I spend more time than is good for me worrying about the possibility of falling through a time-slip or tripping into a wormhole and finding myself having to survive life deep in the mists of time without the comforts of hot water and cold beer.

On my better days, I tackle this from a different perspective — that of having finally got my time machine working (it’s so hard to get the parts in Alabama) and making time travel trips to the past intentionally.

In this case, I wonder as to what trade goods I could take back with me. These would have to be small and light — something I could easily afford in the “here and now” — but something that would be much more valuable in the deep and distant past (sewing needles, safety matches, vanity mirrors…). One thing to avoid if one were travelling back more than a couple of hundred years would be taking something that could get you burnt at the stake as a witch (I like to think it’s these practical and helpful little “how to” details that set my “Cool Beans Blogs” apart from the competition).

Time is such an interesting topic, not least that we don’t have a clue what it is. Did time exist before the Big Bang? Was time an emergent property of the Big Bang? Is time just something that keeps everything from happening at once? Or does time as a fundamental property simply not exist at all? (See also Is Time Truly an Illusion?).

While I think about it, two of my favorite time travel stories are The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov and By His Bootstraps by Robert A. Heinlein.

This just made me think of The Big Bang Theory where Howard, Leonard, Raj, and Sheldon are talking about English grammar with regard to time travel.


Actually, this is an interesting topic in its own right. Consider the concept of tense, which is used to indicate when the situation in question takes place in time. In English we make use of three tenses: the past (“before now”), the present (“now”), and the future (“after now”). For example:

Past:    The dog ate my bacon sandwich.
Present: I am not happy.
Future:  The dog will suffer for his crime.

Since I grew up with these three tenses, I assumed they were “set in stone,” as it were. I only recently discovered that different languages grammaticalize tense in different ways. Some languages employ only two tenses to express past and non-past, where non-past covers both present and future. By comparison, other two-tense languages express only future and non-future.

Some languages don’t have any tenses at all (I find it hard to wrap my brain around this), while some use four or more tenses to express finer temporal distinctions. The Aboriginal Australian six-tense language Kalaw Lagaw Ya, for example, distinguishes between the remote past, the recent past, the today past, the present, the today/near future and the remote future.

But we digress…

The blame for my current wafflings — like so many of my cogitations and ruminations — can be firmly laid at Monty Python’s door.

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life book cover (Click image to see a larger version)

How many members of Monty Python can you name off the top of your head? Most people would start with John Cleese and Michael Palin, but it’s a bit of a free for all after that (the others were, of course, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, and Terry Jones).

I fear that, like many other people, I too have focused on John and Michael, and I have underestimated the contributions made by the other members of the team.

The reason I mention this here is that I just read Eric Idle’s sortabiography, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. Until now, I hadn’t realized Eric was the author of the song of the same name — the one they sing at the end of The Life of Brian (happily, you can click here to see this scene on YouTube). Did you know that this is now the most requested song at British funerals? Also, during the Falklands War, when the destroyer HMS Sheffield (named after the town of my birth) was struck by an Exocet cruise missile, the crew sang this song while waiting to be rescued as the ship sank beneath their feet (the line “Worse things happen at sea, you know” being particularly ironic in that case).

As an aside, Eric also wrote another song that resonates with me (although I couldn’t tell you why):

All things dull and ugly,
All creatures short and squat,
All things rude and nasty,
The Lord God made the lot.

So, “What has all this got to do with time travel?” I hear you cry. Well, a lot of Eric’s book describes the people he met on his travels. Some reviewers have criticized him for name-dropping, but — like he says in the book — no one wants to hear him talk about the people he knows that no one else knows, if you see what I mean.

Eric ended up hanging out with a lot of famous people, including musicians like the Beatles, Jeff Beck, David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Billy Idol, Mick Jagger, Elton John, and Paul Simon (to name but a few).

Naturally, I decided that when I get my time machine working, I’d like to go back and hang out with these folks also. But there’s a teensy-weensy problem. I’m sure you’ve spotted what it is. The thing is that Eric had an “in” with these folks. In the same way that he admired them for their music, they loved Monty Python, but I have no such “in.” I fear the fact that I used to play the trumpet and trombone badly doesn’t count. (Early in the book, Eric notes that when he was fourteen years old, he wanted to play the guitar badly, and by the time he was fifteen he did.)

And then it struck me. Suppose I took a bunch of iPods and earbuds back with me, with the iPods being pre-loaded with all of the music these folks knew and loved (up to the time I went back — we wouldn’t want them to hear music that hadn’t been written yet — I’ve learned my lesson on that one, let me tell you).

I think this would be a gift that would surprise and delight and open doors. What do you think? Is this or is it not a brilliant idea? Or, do you perhaps have an even more cunning plan?