The Dodleston Timelines 1
Gary drove around the village of Dodleston.
"You have reached your destination," said the satnav. This could not be the right place. There would surely be a big sign that announced the presence of a company like Timelines. Is this where he was supposed to be? Not trusting the car satnav, Gary looked at his mobile phone. The warehouse with a busy car park behind it but no sign was definitely called Timelines on the map. This must be the place. The windows of the building were shuttered but there was a door through which Gary could see electric lighting. What would he say? He could still be wrong. Not wanting to look a fool and to be laughed at for believing in such a crazy story, he would have to choose his words very carefully. He opened the door, entered the building and walked up to a man he assumed to be a member of staff.
"Excuse me, I'm looking for a company called Timelines."
"That's us," said the man. "The name's Nigel."
"I'm Gary. I wonder if there's such a thing as time travel."
"That's what we do. Of course, we don't have a big sign outside or we'd be laughed at. There's a timeline in Dodleston. A doorway into another dimension. That's why there's so many documentaries about us on television."
"Is it true? Does time exist on a vertical plane?" asked Gary.
"Not quite. Time is more like a clip file. Each person's lifetime exists on a horizontal plane, like a page in a clip file. If you could add a vertical dimension as well, you would be able to turn over the pages in the clip file. That would make time travel possible. To move from one page of time to another."
"I'm a driving instructor. I would like to be able to take my pupils back to a time when there was hardly any traffic on the road. If they could take their driving test then, they'd stand a much better chance of passing."
"The driving test was invented in 1932," said Nigel. "Herbert Austin said that 90 per cent of drivers involved in an accident could pass any kind of test. He didn't believe in the driving test. There wasn't as much traffic on the roads then."
"I wasn't thinking of going back that far, maybe the early 1950s."
"If you want really quiet roads, try the late 1940s. A two year waiting list for a new car and you had to explain why it was absolutely essential to your job. Petrol still rationed after the war. Even if you had a car, you couldn't drive very far. Empty roads."
"Can I take my car with me?"
"If you do, we'd better make it 1949. That would make the car you drive not too dissimilar from the small family cars that came out after the war, the Morris Minor, the Triumph Mayflower. Cars were very different before that. Come with me." Nigel led Gary into the car park and unlocked his car. "I will take you to the star gate. It's in Cuckoo's Nest."
Nigel drove Gary from Dodleston, near Chester, to the neighbouring village of Cuckoo's Nest. He stopped next to a big blue sign which said that the street leading off the main road was a bus lane. Next to this was a camera on a tall pole.
"We're in a rural village," said Nigel. "We're not on a bus route. We wouldn't want anyone to go down that street accidentally. They'd find themselves in another time. So we created a bus lane sign and a fake camera to make people think that they weren't allowed to go down there. The only people who know better are our customers, of course. It's a stargate." Nigel drove on to the street that was marked as a bus lane. The car began to make a strange noise, like a washing machine going around and around. A few hundred yards later they came out of the stargate on to a main road. It was 1949. There was a trolleybus with it's electric pick up touching an overhead cable.
"Where have all the cars gone?" asked Gary. A small black saloon car appeared in the distance. "There's nothing on this road except that old Austin 7."
"Austin 8," said Nigel. "Your learners won't have to worry about failing their test for getting too close to a parked car. Couldn't happen. Actually, you'd be surprised how many people have a car but they're usually wealthy people, with a garage or a drive, so few poor people who have little houses have cars and are forced to park in the street. Petrol was still rationed after the war and, apart from that, people didn't want to travel very far. They lived close to where they worked. They shopped at corner shops."
"I'm going to put a sign on my driving instructor's car," said Gary. "Pass your driving test in a week. Just have a few lessons and take your test in 1949. Pass first time."
Nigel drove to a local library and stopped the car in the street outside. Nigel and Gary got out of the car and went to the reception desk in the library.
"Hello Mr. Webster," said the librarian.
"Hello," said Nigel. "Could you give me the address of the local driving test centre?" Nigel took out a notebook and a pen. The librarian went to get a big black book. She put it on the desk and turned the pages.
"There it is," she said. Nigel copied down the address. Back in the car, Nigel took out an A to Z.
"No use turning on a mobile phone or a satnav here. The A to Z is from 1980. Most of the old streets are still there. Shouldn't be too hard to find." Nigel drove around looking for the street. They soon arrived at the driving test centre. The car park had only one car that looked as if it was pre-war, big headlights either side of a square radiator grill.
"I'm a driving instructor," said Gary, to the lady behind the reception desk. "How do I book a test?"
"There's a form to fill in and you need to post it back to us with the fee. We'll accept either a cheque or a ten shilling note. Then we'll send a letter telling you when the test is."
"How long would it take to book one?"
"We're not busy. Once we've received the form, probably by the end of the week."
"How do we get local currency?" asked Gary.
"My brother runs a radio rental shop on Dodleston High Street," said Nigel. "Buy a medium wave radio and take it back there. The mains is the same voltage. Battery radio? Buy a packet of batteries and bring them with you. But it must have medium wave."
"Aren't you worried you might change history?"
"These people won't be able to make transistors for another 10 years and silicon chips are even harder to make," said Nigel. "Bob rents radios for two shillings a week. He'll give you a fiver for a decent set."
"We'll need to get people driving licences and they'll need somewhere to receive the letters inviting them to their tests."
"Bob will let you use his address."
They got back into the car. Nigel drove through the No Entry and Private Road signs positioned either side of what looked like a factory gate. They were on the stargate again. The car made a noise like a washing machine. They drove a short distance and came back to roads full of traffic. Gary went and bought a radio for £20. He bought a big packet of 11 batteries for £1. He then drove through the stargate in his own car. He stopped on the High Street and found a shop that had transistor radios in the window. He opened the door and went inside. A bell rang. The man behind the counter was speaking to a woman who was holding a radio.
"It's a DAB radio. What good is that in 1949?"
"It's got FM," she said.
"That's only in Birmingham and London, not here. And anyway, my customers wouldn't understand a radio like that. They want Radio Luxembourg." He looked at Gary. "And you, young man? What kind of offering do you bring?" He looked at the pocket radio cassette Gary was holding. "Good. I can rent one of those. They're not too bad." He opened the packet of batteries, put two of them in the radio and turned it on. The sound of classical music came from the speaker.
"Wouldn't people be puzzled by the cassette compartment?"
"I tell them it's a wire recorder. Get some little reels of wire, put them inside it, and it'll record on that. People spend ages wondering where to get them from and how to put them in. £5 for the radio. Those are zinc chloride batteries. Threpence ha'penny each. I'll pay sixpence if you can get alkaline. Three shillings for the batteries." The man gave Gary the money. A middle aged man in a suit came in.
"Hello Bob," the man said, in a voice reminiscent of a private school.
"Hello Franklyn," said Bob. "This is my friend who runs a radio shop on the other side of the street."
"Aren't you frightened Bob'll put you out of business?"
"Put me out of business?" Franklyn laughed loudly. "Those are little radios people carry around with them. They're not as good as valve sets. I've been building radios with my father since I was a boy. Those are silly little things. There's nowhere you can even attach an aerial. Where's the fun in that? I make serious radios for people who don't have television. You can hear the news from Radio Finland on my radios. I assure you, there are people in the 1940s who know just as much about electronics as you do. You will never change the course of history."
A few days later a man and two young women came to the Timelines building.
"Are you Mr. Webster?" asked the man.
"Yes," said Nigel.
"Do you believe the story about the computer that could communicate with people in other times?" Nigel knew from the expression on the man's face that he hadn't come to make fun of what had happened.
"Are you news reporters?"
"My grandfather had a BBC Micro. It was one of the first home computers. It started receiving messages from other times. He wrote a book about it. Later in his life, he became embarrassed to admit it. Every now and then a journalist would track him down. 'Not me. I didn't write the book. It was someone else, in this small village, with the same name, who was also living here in the 1980s.' The journalists didn't believe that for a second but they were polite enough to leave him alone. Something happens in Dodleston. It's true. The timelines intersect here. There's a doorway into another dimension. What brings you people here?"
"We're from Chester Jobcentre," said the man. "We want to know if it would be possible to send someone back in time to the days of full employment."
"That would be difficult," said Nigel. "There weren't many times when Britain had anything like full employment."
"What about the 1960s?"
"Very low youth unemployment. Easy to get an apprenticeship. But full employment? No. If an adult lost their job they could easily be unemployed for months."
"We want to be able to take people on a day trip to the Labour Exchange and they'd all get jobs by the end of the day."
"The 1960s weren't like that. Unemployment was lower than it is now, a lot lower, and it's easy to imagine that it was really easy to get a job then. But it wasn't that easy. I tell you what. If you went to the late 1940s. The country's still being rebuilt after the war. New industries are trying to get going. You don't want to be too soon after the war. Lots of soldiers, sailors and airmen coming back from the services. They struggled to get jobs. But late 1940s, not as much competition. 1948, when the Windrush ship brought all those immigrants from the Caribbean. Those were the days of full employment. I've already got a driving instructor going back to 1949. Why don't you take them back to 1949? Hire a minibus and drive through the stargate to 1949."
"I'll show you where it is." Nigel drove the 3 jobcentre staff in his car.
"Why are you going down a bus lane?" asked one of the women. "Won't you be fined?"
"This is the stargate. It's made to look like a bus lane so that no one will travel down it accidentally." The car began to make a noise like a washing machine.
"Wow!" said the other woman, as she saw an electric tram that was just coming around the corner. "We really are in 1949." The car continued along a main road that was empty except for one car with a square radiator and large headlights.
"That's an authentic car all right," said the man. Nigel parked outside the library.
"Dorry," he said to the lady behind the desk, "can you please give me the address for the Labour Exchange in Chester?" Dorry went to get a big black book and Nigel took out his notebook. Dorry placed the book on the desk and opened it.
"That's the old jobcentre," said one of the women. "That's where the job club is."
"It'll be easy to find, then," said Nigel.
"We'll hire a minibus and take them on a day trip," said the man, "to a labour exchange in 1949. I bet they all get jobs."
Gary was sitting with Wendy, one of his pupils, whom he was teaching to drive.
"Don't I have to take any time off work? Your sign said, 'Pass your test in a week.' Don't I have to drive around for hours every day?"
"Wendy, I will explain to you how you will pass your driving test in a week, after only 3 lessons. We will take you back to 1949 and you'll take your test then. There was hardly any traffic on the roads."
"Are you insane?" Wendy burst out laughing. "Have you been all right since your wife left you? Have you had a mental breakdown?"
"Wendy, I am not insane. I'll show you how to get to 1949. Just drive down this bus lane."
"Won't we get fined?"
"It's a stargate. It looks like a bus lane so people don't go down there by mistake."
"What's a stargate?"
"Why is the car making a noise like a washing machine?"
"You know how your car makes a noise when you drive across railway lines? Well, we're in the village of Cuckoo's Nest and you haven't got railway lines, you're driving across timelines."
"What's the village called?"
"Is it really? Oh, my goodness," said Wendy. "That's a really old bus. Or is it a double decker tram? All those people queueing outside the cinema in the middle of the day, all wearing such old fashioned clothes." A car with a tall bonnet and a black cab came past. "We really are in 1949."
On Monday morning a sign went up on the wall in Chester Jobclub. It said in big red letters, "You are Guaranteed a Job."
"Good morning," said the man who worked there. "I am your Jobclub Leader. My name is Barry."
"I'm Julie," said one of the women.
"I'm Sarah," said the other.
"Are we really guaranteed a job?" asked a middle aged man in faded jeans and a worn out sweater, who looked a bit depressed.
"We're going on a trip in a minibus," said Julie.
"To a recruitment fair? We still wouldn't all get jobs."
"Barry's going to take you to a recruitment fair like you've never seen before," said Sarah.