The past is a foreign country, which makes me a foreigner, because I live there. The past is friendly, unsure, always doubting itself despite the evidence. It is a story already told.

A few years ago I made a time machine. It was an inflatable rubber suit that could transport me to any point in time. I feared the future and never went there, but I felt I would be safe if I visited the past. All the rumours you hear about the dangers of changing the past are untrue - there is no Ray Bradbury effect, the past cannot be changed. You can interact as much as you like with the past and it will never change the present. Or the future, when it comes.

Travelling in the suit was strange; looking through the visor I hardly felt I was in the past - it was more like watching a series of old home movies. I have grown fond of the suit, and rarely take it off nowdays. It is very pleasant having a barrier between myself and the outside world.

an artist's impression of the past

My first visit back to the past saw me return to my childhood. I was eight years old. I could hardly bear to watch myself. I was playing in the garden, oblivious to the future; how could that little boy (centre-parting, choirboy's face) run around so innocently - surely he knew he would grow up?

I would have given him some advice, but he would never have spoken to strangers, especially one as grubby-looking as me.

I hung around my old house, admiring the church opposite that is now a yuppie housing estate, I picked flowers and killed insects. I wandered down to the pub, but it was closed - the licensing laws were as archaic as ever.

My family looked so solid and yet so fragile, like a bomb that hasn't been informed that it is going to explode.

My next stop took me into my teens. I was an ugly duckling, unhappy at school and somehow lanky despite my shortness. This was easier to watch; it felt familiar and I was somehow pleased to witness my unhappiness. It reminded me that schooldays are never the happiest days of your life. Say what you will about adulthood, but at least you have a greater set of choices to turn down.

I removed my helmet and smoked a cigarette.

Next I visited my student days. This was awkward. The recent past is always more painful than the distance. I saw all the vanity, paranoia and envy that I still carried around in my rubber suit. It wasn't a pretty sight. The student me definitely needed a haircut; I probably still do.

Nowdays I don't quite live in the present. I live in the same day, the same week, the same month as you. Probably even the same hour, but I live 8 minutes behind everyone else. Things are easier like that, missing halves of conversations and perennially late for meetings. The past is more comfortable, more manageable than the here and now.