They stood and looked concerned as people bustled by on their way to work. What’s funny os that in a big city big things can go by unnoticed while little things grab all your attention.
These two guys looked whack or mint, depending on your conventions. From the bottom up: Black polished shoes all shiny and new with golden buckles to boot. Grey woolly socks, sweaty and hot sat below pinstripe trousers pressed and crisp. Moving up we see they’ve adorned lace shirts with frills and ruffles covered with waistcoats and over that two banging black tailcoats handsome and proud. At the peak of it all resting on their crowns a pair of top hats the envy of any a 19th century gent. One of them, bizarrely, had a codpiece in his bag but fortunately for now he hadn’t got it out.
They looked concerned for reasons most valid because everyone else they could see was wearing clothes of normality to the year 2010, not 1850. The guy on the left, Edgar, turned to his friend Bertram and said, “Either we’re in the wrong time or, I fear, our pals back home poorly researched our target year.”
This wasn’t a minor problem for them as everything they’d trained for for the past year like vocabulary, slang, customs, types of food, wine, beer, contemporary philosophical thought, the religious paradigm, popular sports, the hierarchical system, the economy, international trading and the latest industrial technology. It would seem to you and me that this was now worth naught.
“What on earth are we going to do?” asked Edgar, his face looked stressed his lips pulled taught.
Betram, although he wasn’t too sure, took some control, “Look, its no problem at all, I knew a guy at time traveler school and from what he told me, if I’m not mistaken, we’ve been taken to the right place geographically, the guys back home just miscalculated mathematically by 150 years or so. The society we know back home hasn’t changed much in a millennium so how much can have changed here in 150 years?”
Somewhat placated Edgar smiled and said, “Ok good point, well you’ve quashed my fear, shall we do this then, go get that book and get out of here? If I remember rightly from our course we’ve got to find a man with a horse and cart to take us to the library.”
So with their spirits lifted our two undercover friends pushed on with their mission; to get a book from the British Library, a text that had been lost to their time. It would help their scholars to shed light on a philosophical conundrum that has caused vexation and postulation for eons. It would help them, no less, to understand the reasons for why man kills man. These two, you see, come from a peaceful time where war is over, where there is no crime. They know the most sublime act is to put another before you entirely. A utopia the likes of which can only be seen in sci-fi novels or acid soaked dreams. The people of their time want, with all their might, to help rewrite the evil and death and murder and fear that has plagued humanity for thousands of years. So we better hope they succeed.
They had much trouble trying to find a horse and cart in central London and ended up wandering round and round Covent Garden. They were becoming more conspicuous with little kids staring, their mouths agape, mothers were glaring. They found it hard to communicate with people because their lexicon did not include any 21st century slang. A dialogue might go something like this:
“Pardon me sir, pardon the intrusion, I wonder if you could help my fine gentleman friend and I in our collusion to attempt to allow our wayfaring selves to reach the beauties untold of the exquisite London Literary Library?”
“Huh?! You taking the piss? Fuck off?” Was the usual reply.
Over the afternoon our friends quickly learned the harsh realities of 2010. The frowning faces that buzzed by angry and proud, always staring at the ground without a smile. The car horns whose loud honks at first made them run a mile. The war they saw on TV screens, through shop front windows and front pages of newspapers and magazines. This was a far cry from the society they knew where ego had been dissolved in the simple light of truth. Where wealth is measured in what you give back, where there is no material price tag.
But something our two enlightened friends had missed, or not comprehended, was the pace at which industry and consumption during this period had extended, exploded and grown. Out of nowhere, in the blink of an eye it seemed, humans were suddenly exploiting every life system on the planet. Wasting photon energy captured in carboniferous forests millennia upon millennia ago. It seemed to our friends like insanity, like these people were burning their own houses for warmth, to satiate their greed. They were shooting themselves in the head to protect a false image that seemed real at a glance, but with even the smallest scrutiny was clearly total farce. And on this pale blue dot where they lived their nefarious activities created but an ephemeral whisper of a joke to the rest of the universe. To Bertram and Edgar it seemed these people were like actors on a stage in a production where the curtain had been raised long ago and now the show was over, the punters had all gone home. Yet they kept on performing hard, not for each other or the art but for the desire to wallow selfishly in unheard applause.
But let’s not get too deep here. I think this is digression from the comical lesson Bertram and Edgar are now learning about the terrorism laws (and it does involve them undressing).
Flash to the British library, three burly G4S security guards have decided that suspicion is the best emotional volition to evoke when they see our two 19th century jokes walk through the doors seemingly feigning ignorance at the metal detectors they have just set off.
Well, the security guards go apeshit, they get up on their high horses and when they find Edgar’s codpiece nestled in the bottom of his satchel alongside odd looking time travel gear they don’t reach for the facts, no, not even a question, a strip search is in order they decide as they call for backup. These guys can only be crackpots or part of a terrorist plot.
40 minutes later and we find both our friends almost naked, confined to a small cell in Charing Cross station. The head sergeant is off on vacation and a young buck is in charge and he is a reactionary so, down the dark and dogged winding cavern of ego and pride we must grope our tedious way. The sub-sergeant walks in, a deliciously vile smile on his face.
“What were you boys going to do in that library then eh? We found some odd things in your satchel, bomb kits are they? You plotting a national disaster?” As he questions them his thoughts get faster, they run away, he sees an image of himself covered in gold, promotion, fame, women and wealth for the man who stopped an atrocity. His priggishness is boosted and his ego grows (something that thrives on individuality, on fear and greed and unattainable dreams), little does he know he’s blind to the truth, so he’ll never help our friends.
The interview went on for hours. Men in black suits came in straight faced and lean asking questions with a mean tone, questions of absurdity like, “Have you ever been to the Middle East?” or “Do you think Western ideals are a disease?” or “Have you ever been in a mosque?”, “Have any of your family or friends been to Pakistan? Or Iraq,Palestine, Iran or Saudi Arabia, Afganistan or Lebanon, Kuwait, Qatar or Azerbaijan?”
On and on and on it went. An arcane and outdated and decidedly one-sided fundamentalist dance.
In a room nearby several forensics experts are furrowing their brows in confusion at our buddies’ time traveler gear. And we, dear listeners, should be under no illusion as to what is going to happen. Bertram and Edgar are locked away without any charges, the story breaks and makes the front pages. Authorities, it seems, have saved the UK from dangers that seep in from far away places. Places where people want to destroy everything we have. The two will never again see the light of day the commissioner says, over one hundred lives saved.
Slowly the story fades away, other things subsume the front pages. The docile public continues to behave, continues to fear and the murder will probably continue for hundreds more years. The time traveler gear by the way is never returned, it’s taken by MI5, catalogued and interred in a safe place, they then await the highest bid for it to come in and surprise surprise it’s BAE systems who wins. ‘Better’ defensive weapons are made so they say, so now the UK is more safe.
So it would seem our friends’ mission was a disaster. They only ended up helping humans kill each other faster. They didn’t realize just how fast things change. But it is ok because things do change, you can ignore it, try and make it go away, but it always remains. And at some point, with our friends help or not, all the shittiness will be forgot and only love will remain.
Let’s not forget, poor old Bertram and Edgar are stuck in jail now, no hope of avail form our authoritarian friends. They have got to survive some tough interactions with men whose reactions to 19th Century gents might be a wee bit violent. They aren’t too concerned though because they are sure some friends will come back to help them out. They just hope these friends will have the right attire; trainers, jeans, a cotton T-shirt, a regular fleece and, please God, no codpiece.