How to have fun without taking your clothes off

Time is an illusion, but you can never tell what's going to do the trick. You don't believe me? Ask any theoretical physicist, or, better still, an actual physicist, if you can find one. "Time?" he will tell you; "It's just an illusion." But he won't tell you about the trick, because he doesn't know what it is. If he did, he wouldn't be futzing around being a physicist; he'd open a business, and get rich: Time Rolled Back While You Wait! Easy Terms For Pensioners and The Unwaged!

Normally I hate all that stuff, 50 per cent off if you produce your benefits book and so forth. They loll around all day like medieval potentates, occasionally helping themselves to a delicious baked bean from the brimming bowl at their elbow, and then when they do decide to go out, they get in cheap, while the rest of us work our arses off and then have to pay through the nose for the privilege.

But, in the case of Time Rolling Back, it's fair enough. Pensioners and The Unwaged need it more than most. Stuck in a nugatory present - more like an absent, really - with bugger all to look forward to, they strain and strain, trying to recapture their past with its illusion of hope and potential. I know. I've been there. Not the past; everyone's been there, common as muck, worse than Ibiza; no, I mean that state of mind where the past is not just a collection of memories, but a sanctuary, and you strive to get back there, and you can't.

I bet you have, too. Don't lie. Your family, friends and colleagues may see you as a positive, proactive, coping sort of person, someone with a Healthy Outlook on Life and probably regular bowels to boot, but don't tell me you've never waited until the house was empty before creeping guiltily into the bedroom, like a man walking up the brothel stairs, your ear more finely tuned than any adulterer's for the sound of the key in the lock.

Then you climb into bed, fully dressed of course. It wouldn't work, otherwise. You might just go to sleep, which isn't what you're after at all. Instead, you pull the covers over you, dispose yourself like an effigy on a medieval tomb, and begin the process of Rolling Time Back. You choose a memory, focus on it, let the rest of the mind go blank, and wait.

This time of year, from September to Christmas, is particularly rich in memorial stimuli. First terms at a new school, your new blazer neatly pressed, a brand-new fountain pen and a brand-new pencil case in your brand-new satchel, anticipating the brand-new exercise books, covers still shiny with the maker's glaze; new friends, new teachers, new resolutions, new leaves to turn over.

And if they don't work, there are others. Move on. Autumn evenings heavy with mist and leaf-mould, old farts coughing on the bus, tyres shushing on wet streets, the lights on in the shop windows and the girl you were hop-ing to see is snogging someone else in Halford's doorway ... but there are still the tobacco- nists with their stern, intellectual pipes, their voluptuary cigar displays, the shelves of cigarettes, exotic and mysterious as the bordello of your dreams (which you haven't started dreaming about yet).

There are still the clothes shops, too, with their Ben Sherman shirts, their peg-bottom, dogtooth, tweed-style trousers, their leather jackets, their aviator scarves. If you had that black polo-neck jersey and this dark green leather jacket (smart but casual blazer-cut) and were smoking Passing Clouds, she wouldn't be in Halford's doorway snogging someone else; she would be with you, holding your hand or, better still, walking along with her arm round your waist, leaning against you, with that special smell of girls in the autumn, wool and leaves and shampoo and woodsmoke, and the special weight of girls in autumn, too, when they lean against you as you walk along. In those long-ago autumns (as you lie fully dressed in your grown-up bed) it's still only-just-now that a girl has leant against you as you walk along, and you're still astonished at her warmth and that she's real; she should be weightless, like a dream and the gentle leaning weight of her flesh and bone seems magically heavy, like mercury. And your arms and your body and your head grow heavy too, in reply, gravid with potential.

It's not an illusion. The illusion, under the covers in your daytime clothes, is that you're back there, in the past. But the hope and potential were real. And you don't always have to sneak off to bed for time to roll back, either. I had a call the other day from a woman I haven't seen since we wear at school. Barbara Peak. She was publishing something called the Dodo-Pad. Would I like to come to its launch?

So I said, yes, you bet, and I rolled along to a place called Bureau in Great Newport Street, a stationery-junkie's paradise full of wonderful files and folders and writing paper and those perfect Proximage et Prat notebooks, and there was a life-sized dodo with a life-sized redhead inside, very hot but working valiantly, and there was Barbara Peak and there was the Dodo-Pad, and time rolled back because I used to get Dodo-Pads in my Christmas stocking. I loved them. They were quirky, culty diary-cum- scribbling-pads which came pre-defaced with odd cartoons, peculiar observations on life, weird maxims and general graffiti, so that you could be organised but didn't have to feel organised in that frightful, time-management, tight-arsed, purse-lipped executive fashion. The chap who invented them, a writer and artist called Sir John Verney, croaked. HarperCollins ("The Firm With The Silly Name") sold the title off. And now they're back, and with them come Mrs Vartan's dancing-classes, the steam-haunted bridge over the Victoria Station platforms, trolley buses, the Kardomah cafe, the skating rink, frost-bitten mornings as a Christmas-holiday postman. And the girls. Hope and potential, the past folding back like a concertina door, all for pounds 8.95. A bargain; and you don't even have to go to bed with your clothes on. !

Comments