· the Time Lord question ·
I’ve asked this question of a few people I work with today, and I’ve been really surprised at some of the answers.
If you were offered the chance to spend 1 year in any era of history OR the year 3013, which era would you choose? What place? Why? What would you most want to experience?
Some sub-questions for thought: you can take only the clothes you are wearing, and a few objects small enough to fit in your pockets. What things would you take? Why?
Given that you can’t time-travel and “be” something you’re not (ie a regent) – you would simply be a foreigner new to a place – what would you set out to do in your year, given only the life skills/knowledge that you have right now?
I’m fascinated to hear what people think about this idea. Please feel free to link to a blog if this question gets your creative juices properly frothing.
This scenario was posted by Ashlan Nathans: father, artist, musician, all-round great guy( as far as I can tell!) and frequent provoker of thoughts (http://www.scribblegraph.me ). The question caused me far more contemplation than I ever expected, not least because of its restrictions and implications, and because it’s for one whole year. If you go for a day or even a week you can be fairly blasé about the whole thing but going for a year means immersing yourself in the world of the time with all it’s inherent risks.
My first reaction, being a die-hard SF fan was that I’d immediately choose 3013. When I considered it, however, I decided to work on the assumption that there was no ‘peeking’ beforehand and, therefore it was a high-risk, low reward choice. In a thousand years the Earth could be a barren wasteland, completely stripped of viable atmosphere, vigorously disease-ridden or otherwise inimical to life. Sure, there is a chance it could be a real-life world of the future similar to that postulated in ‘Futurama’, which would definitely be cool, but look how that worked out for Fry, an insignificant staff member of a relatively trivial courier company. There is a small possibility that I could become a minor cause celebre for a short time but, given I would be from 100 decades in the past and could probably not bring any useful insights, skills or assets with me it strikes me as quite likely I’d end up dragooned to a qausi-military unit, forced to find unskilled labour, battling new technologies and obdurate bureaucracy or abandoned to whatever passes for shelter and soup kitchens on the streets of 3013.
So, I turned my thoughts to the past.
If you’re anything like me, you first thought is that you can use your knowledge of the past to become wealthy and, yeah, it’s tempting and no more unreasonable to contemplate than the whole scenario. When, where and how much can I make were the next questions but other matters kept intruding like living among the residents of the time and staying healthy. Ashlan’s scenario specifically said you can’t change who you are so I will only consider English speaking nations and, for no other reason than I want to, I’ll rule out Australia and New Zealand.
Living in the past for a year is easily a great enough span to get killed or accidentally kill yourself and some thought needs to be given to survival aspects. For example, probably the only thing I know about horses is that standing behind them is inviting a kick. A couple of broken ribs and a punctured lung would easily cut short my sojourn through previous epochs so I know to try and avoid that stupid death. But what about other quadrupeds? Does the same risk apply to donkeys? How about cows? Can cows even kick?
These are precisely the kind of thing that children of the age would learn when growing up and exactly the kind of thing I wouldn’t know. We’ve all seen plenty of movies or TV shows and often read dozens of books and stories about living in the past and, almost without exception they all agree that blending in and having a low profile are essential if you don’t want bone-headed but authority-wielding yokels messing up your chrono-cruise. If you go round acting deathly afraid of geese and sheep because you have no experience of them as a potential threat to your life you will attract precisely the wrong sort of attention very quickly.
Furthermore, the most inconsequential medical issue could spell your early end. I have bad teeth and it’s really only modern medical technology, both chemical and physical, that have let me live this long. Dying of an improperly treated abscess is one of my less-reasonable fears but gallivanting back to a time before pliers, let alone antibiotics, makes it a very plausible.
Ashlan’s Time Lord scenario allows me to take a few things in my pockets. Right, broad-spectrum antibiotics for careful hoarding but likely need, check, they go into one of my breast pockets.
(Hey, all of a sudden, a safari suit seems just the outfit for my time-faring adventures!)
Considering medical matters and related technology immediately segued into personal hygiene considerations. Yay for being a guy, so I don’t have to worry about anything more than soap, toothpaste and shaving tools (and even shaving is optional, really) but that’s just me; do I really want to visit a time or place where personal hygiene is unregarded or worse, actively, wantonly, discouraged?
Nope, no, I don’t. I’m considering it a given that, wherever I went it’s likely to be a city and the phrase ‘the great unwashed’ exists for a reason. I don’t want to experience that kind of exotic olfactory wonder, no matter how great the other temptations. I respect my nose and the potential for nasal torment is high if I pick the wrong period.
So, I realise by now that I am narrowing my choices; I want an age after the invention of soap and one where there is some sort of medical care beyond “He’s got a toothache, he’s doomed, chuck him on that rock where we feed the carnivorous geese.” Furthermore, I still want to make some money so I can live a low-profile, high comfort life. I know a little bit of history but the more useful stuff relies on a fairly dense population and some relatively recent tool use. It’s all very well knowing how to make better iron by using a bellows to generate a hotter fire but I don’t want to spend a year working as an innovative blacksmith where some rival beater-of-metal is likely to steal my idea and run me through with his pre-innovation pointy stick. It’s also not very useful knowing that the Dutch went crazy for tulips in the 17th century and growers of the best breeds made pots of money; I have no idea what a “good” or rare tulip is so I’d probably end up breaking my back digging in Dutch dirt for someone more in tune with the desirability of certain bulbs.
According to the gospel of “Back to the Future” the best way to make money in a previous time is gambling so a decent population with organised sporting events is a pretty good bet (*sigh* I’m sorry.) Even better, gamble like the toffs and plonk your money down at the bourse (Latin for “capitalist betting stadium”). So, enough technology to lead to decent-sized cities with enough workers actually enjoying leisure time to create better gambling options than tracking the likelihood of a fatal cave-in and how many survivors get to go back to the mine tomorrow.
By now I’m thinking late Victorian England: trains, the telegraph, a decent mail service, share-market trading, tolerable clothes, some idea of anatomy and medicine, acceptable levels of law-and-order and enough ‘undiscovered’ science that I might be able to make a few quid on something legitimate. I have to say, the US and Canada at the same period in time are also viable candidates. The rampant paternalism would give me pause but there is a pretty good record of rebellious Suffragettes and I quite fancy the idea of surreptitiously financing that quiet uprising.
Hmmm, Queen Victoria, hey? Also known as Empress since her country’s foreign policy generally worked out to be ‘invade and dominate’ or ‘they’re savages, leave them to the Jesuits to soften them up with the talky-talk, then we’ll invade and dominate.” Soldiers, kick-ass navy, wars, battles, death and dismemberment. Pass, not really my cup of tea.
Moving forward, what do we have? The early 20th century is a pretty decent option. All the benefits of the Victorian age but less conflict. The Boer war and Boxer rebellion are both done by 1902 and the only real conflict otherwise is the Russo-Japanese war. World War 1 is on the horizon but not for more than a decade so conscription for that brutal waste of humanity is not likely. Say, London in 1905 or so? Sounds like a pretty good choice.
How about skipping past WW1 and going to the 20’s? Sure, better technology, better medicine, better opportunities. My problem with that age is that all the historical material makes it look somewhat appealing but, in the real world people are recovering from the horror of the Great War and equally terrifying Spanish flu epidemic that killed another 20 or 30 million people after the war. I’ve always suspected the apparent happiness of the time was a brittle smile pasted on the face of a society convulsing with grief, guilt and fear. I just don’t want to experience those survivors who may well have lost every member of their family in the previous decade.
The US or Canada in the 50’s has a lot of potential. Europe, not so much. Almost all of Europe was significantly damaged by World War 2 and I’m not very enticed by the years of reconstruction. North America had plentiful supplies, as opposed to the continuing rationing in Europe, plenty of opportunities and a relatively stable and balanced society. So why don’t I want to go there and then? Because, frankly, it’s just not exotic enough. It’s the world of my parents and their siblings, the world of my teachers, the world of my immediate predecessors. I’ve not only seen the movies and TV I’ve seen the family photos and heard the personal anecdotes. Sure, it’s got a lot going for it but it’s just not….distant enough.
So, in the end, I’m heading for 1904 or 1905 and London. Even if I can’t change my location as part of the time travel I can easily get a ship back to the Old Country from here in Perth, assuming I have the money.
Which brings me back to packing.
So I’ve sourced some antibiotics and modern painkillers from somewhere. What else would I need? First up I’d need some cash. Umm…my supply of pre-decimal Australian currency seems in short supply, for some bizarre reason. It’s all very well to assume I’ll wager 100 guineas on Acrasia or Blue Spec but where am I going to get 100 guineas? It may be a little obvious but the solution is to buy gold. No, don’t go down to Cash Converters and buy some gold chain; real gold is hallmarked and the hallmarks change with the year, allowing experts to date gold jewellery. Trying to cash in gold with an at-the-time nonexistent hallmark is going to cause problems that could see you end up in a Fremantle Gaol when it was in its prime. The best chance is to buy some antique jewellery or coins from the right period.
So, what else? Clothes? I don’t think this would be too big a deal. Denim jeans were in existence at the turn of the 20th century so some grubby jeans and a plain cotton shirt would get you by long enough to get into a menswear shop without attracting too much untoward attention. Remember to go for a button fly on the jeans, no labels, no zips and try and get plastic buttons on the shirt that look like wood. Don’t plan on keeping those clothes any longer than possible. Shoes are a bigger problem but get some plain black leather ones, scuff them up and try to avoid too much contact until you can get age appropriate shoes. Oh, don’t forget a hat. A man without a hat would definitely be noticed. Try for a brown, floppy cap and, again, think of it as a temporary solution until you can get something else.
What else would I take? An old brass compass (no, don’t take a Silva!) could be useful and could be traded in a pinch. I’d probably try for a fair sized gold wedding ring and, again, watch for the right hallmark. Most men over 18 or 19 were married and it’s absence might cause note. Once again, it provides a genuinely tradeable commodity too. Be careful not to take pens, wrist watches or any technology not found at the time. Even be careful about paper items; modern paper is whiter and thinner than its antique equivalent.
Take some gold, be careful to hide your modern drugs, carry some tradeable commodities. Memorize some winners of big races, sporting events and boxing matches to finance your stay. Learn to listen more and talk less and quieter – a modern accent and colloquialisms would stand out so try to talk as little as possible until you find yourself using the terms of the time. Research successful public businesses of the period and invest in them as soon as possible. The trade market may have criminals as dodgy as those at a race-track but they are far less likely to break your legs.
As soon as you can, settle in to your chosen neighbourhood and try to acclimatise to your neighbours – real, ordinary people are the ones you’ll respond to the most, not the famous and infamous from history.
And try and remember that the world you left may not be the same one you return to – actions have consequences and you being in another time may have impacts no-one could predict. If that outcome worries you unduly, perhaps you should reconsider time travel.