How London shocked a Victorian Time Traveller

It was a bright sunny day in June and I stepped out onto the kerb wearing my sensible cotton day dress and a pair of comfortable boots. No one even so much as glanced towards me or even my big brown hat. I looked around and discovered that the pedestrians of 21st century London were quite ridiculously dressed. The clothes were quite plain and lacked any sort of elegance or sophistry. Whoever thought of women donning on plain office suits with not even a flower or a bow on it. And the lack of hats just amazed me ! I wondered if people had suddenly become rather poor or cloth had simply run out ! Although hordes of people were wearing a plain dress, now and then,  I did see some of them wearing a different set of clothes with all sorts of colors in them making no sense whatsoever. I couldn’t seem to make head or tail of it. I could not, for the life of me understand what the prevailing sense of fashion seemed to be as all manner of dress could be seen once you started to go about the town and see different sorts of people.

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Once I had taken some time to gather my wits a little, I noticed a very peculiar, mysterious thing. Everyone on the street had some sort of tiny, thin brick in their hands that they kept on poking at with their fingers. Some sort of eerie, unearthly light was also being emitted by it that I could not decipher at all. Whatever it was, I did not like this one bit. The spectacular thing was that everyone carried around this brick in their hands, kids, adolescents, adults, old people. At first I thought only some people had it as I saw only some of them holding it, but if I started to observe someone without it for a few moments, they would without fail take it out of their pockets or bags soon enough and start poking at it and touching it in quite a funny manner. I had to try my best not to forget my manners and break out in hysterics at their concentrated expressions when they did this as if their whole world lay in these funny-looking bricks; however, I controlled myself, only to be polite!

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But, there were plenty of good things as well. One of the first things I realized was that I no longer had to screw up my nose or hold my kerchief to my face to avoid the terrible stench from the Thames. The river seemed as good as new. I had to go close to the bridge and look down to see carefully if the river was actually there as I could not for the life of me imagine how come the river did not stink anymore. I did not have to lift up my dress to navigate the streets as well as the roads seemed to be quite clean. There were no beggars in rags and tatters either trying to catch hold of me or to pick my pocket. I soon came up to the Tower of London hoping to catch a glimpse of the notorious criminals of the day but I was sorely disappointed. There were no heads cut off put up on the Tower to deter the public from a life of crime and sin. However were they to prevent crime if they did not bother to scare the townsfolk by nailing the criminals to the walls. I began to feel a little uneasy as I started to think that there must be a lot of crime here now that the people were not scared anymore. In fact, the Tower seemed to be completely empty of them. Or, they must be doing something worse to get rid of them, I shudder to imagine!

I began to walk besides the shops for a while and saw that many ladies, if you can still call these pants wearing girls ladies, were out and about on their own with no male company whatsoever. You would think that I was being judgmental about this considering that I was out alone as well. However, I would think my status as a time traveller quite secured me from any such thing as I had no option but to travel alone. All the shops had signboards on them. Not only the shops, but the entire town had written instructions and signboards up everywhere. Some of them were even magically moving. I had an eerie feeling that this was somehow related to the bricks I had seen earlier but dismissed my discomfort in order to explore this fascinating world a little further. I wondered what was the use of so many signboards when half the people were uneducated and could not read to save their lives. Seemed like quite a waste of money which is something I cannot quite abide by. Although I come from a very well run house in Yorkshire and my father owns all the lands in the parish for miles about, I cannot stand for such waste and extravagance. One must be mindful of such expenses and exercise prudence in these matters if one has any good sense.

I entered into one of the shops that seemed to sell goods of daily use to ask for some flour and butter. I proceeded to what seemed like a counter and asked for the things I needed only to be told that I could go and pick them up myself. What an affront! I could not believe how rude the shopkeeper was. How could he expect to run a business if he treated his well-paying customers with such snobbery. I had half a mind to turn around and leave and never set foot in the shop again but was stopped by the sight of a lot of people milling about behind the counter picking up things from ceiling high shelves into little carts. I wondered whether these were all helpers. But then, I saw some of these helpers come up to the counter and paying cash. I thought I had begun to understand a little bit of what was going on when another customer came and instead of paying gave a piece of strong, thick paper, the kind Mother and I use to make cards to send out at Christmas. The shopkeeper swiped it into a box and gave it back. Now, I was mighty confused about how this shop worked. After a lot of deliberation, I concluded that this was not a very well-run business and I would be better off buying my goods elsewhere.

By this time, I was quite famished and thought I would go and get myself a cup of coffee and a scone somewhere. Unfortunately, I found myself in a street where there were only public houses. I could not even think of stepping into these bawdy places or my reputation would have gone for a toss for a lifetime. So, I sat down outside on a bench on the street to catch my breath for a while. To my amazement, I saw quite a lot of women enter these public houses bearing the sign “Pubs” in short form and some even took in their children. I must say, the women in this age had fallen quite low and I had no interest in looking at them anymore.

The sight of the road was amazing. There were these metallic boxes with tires that people seemed to be getting in and out of. I wondered where the horses were to be able to pull them. Were they hidden inside? But, there did not seem to be enough space for them be able to fit inside and also be able to carry people. Everyone seemed to be traveling in these boxes. However, I am sorry to say that this was definitely a step backwards as horse carriages were able to take you places quite quickly and now there were so many of these metallic boxes on the road that they were simply stuck  behind each other and seemed to move agonizingly slowly. I wondered what the use of them was as it was simply quicker to walk wherever you wanted to go.

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Although I had had quite an adventure exploring the streets of my city, albeit in a different time, I began to feel lonely and uncomfortable soon. There was no Mrs. Martha taking her babies in her carriage near the park or Lady Ellensborough out on her shopping spree that I could have a quick chat with while I was about. I could not even see Mr. Hawthorne who carried people around in his horse carriage for a fee. In fact, people were too busy rushing about to have any conversation with each other or invite them over for tea or luncheon. So, I began to walk over to the place I had originally appeared to start my journey home.