Fiction.The museum of 21st century London

Art & Lit Literature

“Welcome kids! I’m going to be your guide as we go through the museum today, telling you everything you need to know about what life was like at the beginning of the 21st century. If you have any questions, just raise your hands.

“This is the Transport Room. Here are old vehicles workers used to get into London. The most famous of these was the Tube. Workers used to squeeze into these every morning and travel in underground tunnels to the centre of the city.”

Sir, how many people would be in each one?

“Good question. Each carriage had seats for about 20 or 30 people, but during the ‘rush hours’, where lots of people would all get on the Tube at the same time, each carriage would have fit in over double this number with the extra people standing up very close to each other. Diseases would travel quickly and there was no fresh air.”

But sir, what do you do on the Tubes?

“Well, you just sit in them so that you can get to the place where you work. Most people would pass the time reading pieces of paper which had pictures of what had happened the day before. The pieces of paper also had puzzles on them. Richer people would bring plastic boxes on which they could watch flat moving pictures, a bit like our movies, or play games. Pictures on paper covered the insides of the carriages as well, telling people what to buy. In those days it was difficult for people to work out what were the best things to buy, though, because it was the companies that put up the pictures.

“This room is a typical office in London. Look around. Each chair and desk space is for one person. Normally, one person would be the leader, called the ‘boss’. They would have a better desk. The things that hang from the ceiling are large flashlights so that people could keep working after the sun had gone down. In the corner there is some equipment to make liquids to help stay awake.”

Sir, why did they need liquids to stay awake?

“Back in those days people didn’t measure how much sleep they needed. Companies and their leaders used to pay people simply for the amount of hours they could work, rather than how much work they did. To get more money to buy the things that pictures showed them, people would work as many hours as they could. This meant they had very little time to be with their families and had few friends. These liquids would help them stay at work despite being tired.”

Who is this?

“I was just about to come on to that, thank you. This is a dummy of a typical worker. He is working at his desk on the plastic electronic box in front of him. Believe it or not, that box is what used to be called a computer. Workers would normally sit in front of these for about 7 hours each day but it depended on your type of work. The square piece which faces the worker was called the ‘screen’ or ‘monitor’. It would flash in their eyes very fast so that words and pictures would show themselves and work could be done. It used to damage people’s eyes. As you can see, the dummy has pieces of glass resting on his nose. These help shield his eyes from the electric light and correct the blurriness his eyes are developing.”

Sir, sir, who forced them to live this way?