Living in a Slow Glass World

It’s been a rather surreal few weeks where I live, in an increasingly surreal year.  It has been extremely dense fog for the most part as I write this for almost 2 weeks.

It reminds me a little of the famous pea-soup fogs of old London in the Victorian times or 1950’s or indeed it would if I had been around in those times.   Back then bus conductors would be forced to walk ahead of the buses flashing their torches as it was impossible to see beyond a few feet ahead and thousands died from the pollution.

Back to the here and now the fog is more or less entirely natural but you’d still be doing well to see more than 30-40 feet.  I’ve met a number of people on my walks who have been entirely lost and even one driver.   It’s all a bit like living in The Twilight Zone.

Another reason life is particularly surreal is living opposite my old Primary School in the run-up to Christmas.  Everything is almost identical.  The buildings, the trees, even some of the bumps in the street.  But the people are different and it is rather like being in an alternate dimension.

It has had me thinking somewhat of a classic but mostly forgotten short story by Bob Shaw, Light of Other Days.  It is quite haunting despite only being 2-3,000 words and I first read it when I was 10 or 11, possibly even at the school over the road but it is a story for adults.

In Light of Other Days they have an invention known as Slow Glass.  It means that you don’t see what is outside your window now but what was happening 5 or 10 years ago.  In fact rather like we have wind farms today, people would have windows in the most beautiful parts of Britain absorbing all these wonderful views and then people in the cities can install them at home and when they look outside they see the light and events of beautiful locations many years ago.

In the story this city couple see a sign in a mountain farm with Slow Glass for sale and they drive up to the farmhouse to investigate.  The farmer is sat outside on his wall and looking in to his house through the large window with his wife and daughter playing inside.

Eventually the visitors decide to make a purchase and whilst the husband is going over the particulars, his wife looks in to the house to see a charming domestic scene albeit passing comment of our out of fashion the clothing is that the farmers wife wears.  No wonder the farmer was watching the goings-on from outside though, it is the very definition of a happy family.

Unable to resist saying ‘Hello’, the lady opens the front door but is shocked to see the beautiful scenes from the outside are replaced by a crumbling, sad, dirty and very empty room.   Her husband chastises her and she closes the door in shock.

The farmer informs her that slow glass works both ways and that his wife and child were killed 6 years ago by a driver on a nearby road.    The sale complete, the couple drive off leaving the farmer looking in through the window.

I always remember what a shocking revelation it is in such a short story and also what a great idea it is; why doesn’t anyone invent this glass!  But it also makes me sad as I wish I could have this glass and look outside and see my mother or grandad smiling happily outside the school gates.

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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