Obviously, at some point in the future I will be able to travel in time. That’s a given. At least, I certainly hope so.
And if there’s one thing that watching television has taught me, it’s that time travellers often have little or no time to prepare for their initial departure. So, it seems a sensible precaution to make a list of things to do when I do become a time traveller.
Number one, currently, is to go and see Shakespeare perform in his own plays. And then heckle him. I get a kick out of the idea of shouting “You suck, Shakespeare! Stick to the quill, you ham!”
(In case this comes across as a little too mad, I must emphasise that I’ve never actually heckled anyone in my life—but I’ll make an exception for the Bard of Avon. On the other hand, I mentioned this to Nick, and he responded “I was with you, up to the heckling part.” I think I have to mention at this point, that this wasn’t originally my idea. But I still want to do it.)
At the risk of sounding shallow (and this, coming from the person who fancies heckling Shakespeare, must be taken as a warning), I think I’d be compelled to do some book shopping.
The main problem with my Ph.D. thesis was the ephemerality of the source material. I could stock up on all the relevant material for about 40 shillings, and save myself an enormous amount of hassle (and save the wonderful university library a small fortune).
Of course, then I’d have to cross my own timeline to deliver them to myself—so that might prove more problematic than I’d originally thought. I’d hate to end up in one of those situations where you think your future self is an apparition and accidentally kill yourself: those never end well.
Still, I’d definitely see about picking up copies (prompt copies, perhaps) of Cardenio and Love’s Labour’s Won. For my own edification only, obviously: you’d never be able to prove they weren’t just very good forgeries.
The main problem with time travel (well, apart from the obvious absurdities) is the tendency to think “Well, if I’m going to travel in time, I may as well go and see some history!” Then you stop and think about what history entails, and it doesn’t look like such fun.
I mean, the French Revolution I find fascinating, not least because of its direct impact on British culture—and therefore British literature—in the period that I study. But I don’t want to see it firsthand. (Mind, I’d love to see the lost Doctor Who story set in the French Revolution, but that’s another story and a different point.)
Ditto with the Battle of Thermopylae. Love the story, but definitely don’t want to see it in person; frankly, even bits of 300 were a little hard to watch.
But I’d like to have a little wander around in the more benign parts of some lost times. A Roman market. Sherwood Forest, before it disappeared. Tintagel in the time of Arthur. London before the Great Fire. Damascus, back when the Pearl of the Desert was largely unknown to Western visitors. Oberammergau, before the Passion Play became a major tourist destination. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. A trip on the Orient Express in the 1920s. Perhaps the great ball on the eve of Waterloo, although I suspect that would be heartbreaking (still, you might catch a glimpse of Becky Sharp stealing Amelia Osbourne’s husband).
I asked Nick what he’s do if he could travel in time, but he said he doesn’t have a historicist bent, which led to the following conversation:
ME: You could travel forwards in time as well as backwards.
NICK: Well, I’m not convinced that travelling forwards in time is possible.
ME: I’m not convinced travelling backwards in time is possible.
Apparently, though, it is theoretically more possible to travel backwards in time than forwards, which is contrary to the very nature of Doctor Who. So I think you’d have to at least try and travel forwards.
But you can’t even suggest what you’d want to travel forwards to see. Just “the future.” I would like to see a time when we could actually travel in space. (I mentioned this to a friend once, that I’d like to travel in space, and he said “Why?” Really, there’s no way I can answer that question. I just want to.) But if I have a time machine, travelling in space seems less interesting.
I have a feeling that I should perhaps have listed more noble intentions for my time-travelling future. Things like saving the contents of the Great Library of Alexandria (or even, more recently, the looted Iraqi museums). So perhaps I am shallow.
I’ll salve my conscience by reminding myself that this is all highly theoretical. Perhaps, had I the chance after all, my better self would come to the surface, and instead of exploiting Volcano Day, I might try and prevent it.
After finding that copy of Cardenio, naturally. After all, there’s no hurry—I have a time machine.