There’s No Time Like the Past

The Time Travel Handbook
James Wyllie, Johnny 'Lord' Acton, David Goldblatt
Profile Books
Nov 2015, RRP $29.99

time_travel_handbookThe conceit of The Time Travel Handbook 18 journeys from the eruption of Vesuvius to the Woodstock Festival is brilliant in its simplicity—it is a guide for time travellers, telling them what to expect on their trip to one of 18 historical destinations offered by the travel company.

The trips vary widely, from the peasants’ revolt of 1381 to the Rumble in the Jungle of 1974; from birth of the French Revolution to the loving mayhem of Woodstock. The Handbook gives a minutely researched account of what happened, who you might meet, what you might see, hear and eat, bringing it alive to help you make the best of your trip back in time.

My favourite trip was to Harlem in 1942 to witness the birth of Bebop. NYC was happening, swinging and jumping, and all to a syncopated jazz beat. The legendary Frankie Manning was Lindy Hopping in the Cat’s Corner and was still dancing and teaching up until his death in 2009. Thanks to the magic of You Tube he can be seen in action—then and now.

History buffs will love this Handbook, as well as those who are not all that bothered about it. It is the ideal gift for people who are only interested in what is relevant today, not in what happened long ago to dead people—it might change their minds. The past is where we came from, after all—it shaped how we think, our values and our interests. But for a few decisive moments in history, our present might be very different. What if the peasant’s revolt was a success? What if Captain Cook hadn’t bumped into terra nullius? What if Foreman KO’d Ali in Kinshasa? What if Thelonious Monk missed his train and never got to Harlem?

I tend to think of the past as being more interesting than the present. It had a stronger smell for a start. People tended to dress with more pizzazz—they certainly wore bigger hats. They spoke oddly, (verily they did, forsooth), the food was challenging but music was better, whether on a lute or a Stratocaster. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want to live in the past. I like dental care and in-flight movies, but it is nice to look back from the comfort of my armchair. The land of Kublai Khan and the Festival in Calais in 1520 when Henry VIII and Francis I pledged peace seem like fairy tales from a distant planet. But they weren’t, they were our distant ancestors having a good time. Not all that different from our more immediate forebears, the hippies at Woodstock and the Hepcats in Harlem—everyone dancing while the music played.

About Tim Hehir

Tim Hehir writes novels, short stories and plays. His YA novel Julius and the Watchmaker is published by Text Publishing.
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