Slip-Sliding Away: recollections of time-slips

We say that time flies, and sometimes it drags…but there are times, as John Billingsley has found, that it just seems to slip out of place…

Time Shifts?

Isn’t it funny how time flies, sometimes? Not just when you’re enjoying yourself, necessarily, but also when it seems to have some agenda of its own. Then – maybe – anything can happen.

In autumn 1995, I was scheduled to teach a day school on my pet subject, archaic or ‘Celtic’ heads. It was to be at Bradford University, a familiar 30-40 minute drive from my home. I set off at 8.30 am, to have plenty of time to set up the room before the class started at 10 am. It was an uneventful drive, and I was a bit surprised when I arrived to find that all the students were already gathered in the classroom. I made a joke about them being so keen and arriving so early, when I glanced at the clock; it said 10.20 am.

This was not funny. I am very particular about punctuality, especially when teaching, and I had deliberately set off in plenty of time. The course organiser and students were concerned at my absence at the scheduled start of the class, and the organiser had phoned my home, where my partner was able to confirm that I had left at 8.30. Somehow, the journey had taken just over twice as long as it should have done, and there had been no accidents, no heavy traffic, no interruption in the journey. I was shaken, to put it mildly, and could offer no explanation to the students – just a wry comment about the strange effects these stone heads can have. I got the class making their own heads out of some clay while I gathered the teaching material together, and the rest of the day went without a hitch, but I never could work out what had happened – why had time flown – or rather jumped? I did another dayschool on the subject there in October 2000, and this time got there without being hitch-hiked.

Ufologists and alien abduction enthusiasts who have heard this story have made what is for them the inevitable link, and urged me to try regression to fill in the missing time. Maybe I should, but I haven’t had much success with this technique. And in any case, I just don’t think this explanation fits the bill, for some reason.

The apparent time slip reminded me of when I was 19 (alright, 1971). My girlfriend, Jenny, and I were on the London Underground – the Metropolitan Line, travelling back home from Euston Square to Ladbroke Grove. We were chatting away as we got on to the train and sat down. At some point, perhaps the train stopping at Great Portland Street, we looked up and around ourselves. The carriage was a bit different from usual; the brushed steel and white paint decor, with looped hanging straps, was absent. Instead, there were enamel-painted rails and grubby cream paintwork, hanging straps that ended in little balls. There were still some old rolling stock on the Tube at that time; but what struck us as most odd on that Saturday evening was that the carriage was empty apart from ourselves and an older couple at the far end of the carriage, and they were staring hard at us. We certainly looked different from them; as good self-respecting hippies, we had colourful flares and tops on, and my hair was well on its way to my waist. They, on the other hand, with his narrow clipped moustache, hat and brown suit and her overcoat and perm, were dressed more in keeping with the decor of the carriage – late 1940s or 50s! Jenny and I joked about being in a timeslip, not taking it that seriously, but still we felt uncomfortable, like interlopers, and when the train pulled into Baker Street, we got up and moved into the next carriage. For some reason we hadn’t looked at the adverts above the windows; perhaps we didn’t want to, or perhaps we just didn’t take it all seriously enough. Anyway, the train filled up at Baker Street, and when we looked back into our previous car from the adjacent one, it was full of people, and we couldn’t see the ‘old-timers’ at the far end. Indeed, the carriage now looked perfectly normal. And I got on with life without thinking much more about it – until my day at Bradford.

But there was something in between those events which could be mentioned here. Seven of us in the Calderdale Old Straight Tracking Company (as we called ourselves in the late ‘70s) took a weekend trip to Glastonbury. Among the places we visited was Cadbury Castle, on a day every bit as windy and wild as the rest of the weekend. Oddly, as soon as we passed through the ramparts, each one of us wandered off on their own and spent the next couple of hours playing out some personal, often unexpected activity – like Grocer Paul patrolling the ramparts with a stave.

For my part, I stood at the scarp end of the enclosure, facing into the wind, and tried to sink back into the time of its use. For over an hour I stood there, rooted, aware of my surroundings but unable to move even if I wanted to. I had a lesser awareness of something happening in my head, a sensation that I had somehow tuned in to an earlier time, though I wasn’t getting anything clear. While locked there, I was aware that one of my friends, Malcolm the Eternal Bishop, came and sat down cross-legged to meditate about five yards behind and facing me. He was still there when I ‘came to’, and when I turned to face him he nearly jumped out of his posture! ‘How long have you been there?’ he wanted to know; I told him for an hour or more and that I’d been aware of his arrival – but he swore he hadn’t seen me! *

Another friend, Land Rover Dave, was sitting in a thorn tree on the far side of the camp, from where my position wasn’t visible; without knowing of my experience, he told me when we met that he’d heard from that side of the hill where I’d been standing the sound of curious activity – like carts being pulled along, shouts and children’s voices. No one else, though, had heard anything.

I tend to assume other people, or at least those interested in earth mysteries, have these experiences too. What do they make of them, I wonder? I get no conclusions. The abduction scenario I find glib and flawed. What else is there? There seems to be an element of time slippage, some glissando that dismisses chronological progression for no apparent reason. Such experiences come, and then go, and we are little the wiser. I have a personal mental category for them – meaningless meaningful experiences – but other than giving them a folder to lurk in, that’s just making a ‘lytle geste’ like we did on the Tube nearly thirty years ago.

* Another strange experience I had, at Montacute but possibly involving Cadbury, was included in Alan Richardson’s ‘Spirits of the Stones’ (Virgin, 2001), pp 55-6.

Published in NE88, Winter 2001, p23-24