If I tell you that I’m a hundred and seventy three years of age, you would understandably doubt the veracity of my claim, though there is an element of truth in it.
I was born Charles Edward Carrington on a hot summer’s day, or so I am told, in the year 1850 and the current year, I am reliably informed by my new friend Max, is 2023. The mathematics you will agree does support my claim, though I was not continuously present during the intervening years.
The very strangest thing occurred on the day prior to my twenty fifth birthday in August 1875. I’d been having tea with mama on the south terrace. As usual, she was extoling the virtues of Elizabeth, adding fuel to her argument in favour of Elizabeth as a suitable future wife for me. I was, and still am unconvinced. Elizabeth’s simpering irritates me and her conversation is mindless. She does however have one redeeming feature which in mother’s eyes greatly outweighs all else, she is exceedingly wealthy.
My father, I sense, may support my cause if he dared, but he rarely contradicts mama who is the dominant personality. My father inherited Carrington Hall from a long line of free spending forebears and thus a combination of debt, death duties and the deterioration of his family home obliged him to marry into money, a situation which strengthens mama’s hand.
Even her wealth though was finite, and the estate, which one day will pass to me, is in great need of an infusion of cash. Mother sees Elizabeth as a perfect solution and continues to agitate for a betrothal.
Thus it was that to escape mama’s badgering, I determined upon a long, restorative walk in the gardens. The grounds of Carrington, I should mention, are extensive, covering a large area including the village and several tenant farms.
The land was granted to a Thomas Carrington, my many times great grandfather, by Queen Anne for services in support of the illustrious John Churchill at the Battle of Blenheim. While Churchill was gifted a huge part of Oxfordshire where he subsequently built the spectacularly ugly Blenheim Palace, my ancestor received this more modest corner of Suffolk and built a tasteful, though large manor house.
I visited Blenheim a few years ago whilst up at Oxford. The latest young Churchill had rooms near mine in college and we became friends of sorts. I found his palace oppressively gloomy and felt fortunate indeed to be blessed with the less ostentatious Carrington Hall.
However, I digress. Let’s return now to my walk in the gardens and my bid to escape mama’s plans. At the far end of the walled garden I noticed an arched gateway I had never seen before and inevitably was drawn to explore. Here it was that the most bizarre thing occurred. Pushing the gate open, I stepped through into a flower meadow where I immediately sensed that something was changed.
The countryside was strangely altered. I could see the village in the distance and the tower of the old, Norman church, this much was familiar; but I also heard a distant humming sound which I did not recognise and enormous wooden poles with what I now know to be connecting wires surrounded the village. Really extraordinarily ugly!
Confused, I turned to go back the way I had come and was astonished to see that the unremembered gateway had vanished. Nothing stood before me but a solid wall. Thinking myself subject to hallucination, I blinked hard and tried not to be alarmed. Surely there must be a perfectly rational explanation.
Max tells me that what in fact happened, is that I moved through a time portal, thus magically bypassing one hundred and forty seven years. Preposterous, I know but I have been unable to come up with a better explanation.
Max knows about these things she tells me from the television, whatever that is. I came upon Max as I stumbled in confusion down the lane towards the village. With her cropped, urchin hair and blue cloth breeches, I at first mistook her for a young farm lad.
“Wow, that’s a really cool outfit,” she said, staring quite brazenly at my perfectly ordinary clothes. In fact I felt rather warm but I didn’t argue, being too stunned to think clearly.
“You going to a fancy dress party, are you?” This was the beginning of a very complex and revealing conversation, during the course of which I learned that my farm lad was in fact a fourteen year old girl named Maxine, who prefers to be Max and that she and her family now occupy Home Farm.
It also transpires that by miraculous means unknown, I have been transported from my own time to this extraordinary and unnerving future world.
Since this fortuitous meeting some time ago, Max has been giving me shelter in a disused barn. She smuggled out bedding and brings me food when she can. I am entirely dependent upon her as the two guineas in my pocket are as good as worthless.
“You won’t get far on two quid,” she asserted scornfully, “so you’d better stick with me.” The strange thing is that she never appeared to doubt my story in the least, as being a great fan of science fiction she finds my experience entirely plausible. Her family on the other hand she tells me, ‘lack imagination’, thus necessitating my concealment.
“They’d think you were some kind of perv,” she assured me and though unfamiliar with the term, I nevertheless understood the sentiment. So faced with limited options, I find myself living as a fugitive on my own estate.
Much to my surprise though, I’m becoming quite accustomed to my new way of life and no longer fretting unduly about how I will get home. Even the garments I am obliged to wear so as not to appear ‘freakish’, no longer feel so strange. Max stole the blue work trousers and dark green shirt from the closet of her absent brother who, she tells me, is “backpacking in Tibet before going to university.” From this I infer some sort of Grand Tour but I could be mistaken.
My biggest problem is a shortage of money. Max provides a little but a fourteen year old girl has but limited means and the cost of even the simplest item in this future age is beyond imagining. It’s clear I cannot continue to live this way indefinitely.
However, on the subject of my eventual return to my own time, I am reassured. Carrington Hall, it transpires no longer belongs to my family but rather to a worthy organisation calling itself The National Trust. Max tells me that many of the country’s larger estates are now thus managed and open to the general public, an idea I find quite horrifying. I suspect mama would die of shame.
But it seems it’s quite the thing in this much changed age when for most families to maintain a large country estate is no longer viable. According to the National Trust guide book, it was my grandson, George Arthur Carrington who bequeathed the house and gardens to the Trust in 1948, shortly after the second of those devastating wars which overshadowed the earlier part of the twentieth century and changed society in such an unforeseeable fashion.
You will see here that I have become a student of history; that I have been profitably employed, using my time well for the duration of my stay in 2023. The truth is I’ve been spending my time in the lending library in the local market town, a place greatly enlarged since my day but still recognisable at its core.
An attractive young lady in the library has been extremely helpful, pointing out the most informative books and even instructing me in how to use the computer machine which apparently knows and can reveal everything that is to be known, about anything. Thus I am rapidly improving my education.
A source of more personal information has been the aforementioned visitors’ guidebook for Carrington Hall, provided for my perusal by Max. She tells me her grandfather passes his time since retirement as a volunteer in the Hall and ‘can bore for Britain’ on the history of the Carrington family. I was naturally keen to meet this mine of information but for reasons previously mentioned, my young friend would not allow it, so I must content myself with what I can glean from the book.
It’s astonishingly surreal to read of oneself as the protagonist in an historic family saga, though I am pleased to say I am presented as a good sort of chap who managed the estate well and took care of the tenants.
It’s also gratifying to learn that I am to live to the ripe old age of eighty five and that in the year 1876 I will marry a certain Eleanor Beswick from Yorkshire and that between us we will produce a healthy brood of six. This arouses my curiosity greatly, as I can think of no such family amongst our acquaintance. Who is this lovely Eleanor, I wonder? And by what stroke of good fortune am I to be spared the prattling of Elizabeth?
As well as good estate management, I am credited less flatteringly with the building of a new wing at the rear of the Hall, referred to as ‘an unsightly Victorian protuberance, in dubious taste.’
Indignant, I determined the other day, to inspect this for myself. Unable to raise the entrance fee, (more than enough to purchase a full suit of clothes from a good London tailor), I obtained access to the grounds by way of Baker’s Wood, a route unmonitored by officials. Personally I thought my new addition rather handsome, but I fear the architecture of my time is not highly regarded by current taste.
The upshot of all this is that I am confident of my eventual return to my own lifetime. Max shares this confidence as she assures me that the past cannot be changed.
“Well, it’s already happened, you see. It’s all in the book. So you must get back somehow, mustn’t you?” She explains this carefully as if to a slow witted child, which I suspect is how she perceives me.
So I fully expect that one day I will stumble back through another of Max’s ‘time portals’ and pick up my life where I left off. This interlude may even in time come to feel like a dream. I may perhaps begin to think it never really happened. Although perhaps not.
In the meantime I intend to take full advantage of the information available in the lending library with the assistance of the obliging young lady, with whom I confess to being just a little in love. Unlike most of her contemporaries, she eschews the uniform blue breeches in favour of most becoming ankle length skirts. Soft, copper curls dance on slender shoulders and her hyacinth blue eyes sparkle with intelligence and good humour. She is almost sufficient temptation for me to remain in this age of complex mechanical devises and deafening modes of transport; almost.
She mentioned in passing the other day that her family moved here recently from the county of Yorkshire. And today I at last learned the name of my Aphrodite of the book shelves. Her name it seems is Eleanor. Eleanor Beswick.
I confess that knowing this now, I eagerly anticipate our eventual return to the year 1875, but not without some trepidation as to how mama will greet her beautiful, though regrettably penniless, future daughter in law.