The blog entry I had been thinking about and repeatedly forgetting about came back to me. Turns out those story beginnings never went far because I had been thinking about situations where I probably wouldn’t survive for long. I’ve had this scary scenario playing in my head, while awake, for quite some time.
First, imagine that you’re dropped into a foreign city with only the clothes you wear. No wallet, no hand bag, no money, no cell phone, no identification. Pretty scary, huh? But still, most of us would get out of the situation fairly easily. We would find the embassy of our country of origin, or if it were in another city, contact the local police and ask to use their phone. A few days later we would be home.
That’s not the scary scenario I rehearse. Imagine that you’re dropped into the city you live in with only the clothes you wear. No wallet, no hand bag, no money, no cell phone, no identification. And it’s 500 years ago. (Or for you colonial types, 300 years ago in one of your country’s first cities.)
How do you survive?
You don’t know anybody and nobody has any loyalty to you. You’re wearing extremely strange clothes. You speak the local language but with a really strange accent and a completely outlandish vocabulary: many of the words you know have completely different meanings. You’ll have a very hard time just explaining where you’re from, which the authorities will no doubt ask. You know little to nothing of how society works, things like what polite manners are and even how to count the denominations of the local coinage if somehow you get hold of money. You’re in a violent, patriarchal, disease-ridden place with no concept of the dignity or equal value of all humans.
Some might think that a well educated modern Westerner would soon become one of the sages of the age thanks to their superior technological and scientific knowledge. For one thing, it wouldn’t be hard for most of us to become the best doctor in the world of AD 1509 if knowledge was all it took. But I have a feeling that such knowledge would not be easily applied in a society that is completely unprepared for it, and not easily implemented in an environment where none of today’s infrastructure exists. And say that you’re actually a doctor or an engineer – how much could you achieve without access to any materials or tools invented in the past 500 years? I mean, I know the principles of nuclear fusion, aviation, antibiotics, vaccination and basic biochemistry, but don’t ask me to put them into practice starting from scratch!
I’m pessimistic. I have a feeling that I’d end up dead, plague-struck, imprisoned or a manual labourer pretty soon. (If I were a woman I’d reckon the first sexual assault would come within hours.) And the funny thing is that somehow I actually worry about this time-slip scenario. It’s akin to the low-level anxiety it causes me in the real world to be living off stipends and not having much of a steady income. But actually, somewhere deep down I’m more afraid of being time-machined barehanded into the Stockholm of Svante Nilsson’s stewardship.
Update 7 January: Turns out a book of survival tips for time travellers to 14th century England was published little more than a year ago: Ian Mortimer’s The Time-traveller’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century. I haven’t read it, but send me a copy and I’ll review it.