We were in the computer lab at the high school I was subbing in the other day. Those with assignments finished were allowed to play, surf or listen to music. I had been helping a student who loves fantasy to locate some books and I noticed he was playing an online medieval game in which he virtually had to leech a patient, remove an arrow and attend to a plague pustuole. I’m glad to report that Eowyn (I’ll call him that) was able to complete these tasks.
But I got to thinking, and worrying, what if one of these times he’s not so lucky, and this game warps him into 1349? What will he do then? I mean yes, he cauterized the node wound properly and remembered to gather up his leeches after the bleeding. But how would he fare if a tessare occurred? I’m sure that his limited apothecary’s knowledge would be woefully inadequate. As an amateur historian and professional worrier, I think about these things.
So I’ve assembled a little self-help brochure; call it a ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to Time Travel’ if you will, just in case any of you find yourself in Northumbria in oh say, the mid 14th century with nary a word of middle English or a farthing to bless yourself with.
Do not drink the water: This very precaution could save your life. Oh you may have read about how clean things were before industrial waste. But let me remind you that these people thought nothing of dumping faeces, entrails, garbage and chamberpots into the local watershed. See my point?
Find some rags or other locally produced garments to slip on. Levis might pass as some foreign raiment, but you will not be well received in your studded belt, logoed hoodie etc. And for goodness sake get rid of any piercings! Do you want to be mistaken for a slave or some animal of burden? If you’re not careful they will use that tongue, cartilage or nose ring to yoke you to some medieval mode of conveyance and you’ll be pulling a cart with your lip.
Trust your nose: If it smells bad, it is. Refrigeration was unheard of, washing was considered possibly satanic, food was left open to vermin, animals, heat, dust and other things it would be better not to think about. Bring a Balance bar or just resolve to shed a few pounds and do some penance in the form of fasting.
If a man says he will kill you, this is not a figure of speech. Death was a daily occurence and vengeance was expected. So don’t mess with anyone’s ox, ass or wife if you want to get back to dear old 2007. After all, we are so much more civilized, don’t you think.
Beware of men selling potions. The magic elixers of the traveling minstels and thier ilk could easily be water from the local ditch or silver nitrate. Noxious substances were available but not understood. Do not rub anything on any body part or drink anything, no matter how much longevity or ‘staying power’ it promises.
Keep a 21st century gadget with you. A lighter, LED, flashlight, Mp3 player etc may frighten off footpads who will rob you and hurt you. But don’t show off; you’ll be taken to the sherrif, magistate or exorcist as a heretic, necromancer or devil worshipper (how else could you control the forces of nature?).
This little guide just might save your life some day!