The Dodleston Timelines 3
Wendy sat in the police station.
"Is the child injured?" she asked.
"He has a few minor injuries," said the sergeant, who was slightly overweight and looked about 50. "The hospital said he should be okay."
"I saw the football come out from between the parked cars. Not a proper football, a children's football."
"How fast were you going?"
"About 25. I slowed right down when I saw the football."
"How fast were you going then?"
"Did you get a chance to brake?"
"Yes. I just touched him."
"Wendy," said the young police woman, "this is very strange. According to your driving licence you're over a hundred years old."
"I'm 28. The instructor must have told them I was born in 1921."
"Why would he say that?" asked the sergeant. Wendy's face turned bright red with embarrassment. How was she going to explain this to the police?
"Are you aware that it's a serious offence to buy forged identity documents on the internet?" asked the Sergeant.
"It's not forged. It's genuine."
"How did you get it?"
"You would never believe me." The sergeant laughed.
"Why not? It's not too hard a question, is it? Where did you get this driving licence from?"
"You wouldn't understand."
"I took my driving test in 1949."
"You're not old enough."
"Do you believe in time travel?"
"You know what?" said the sergeant. "I've never really been sure. See if you can convince me."
"We went back to a time when there were hardly any cars on the road. Me and my driving instructor. We thought it would be easier for me to pass my driving test if I took it in 1949."
"Wendy," said the police woman. "Your driving licence is only valid until you're 70 years old. This is not a valid document."
"I shouldn't have trusted him. Pass your test in 5 days for £150. Should have thought that was suspicious."
"I'm arresting you for driving without a licence," said the sergeant. "Take her down to the cells." The police woman handcuffed Wendy and led her out of the interrogation room. The sergeant picked up the phone and dialled the number Wendy had written on the form she had filled in. "Hello Mr. Jones. Your daughter is down at the police station. We're very concerned about her behaviour."
David and Colin were having an argument with Sammy, the Jamaican man who was the landlord of the guest house where the jobclub members were staying.
"Who cooked the dinner last night?" asked Sammy.
"Colin did," said Susan. "He's a very good cook."
"Yes," said Jimmy. "That was a very nice dinner."
"I don't deny that Colin is a good cook. But you didn't wash up. When I got up at 4 o' clock this morning, the kitchen looked like a bomb had hit it."
"I couldn't find anywhere to do it."
"Couldn't find anywhere to do it?"
"To do the washing up. I couldn't find the sink with the hot tap."
"Let me show you how we do the washing up." Sammy left the room and returned with a huge porcelain bowl that he put on the table. "This is what we use for a sink." He picked up a big saucepan. "The tap is under the kitchen window outside. When you need hot water, go outside and fill up this pan. Then put it on the stove. That's how we get hot water."
"I couldn't find any washing up liquid," said Colin.
"You mean washing detergent."
"It's a liquid in a squirty plastic bottle, where we come from."
"Well, here it's a bar of soap." Sammy took a big bar of bright blue soap out of the cupboard, together with a cloth about the size of a tea towel. "Work it up with this big cloth, to make lather."
"I want to take a shower," said David.
"What's a shower?" asked Sammy.
"I wash myself with a sponge and squirt some detergent on it."
"From a little plastic bottle?"
"Yes. I squirt my little plastic bottle of detergent on my sponge and give myself a good clean wash. And then the water from the shower washes it all away. A nice refreshing shower." Sammy started laughing.
"David, why on Earth do you want to stand outside, stark naked, in a rain storm and wash yourself with a sponge?"
"It's not outside. It's a thing like a tap with a sprinkler on it. It goes on the bathroom wall. Do you have one?"
"David, I don't even have a bathroom. I've got an outside toilet and a tap in the yard."
"What do you do to keep clean, then?"
"Take a bath."
"You don't have a bath anywhere in the house."
"It's not in the house, it's in the shed."
"Sammy, how can you have a bath in the garden shed?"
"I'll get it for you."
"Get it for me?" Sammy returned a few minutes later carrying a tin bath.
"People want to come back to the 1940s to look for work," said Jimmy, "and the trouble is they don't know what it's like."
"What is it like?" Sammy looked offended. "I live in the 1940s."
"You think that everything we've been saying is a load of rubbish," said Colin.
"On the contrary. You people have to be for real. Some of the things you say are so weird you could never make them up. What Colin said about the kitchen. What David said about the bathroom. What Susan said about the television that she carries in her pocket. A television is a huge thing but Susan can show me a few videos she made on the thing she has in her pocket. She says that some people can afford to watch the official film channels but, if you have no money, you hunt around for whatever you can find on the free film channels. When you want to listen to music the thing lets you search for any record you want, and you'll see a film of someone singing it. Then, when they've finished, another record appears underneath, which is the same kind of music, and on it goes all day. And if someone mentions a book or a film on the news, you can just look for it on your pocket television, and buy it straight away. People like Isaac Asimov and H. G. Wells haven't made the future exciting enough."
"I think you'd find that the real difference is in the minute details of day to day life," said Jimmy. "The things people do with their spare time. The electrical devices they have in their houses, the labour saving devices they have in their kitchens."
"Our science fiction authors are missing the whole point of the future," said Sammy, "but the 1940s aren't so bad. I came here from Jamaica, looking for a better life. Here in England, there's a National Health Service and I can work 80 hours a week on the buses to get enough money to get a mortgage on this house. I can rent out the rooms and have enough money to eat all of my meals in the works canteen and have all my clothes washed and ironed in a launderette. Okay, I don't have a library, a music hall and a cinema all on a little device in my pocket but my job is my life. It must have driven Jimmy mad, being unemployed in the 1980s."
"Every generation has its problems," said Jimmy. "You have to make the best of what you've got. I was in St John Ambulance. I did a government scheme with the Spastics Society and took people to the shops in wheelchairs. I went to college. The 1980s was like any other time. You just have to make the best of the life you have."
"People who are unemployed want to go back to the days of full employment," said Barry. "They forget that wages were low and things were expensive. That's why you had full employment. Everything took so long to make."
"Still have plenty of money if you don't mind working 80 hours a week," said Sammy.
"You earn half what people in the 21st century will earn," said Barry.
"Less than that," said Jimmy.
"Okay, I earn a third of what you earn and I need 3 jobs, 16 hour double shifts as a bus conductor and a landlord at this house. But I've nothing else to do. I haven't got a television. My job is my life."
Colin and David were working in the factory one day. They were helping each other load crates of biscuits on to a delivery van.
"What did you do during the war?" asked a middle aged man who was wearing overalls.
"Conscientious objectors, that's what I heard," said the young apprentice who was with him, grinning as if this conversation was very amusing.
"I was unemployed," said Colin.
"No one was unemployed during the war," said the man in overalls. "They brought housewives into the factories to work."
"I went to university," said David.
"Oh, you could get out of it if you went to university? I wish my son had known that before he went out in a Lancaster bomber and never came back."
"I couldn't join the army for medical reasons," said Colin. This was not entirely untrue. He had given up a job in a hospital because he suffered from depression.
"Why didn't you do essential work? If you couldn't be in the army you went down a coal mine or worked on a farm. My brother failed his medical and was an air warden. He manned the anti-aircraft guns and pulled people out of burning buildings. Didn't you?"
Wendy was taken in a police car to a hospital building. The car stopped outside the entrance.
"Aren't you going to handcuff me?"
"You're not under arrest," said the police woman, who was sitting in the back of the car with Wendy. "You're here because you need some help." She led Wendy into the hospital and they walked down a long corridor into the lift. They got out on the 6th floor. Wendy saw the sign that said Psychotherapy Department. The police woman led Wendy into an office. The door was open and a man in a suit sat behind a desk. "This is Dr. Green," said the police woman, "he's a psychiatrist." Wendy sat down.
"Hello Wendy," said Dr. Green. "Can you just tell me what has been happening these last few days?"
"I was driving along in my car and a football came out from between two parked cars. I slowed down. I thought a child would come running after it. He did. I jumped on the brake pedal. I pressed the brake pedal right down to the floor. I hit the boy. He wasn't badly hurt. I phoned the police. They told me that my licence wasn't valid because I took my test in 1949."
"How did you take your driving test in 1949? You're not that old."
"We went back in time. There's a stargate in Dodleston."
"It's made to look like a bus lane so that people won't go down it by mistake. If you drive your car down it, you end up in 1949."
"Why go back to 1949?"
"You want to take your driving test when there were hardly any cars on the road. You can pass very easily. The driving school have an advert. Pass your test in 5 days for £150. The driving instructor told everyone I was born in 1921. He had to make up a date of birth for me because I hadn't been born yet. Your driving licence is only valid until you're 70."
"Did you really go back to 1949?"
"Oh yes. It was a very interesting experience. We went up a hill on a country road. The engine roared. We were doing 50 miles an hour. The examiner was excited. 'It's like a little sport car,' he said. When I reversed around a corner a little television screen came on in the middle of the dashboard. The examiner was amazed. I told him it was one of those small family cars that they started making after the war. Now the examiner is saving up to buy a Morris Minor. He wants a car like mine."
"I'd like to know more about you, Wendy. Perhaps if I could keep you here for a few weeks under observation."
"But I'm not mad."
"I don't think you're mad. I think you're ill. I think the trauma of the accident, and the police realising that your driving licence was a fake document that you bought on the internet, has upset you. It has caused you to enter a kind of artificial reality, an alternative reality that you can cope with. It's too much to admit to yourself that you had an accident and knocked down a young child when you hadn't passed your driving test."
"I'm not mentally ill. I want to go home."
"Wendy, can I be perfectly honest. If you don't come into this hospital as a voluntary patient the police will have you admitted under the mental health act. And if you don't accept my explanation of your condition and keep insisting that your driving instructor can travel time, I'm going to give you some very strong drugs."