Time travel in a charity shop

Hey, I never told you about my time-travelling experience in a charity shop, did I? Granted, anyone admitting to having a time-travelling experience in a charity shop might be considered a bit bonkers so maybe that’s why I’ve been putting it off.

But I’m not ashamed of this, just like regular readers of this blog will know that I’m not ashamed of being a huge fan of charity shops. They are, in themselves, a time-travelling experience, little museums of real life if you like, where random objects from people’s past are on display for all to see and even buy should a jigsaw of a boatyard or a Les Dennis autobiography take your fancy.

So there I was in the British Heart Foundation shop, admiring some such exhibition and looking for a bargain. The wife and kids were with me and our main purpose was to find some sort of headwear for the Bugsy Malone school play that it would turn out both the kids, being infants, weren’t actually in. It had been one of those days when we’d been traipsing around town buying lots of things for the kids and now I wanted the chance to maybe spend a pound on an old Herb Alpert album perhaps and a quiet minute or two in which to choose it.

Some hope! The kids were nagging me to buy stuff. My five-year-old boy had seen a Moshi Monsters rucksack in Peacocks that he desperately wanted while my seven-year-old daughter was moaning about not wanting to go around the shops because she was desperate for an ice cream and how we NEVER do anything that she wants and life is not fair. Funny how these things come back to you.

So all around me I had nagging and moaning and then more nagging and moaning when all I was trying to do was weigh up whether it was worth buying an early 90s Nite Flite compilation for £1.50 just for the one track, but I couldn’t because of all the nagging and moaning and more moaning and nagging.


Now they weren’t being particularly vocal in their nagging and moaning, the boy certainly was trying to persuade me quietly and politely, but with meticulous ‘are we there yet are we there yet are we there yet’ persistence. Hence I started snapping at them both to give me just a minute’s peace and when they didn’t listen, I felt myself on the verge of losing it.

That was when an elderly male customer just beside us, looking at the books, but with half an eye on what had been going on, turned to me and said: ‘Aren’t they lovely, your kids… beautiful… beautiful… you’re very lucky.’

And as you do in such situations when seemingly crazy old people who clearly can’t remember what it was like having someone come up to you while your two kids are being exceptionally annoying and tell you how wonderful they are, I said through a slight grimace: ‘Yes they are, they’re adorable aren’t they?’ My wife had overheard and started cooing in agreement too. And I smiled and nodded and said things like ‘so lovely’ until the man went back to his browsing.

The whole encounter had at least calmed me down. I mean, I wasn’t exactly ready to dance through the aisles singing ‘Kids are wonderful, kids are great’, but I didn’t feel like bellowing at them any more. I decided to take a chance with the CD (with my usual back-up ‘it’s for a good cause’ mantra) and went to pay for it, along with the Bugsy headwear, assuring my boy we’d go back for the Moshi Monsters and my daughter that we’d stop for an ice cream in a minute.

It wasn’t until a little later that my wife recalled the old man in the charity shop. ‘He was really nice, wasn’t he?’ she said. And then she came up with what was probably a bit of a throwaway comment: ‘It was like he was you from the future coming back to stop you from getting mad at the children for pestering you.’

We both laughed at the very notion. But the more I dwelled on what she said, the more I thought: yeah, maybe it was me from the future as an old man, remembering how close I had been at that very moment in time to possibly emotionally scarring my children in a British Heart Foundation charity shop, possibly for life, and he’d – no, I’d – travelled back in time to right a wrong that I had spent half a lifetime regretting.

Maybe that’s what all old people will do in the years to come. Use time machines to go back to particular moments in time where they goofed things up a little, especially where their kids were concerned. The ultimate gift to their extended mortality. Sort of like the oldies in Cocoon – but with a point.

Of course, it’s all pie in the sky and even my wife has started looking at me oddly when I’ve gone on about it too much. But that’s the thing with time travel from the future – it can never exactly be disproved.

So next time you’re in the supermarket or a shop, about to lose it with your kids, and an old person comes up to you and says how lovely they are, just remember…

It could be you.

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