BY ED CHURCH (May 2020)

The theme of old photos crops up a few times in Non-Suspicious. Safe to say, I have a bit of a thing for them. When ensconced in one of my favourite writing venues (old pubs) my breaks generally involve putting the pen down and taking myself on a tour of all the black-and-white photos on the walls. Often they will show the pub in Victorian or Edwardian times, maybe a wider view of the junction or high street it sits on. I can stare for ages at those scenes, admiring the pub’s stoicism, picking out the surviving buildings nearby, studying the passing pedestrians amid the long-gone trades and transports. You can see the people who have spotted the camera – posing proudly with a hand on a cane or tucked into a waistcoat pocket. Others are captured for all time as a blur.

I tend to return to my writing refreshed after losing myself in those old images (or doubly refreshed if I have included a return trip to the bar), but there is sometimes another thought bobbing around in the back of my mind. A bit of an odd one. And it is this… A thousand years from now, no-one will be looking at charmingly imperfect black-and-white photos from 100-150 years earlier. Instead (assuming no technological meltdown) the members of 31st century society will have an entire millennium of human history available to view in crystal clear moving images. And that makes me wonder… How will that effect the way we think of our past? The way we even contemplate the very concept of time?

I mean, let’s say you’re a historian in the year 3020 and you want to study some conflict from over nine centuries earlier – something as distant in time as the Norman invasion is to us today. There’ll be no need to head down to the British Library and start deciphering some fragile source document found in a monastery. You would just enter a search term into your latest gadget then sit back and watch the old reports from the frontline – follow the war correspondents, the press conferences from the four-star generals, the leaders of the warring nations delivering their televised speeches. To the historian of 3020AD, people and events from 900+ years earlier will be instantly viewable in perfect high definition. (Of course, one would have to hope that our future historian has a good radar for bias and propaganda). 

Another example… Imagine you’re a 31st century architect. And maybe a particular building fascinates you. One built, say, 875 years earlier. Well, you might choose to spend a pleasant evening watching a documentary from the time it was built – footage of the building’s construction, some nice time-lapse photography of it going up, interviews with the chief architect, the on-site foreman etc. It would be the equivalent of us – back here in good old 2020 – being able to see Westminster Abbey taking shape. Mind-boggling.

Yep, it’s a strange place is 3020 – one where the amateur genealogist might find nice, clear video of their great x40 grandparents. But I can’t say it appeals to me much. Give me a time machine and I’d be heading to that other foreign country: the past (being careful not to disrupt the space-time continuum, of course). I would love to step through one of those sepia photos for a few hours, to be back in the same pub, listening to the accents and dialects as they were, the jokes of the day, the early football chat, the shop-talk of wheelwrights, farriers and factory workers (not to mention police).

Then, a few ales later, I might just find myself on a trolley bus, heading down to Villa Park to watch the great side of the 1890s complete their league and cup double. After all, you could wait until 3020 without seeing that again.

Scroll to top