My Time Machine

When I was still in primary school, aged about 10, I read the book ‘The Time Machine’, by H.G. Wells. The character in the book, which was actually written in 1895, showing remarkable prescience by Wells of many future ideas and concepts, uses his machine to travel forward in time. I was disappointed by this aspect of the story. I thought that it would be much better to travel back, and to experience things from the past, making history come to life. In my young mind, I imagined all the events that I could return to, and confirm the lurid tales of history. Custer’s Last Stand, The execution of Charles 1st, even the crucifixion of Jesus, were just some of the scenes I placed myself in.

As the years passed, I often played this mental game, and would ask others what they would do, given the chance to use such a time-travelling device. I was normally unsurprised by the results. Most young men wanted to see famous sporting events; The Four Minute Mile, Boxing Championships, or a famous cricket victory, were often cited. Others, more inclined to warlike notions, wanted to be on the beach on D-Day, see the parachute drop at Arnhem, or watch the English archers at Agincourt. As real life became more like science fiction, with space travel common, medical advances never believed possible, and supersonic jets flying the world, the idea of the game grew stale, and was placed on a metaphorical shelf, somewhere at the back of my mind.

Last month, I noticed that the original 1960 film of the book was showing on TV. I never liked the film much. I thought Rod Taylor was a strange choice for the starring role, and the whole production had a stagey, studio feel about it. I had no intention of watching it, but it did serve to rekindle the idea of the old game, removing it from the shelf, and projecting it back to the forefront of my thoughts. I also remembered one of the many ‘rules’ that applied. Only two goes in the machine. Otherwise, you could go anywhere, see anything, and as many times as you liked. Users of ‘my’ time machine could do no harm, and would also come to no harm. They would be able to communicate in the language or dialect of the day, and would not catch, or give, any disease. They could spend 24 hours in the chosen place, or return sooner, if necessary or desirable to do so. They would have something valuable that would serve as acceptable currency, and would dress appropriately to the period, before departure.

I had a long think about this childish game. What if I could do it now? Where would I choose to go, for my two excursions through time? It has taken me a long time to decide. I rejected many times and places as too obvious, and others as too unrewarding, or obscure. I finally settled on both time periods and locations, then decided that I would write this post about the whole idea. Perhaps you will consider it too, and let me know what you would choose to do with your two chances.

My first trip would be to Rome. In 80AD, The Colosseum ( or to give it its real name, The Flavian Amphitheatre) was opened, with inaugural games lasting almost 100 days. This amazing structure has held a lifetime fascination for me. I have been to see it, just once, in 2002, on a trip to Rome for my 50th birthday. It did not let me down. Despite age and decrepitude, the imposing presence of this building left me speechless with admiration. Once inside, it was easy to imagine the crowds, the spectacles, and the sheer scale of the whole thing, against the backdrop of the city at its peak. Of course, I do not condone the pointless slaughter of thousands of animals, and the fights to the death by gladiators, or the barbaric executions of criminals, all of which took place there. But these are the sensibilities of modern man, who shops at a supermarket, enjoys reasonably good health, and is generally sheltered from the struggle of survival. Life in the Roman Empire over 1,900 years ago, was a very different thing to what we understand today.

No other society has ever used this practice of ‘games’ to appease the masses, or to gain favour with the ruling classes. It was uniquely Roman, and was paid for by individuals, not the state. They would spend fortunes to stage these shows, often going into debt for years, or becoming bankrupt, to seek election, to reinforce their place in the hierarchy, or just to celebrate a military victory. Those attending got in for free, and most were given time off from work to attend as well. The games had a religious aspect, and reinforced historical legends, as well as advertising the strength and greatness of Rome, and its Gods, to the known world. They were an industry, supplying wild beasts from all over the Empire, mercenaries to fight in battles, slaves to provide all the necessary labour, and gladiators to fight for the admiration of the crowd. That crowd was knowledgeable, and partisan. They would follow types of gladiators, some preferring the Retiarius, with his net and trident, symbolising a fisherman. Others would support his sometime adversary, the Murmillo, who would be armed with a heavy sword and shield, his head protected by a large helmet, bearing a fish motif. If the men were not fighting well, the crowd would soon notice, and make their annoyance known. They also loved to see re-enactments of famous battles, or legendary encounters between man and beast, and good shows like this would make the person sponsoring the games very popular.

So, arriving in good time in my machine, I join the crowd heading to the Flavian Amphitheatre. It is hot, dusty, and incredibly smelly. However, once we arrive, and eventually take our seats, strictly allotted by social class and official standing, we are shaded by the huge canvas canopies, moved into place by sailors, and altered as the sun changes direction. There are cooling sprays of water, humidifying the air, and settling the dust of the arena, and they are perfumed with flowers and scents, to sweeten the air inside too. There will be speeches from the dignitary sponsoring the games, as well as a distribution of bread, and cheap wine, to further impress the crowd. Trumpeters announce each event, and musicians play in the intervals. Numerous hawkers move around the tiered rows of seats, selling sweets, cakes, and fresh water, an expensive indulgence. In the corridors surrounding the entrances, all manner of services are on offer, from dentistry to prostitution. Communal toilets are plentiful, and cleaned and serviced by slaves, who will bring you sponges to clean yourself, if need be.

The morning session of the games begins with the stampeding of beasts. Many are simply killed by archers or spear-men from the sides. All the animals are terrified, by the bright light of the sun in the arena, after hours of darkness below, and by the tremendous noise of the roaring crowd. They would never have seen such exotic animals outside of the arena. There were no zoos, no TV documentaries, and few indigenous animals of interest. Now, they could see zebras, buffalo, alligators, large cats, giraffes, and all manner of unusual birds, all together in one place; and all being killed, in a variety of ways. On next, the Bestiarii, specialist animal fighters. These men would take on the animals in single combat, or in larger groups against a lot of animals, and were often unpaid, simply trying to show their bravery. Some unarmed prisoners might also be sent out, with the intention that they would be killed by the animals, as a form of public execution. There would then be a break in the proceedings, allowing some of the audience to rest, others to have lunch, or just socialise with friends in the crowd, and to avoid the hottest part of the day.

When the games resumed later in the afternoon, the main event would attract a full house, which in the Flavian Amphitheatre,  could be up to 60,000 spectators. (Though some historians suggest even more, up to 85,000) They all wanted to see the gladiatorial combats. Not only did they have their favourite types, they also supported individuals, well-known men who had survived many contests, becoming celebrities in the process. There would be gambling on the outcome of the matches, fan clubs, swooning females, and chants of support; all still familiar today, at football matches, or pop concerts. The early show would begin with large numbers of lower-ranking gladiators, sometimes as many as 50 pairs fighting at once, moving around the arena, to afford a good view to all, at some stage in the proceedings. After this was over, the dead cleared away, and the sand refreshed, there would be a ‘comic’ interlude. This could involve any number of bizarre scenarios, that would have amused the Romans of the day. They might have a contest between gladiators who wore solid helmets, without any eye openings. These ‘blind’ combatants would lurch around, swinging wildly at their opponents, egged on by a jeering crowd, in their version of ‘look behind you’. Other untrained gladiators would be pushed out onto the sand, poorly armed, and tied together by ropes, often having to be branded with hot irons to make them fight to the death.

The end of this day of games is approaching, and smaller groups of gladiators appear on the sand. The crowd goes wild. These are the stars of the show. Their owners have been paid a small fortune for their appearance, and if they do well today, and survive the fighting, the men will be rewarded with good food, wine, and a willing woman. They may even get the chance to service a lady of quality, and receive gifts, to add to their savings. These men are very different from those who have gone before. Professional, incredibly fit, and brimming with confidence and bravado, they appear fearless, under their flamboyant armour and stylised headgear. Each pair fight for much longer, and with much greater skill than the earlier contestants. If they please the crowd, they might be spared if they lose the fight, though that would be rare. The watchers yell the names of their favourites, even arguing and fighting amongst themselves, when a much-admired man falls. They gasp at skillful moves, and moan when someone receives a serious injury; or rise to a tremendous cheer when a champion is once again victorious.

As the day draws to a close, people begin to leave early, to avoid the rush. The last few fighters complete their matches, men dying unnoticed by the departing throng. There will be many more days of games to come. More slaughter and executions, some larger battles, and other chances to see the celebrities in action. Time for them to get home, avoiding the robbers, pickpockets, and unsavoury characters of the night. Time for me to get back into my machine, and return to the present, having experienced something I have wondered about my whole life.

My second trip in the Time Machine is much more mundane, but no less satisfying. I would go back to Friday 7th June, 2013. In possession of the winning numbers from last night’s unclaimed Euromillions Lottery, I  would buy a ticket at my local shop, and wait to claim the 100,000,000 Euros on Saturday morning. That might even be enough to build a real Time Machine.

51 thoughts on “My Time Machine

  1. I would like to go back in time and visit with the Alamo defenders, and especially with Thomas Redd Miller and the “Old Gonzalez Eighteen.” Thomas R. Miller, a long-time personal friend of David Crockett, is in our Miller family tree. I’ve been to the Alamo twice. That’s the best I can do for now… My other trip would definitely be to the future. I would like to board something akin to the USS Enterprise and pay a visit to another world, especially one sustaining an alien civilization.

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  2. Great read Pete! For my 2 goes I would return to AD60/61 to the time where Suetonius massacred the tribes and find out what happened to Boudicca and her family at the end. It would be cool to discover her resting place on my return to the now. 🙂

    My 2nd would be 41BC and travel on Cleopatra’s golden barge to Tarsus, and watch all the shenanigans at the dinner in honour of Anthony.

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  3. I totally agree with the other commenters ~ A great read.. I thought if I was going to play along and tell my 2 wishes of where I wanted to go it would take a great deal of thought… But, since I never really knew my father who had been adopted by my grandparents.. I would go back to my father’s childhood ~ probably around 16 years old and see if I can spot what haunted him for his entire life. My second wish would be to go back to 1960 and see the truth to the battle between my parents ~ causing me to end up where I did.. Even though I wonder about these two things, I’m truly grateful to the stars that I wound up where I did in the company of my loving grandparents who raised me with so much love, respect, honor and above all empathy… Somethings we just will never have answers to… and in the end that’s alright too.. Thank you for causing this thought process today as it helps me to see that yesterday (July 26th) has come and gone and it’s not so bad… Dealing with auto shops for my 18yr old car…

    Take care, Laura

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    1. Happy to give you something else to think about on this day, Laura. Your two trips in the time machine would offer you solutions to your background, whereas mine were purely selfish. Well done you!
      I know what you mean about old cars. My own has parts worth more than the whole…
      Best wishes, Pete.;

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      1. I didn’t actually have to think long and hard as I could not rid myself of the notion that only the personal would do. For the first trip, I’d go back to the Edwardian era in order to meet my maternal forebears. For the second trip, I’d scoot back to the Regency era to meet Jane Austen and the family. Also personal as I’m related to Jane’s mother!

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        1. With a connection to the Austen family, that would be very interesting. You could amaze them with tales of fame in the future. As for meeting your own maternal relatives, perhaps they would be interested in the empowerment of women (to some degree) after the world wars. Once they got over the shock of meeting a descendant, of course.
          Thanks for contributing to my ‘game’ Sarah.
          Best wishes, Pete.

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          1. I think they would be very interested. The primary desire comes from wanting to know what my great-uncle and grandfather were like as the former was killed in 1918, the latter in 1940. Have a beautiful Sunday (without rain)!

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  4. I second another commenter’s view that this is one of your best blogs to date; enjoyable and thoroughly evocative. And of course, you just *had* to bring my favourite time period to life in all its bloody glory! 😀

    I would probably go with Rome too, but I honestly have no idea where/when exactly. A few ideas I often entertain: Battle of Actium in 31 BC — if Mark Antony would have won it would have changed the course of history, irrevocably; Roman conquest of Britain in AD 43 — I would experience Iron Age Britain, and also the first major wave of immigrants/societal change, although you actually only said 24hrs right? Ah damn, okay – 30 September 1888. Whitechapel, London. I would discover who Jack the Ripper was.

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  5. dulce bellum inexpertis

    But, what a great idea. When I was in the Flavian Ampitheatre and went into the underground areas I thought of all the petrified animals that must have trembled there (and the human slaves of course), the smells and the heat, wow!

    morituri te salutamus

    I’d like to be ‘on the road’ with Alexander the Great. Can you imagine the logistics of daily life with that lot? Thousands of people, animals and machines of transport. A peripatetic city!

    Another option would be to drop in on a Bacchanalian festival! Sod death and destruction, give me wine and sex. Also, I think there was a good amount of sexual equality, must research . .

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    1. Nice to see you back. – I had to look up the first Latin quote, but it is a doozy!
      I had considered going back to see Alexander, cutting the Gordian Knot. However, I have long thought this to be a metaphor, and I imagined travelling back, to hear Alexander say ” Knot? What knot?”. Cheers Ro. X

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  6. Pete…. Have you read a short story by Rad Bradbury “The Toynbee Convector”? I believe you would find it most rewarding.
    I personally, as an obsessive of all things cosmological, would love to see the moment as The Big Bang happened and my other choice would be the last sunset ever for the Earth.

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    1. Good choices, the beginning and end of life on Earth. Thanks for solving B’s question too. I have read some Bradbury, but not that one, I will look it up.
      Thanks for the thoughts and comments. Regards, Pete.

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    2. ‘The Toynbee Convector’ arrived today from the U.S., and I read the title story immediately. As usual from Ray Bradbury, the writing is first class, and it is easy to imagine the scenario. Only eleven pages long, I got the ‘twist’ by page six, so not bad. When it was first published, it must have been a revelation, fresh and exciting. Thanks for the recommendation, Pete.

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      1. Welcome Pete. I’m glad you liked and, in fact, seem to be a definite book lover. I know it’s not the best story in the world and it was probably around the same point I made the guess as to the ending, but I can clearly remember at around 16 reading it and thinking that there could be no better use of ‘time travel’ than that. Temporal paradoxes and anything involving space/time have been a passion since then.
        My young son gave me a lie-in until 8.30 this morning, which is unheard of, so now I think my time machine would be to go back to this morning and cherish a lie-in again! Maybe more cups of tea would be something I’d change. Alex.

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        1. Cheers Alex, I did enjoy it, but I think it was probably a better read at 16, with a more fertile mind perhaps? I remember reading both ‘The Illustrated Man’, and ‘Fahrenheit 451’ at that age, and being mightily impressed,

          That is why I always choose to go back into the past, as the prospect of seeing my future has never appealed, not since I read ‘A Christmas Carol’ as a youngster. Regards, Pete.

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  7. Right now I would go forward to the time when the house is finished 🙂
    At one time I ploughed my way through Simon Scarrow and Conn Iggulden, add the BBC series Rome and you may guess that I was with you nibbling on wolf nipple chips in the arena!

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    1. Cheers Eddy mate. That BBC series on Rome was pretty good. The various ‘Spartacus’ series on Sky ( I don’t have it, saw repeats on Pick TV) was also good but too much CGI, like the Ridley Scott film, ‘Gladiator’. I can recommend an old one, ‘Demetrius and the Gladiators’, but only for the arena scenes, as Victor Mature was never one of my favourite actors. Regards to you and Gosia, Pete.

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  8. Pete, great read, you have brought the Amphitheatre alive once again! I have no such imagination, didn’t as a child either, but I would love to go back to the Jurassic and learn about the real ecology of dinosaurs, because we know so little from the fossil record. Nerdy, I know but it’s the natural world that always interested me most. Thanks, T

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    1. Thanks Tracey, I am pleased that you enjoyed it. Dinosaurs would be very interesting too, and were often a choice for my school friends. Regards as always, Pete. x

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  9. Great post Pete – I’ve been reading from the twitter links lately but havent mastered signing in and commenting that way yet lol. I love the idea of a time machine, I used to play the game too but mine didnt have the ‘no harm/no harmed rule’ so I was always too worried about changing too much like in bedazzled where the guy wishes for stuff but it changes everything in the worst way possible, or the simpsons when homer time travels and steps on a lizard and kills a bunch of dinosaurs which sets off a chain reaction…I’d be a homer…I would ruin the world ha ha IF I couldnt do any damage… I still have no idea, history doesnt really interest me – family history maybe. I would like to see what my grandmother was like when she was my age – or my mum- and see what similarities we have, maybe I could go back to hubbys childhood and see whats going on… lol or even better …go to the FUTURE and see how we end up xB

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    1. Going back to see your family as youngsters would be interesting, and a worthwhile use of your trips. I am not so sure that it would be so good to use it to look into personal relationships. That should have been one of the rules perhaps? Thanks B. X

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  10. I would transport myself into a period of time where face book / twitter or any of the other noise nonsense does not exist….. Other than that…. Forward somewhere in the far distance….To boldly go where no one has gone before….Make it so.
    Back to the present, my cycle time machine is going to propel me towards the masses in central London and the detritus that they bring with them.
    All units standby to mop up some shit.

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  11. Pete: One of the best blogs you’ve written thus far. Very atmospheric, it readily conjures up the idea of “sitting in the stands”. Some horrendous acts of cruelty took place during the games: I remember reading about a bull made of steel in which a man (or woman) was placed inside. A fire would then be lit underneath the steel beast – what a horrible way to die. I thought you might have chosen to go back to the American Civil War. BPC

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    1. Thanks Brian, glad you liked it. The way the Romans devised ever more horrible and bizarre deaths never fails to amaze me. As for the American Civil War, it was on the list, but a tad too ‘modern’ for that one trip. Cheers mate, Pete.

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  12. I bet you liked watching Quantum Leap too 😉
    How about travelling to the future? Then you could find out the next BIG techno thing and on return invent it and make your millions. Just a thought…
    Jude xx

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    1. I preferred ‘Time Tunnel’ actually, but I know what you mean Jude. The idea of travelling into the future to see technology is tempting, but I would still take the lazy way, with the Lottery. (Or perhaps Apple shares?) Regards, Pete. x

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