There are many periods that I'd like to visit if I could: Britain during the late Victorian age, America in the 50s, or Andalucia before the reconquista are three that instantly spring to mind. But would I want to swap them for my comfortable world of antibiotics, hot water and edible food? I don't think so.
Sometimes I find myself yearning for a world where no-one has ever heard of Alesha Dixon or Facebook, but if I start to get dewy-eyed about the past, I remind myself that history is always written by the winners and survivors. The stories of the millions of individuals who lived Hobbes's "poor, nasty, brutish and short lives" will never be heard.
After a great deal of thought, I've chosen 1946 as the best time to be born. If I'd been born ten years earlier, I would have experienced warfare, rationing and Shirley Temple films. But in the late 1940s, I'd be entering a world in which improved healthcare and educational opportunities were transforming the lives of millions.
Also, I could enjoy growing up in the world of Ealing comedies, Uncle Mac and steam engines.
It's a world that is celebrated in a Ladybird book I found recently, which has the slightly creepy title 'In the Train with Uncle Mac':
This is a Britain that now only exists in model railway displays and episodes of Chigley. It is a world of timeless villages and market towns, where technology has unobtrusively augmented peoples lives rather than changed them beyound all recognition.
Old maids still cycle to communion, village greens echo to the sound of willow on leather and car ownership is limited to the great and the good.
"Hullo! Here are our friends Bob and Betty just off on a long journey to the seaside. Dog Trigger is with them, so they are happy".
Whatever happened to 'hullo'? Nobody uses it any more, although Lionel Richie's notorious song sounds more like hullo than hello to me. Even hallo is disappearing.
I don't know how old Bob and Betty are, but I don't think I'd send them halfway across the country, unaccompanied, on a journey that includes changing in London.
It's time to leave and this smartly-dressed guard is a stark contrast to the scruffy, slouching men in donkey jackets who shuffled around the station platforms of my youth, blowing their whistles half-heartedly and shrugging their shoulders when I told them that the Nestle machine had swallowed two 5p coins.
"It is thrilling to stand on a railway footbridge and watch the trains rush by"
In those days, even a small, provincial station would have a full complement of staff, including porters, guards, clerks and signalmen:
I have vague memories of waving to men in signal boxes when I was very young. They always waved back. Then the signal boxes became automated. I wonder what happened to the signalmen?
"Bob and Betty are by themselves, but the guard will keep an eye on them". Oh, well that's all right then.
"So at last our express train has reached London where all is bustle and hurry".
It's time to change trains and the station porter is giving Bob and Betty directions to the Underground. But hasn't anyone noticed that creepy stranger standing right behind them?
Oh dear - it's that man again. Bob and Betty are so excited by the underground train that they haven't noticed that they're being followed.
"The train is rather noisy, and it sways and rattles as it rushes along".
The stranger sits next to Bob and Betty, pretending to read a newspaper.
Betty has now noticed the strange man following them and a woman on the down escalator looks concerned. But as they reach the top of the escalator, the man is stopped by a policeman, who seems to know him. Perhaps the man is a detective.
"There is a kitchen on the train and a real chef to cook the meals. Betty and Bob are smiling at the thought of a jolly good meal"
Bob and Betty are about to enjoy a bowl of thin, tasteless oxtail soup and a shepherd's pie of indeterminate origin, washed down with two glasses of weak squash.
"Betty and Bob had a glimpse of the driver. But an equally important person is the fireman, or stoker. He MUST keep up steam for the engine to pull the train. He shoots more and more coal into the great furnace and the wheels go faster and faster. Well done, fireman!"
Sadly, the recently-qualified fireman is unaware that the line is due to be electrified in a couple of years..
"Bob and Betty know that the long run is nearly done""Thank you for a safe and lovely journey!"
"Glad you enjoyed it!" grins the driver, while the fireman waves a grimy hand. The engine, too, looks dirty but somehow very proud".
So there you have it: incontrovertible documentary evidence that if I'd been born in 1946, this was the world I would have grown up in. A society in which youth crime meant St Trinians and young men who wanted 'respect' wore tweed.
It might have been a stuffy, stifling world, but that wouldn't have affected me because by the time I'd reached 18, everyone would have been listening to the Rolling Stones and sleeping with each other.
Obviously I'm being silly, but there is a kernel of truth. My wife's parents were part of the theatrical world of the 1960s and whenever I hear anecdotes about them or their friends, it sounds as if they lived in an enchanted age. It's not that stories themselves that impress me, but the incidental details: being able to move around London easily by car, turning up at the BBC to see if they have a job and actually getting one (which changes from teaboy to assistant producer within months), buying a four-storey house in Islington for a few thousand and the way a casual flirtation would end up in bed.
It was an enchanted time, for some at least, because it felt as if they lived in a world of possibilities where people were no longer tied to jobs or relationships for life. This experimentation was all done against the backdrop of their secure, Uncle Mac childhoods, blissfully unaware of the consequences of their actions on the next generation.
If I'd been born in 1946, I would also be retiring at a time when health care, benefits and private pensions were still sustainable.
I could spend my dotage enjoying fond memories of exciting holidays with Betty and Trigger, travelling across Britain by train, being offered sweets by kindly strangers.
NB - People born in 1946 include Stephen Spielberg, Sylvester Stallone, Alan Rickman, Susan Sarandon, Tommy Lee Jones, David Lynch, John Waters, Brian Cox, Charles Dance, Diane Keaton, Danny Glover, Cher, Charlotte Rampling, Dolly Parton, Liza Minelli, Freddie Mercury, Joanna Lumley, Felicity Kendal, George W Bush, Steve Biko and Philip Pullman.