Diary

Timesick

09 August 2014 | Diary

Is is possible to be timesick, in a similar way to being homesick?

When I awoke this morning it was still dark. This is strange, I thought. I normally wake around 10 or 11 and only then because the needle on my internal caffeine-o-meter has dipped into the red.

I looked at the glowing red digits of the alarm clock and saw that it was 4:35. Very strange indeed. I’d only gone to bed an hour and a half ago.

It did not take very long to find why I’d been woken in the middle of the Canadian night. “Mother”, the computer who looks after our ship the Nostromo had detected an alien presence on a nearby asteroid and thought it might be fun to defrost the crew so that we could go lumbering around in the alien’s egg sacks, getting yawn-raped by facehuggers.

Wait, not that.

No, I’d woken early because…

because…

I was going to be sick.

I dashed to the bathroom and evacuated a mysteriously undigested veggie burger I’d eaten (or at least chewed) seven hours ago.

Now obviously, this was the cause of my illness. Something had gone wrong and my supper had proved indigestible. But the strange thing was that the only image present in my mind at the time of the puking was a public transit turnstile covered in ancient dust.

Let me explain.

Earlier in the day, I’d stumbled upon a YouTube video in which a high school history student had been granted access to an abandoned monorail station at the Merry Hill Shopping Centre in Dudley where I grew up.

Some of my first tastes of freedom (being allowed, at the age of 10, to go out without parental accompaniment) took place in that shopping mall. Riding around on the monorail with friends was no small part of that. (I remember being on it once with Snot Rag and a boy called DT whose flat head and acne made him look as if he’d been set on fire and beaten out with a shovel).

At the time, the monorail–a neat electric train gliding soundlessly over the stinking, motor-centric Midlands–seemed like something from an impossibly exciting future. Specifically (and this may have been the reason it closed down) it was from a rather obsolete idea of the future, a healthy Jetsons future characterized by clean and elegant ways to travel between pleasure gardens and geodesic domes.

They closed the monorail system in 1996 and eventually dismantled it. I have a strong visual memory of sections of the track being lifted out by cranes.

For one reason or another, one of the four monorail stations was never dismantled and simply left attached to the mall as a curious and inaccessible little vestige. To this day, you can see it if you walk or drive by. I’ve always been curious about it, assuming it had been converted into a storage unit or a base for mall cops.

Anyway, the YouTube kid was granted access to the station and, joy of joys, it looks exactly as I remember it. The signage, the schedule, a schematic of the New York-inspired station names (Central Station, Time Square, Boulevard), the red digital “train arriving” displays, the eerily-still-functioning wall clock, and some monorail-inspired drawings done by children of a nearby primary school who will now all be adults.

After a while, this little tour of the monorail station began to give me the willies. A piece of my adolescence almost perfectly preserved, it seemed to split my brain quite jarringly into two separate eras. After a couple of minutes, I began to think it might still be possible to hop onto the monorail and go hang out in long-extinct Jolly Giant toy shop.

In a way, I’m overjoyed because almost everything from that period of my life is now all but completely changed, but there was something impossibly dizzying about knowing that this was still there. In theory, I could be there myself in a couple of days.

It was the image of the dust-covered turnstiles I couldn’t shake from my mind this morning as I puked up my veggie burgers in a Montreal toilet, 3000 miles and 18 years (or so I thought) away from that Monorail station.

And that, my friends, is timesickness. Obviously, my actual sickness was just because I’d eaten something which hadn’t agreed with my stomach, but it felt exacerbated by some kind of night terror about this unexpectedly survived remnant of my childhood. I’m perfectly happy with my adult life but this unexpected leak from the past reminded me too jarringly that what’s gone is gone. Except, you know, for the bits that aren’t.

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