Pantry Prose: Cardboard Box Time Machine by A. J. Hayward


Find a large cardboard box, and with a broad permanent marker or similarly bold writing implement, write ‘Time Machine’ on the side. It must be written in black ink since no other colour will do the job. Open the lid and climb inside. Use the same marker pen to draw all the flight controls and instruments needed to control your craft. Set the dials and be sure to select Auto Pilot. Turn the ignition. There’s a stutter, a splutter, a mechanical hiccough then failure! It’s a used box, after all – damp, battered, with dog-eared corners – that Dad dug out of the garage, just moments earlier, especially for you to use on this sodden day. New boxes work best, but this one will have to do. It just needs a little extra help, a little coercion, a gentle knock here and there to get things going. Your eyes dart around the craft in search of Universal Adjuster, a tool otherwise known as a hammer. You pick it up and start tapping. Metallic rings and clangs resonate around the craft. Then a clonk!

‘Aha!’ you exclaim. ‘Inter-dimensional-space-bending-cardboard-box-time-machine-engines should not sound like that!’

There’s a moment’s pause for fiddling and fettling. The engine looks in much better shape now, and you use Universal Adjuster once more to check your work. The clonk becomes a delightful clang that reverberates about your ears and about the titanium inner skin of the capsule in which you are sitting.

‘Marvellous! I’m good to go!’ you say to yourself out loud excitedly, pleased with your work.

A second attempt of firing up the beast follows. And whilst crossing the fingers of your left hand you turn the ignition key with your right. To your delight, the engine roars to life! ‘I’m a genius!’ you shout emphatically, congratulating yourself.

Wheels spin. Cogs whir. A mechanical hum accompanies a gentle vibration that makes the ‘Arrggggh’ sound you’re letting out wobble like it does when sitting in the passenger seat of Dad’s car as he transverses cobbles. Stroboscopic lights – myriad in colour red, blue, green, white – flash before your eyes. And through the small oval-shaped, drawn-on windscreen of your highly advanced technologically superior Cardboard Box Time Machine (CBTM) a vortex opens. It looks just like a vortex that bath water makes as it escapes down a plughole. Except this vortex’s longitudinal axis falls along a horizontal, not vertical plane.  You notice how the vortex opening resembles a basking shark’s gaping mouth vacuuming plankton. It fills the entirety of your vision and it’s getting close to gobbling up the entire craft with you in it. ‘Gulp, here goes,’ you think as you reach down, push a lever forwards and whooooosh! Cardboard Box Time Machine along with its pilot enters at full throttle. Basking Shark Vortex opens wide and swallows. The craft lurches violently from side to side. It pitches forwards and backwards with ferocity. From the point of view of an observer standing outside, CBTM looks just like a small fishing vessel being tossed about by a violent winter’s ocean. There are bumps, twists and turns, and one or two 360 degree stomach-churning rolls and then finally there’s a sudden and abrupt stop. Splat! Your head hits the windscreen of the vessel as you’re hurled from a seated position at the back to the front.

‘Ooooouchy!’ you cry out whilst rubbing your head.

A rapid health assessment ensues. Feet-check: a quick toe-wriggle-all ten digits present and accounted for; legs-check: hands still attached to arms-check: arms still attached to body- check: body intact; evidence of cuts and bruises absent.

‘Pheeweee, that was a lucky escape.’ Counting yourself very fortunate indeed to have survived your fiftieth inter-dimensional trip through space-time and Basking Shark Vortex. ‘Next time, I might not be so lucky. I can live with a throbbing head, just,’ you add.

As the fogginess in your head begins to clear so too does the mist, or more precisely the smoke, that envelops your technological superior craft. A mental note is made to improve future landings. ‘Perhaps I need a crash course in inter-dimensional space-time travel,’ you think, chuckling to your own asinine joke. ‘Dad always said I paid no attention in class.’

The view outside the windscreen begins to present itself by degrees. You squint to enhance visual acuity. Perplexed by what you see, eyes are rubbed and refocused and a squint follows for the same reason as before. ‘That can’t be right, surely?’ is the question upon your lips. ‘Something has gone terribly wrong!’ naturally follows. The view outside your craft appears identical to that before the ignition was turned. Lots of head scratching, lots of ‘umming and arring’ and lots of wheels and cogs begin to spin and whir in your mind just as the wheels and cogs spun and whirred in Cardboard Box Time Machine earlier. You begin the cognitively challenging task of piecing together what clues you can find. You stare at the array of dials before you. The drawn-on altimeter indicates ground level, the attitude indicator level, airspeed and vertical speed indicators both show zero and the magnetic compass you so very diligently drew upon the interior of the cardboard box at the start of your adventure agrees with the heading indicator – both point north. All these readings are perfectly normal and exactly what you’d expect them to be at the end of an inter-galactic inter-dimensional flight through Basking Shark Vortex. ‘Humph.’ A sound reflecting your mental stumbling block. There’s more head scratching, more ‘umming and arring’ and new wheels and cogs are recruited to accompany those already spinning and whirring. ‘Hold on to your hats, it must be the fuel.’ A conclusion which is discounted as quickly as it’s formulated by a quick glance of the gauge; the tank is half full or half empty, depending on your point of view. In either case, it’s perfectly normal – nothing suspicious there – just what a space-time traveller might expect of her craft after completing the outward leg of a journey. ‘Well, I’m stumped!’ you say to yourself, disappointed at the impasse.

Just then a stroke of pure genius flashes through your time-travelled mind. ‘I’m a dingbat! Of course, silly me. I forgot to check the clock – that’s the first rule in “Time Travellers Companion to Time Travel” – Duh! Set the clock! Stupido!’ You now check the misshapen clock that’s drawn on the inside of your technological superior craft. It reads 1985, a fact that’s difficult to reconcile with the familiar view of the living room outside. ‘Normally, when I time-travel, time and place change but this time only time has changed – weird!’ All sorts of questions about time travel, the universe and your place in it cascade through your mind. ‘It’s the same but different place; the same but different living room…I feel the same but somehow different…it all feels the same but different…” Your thoughts trail off.


For those of you who can remember and for those who cannot and for those who are just too young to have been there in the first place, the latter of whom I envy enough to make passing reference, 1985 was memorable. This is the year that Thatcher quashes the British Coal Miners Strike, kills an entire industry and dispenses thousands of P45s. 1985 is the year in which the first UK mobile telephone call is made. An eccentric and deluded Clive Sinclair launches, and presumably rather wishes he had not, the C5 electric tricycle which achieves a head turning battery-assisted maximum speed of 15mph! Whoosh there it goes! Also making the headlines are housing estate riots in Brixton, London and Liverpool; Boris Becker wins the men’s Wimbledon final at – wait for it – just seventeen years old, a new record. And as if to offset that benchmark on the plus side with another on the negative, English football clubs are banned from competing in Europe and no wonder. During the European Cup Final between Juventus and Liverpool thirty nine people – mostly Juventus fans –die and 600 are injured when they are crushed against a wall in Heysel Stadium, Brussels, before the start of the game. As if that wasn’t bad enough, 500 Hippy travellers clash with police on their way to Stonehenge and a human-shaped hole, arguably, is discovered in the earth’s Ozone Layer by British scientists.

But for me the most significant event of 1985 has to be the Live Aid concert, conceived by Geldof and Ure as follow-up to their hugely successful ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ chart-topping, record-breaking single released the previous year. Both endeavours are inspired by Michael Buerk’s BBC News reports that beam haunting, grotesque images of millions of men, women and children dying of starvation during the 1984 Ethiopian famine.

Live Aid, billed as the ‘global jukebox’, is a dual-venue concert held conjointly in Philadelphia and London, with seventy-two thousand attending at Wembley. An estimated global audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations, tunes into the live broadcast and it raises over 50 million in relief funds. And I, like literally billions of others, become transfixed by the whole affair. BBC’s macabre images are etched permanently onto my retina, and, of course, I become swept-up in the excitement of seeing such big acts play at such a big venue for such a big and worthwhile cause. The Coldstream Guards band opens with the ‘Royal Salute’ and ‘God Save the Queen’. U2 play just two songs: ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and a fourteen-minute rendition of ‘Bad’. Queen whips up a storm by playing some of their greatest hits including ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘Radio Ga Ga’ and ‘We are the champions’, and occasionally Freddie Mercury leads a thick Wembley crowd in booming refrains. I join in at home watching in front of our push-button colour TV Set. We all do, I imagine. David Bowie performs ‘Heroes’ and remarks after introducing his band, ‘I’d like to dedicate this song to my son. To all our children and to the children of the world’. His words resonate well with the mood of the nation and of the world.

And to wrap-up this whistle stop tour, 1985 is the year in which the first .com domain name – – is registered by the Symbolics Corporation; .edu domains, for educational institutions, outnumber commercial .com’s. Microsoft releases its first version of Windows, Windows 1.0, which makes my Windows 7.0 look less like a dinosaur (or a Windowsaurus). And Back to the Future, starring Michael J Fox, is released, grossing nearly 400 million dollars worldwide. How reassuring it is that such big profits can co-exist with such diabolic famine.


The throbbing in your head has slowed to a manageable yet noticeable pulse. The smoke outside the windscreen has fully dissipated. Your thoughts organise themselves into a coherent whole. ‘I’m an intrepid inter-dimensional space-time traveller. I MUST EXPLORE!’ This, once voiced, acts as cue to spring the hatch and climb out of your technologically superior craft. Once outside, a cursory inspection of CBMT follows, if only to make certain the journey back to your present can be completed. The damage is worse than expected. Basking Shark Vortex has ripped off those dog-eared corners. You notice a gouge as long as your arm down one side of the fuselage as well as a hole about the size and shape of a little girl’s head in the windscreen. ‘Oh no! That’s never going to get me back!’ you say out loud in disbelief at the extent of the damage. Fortunately, and unlike the first, you paid attention to and complied with the second rule of ‘Time Travellers Companion to Time Travel’, which states: ‘For ad-hoc repairs always carry sticky tape’. And before going any further, you spend no more time than absolutely necessary repairing your craft. To ensure durability – and let’s face it inter-dimensional space-time travel is a tricky, death-defying feat of accomplishment, make no mistake about it. You decide, in your good judgement, to wrap the entire craft not once or twice in clear sticky tape but seven times, giving no regard to how you’ll climb back into CBTM. Now dizzy, having just run around the craft like a maniac, you stand back and whilst wobbling from side to side say to yourself, ‘Just the job, that’ll get me home…I hope,’ as if to give yourself a well earned, if anxious, pat on the back.

Uneasiness appears in your mind. ‘Wait! I’ve missed something.’ There’s a short-lived nervous pause. ‘But what is it?’ you ask, searching for the source of doubt. In pursuit of an answer, you mentally scan ‘Time Travellers Companion to Time Travel’ stored in your infinitely flexible, organic cerebral processor: your brain. You adhered to rule two but skipped rule one. Are there any other rules you may have skipped? A forefinger presents itself in your minds-eye and settles on rule three, which reads simply: ‘Take essential provisions.’ ‘That’s it! I’m hungry, silly me I forgot rule three. What a nana brain!’ And with that, you walk into the same but different kitchen, which is in the same place but different time to the one you left behind in your present. You learned on Tuesday, from your misadventures in the garden, sorry, ahem, African Bush, how very important it is to travel light. Losing a leg to a disgruntled crocodile in a different time won’t do, so you busy yourself rummaging around the cupboards hoping to find the three essential provisions for inter-dimensional space-time travellers: Jam sandwiches, full-fat cola and jelly snakes! There’s the bread, white of course – crusts binned, torn-off – discarded flamboyantly over your left shoulder. There’s the butter, spread thickly, and jam spooned on, generously. A freshly made jam sarney is folded in two and shoved, indelicately, into a jean pocket for later. Now for the cola. ‘Gutted!’ There is none, so a tin of IRN BRU spotted in the fridge is settled on. ‘It’s made from girders,’ you say, chuckling to yourself in the best wee lassie Scottish accent you can muster. And now for the most important provision of all: Jelly snakes. ‘No house is complete without ‘em. Come out come out wherever you are,’ you say as if to charm them out of the cupboards directly into your hand. Snake charming is not your forte, however. ‘Housewife is fired!’ you say, pretending to be a CEO sacking her PA. A melodramatic soliloquy commences in the form of ‘Humph! How will I ever survive?’ You suck in your stomach. ‘I’ll surely die of starvation!’ You now drop to the floor, curl up in a ball and feign agony. ‘I’ll never get back now. It’s just not possible. I can’t make it.’ Just then, out the corner of your eye, you spot a tin on the counter top marked ‘Treats’. Without a pause you jump to your feet, rush over to the tin and prise open its lid. There inside, you spot an array of familiar sweets and treats including Refreshers, Drumsticks, Black Jacks and Gob Stoppers. ‘Boooooooring!’ To your bitter disappointment, Jelly Snakes are absent ‘Drats! I’m dooooomed!’ Then a reprieve. Several silvery packets, all identical – the design of which you’ve never seen before – catch your eye. You pick one up, shake it. It rattles like a snake. ‘Curious,’ you think. You flip the packet over and it reads ‘Space Dust’. ‘Even curiouser,’ you think for a nanosecond. And before your hands are able catch-up with your thoughts, they grab hold of three packets, rip them open feverishly and in the blink of an eye your mouth is full of small exploding rocks.

‘WhoooooOOOAAA…hooooooOOOAAA…Brilliant! It’s like Alien Spray but different,’ you manage to articulate amid spitting out tiny fragments of dynamite. You grab a handful of treats, Space Dust an’ all, and stuff the lot into a jean pocket. You are a now ready to explore 1985.

A short shadowy figure appears behind the mottled pane of the kitchen door. Your first instinct, guided by rule four ‘Do not interfere with locals’, is to hide, and a full length cupboard offers a suitable spot. You don’t want to draw attention to yourself so you move slowly, without making a sound. You are now safely stowed, and through a narrow slit, left purposely between the door and its frame, you observe the shadow, which judging by its size and shape belongs to a boy. A loud single knock makes the glass rattle. Hundreds of tiny spiders crawl up and down your spine. It’s the hairs on the back your neck standing to attention. ‘Oh no, he must have seen me!’ you think. ‘I’ll stay just where I am, thank you very much. Better not break rule four, or I’ll be brought before the Council of Inter-Dimensional Time-Travellers again and last time it got nasty!’ There’s another knock, much louder than the first; then another and another and another. ‘This guy’s impatient,’ slips out, muttered under your breath.

‘Issy! Issy! It’s Maggot. Are you hiding from me again?’

‘That’s weird,’ you think.

You try hard to suppress all curiosity through fear of what the Council of Inter-Dimensional Time-Travellers might do. And whilst you’re trying not to think about what your punishment might be for contravening rule four, you also begin to wonder why a shadowy figure, a real Muppet with a truly ridiculous name, Maggot, is referring to you as Issy. And then it dawns on you. ‘Oh nooooooooo!’ – a thought played in slow motion. ‘I must have accidently hit the transmogrification button during turbulence.’ And, in fact, that’s exactly what did happen. Whilst Basking Shark Vortex tossed your technologically superior craft down its neck, a stray hand inadvertently hit a button labelled ‘Transmogrify’ and in an instant your body transformed from that of Jessica, a ten-year old animal loving African bush-baby who refuses to wear shoes, into Issy a very cute, adventurous tree climbing BMX chick who, by coincidence, also refuses to wear shoes.

The shadowy figure presses on. ‘Issy! Issy! Open up, it’s Maggot!’

Peals of laughter are now streaming out of your belly, through your mouth and into the ears of Maggot who’s standing outside the door waiting to be let in.

‘I can hear you laughing, Issy! Come on- open up, it’s Maggot.’

Throwing caution to the wind, you leap out of the cupboard and position yourself directly in front of Maggot; you on the inside him on the outside.

‘Okay, Maggot,’ you say whilst still laughing. ‘Tell me how you got that ridiculous name and I’ll think about letting you in.’

‘Come on, Issy, you know the story. You gave me that name!’

‘Did I now? Well remind me!’ you say, assertively putting your foot down.

‘Stop being mean, Issy. Let me in!’

‘No! Not until you tell me why I called you Maggot!’ you reiterate, standing your ground. Jessica and Issy have much more in common other than their dislike of shoes; both share a stubborn streak too.

‘Fine, here goes again for the umpteenth time. How humiliating!’ Maggot’s voice trails off into an embarrassed murmur.

‘Speak up, Maggot, I can’t hear you! Why did I give you that name?’

‘It’s because I stink of maggots! I carry a bag of ‘em everywhere I go so I can fish whenever I like! You happy now?’


That explanation about how Maggot earned his name is only partly true. Yes, he  carries  a bag of maggots in one jacket pocket and rudimentary fishing tackle – a reel, a hook and float – in the other, just in case a fishing opportunity presents itself. He’s potty about angling. He talks about it insistently; the fish he lands, the whoppers that get away. He dreams about landing perch, barbel and roach. You get the idea. He’s as mad as a very mad hatter about fishing as possibly anyone can be. Tucked away, in the inside pocket of his favourite jacket, and it’s his favourite because it’s his only jacket, Maggot keeps stashed a bag of Rainbow Kaylie, as Emergency Rations. Now, if you believe that you’ll believe almost anything. Maggot is addicted to that stuff. He’s just as crazy about that sugary delicacy as he is about fishing. One day, whilst Maggot is fishing in his favourite spot along the Llangollen branch of the Shropshire Union canal, not far from the Dusty Miller, Issy spots Maggot’s jacket hanging on a branch of a hedge, just behind where’s he’s sitting. It’s unattended and Maggot’s concentration is focused entirely on a bright yellow luminous dot bobbing about on the surface of the water. Nothing but him and the float exist in the whole world. Issy spots her opportunity, and the more playful side of her character, or rather the more devilish side, goes to work. She knows Maggot won’t notice a thing if she’s quick, and my goodness Issy is the quickest in the business when she wants to be. In one swift movement, she grabs a handful of maggots from one pocket and releases them into the bag of Emergency Rations. Now, a lot of girls would turn their noses up in disgust at the thought of handling maggots. But Issy is no ordinary girl. She’s doesn’t flinch. Anything boys can do, Issy can do better.

After planting Maggot Time Bomb, Issy leaves Maggot to exist in his world whilst she spends the remainder of the afternoon sat atop a nearby lift-bridge, to be in hers. It’s nearly tea time now and our two friends are feeling hungry. From her lofty perch, Issy can see a disappointed Maggot packing up his gear, dejected, head down, having landed nothing all day. And rather than climb down from the oak beam on which she sits, Issy shouts, ‘Geronimooooo!’ as she jumps straight into the canal below with a splash! Meanwhile, Maggot is walking up the tow path with both their bikes to meet her. He’s shaking his head in acknowledgement of Issy’s lunacy. That bridge is at least five metres from the surface of the water. It’s a jump he’ll never ever, not a million trillion gazillion years attempt, ever. Issy is no ordinary girl.

‘I’m starving,’ Issy says to Maggot as she’s climbing out of the water, trying her dastardly best to detonate Maggot Time Bomb.

‘Me too,’ Maggot replies. ‘Come on, let’s ride home.’

‘Sure you don’t need Emergency Rations first?’ Issy says, trying once again to trigger an explosion.

‘Good idea,’ Maggot says as he pulls out the bag of Kaylie from his inside pocket. ‘Here, you have some,’ he adds, offering the bag to Issy first.

‘Oh no, I couldn’t deprive you. Look you’re a bag of bones as it is! They’re your Emergency Rations after all, not mine,’ Issy counters, already smiling, knowing her encouragement will be sufficient to help plunge the lever…

‘Thanks Issy. You’re a good friend.’

‘Yeah right,’ you think, whilst trying desperately hard to hold down your laughter.

Maggot Time Bomb is primed! Issy’s friend throws his head back and throws the entire contents of Emergency Rations into his gaping mouth, which once full he closes. There’s something very odd about this batch of Kaylie, he notices. It’s lumpy. It tastes unusual and, wait for it, it’s wriggling! None of that perturbs this boy and none of that prevents him from doing what he does next. He begins to chew. Grooooosss! Each bite lets off a small explosion, and small packets of gooey slime hit every corner of Maggot’s mouth. He coughs and splutters. He spits. He sticks his fingers down his throat to eject any stray maggots he may have swallowed. Meanwhile, Issy is laughing hysterically, doubled-up holding her belly. It now dawns on our expert angler what has just transpired.

‘What did you do that for?’ Maggot asks angrily.

‘Just because, Maggot. Come, let’s go home,’ Issy replies, still laughing and feeling just a little guilty for having just put one her best friends through her expertly executed Maggot Time Bomb escapade. And that’s the true story of how Maggot earned his nick name and ever since that day it has stuck like a limpet’s foot does to a rock.


‘You sure that’s the whole story, Maggot?’ Issy prompts whilst chuckling to herself, recalling briefly the real story behind her friend’s unflattering name.

‘You know it isn’t, Issy. Let me in!’

‘Okay. You win. Open, says me!’ And with that, Issy opens the door and allows Maggot to enter the kitchen.


Leave a Reply