The Very Wobbly Boundary of Time (1 of 2)


There are three worlds we can inhabit as we journey through our lives – the Past, the Present and the Future. Of course, H G Wells, Doctor Who and Michael J. Fox notwithstanding, we can only actually live in the Present. But our minds are eminently capable of extensive time travel into the Past and the Future. Both deliberately and unconsciously.

We attempt to walk along the wobbly line of the Present, just as we would navigate along a narrow meandering beach. On one side we have the solid earth of the Past, on the other the fathomless, formless oceans of the Future. As we walk along the shifting sands, on a sunny day, we might paddle in the refreshing, frothy waves of the Future – making plans, looking forward to tomorrow or the weekend. We may even swim in the shallow waters of some later occasion to come – a wedding, a holiday, a new project. But we are careful not to go too far out lest we get out of our depth and we are swept away by our fears and anxieties or by our excitement. We may lose touch with Present reality and struggle to stay afloat.

Up on the promenade (or boardwalk, if you prefer) we might more safely pause and look out to the sea of the Future and gaze at the enormity and scale of it. But however good our telescope is, we can rarely pick out anything more certain than the occasional small boat or seagull. No matter how well designed our plans are, every day brings the unexpected. Circumstances regularly ambush us. And the distant future on the horizon is so vast and unclear, we cannot stare at it for long without getting dizzy.

So, we might turn and look inland, towards the more solid earth of our Past – the hinterland we have created, cultivated, built houses on, decorated and inhabited. We wander its streets and monuments, visit its houses and bump into people we used to know. Often in our dreams. Here, there is so much more to see than out to sea – precious memories, achievements, good times, friends and blessings. But in the darker alleys and desolate areas of the town, we may chance upon some more disturbing memories – regrets, bitterness, hurt, pain, loss and bereavement. The Past is a ghost town which can haunt us, as much as console us.

Of course, the Past does not really exist. It has, by definition, gone forever. It bequeaths its legacy, its memory, its diaries and its plethora of mega-pixel photographs for the Present and Future to feed upon. The Future doesn’t even bother to do that for us. Not yet at least. So all we have – in reality – is the Present.

But even the so-called Present is excruciatingly inaccessible and ephemeral. No sooner have we picked it up, than the grains of its sand slip tantalisingly through our fingers. The Present recreates itself constantly and dies and disappears into the Past instantly. An endless procession of minutes and seconds leaping off the cliffs of time, like manic lemmings one after another. Relentlessly.

In fact – if you think about it – the Present is an infinitely short, and impossibly thin line of just about Nothing. The Present doesn’t exist either. It is but a marker between the non-existent Past and the non-existent Future. The Past, the Present and the Future. Three Imposters. Three Charlatans.

Individually they make no sense. Yet together, they seem to operate reasonably successfully. What we call the Present is really an area around the Present incorporating the immediate Past and the immediate Future. We could call it Boundary Park.

Which, incidentally, is where I was last Sunday, walking that hazy boundary between the Past and Present.

Boundary Park. Best known as the home of Oldham Athletic Football Club. So named as it transverses the boundary between Oldham and Chadderton. I was there with my son and future-daughter-in-law (a Future we are all very much looking forwards to). We had a long standing appointment to watch Oldham play Bradford City. A Future which was about to become a Present and is now a Past. As is the way of things.

Unfortunately, in preparation for this fixture, the club had not looked really looked out to sea. Yes, it had accurately predicted a bumper crowd – this being as close to a local derby as a war-of-the-roses can muster. But, it had managed to act upon its own prediction. The car park was full when we arrived, and the queue for tickets far too long. So, missed the kick off – which was bad enough. But to run out of ALL pies (meat & potato, cheese & onion and cottage) by half-time, was simply unforgivable. A packet of wine gums was a poor substitute. We wanted good old-fashioned grease, gristle and gravy. The club needs to spend a little more time arranging the Future in the Future.

As well as its cloudy memories, the Past rather lazily bequeaths some physical legacies – like a child leaving home not quite emptying its bedroom. The Past leaves a random selection of streets, houses and monuments around for the Present and Future to work around. Those which survive the ravages of time and enthusiastic town planners remain standing, when their occupants are long gone. This allows us to return to explore these shells and colour-in the missing gaps and inhabitants with our memory and imagination.

Many of my personal monumental streets and buildings are located in this small postcode of Boundary Park. I was born in Boundary Park Hospital, and survived the first two decades of my life at 109 Boundary Park Road. My parents worked in Boundary Park Hospital. My father died there – exactly 15 years and one day previous to this visit.

So the occasion served up – at least for me – some good old-fashioned memories. With nostalgic gravy on. And it was all too easy to blur the boundary between the reality of the Present and the seductive sirens of the Past . . . .

(to be continued)

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