“Hello,” I said.
“Hello,” he replied.
“I’d like to talk to you,”
“I am not supposed to talk to
people I don’t know.”
“No. I know that. But, in a
way, you do know me. Have you read A Christmas Carol yet?”
I would have thought it very
difficult to have said one word so cautiously but he said this very
cautiously, looking uncertainly towards the top of the road where I
could see Peter and Aleck, two childhood friends, and another boy I
“Look,” I said, “I really
do want to talk to you. It’s a bit private but why don’t we ask
Peter and Aleck to hang around so that nothing can go wrong. We could
sit on the bench by the bus stop where everyone can see us. I am sure
that would be OK.”
He was still uncertain but he
said ‘All right’ and we walked to where Peter and Aleck were
kicking a ball about. We didn’t really walk together. He kept a
good distance between us – nearly in the middle of the road while I
was close to the hedge. Of course, there was no footpath but traffic
was light in those days and, indeed, no motor vehicle passed us. Mr
Jackson’s horse-drawn milk float outside the Shaws was the only
wheeled vehicle. Mr Jackson didn’t recognise me, of course. Peter
was fatter than I remembered and I had forgotten that Aleck wore
glasses. The other boy had gone.
He spoke without preamble, “This
man wants to talk to me. He says it’s all right and we can sit on
the form where people can see us but I think you’d better be nearby
just in case.”
I remembered that ‘bench’
was a word I had picked up from my wife. My family had always used
the word ‘form’ to describe a seat by the road.
We moved towards the bench –
er, form – Peter and Aleck walking protectively one on each side of
him. They looked less anxious than he did – more curious than
We sat down. Peter and Aleck
didn’t continue their play but stood a few yards away, hands in
their pockets, gazing at us without expression. It was a bit
unnerving. For a moment neither of us said anything. He was clearly
waiting for me to begin. I remembered how shy I had been as a boy
and, indeed, I was rather surprised that he had come with me. I still
didn’t remember anything of the sort having happened to me.
I said, “You said you’ve
read Christmas Carol. Well, you can think of me as a sort of
Ghost of Christmas Future.”
He looked blank.
I said, “I know you won’t
believe me but you read Dan Dare stories in Eagle and this
isn’t really any more surprising than that.”
“Dan Dare isn’t real.”
“No. Of course not. But you
pretend he is and you play Dan Dare games.” I rushed on before he
could interrupt with the protest I could see in his eyes. “Just
think of me as a sort of cross between Dan Dare and the Ghost of
Christmas Future. Or better still, just listen to me for a minute. I
haven’t got very long.”
I had rehearsed this many times
since I had known that I would meet him but, suddenly, everything
that I had practised seemed all wrong and, abandoning my script, I
plunged on regardless.
“Listen,” I said
desperately, “I’ve come from the future specially to talk to you.
I’m from fifty years in the future. I want to tell you what’s
going to happen and how you can be a real success. You can do nearly
anything if you work hard and try your best. You’re going to go to
a very good school. You won’t be any good at games but if you try
your best and work hard in class you’ll be able to get good GCEs
and go to university. You’ll find it hard to concentrate but you
must force yourself. You can do it if you really try.”
I have never seen anyone look
more bemused. Already, I knew I had blown it. I hadn’t said
anything that my mother wouldn’t say a hundred or a thousand times
in the future. Probably I had never even heard of GCEs when I was ten
– perhaps I hadn’t even heard of university. He hadn’t been
sitting close to me but, now, he edged away even farther and, for a
moment, I thought he was going to fall off the end of the bench ...
He stood up. “I think I should
be going now,” he said politely. “Good bye.”
“No. Please. Stay a bit
longer. I want to tell you about ... ”
But he was, already, almost out
of ear-shot. Certainly, he was no longer listening. Peter threw the
ball to him and he dropped it. Of course. I knew exactly how he felt.
I watched them out of sight.
I had missed my chance. From my
vantage point in time, I could see the three of them. I knew he had
already forgotten me. It had puzzled me ever since the visit had been
arranged but, at last, I understood why my visit, all that time ago,
had not had more impact on my life.