Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Great Scott!!!!!!! — Великий Скотт!!!!!!!

Time in Russia is especially fluid, and as a result, Russia is full of what we might loosely term "time travel".

When I first arrived in Moscow last Monday (27th July) I felt an enormously intense feeling of happiness and magical anticipation, and – more than any other time I have visited here – a sensation of having come back to my own home. As soon as I got off the train at Paveletsky station and went down into the metro I was completely overcome with it. The Russian people have always been kind and generous towards me in the past, but this time that is different too – people are super friendly, in a way I haven't really experienced before.

After my last post, lots of people suggested interesting things for me to read and watch on the subject of time travel. So far I have watched the Jean-Claude Van Damme film Time Cop, and Jon Ronson's For the Love of... Time Travel episode. From the former I learnt two things:

1) that it is possible to go back in time and rescue people from death – i.e. that, contrary to the plot of the film Final Destination, death isn't some kind of inevitability which will happen no matter how we might try to avert it. (Whether we are prepared to theorise about time travel on the shaky basis of fictional scenarios featuring, respectively, J-CVD and Stiffler is another matter, but nevertheless it's interesting to trace the trajectory of time travel in popular culture.)

2) That the same matter can't occupy the same space at the same time. This one is kind of a bummer for me because I was hoping to be able to use time travel to have sex with myself one day. I also learnt that epic splits will probably save your life, so I had better start stretching my groin muscles, pronto.

From the latter, which I highly recommend to you, I was left with many interesting impressions, central to which were two things: the elasticity of time; and the links between time travel, time loops and alternate realities.

Firstly then, time as an elastic quantity. For me, this was perhaps summed up best of all by Father Christmas. Several years ago my daughter Olive wrote FC a letter in which she asked him how it was that he was able to deliver presents all around the world in one single night. Of course, as grown-ups, we all know that Father Christmas gets asked this question all the time, but nevertheless he kindly replied to her letter and explained that, contrary to what people think, time does not consist of regular, equal, immovable units, but is more like a piece of elastic which constricts and expands all the time without us really ever paying much attention; so great is our governing ideology on this matter that we refuse to acknowledge its inconsistencies even when they stare us in the face. This, he said, was why the most boring lessons in school seemed to drag on forever, and yet a fantastic birthday party is over in an instant. Usually, FC continued, we are at the mercy of this elasticity because, inevitably, for so long as we refuse to acknowledge it we are unable to exert any power over it. When, contrariwise, we open our eyes, and we begin to see what is really there, we can also begin to manipulate time's elastic nature for our own benefit. Thus, in his case, what feels like a single night for us is in fact a far greater length of time for him, and he is able to get everything done.

This concept puts me to mind of something my dad was talking to me about one time: that time doesn't exist; that the world we live in stands stock still and we alone move forwards in it. We walk the earth and in doing so we age; and so we create the idea of time to explain this process in a linear, forward-moving manner. But if it is true to say that there is no time then perhaps we can also say that all time exists everywhere at once. Today I accidentally walked the wrong way down Zhukovsky Street in St. Petersburg (where, for a time, Mayakovsky lived with Lili and Osip Brik, and the exact address of which crops up on several occasions in his poetry), which turned out quite well for me because it meant I got to walk back up its entire length, and onwards up to Italianskaya Street towards the Stray Dog cafe, where, before the Revolution, Mayakovsky and many other poets and writers met to discuss and perform their work. I felt very keenly the fact that Mayakovsky too had walked up and down these streets countless times, and that perhaps everyone at that time and everyone today are all walking together, but with our eyes closed to each other. I think there is there a film where something like that happens? Two people leaving each other letters in the same mailbox but from different times? One of the speakers in For the Love of... Time Travel claims to have had first hand experience of time travel of this sort – of, essentially, slipping into an unclosed pocket of past time, and then falling back out again into the current world. The question is: what if she had never come back? Would that alternate existence have continued with her in it, alongside this one, the one we all think of as being the sole and "true" existence for the reason that we ourselves happen to find ourselves in it? Indeed, I believe I myself may have slipped into some kind of alternate reality on two occasions in the past week in Saint Petersburg. Several days ago as I was just waking up in the morning, a strange man let himself into my flat, claiming that he lived here. He went into a room which, for the duration of my stay, has always been shut and locked. On a couple of occasions I have seen him, and we have had brief conversations about Russian language tuition and documentary film-making. Today I saw a used coffee pot in the sink, which I did not leave there. However, usually I only ever hear him: when I am in my bed I hear him in the kitchen; when I am in the kitchen I hear him in the shower; when I arrive home each night I call out a hello in case he wants to talk but I never get a reply. I don't know if he's here right now, but the hallway lights have been flickering an enormous amount. His name is Sasha, but that's all I know. Is one of us slipping in and out of the other's time-stream? Are we simply co-existing from various points in time?

My second experience is less personal. Whilst on a tour bus around St Petersburg I somehow accessed a portal to an alternate reality in which Jamie Oliver is not only Italian but also the famous chief of some unspecified tribe. Although I returned to this reality safely (or at least I think I did), I was able to retain the documentation of this slight alteration in circumstances.

 I haven't really gone into the concept of time loops here, but I'll focus on that next time maybe, alongside wormholes and Russian time travel theoreticians, because this post is already longer than I had intended it to be and now I am very tired and need to go to sleep. I welcome your feedback on my thoughts.


  1. A friend and myself were walking through our Cornish hometown of Redruth once, down a small road that we'd walked many times before, when suddenly a door to a house opened and a small boy was standing there in - what I can best describe as - Victorian street urchin attire, he suddenly called out "Allright guv'na, fancy coming in for a mince pie?".

    Our attention was drawn behind us to two policemen who were dressed in the distinctive pointy hat and cloak combo of the gaslight-era British bobby, one of these policemen, sporting a fine moustache, replied; "Not now son, we're on duty."

    My friend and I stared at one another bamboozled and continued around the corner. We are both certain that for a brief moment we may have travelled through time, or perhaps just experienced a moment from another time.

    We also think we met myself from the future in a jazz bar in Plymouth once, but that's a drunken and - perhaps less plausible - story!

    I'd like to add to the list of recommendations by suggesting the films - if you haven't already seen them - Primer (it's a reasonably short film but very complex), and Russian Ark which ticks two boxes by encompassing Russian history but presenting it in a sort of concurrent "all time simultaneously" manner.

    1. I love Russian Ark! And I had actually been planning to watch Primer the night before I left England, but in the end didn't have time (ha) - so I will wait till I come home for that. I love your story - please tell me about the future self one too, even if it is implausible!!

    2. As best I remember it - there was alcohol involved, which perhaps suggests that one of the key ingredients of time travel is booze - me and my longest serving friend Carl were out in Plymouth, at a jazz bar on the Barbican that we liked, tucked into a brick arch.

      I once saw a guitar player there who could make one guitar sound like a dozen thanks to the hard talon fingernails he had cultivated on his right hand, and I saw the greatest piano player I have ever seen who managed to casually light a cigarette and take swigs from his red wine whilst hammering the keys. Anyway, that's just a little colour from my memory of this - now sadly - defunct venue.

      Carl and I had been sat at a table and probably have a drink or two at the bar by this point, when suddenly a sort of smiling, sack of a man stumbled over to us and joined us at our table.

      He asked us our names, I gave my name, and Carl introduced himself as "John", to which this man suddenly leaned back, grinned, sized Carl up and then, giggling to himself, repeated the name John with a questioning tone.

      We talked to him, he mumbled through fragments of his life, clearly rather tipsy, and he fixed his attention largely on me. He slurred how he wanted to be a creative, how he used to be into art as a kid, all things I could identify with, and I tried to ask him what sort of art but he dismissed the specifics by saying a bit of everything.

      Then he leaned in to me and said; "I can teach you how to be a loser."

      This phrase became a repeated coda of the short, strange conversation, as he veered from subject to subject, rubbing his drunken forehead seemingly searching for some clarity that his drink soaked mind was disinclined to provide.

      Finally he got up and left.

      It seemed like an uneventful conversation and encounter really until Carl and I began discussing it, especially noting his immediate suspicion of Carl's false name, the fact that he - like me - had creative dreams when he was (and as I was then) a young man, and finally the idea that he seemed to want to tell me in detail about his path, the one that led him to being this drunken fellow in a jazz bar chatting to two strangers, specifically alerting me to the fact that he could teach me how to be a loser.

      Clearly, we decided, he must have been me from the future. He'd managed to arrive back in time at a situation where he knew he could talk to me and warn me of the various mistakes of his life and save me from ending up being him. However, being the kind of loser I would be, he had arrived early and - to pass the time - had got drunk (or, perhaps, as I earlier suggested, being drunk is an important part of time travel?), therefore his important message was distorted by half-remembered intention and rambling, incoherent sentences (another trait I'm all too partial to).

      Anyway, not as obviously "magical" as the time we encountered three Victorian randoms in a Cornish street, but still another bizarre encounter that perhaps indicative of some form of time travel? Or maybe we were just drunk and eager to turn a strange encounter into a bizarre anecdote?!