideways motion when travelling and that means I have space. No arms or legs or bags or large newspapers invading my personal space. And I can watch him trying not to let me see him watching me!
He observes everything with silent disdain; a scowl or disapproval of any facet of life he may encounter in his unchanging sphere. And yes, I have caught him eyeballing me too, through the corner of his eye – I have seen it!
I’ve never spoken to him, but he’s never spoken to me either. He started it.
A couple of times I have tried to make contact; to break the strange awkward aversion, but it never pans out. When I make a deliberate sustained look directly towards him, that’s when he sneezes, or reaches for his phone, or looks the other way. There’s always some excuse to not look at me directly. What am I…Medusa?
It seems that there is an unspoken battle between us, although I cannot say over what. Maybe for our very own existence.
I wonder. I read something a while ago that doppelgangers can’t share the same space or time – it is a paradox of causality. Some explain that multiple versions of a person exist in multiple parallel universes which are created at “bisection points” – when alternate outcomes of momentous or key decisions have been made.
Personally I don’t believe in the instantaneous creation of mass and energy out of nothing on a whimsical decision.
But if it were true, maybe a crossing or an intersection of these [not-so-parallel] universes would allow a person to meet an alternative version of himself? Or would interaction cause one or both of us to disintegrate? Or the universe?
I don’t know. But I do think it would be painful to find out.
(Too much) Contact
I’ve only ever seen him smile once. Perhaps. Actually, it was more of a smirk. I hadn’t seen him for a few days since the weekend. I wondered where he was because he wasn’t waiting on the platform at his usual place. He must have been ill because on Thursday he was back and letting me know about it as he was coughing loudly on the train. And he wouldn’t stop.
It was strange because he wasn’t on his favourite seat – he was sitting behind me. I bet he did it on purpose as my side bench wasn’t free and I was sitting on a regular forward facing double seat. I could almost feel his germs flying through the stuffy train atmosphere in a direct but statistically random walk to the back of my own bald head.
I stood up early to leave the train so I was facing him whilst he remained seated. He decided to sneeze at that moment to avoid eye contact, but I’m sure I saw a smile of smugness, content that he’d infected me; an invasion of my physical and personal space.
As I stepped off the train there was a cough behind me. Too close behind me. It was him.
He followed me, as he always does, on his bicycle on the way to work. Some may call it slip streaming, but I find his close proximity disturbing. Shadow cycling. He was right there by the mudguard of my back wheel…so close I could hear him sniffing.
I increased my speed, and he matched it. I slowed, as did he. Why won’t he just overtake me? In desperation and frustration I weave from side to side in a futile attempt to shake him off. Get in front! S**t before shovel!
But I couldn’t get rid of him. I never can. He’s always everywhere I am.
All the time. Day after day.
Another day. Another time.
It’s another day and I’m on the train again. I’ve forgotten my book and I have nothing to read. I’m bored. I need to do something to pass the time on this hour long train journey. Lying nearby is one of those ridiculous free newspapers. I thumb through a copy, bored as hell, but there’s nothing else to do.
I glance at a few other passengers but they’re immersed with their phones. One is making notes and looking a bit peeved about something. I’ve seen him around quite a bit. He’s always looking at me. Must be a nutter, so I try to avoid him.
I’m not feeling too well, I think I picked something up from some cretin in the train. And I think I know who. The last few days I’ve stayed at home; he’s probably aware of that and noted it down in his journal. But today I’m feeling a bit better and I’m back, but this stuffy air in this carriage isn’t doing me much good. It’s busy today, God knows why, so I’m sitting in a regular seat and already I’m blocked in and I can’t get up to walk to the train entrance where the air is fresher.
It’s a really tickly cough that won’t go away. If I talk, it gets worse. I can’t get out.
He’s come and sat in front of me now. He’s always around. I can’t get rid of him.
Argh. I’ve got nothing to do! I’m so bored. I can’t even look through the window as my seat is by the broad metal window frame. I can look forwards at the back of the chair in front. That’s it.
I’ll check my phone; it has pictures of my wife and girls. They cheer me up. I’m looking down at my phone. I’m trying hard not to cough but I need to sneeze. I can’t sneeze looking down, but as I inhale and look up he’s standing in front of me. He’s always there! Wherever I am! No matter. It’s my stop, and I can lose him. Besides, my wife loves me. So do my girls. I smile at the thought and stand up.
When I get my bike from the bike shelter he’s there, looking at me. I always think he’s going to say something to me, but he never does. It’s very awkward.
Thankfully he’s in front of me. I hate it when he’s behind me; I can feel his eyes bore into the back of my head. But it’s difficult with him in front too. He wobbles, and does unpredictable things. I’ve tried overtaking him, but he speeds up! In desperation I free wheel, but he slows down! Anyway, I guess I’m still recovering – I feel weak and my nose is running.
I want to overtake him; to pass him and get shot of him, but I can’t. He wobbles all over the place making it impossible for me to do so.
He’s in front of me again when I cycle home from work. I’m tired and not in the mood for this nonsense. He’s tailing me again. I’m nearing the end of my journey. I’m approaching the level crossing near the bike shed where I’ll leave my bike and catch my train home to my girls.
It’s not far to go, but now I’ve had enough. I’m running late, and maybe I’ll miss my train. Surely it’s close. I urge the rubber of my front tyre to touch his back wheel – he can’t avoid me now!
I call out. I can feel the pressures of two parallel universes twisting and contorting, striving to make contact at a single moment in time, at an elastic point in space.
Let me pass!
He looks behind, glaring at me. He slows, but doesn’t make space. There is a wailing and amber light engulfs us.
Stay back! he hisses.
Of course I have no choice but to stay back. As usual. He won’t let me pass. I try again to move to one side.
Now he’s slowing down, but he’s holding out his arm. The noise is deafening. Whining. Screaming.
He’s looking back at me.
It’s not safe!
Within the amber lighting I can see a blur of blue and yellow. My train! It’s hurtling past me, a massive tonnage of metal relentlessly responding to electrical charges initiated on an atomic level and upwardly scaled to the real and tangible motion of matter of the train.
I squeeze hard on my brakes; friction from the rubber on the front wheel losing its purchase on the ground which slides out from underneath me. When I roll over and get on all fours I see my bike in pieces near the rail track.
No. My bike is still in one piece. That’s his bike; a twisted frame with sheared rough edges of metal agape.
I stand and walk towards it. Blue light is flashing, but it’s hardly doppler. He’s nowhere to be seen.
He saved my life; my current existence is because of him. But I’ll never seen him again. It’s ironic that I never wanted to see him but now I want to, at least just to say thank you. But that can’t ever happen.
There’s his chair – empty, as if he never existed. Just a ghost through a train window.