The Diary of Edward Featherstone: A Time-travelling Victorian in the 21st Century
Time travel is one of the most recurring topics for writers. Time tinkering movies, such as Back to the Future, The Butterfly Effect and Groundhog Day have entertained millions, and TV shows like Catweazel and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century are remembered with great fondness. Even baby Stewie Griffin enjoys time-hopping with his potrtable time machine in Family Guy.
Writers of such tales have taken us as far back as the prehistoric age, where humans flee carnivorous dinosaurs, and no matter how far into the future we go, silver spandex seems to be in fashion permanently.
Yet, while a visitor from the Victorian age might do all of the expected things in reaction to bigger technological advancements, such as diving behind the settee when an aeroplane flies over, screaming when the car he is travelling in accelerates, and looking behind the television set for the newsreader, even some lesser developments would cause great surprise.
To demonstrate this, here are extracts from the diary of Edward Featherstone, a forty-two-year-old gardener living in London who, in 1889, was transported through time to the present day, using a revolutionary scientific process called ultra-high improbability. For two months, he worked as a gardener in the home of the Bright family of Newcastle upon Tyne. We see from his writing that he shows bemusement and astonishment when encountering what we consider to be everyday objects.
While my master prepared supper this evening I witnessed a most remarkable sight. He took all of the potato peelings and threw them into a large bin that stood in the corner of the kitchen. Then, he removed the lid and pulled from the bin a bulging black sack that must have weighed over two stone. Yet the material this sack was made from was as flimsy as gossamer itself. I have no idea how such an insubstantial receptacle could support such weight without bursting.
Furthermore, after our repast my master poured what was left of the gravy into one of these sacks, and not a drop leaked out. It really is a puzzle.
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I had two days' growth on my chin and my master suggested I shave. In the bathroom he presented me with a most unusual razor, the handle of which was made neither of wood nor bone, but something called plastic. There was no need to strop, as the blades (it had two) were new.
As if that were not sufficient surprise, the means of creating lather was even more extraordinary. I took hold of something called a can, and I depressed a mechanism on the top. This emitted a small soapy worm into the palm of my hand. I rubbed this into my wet growth and, as if my hand was possessed by some magical force, a wonderfully smooth shaving lather appeared on my chin.
Using these materials, I enjoyed the most comfortable shave of my life, but the experience was sullied somewhat when I followed my master’s instructions to apply a liquid called after-shave to my face. This caused me considerable discomfort.
A few days later I went to have a second shave, but the can containing the lather was empty. My master was out, but I did find another can in the kitchen marked ‘spray cream’. I have to say that the shave I had using this was not nearly as comfortable as my previous one. Also, for the rest of the day I could not rid myself of the smell of sour milk. Odd.
This evening, in answer to my master’s request, I took delivery of two pizzas, these being delicious flat breads with cheese and tomato toppings. On opening the door, I was startled to see that the delivery boy had rope for hair. I hid my astonishment well, and I secretly watched through the small window in the door as the boy made his way down the path. My eyes were not deceiving me; there he was, with lengths of rope a foot long growing from his scalp.
That night, I tossed and turned as disturbing thoughts of the rope-haired boy invaded my consciousness. I still shudder when I think of it.
Today, my master and I worked in the garden. We toiled for several hours, weeding and hoeing in the sun. I informed my master that I had a raging thirst, and he summoned his wife, Maria, to fetch us beverages from the ‘fridge’. Maria gave us each a can, similar to that which had held my shaving lather, but with a ring that had to be pulled in order to gain access to the drink inside.
I dropped mine onto the footpath and, when I pulled the ring, it went off with a loud hiss and a fountain of liquid burst forth. Thinking this was a prelude to it exploding, I threw the beverage into a hedge and took cover in the garden shed. All the while my master and his wife laughed heartily at my plight.
Maria fetched me a second beverage, which she opened for me without any drama. I eagerly guzzled the contents, which were cold, sweet, effervescent and extremely refreshing.
This lunchtime, my master took delivery of a vase in the kitchen, where I was busy reading. The fragile ceramic was protected in its casing by a most remarkable material, the like of which I have never seen before. This was a silvery grey sheet that resembled, if you can imagine such a thing, translucent seaweed; it being made up of many air-filled pods.
When my master removed the receptacle from the casing, he tossed the protective wrapping onto the floor, where it was immediately taken up by his seven-year-old son, James. The boy proceeded to pop the small pods with his fingers, clearly gaining some satisfaction from the process.
Although to me the popping was a source of irritation that made me jump and distracted me from my book, James was soon joined by his mother, and two pairs of hands set about popping the pods. The act appears to have therapeutic qualities, as mother and son became entirely absorbed in what they were doing. I retired to my room to continue reading in peace.
Later that day, I was passing through the kitchen, and I saw the wrapping protruding from the bin. Some of the pods remained un-popped and so, as I was alone, I picked it up and pressed them out between my thumb and forefinger, just as I had seen James and his mother do. I must report that I fail to see how any form of satisfaction can be gained from this pastime.
LED Clock Radio
We had an early start ahead of us on Wednesday, so on Tuesday evening my master installed a wake-up alarm on the table next to my bed. I have never seen such a thing in my life.
The ‘clock-radio’, as it is called, is a small flat box from which a remarkable red glowing display emanates. The display shows the time of day in rudimentary digits, and neither heat nor noise comes from the device.
Through the night, I lay in bed staring at this eerie glowing timepiece, repeatedly counting sixty seconds in my mind and gasping at each change of digits. I was still marvelling at the glowing gadget when the time read 3:17, and I finally dozed off, but an even bigger surprise came at 6.30.
At this time, I was suddenly roused from my slumber by the voice of a woman. I held the blankets close to my chest and scoured the room with my eyes, but I saw no-one. Without any request from me, the woman said, quite casually, that the day would be cloudy with outbreaks of rain in the west. The voice was coming from the infernal device on my bedside table.
At this point, my master knocked and entered the room. He silenced the voice with a prod of his index finger, and I finally rose from my bed.
I was so startled by the affair that, over breakfast, I told my master that if there are to be any more early starts, I shall rely on the rooster to wake me.
Following a stroll by the river, my master and I retired to the kitchen to prepare lunch. We were both ravenously hungry, so I was surprised, and a little disappointed, at what was on the menu. From a cupboard, he produced two small cartons made of a material similar to that of my razor. When he opened these, my digestive juices were not stirred by their contents, which were dried noodles of unappetizing appearance.
But, on the procurement of some boiling water, the noodles took on a different aspect and a most delightful smell permeated the kitchen. After a few minutes’ wait, with my mouth watering, I partook of this tiny feast with great relish. The sauce was thick and savoury, and I counted two peas. In passing, my master informed me that, although the words ‘beef and tomato’ were printed quite clearly on the pot, the actual meal contained no meat whatsoever, and could be enjoyed by George Bernard Shaw himself. I have given up even attempting to fathom these bizarre inconsistencies I seem to encounter on almost a daily basis.