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Random Dictionary of the Damned
Time Slips

People who suddenly find themselves in the past, or the future

Time slips

Liverpool's Bold Street past and present.
Left: Liverpool Record Office, Liverpool Libraries. Right: Irate


At about 7pm on the evening of 22 December 2004, Mark and his girlfriend Julia (last names unknown) set out to explore the back roads of the Catskill Mountains, near Margaretville, New York, in his F150 pickup. As he tells the story: “Me being me, I picked roads at random as we were driving, assuming that I could find my way back (I always can in PA), but after about 30 minutes, I was seriously lost. Then, it started snowing. A lot. … I started to panic just a bit. I drove around almost blind (the snow was falling rapidly) for another hour. Then Julia looked down at the gas gauge and started to really freak out. We were almost on empty.

“A pretty bad situation, blizzard in the mountains when I’m lost and we’re running out of gas. This is how people die (or so I had heard).”

The couple finally – about an hour after they’d set out – saw some lights on the road ahead, and realised it was a gas station; the adjoining shop was signed ‘General Store’. Immensely relieved, Mark pulled up to the pumps. But the pumps looked ancient, like something out of the 1940s, and Mark’s heart sank at the thought that they were just for show. But a man walked up to them and said: “Fancy truck there boy, need a fill up?” While the man pumped gas, Mark asked him for directions back to Margaretville, which he gave “readily”.

Julia, meanwhile, had gone into the store to look around; Mark, now following her in, noticed three cars parked outside, “all looking brand new, but from the 1940s (roughly)”. Inside, he saw Julia talking to a woman behind the counter. There were “post office boxes up on the wall, big cut glass candy jars, etc. I waved hello and took a look around the place.

“There was no modern food… most stores, gas station or other, have doritos etc. Not this place. They had Coke and Hershey bars, but the Coke was in glass bottles and the Hershey bars were in an odd wrapper. This was true for just about everything in the store.”

There was another surprise when they went out to pay for the fuel. “Now, normally when I pay for gas in that truck, it’s around 50 dollars. The man said my total was 2.85 dollars. I looked at him thinking I had misunderstood or he was joking. Then I asked how much gas was per gallon. ‘10 cents per. I know it’s a little high, but it’s the War’s fault.’ I handed him the money in silence, got into the car, rolled down the window to thank him and drove off using the direct­ions he gave me.”

It all seemed quite straightforward at the time – as Mark said, “I knew who I was and everything, but nothing seemed out of place. It was only once the lights had faded and we were back on the main road that it clicked how strange everything was.” The couple did, eventually, make it home to Julia’s parents’ house through the weather and the dark, but here was another odd thing. According to the clock in Mark’s pickup, they had been gone four hours, getting back at around 11pm. But the house clock said it was only 9pm when they got back.

And that wasn’t all. By his own admission, Mark is “fairly compulsive about filling gas tanks up once a destination is reached”, and on arriving in Margaretville from Pennsylvania, he duly filled up. A full tank (about 19 gallons), he reckoned, would take his F-150 300 miles, say 250 when driving in the mountains. He and Julia had set out that evening with a full tank of gas. But by the time they came across the 1940s gas station and General Store, they were running on empty. As Mark said, “There’s no way in hell I drove 250 miles in an hour… on back mountain roads.”[1]

Mark and Julia went looking for the store two days later, asking everyone they could about it, but – as tends to happen after such experiences – couldn’t find it again. That aside isn’t intended as a knowing chuckle behind the hand – smartypants like us can spot a legend, eh, before it even comes round the corner, wink wink – more as a small chalk mark, perhaps even a tick, to register that there is a broad pattern to such experiences. Rare in the annals of anomalous phenomena, they’ve been termed ‘timeslips’; although some reports so labelled seem to sit more comfortably among tales of ghosts and hauntings.

Mark’s account is notable among this already uncommon genre of (psychic? supernatural? physical?) anomalies for two things: first, not just he but his girlfriend Julia entered this ‘other’ realm; and second, they both interacted with its inhabitants.

Another account, fast becoming a classic, tells of ‘Frank’, a Merseyside policeman, who in July 1996 was shopping with his wife Carol in Liverpool. At Central Station, he set off for a record store in Ranelagh Street to look for a CD, while Carol made for Dillons bookshop in Bold Street to buy a copy of Trainspotting, by Irvine Welsh. They agreed to meet up again in the bookshop. About 20 minutes later, Frank was walking up an incline that leads to Bold Street when he noticed he had entered “an oasis of quietness”. A small van “that looked like something out the 1950s”, with Caplan’s inscribed on its side, whizzed beeping across his path, barely missing him. Frank thought that strange, because that end of Bold Street had long since been a pedestrian-only area.

Frank crossed the road: where Dillons bookshop should have been now stood a store with the name ‘Cripps’ over its two entrances. Its windows displayed womens’ handbags and shoes, but no books. At this point, the policeman noticed that the people passing up and down the street had on clothes that would have been fashionable 40 or 50 years previously. With one exception: Frank spotted a girl in her 20s dressed in hipsters and a lime-coloured sleeveless top, and carrying a Miss Selfridges bag. Feeling some relief, he smiled at the girl as she walked past him and into Cripps. He followed her in… and the interior of the building changed “in a flash” to the familiar layout of Dillons Bookshop.

The girl immediately turned to leave. He took her lightly by the arm and asked: “Did you see that then?” She answered: “Yeah. I thought it was a new clothes shop that had opened. I was going in to look around, but it’s a bookshop.” The girl laughed and walked out, shaking her head in disbelief. When Frank told his wife Carol what had happened to him, she said nothing strange had happened inside the bookstore. Frank was adamant that he had not hallucinated the episode.[2]

One can’t say often enough that it’s in the vexatious nature of hallucinations that they precisely mimic real experience: you can’t tell you’re having one until it’s over, and sometimes not even then. Cripps was, however, an upmarket ladies’ outfitters at 12–16 Bold Street, and the site is now a Waterstone’s bookshop (which took over Dillons in 1998). The name Caplan crops up time and again among the good and great of the city. One of them, Louis Caplan, had a wholesale business (not that you’d guess that from his name or anything) on Soho Street, became Lord Mayor in the mid 1960s, and held a civic reception for the Beatles.

There are other tales[3] about alleged timeslips centred on Liverpool’s Bold Street, but most smack of hauntings – not that we pretend to know what they are – or something more mundane, rather than the distinctive kind of interactive experience like the ones in Mark’s and Frank’s accounts. Both of which, we note, caught others up in whatever weirdness was going on: girlfriend Julia, in Mark’s case, and the mystery girl in the lime-green top in Frank’s. It would be helpful, would it not, if someone had managed to track down these participants in the events, and heard their side of the story? A perennial lapse in fortean studies.

One of the virtues of timeslips that feature apparent visits to the past is that the past in question can, up to a point, be verified. Even then (such is the nature of the data) we don’t know much about Frank other than that he was a policeman – a legendarily reliable witness. But was he a keen local historian? Did he have a history of odd, possibly hallucinatory, experiences? We don’t cast aspersions on the man, here: it’s more like taking your finger­prints after your car’s been stolen, to eliminate you from the enquiry.

There are a few reports of people slipping into scenes from the future. These can be verified only once that future has come to pass. A couple of cases we know of would seem to fit those requirements. One’s a classic of the literature.

In 1935, Wing Commander (later Air Marshal Sir) Victor Godd­ard was flying a Hawker Hart biplane from Andover to Edinburgh and on the way took a look at an old military airfield at Drem, East Lothian, in the hope of landing there, as it was near his final destination. No good. The runway was in ruins, and cows were grazing everywhere. On his flight back to Andover, Goddard ran into some vicious weather and went into a spin. How to deal with stalls and spins is one of the first things one’s taught when learning to fly, so quite why Goddard got stuck in a spin that took him from 8,000ft (2,500m) to less than 100ft (30m) in altitude is itself something of a mystery. According to one account, he levelled out when he was about 20ft (6m) above the ground, somewhere near the Firth of Forth. He then “identified the road to Edinburgh and soon was able to discern, through the gloom, the black silhouettes of the Drem Airfield hangars ahead of him, the same airfield he had visited the day before. The rain became a deluge, the sky grew even darker, and Goddard’s plane was shaken violently by the turb­ulent weather as it sped toward the Drem hangars…”[4]

And then suddenly the weather cleared. In the bright sunlight, he saw Drem strangely restored: hangars and tarmac seemed brand new. Three Avro 504N trainer biplanes, along with a monoplane he didn’t recognise, were parked at the end of the runway. All were painted bright yellow and all were marked with RAF roundels. Ground crew in blue uniforms were going about their business. No one seemed to notice him as he sailed past with just enough height to clear the hangars. Goddard then managed to gain altitude, flying back into the storm, and eventually landing safely at Andover.

Apart from the curious overnight renovation of the airstrip at Drem, Goddard was struck by the blue uniforms, the bright yellow of the aircraft, and the monoplane he had seen there. In 1935, RAF ground crew wore khaki, none of its planes was painted yellow, and there were only biplanes in service. It was not till 1937 that the Miles Magister monoplane started rolling off the production lines as a trainer for the new Hurricane (first delivered to the RAF in December 1937) and Spitfire fighters. By the beginning of World War II, RAF groundcrew were turning out in blue overalls, and trainer aircraft were painted yellow. Apparently, for a few seconds, Goddard had flown into the future while out of control of his aircraft in 1935. Goddard revealed nothing of this publicly until 1951, when he wrote up the experience for an article in the Saturday Evening Post. He retold the story in Flight Towards Reality (Turnstone 1975).

Goddard’s account seems, at first glance, invincible. Not so. A thorough, witty and well-informed blogger calling himself The BS Historian (we wish we knew his real identity) suggests that Godd­ard got lost in the storm and, simply, flew over another airfield, not Drem:

Air navigation in the 1930s was still achieved by dead reckoning; map and compass, and required that landmarks were a) visible, and b) correctly identified. Otherwise one could very quickly end up way off course. If Goddard wasn’t over Drem, where was he? The most likely candidate for me is Renfrew Aerodrome, then home to the Scottish Flying Club. Not only did the club make use of Avro 504s, but other civil aircraft were regular visitors. Many of these would have been brightly coloured, and monoplanes were in common use. In fact an antecedent of the Magister Goddard thought he saw was photographed at Renfrew that very year. From the air they would have been indistinguishable. And as maintenance staff were civilians, the objection to prematurely blue RAF overalls would no longer apply. Although Renfrew is on the wrong side of the country (70 miles [115km] away from Drem), such a deviation in course is far from impossible in a 400-mile [645km] cross-country journey like Goddard’s.[5]

Especially, we might add, in the conditions Goddard describes.

No one seemed to notice Goddard zooming so low over ‘his’ airfield, whichever one it was, but timeslippers don’t always appear in past or future scenes merely as spectators, as we’ve seen (policeman ‘Frank’ was nearly run over in his, after all). Joan Forman, a pioneer collector of timeslip accounts, heard the following curious tale of mutual astonishment.

In the early 1980s, a British family was travelling on a West German autobahn. The road wasn’t busy, so naturally they noticed a lone vehicle approaching very fast on the other side of the motorway. It looked like no car they had ever seen – in fact it looked more like a UFO. No wheels were visible, and the vehicle seemed to be cylindrical in shape, with four round windows. Out of them, as this futuristic ‘car’ sped by, they saw four “very frightened faces” staring at them. If the British family saw phantoms from the future, the phantoms were equally amazed to be seeing an automobile from the distant past. Something like seeing a headless horseman on the A354 near Salisbury, perhaps.

But think about this again, and ask what questions haven’t been asked. Stretch limos were certainly around in the early 1980s. What was the weather like? Given enough water on the road, and suffic­ient speed, a vehicle can kick enough spray to hide the wheels and change its apparent shape. Perhaps the oncoming British car looked just as strange, or maybe the passengers in the futuristic vehicle just hadn’t seen a quaint foreign car in a long time. Perhaps.

One occasionally sees speculative explanations for timeslips that appeal to quantum mechanics, string theory, and so on. The problem here is one of scale. These theories apply to exceedingly tiny particles, not to lumpen items such as cars and planes. As far as we can work out, even a fairly small thing, such as a frog or a false moustache, would need so much energy (fuelled from where?) to hop from one time-scheme (or parallel universe) to another that both ‘universes’ would either collapse or explode. Still, we have to remember that those who said trains travelling at more than 30mph would suffocate the passengers were wrong, so perhaps we should beware of making premature judgements.

Then again, consider this. To move through time – say from where you are now, reading this magazine, to where you were (poss­ibly in the very same chair in the same room with the same cat on your lap) when you read the last issue – calls for you to move not just through time, but through space as well, to the position in space where you, the cat and the Earth were on that day. Which complicates things, and their mechanics, somewhat. A thought that has some bones to be picked out of it.

1 For Mark (Wookie McFly)’s account and a discussion of this experience, see unexplained-mysteries.com.
2 See 'Timeslips', by Tom Slemen, and 'aka's World of the Paranormal'.
3 See for example Para.Science.
4 Herb Kugel: “The Air Marshal and the Unexplained”, Fate, Vol 53 No 7 (July 2000), also reproduced online at llewellyn.com.
5 The BS Historian.


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