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Is Time Travel A Dying Art?

Van outside a cafe in Paris


What's that? There's no such thing as time travel? The Doctor isn't about to appear brandishing a sonic screwdriver and ready to whisk me off to have adventures in the TARDIS? No, shut up, I don't believe you.

In all seriousness, though, how often do we wish we could travel in time?

I don't mean whizzing about in a magical blue box to witness the Great Fire of London or to fight the Daleks in the year 7054. I mean it on a much more humble, much more emotional scale. I'm talking about nostalgia.

How often do we have that longing for the way things used to be? Whether it's a time that we ourselves remember (think: 'this is what English seasides used to be like'), or a time known to our parents or even our grandparents (think: 'when I was a child, you could get fish and chips for a penny'), or even a time long before anyone we ever knew was alive (think: 'wouldn't it be fascinating to visit Stone Henge?'). I think that often what we're longing for is a slower pace of life - that combined with a distant memory of an idealised, happier time.

It's a way of trying to grasp hold of things that are passing beyond our reach.



Let me give you an example. For most of my life, I've lived within 70 miles of the Isle of Man. I'd never visited, but I hadn't had much inclination to, beyond the fact that it was an island and I'm obsessed with islands. But then, there were plenty of other islands that I was much more anxious to visit. Then someone told me: 'The Isle of Man is like England 30 years ago.'

That was it; I was hooked. You see, when I first decided to go to the Isle of Man, I didn't know that it had stunning scenery, or quaint little fishing ports, or ancient myth and legend. I just knew that it was supposed to be like stepping back in time. So, I booked my ticket on the ferry and started to plan the trip. Simple as that.

But I guess that raises two questions:

[1] Why was I so keen to step back 30 years?

To me, 'England of 30 years ago' has certain connotations. (Let's forget Thatcherism and the politics of the 80s - as I think the remark was meant to refer to general 'older times' as opposed to a specific period.)

What I was thinking was: a laid-back pace of life, with small towns, local businesses and friendly people.

(That last one was particuarly important to me: the idea of community. I live on my own, I usually travel on my own, and I currently spend large parts of my life at a computer screen instead of socialising. So for me, travelling anywhere, I like the sense that I'll get to meet people, and that they are people who'll be happy to chat to me, and will make me feel safe.)


[2] Did the time travel succeed?

Yes.

Sort of.

I got all of the things I was hoping for, at any rate. In fact, I think my long weekend on the Isle of Man is the best short trip I've ever done, for that very reason (oh, and it was sunny the whole time, which kinda helped).

Everyone seemed so laid back (though that may have been due to the public holiday, as it was Easter weekend); there were lots of lovely, small, walkable towns full of local independent shops and pubs; and everybody was so, so friendly. (Special mention to the family who owned The Viking pub in Castletown, where I ate on two evenings and then spent several hours using their wifi.)

It also felt safe, in a kind of old-world, community sort of way. On one afternoon while I was out for a walk, I thought I might have missed the last bus back to Castletown - I suddenly realised I didn't mind, and that this was perhaps the only place I would feel safe hitching a ride. (Yes, I know, lots of people hitch all over the world with no trouble. Well, I guess I'm just paranoid, but if it keeps me safe, then good job!)

So, it looked as though I had found my TARDIS back to an older England. Except...

It was all slightly anachronistic. Like when you look round a medieval castle and they've put in emergency electric lighting. Or when you see an actress in period costume but with perfectly straightened hair. Because it wasn't like England of 30 years ago. It wasn't even quite like England of 10 years ago.

Because in the last decade, everything has changed.

We live our lives so differently to how anyone has ever lived before. This isn't a new idea - it isn't being called the 'digital revolution' for nothing. Everything is instant. Everything is (to some degree) accessible. Anybody (to some degree) can have a voice - take this blog, for example.

In the same way that discovery of new trade routes in the 15th and 16th centuries drastically altered the way England related to the rest of the world (not all for the good, it has to be noted), so the digital revolution has changed the world beyond all recognition.

Everywhere is connected. Everywhere can get 'up to date', so long as they have an internet connection.

In short, we have globalisation.

 Now don't get me wrong, I love being able to get wifi wherever I go. For one thing, it allows me to blog, and to post photos and updates about my travels in real time. That's pretty exciting stuff, when you think about it.

But it does mean that the idea of time travelling to that 'unspoiled' place is diminishing rather rapidly.

I noticed this on the Isle of Man: everyone has smartphones, just like everywhere else; there are chain coffee shops and fast food restaurants populating the main streets; all the standard blockbusters are being shown in the cinemas. And maybe as a travel blogger I'm helping to create the demand for universal wifi connection and globalisation. That isn't something I'm comfortable with - and yet, it's a force so much bigger than just myself.

And besides, isn't progress a good thing? Who am I to visit a place and bemoan the charm that it's supposedly lost? After all, I don't have to live there bemoaning a lack of wifi and connection to the rest of the world.

So maybe in a way, it's a good thing that the Isle of Man is no longer quite the 'olde-worlde' place it perhaps used to be. After all, it's still a fantastic, friendly, sociable, quaint, picturesque place. It's just got a foot in the twenty-first century, which surely isn't a crime.

The only downside is, it seems that the 'time gone by' we crave so much has done just that: gone by. Or if it hasn't yet, then it very soon will.

Steam train on the Isle of Man

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