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July 15, 2012

I have said that I lack the imagination to better my position. Again, it is not lack of interest or dedication, but maybe the splitting of attention: there is too much to think about, so much to focus on that the beam of attention becomes diffused, a watery light illuminating so little you might as well wander through the marshes at midnight with a guttering candle. Someone – Dickens maybe? – was said to have died of ‘congestion’ of the brain. I know how he felt.

The problem with thinking too hard about a problem is that the very intensity of your thinking can cloud your vision. You become too close to the matter to be able to see it clearly. I am good at knowing when thinking is no longer profitable and thus when I should give my mind a rest with some soothing spider solitaire.

And here is my amazing plan of action. Before going to bed I tell – I COMMAND – my unconscious mind to think about matters while I am elsewhere. Just think about stuff, I say, and wake me when you’ve come to a conclusion.  Any problem. Just ask and await the answer. What job to look for? How do I overcome this impasse in my dissertation? How can I expand my social circle without any real effort? And you’d be surprised how often an answer is forthcoming – at least you would if you weren’t particularly in touch with reality.

But sometimes my lazy mind conjures something in that interregnum twixt night and day. Just recently – I could have been nodding off on an especially tiring Saturday afternoon – happened I thought of a


Here we are, we’re looking at a tent, a big tent. Think a cut-price Gadaffi. Now this tent travels through time. (These days the physics behind time travel is so rehearsed as to be painfully banal, as we, armchair savants that we are, tediously wait for technology to catch us up). It is piloted by an enigmatic robot, possibly in evening dress, who never speaks. And the crew:

  • Raoul – dressed, when first we meet, in a Travolta-style vision of the 70s – white suit, big lapels, bright red flappy shirt and an ever-present Martini glass. (For the hair think Keith Lemon. And for the clothes. And everything else). Raoul is a former history student who, given access to the means to travel within the space-time continuum, seeks to alter the past at every opportunity. His professed aim is to ‘fuck shit up’. Hardly a difficult task, we connoisseurs of the relevant literature might say: the slightest change to the past and all that. But no, he discovers to his great chagrin. The thing about history is that it is over. It can’t be changed. Things have happened a particular way, we know for a fact, and their very happenedness means they can never be otherwise. We see a bitter Raoul attending a lecture of one of his former teachers who remarks that, all things considered, history is even more like itself than ever before.
  • Jork (come on, you think of a better name – think Blake’s Seven, Star Wars, and any et ceteras you care to mention). Jork’s contribution is more mature. He feels himself to be a representative of the future, and to carry this momentous responsibility at all times. Thus he has  a duty to represent the future in a good light. To do this he wears a silver suit (obviously with no lapels), carries a not very scary or convincing-looking weapon and drapes his head with a haircut that looked somehow okay in the 1980s. Jork is aware of the burden he carries in his dealings with the mass of history.

But what are two such characters doing in possession of a time machine? To put it shortly, they stole it. Let’s assume the louche Raoul was behind the theft, and that Jork – a known stickler for convention and the forces of order – was somehow roped in, in such a way that  he had to comply. (There you go, comic muse – think about that. While I sleep, obviously). Maybe Raoul was running from something – poor exam results, perhaps. But why don’t the government of the time (whenever this is set) do something about it? Well now, the government of Britain (or whatever futuristic or pseudo-ancient name I might choose to employ – Albion, Logris, Brittanica, North-West Sector 7) resents the theft but is powerless to act. The Timetent is a secret, you see. Thus it must be kept a secret, and it is thought the safest thing to do with such low-level criminal types is to allow them free rein, knowing (as we all now know) that this way they can do no harm whatsoever.

When first we see them they are accommodating a woman (Daphne, or Daf) who, on the run from some situation, chooses the tent as a hiding place. She pulls a gun on the amiable Raoul who asks her why she is so panicky. She has stolen something, she says, from an ex-lover. What has she stolen, he asks. A gun, she replies.

They take her with them, of course, enacting the travelling mechanism of the tent as her pursuers approach. (Just imagine the comical looks on their faces as the tent disappears!) But where to?

Dallas, 22nd November 1963, she says. Or the day of the battle of Waterloo. Or, no, 1066, Hastings, etc.

Raoul fiddles with the guidance system, and they step outside the tent into –

A field, apparently somewhere in the Midlands, early in 1407.

‘And this is interesting because?’ Daf asks.

‘Just watch this’, Raoul says, as he entices a man of the past, a knight,  into the tent.

‘Now,’ says Raoul, ‘this here is a photocopier.’ The machine makes that humming noise that the present day is all too familiar with and light spills out the side.

‘By the Gods,’ the knight says. ‘Truly this device makes swift and accurate copies of any of our manuscripts. What enchantment is this?’

‘Shut up,’ says Raoul, ‘you idiot.’

And so the sitcom continues. Each week the crew visit an episode from history – chosen each time for its deliberate banality – and encounter laughs through the anachronistic meeting of ideas. Possible destinations include the signing of the Buganda agreement of 1900, boundary disputes in Norman England, a five-legged cow in Paraguay of 1727,  the day in 1872 when literally nothing happened and the case of the missing footspa in Toronto in 1962.

And, to recap, this is one of the best of the ideas which come in the no-man’s land where consciousness and sleep do battle.

Daf’s character needs some work. There are precious few meaningful roles for women in the sitcom world, and it would be nice to redress the balance, however slightly.

So, anyway, that answers the ambition question. If my unconscious would settle on a career path, that would also be welcome!


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