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Back to the Future: An interview with the McShannons, Rainnies and Cochranes

“Everything that can be invented has already been invented.” Charles H. Duell, Chief of the U.S. Office of Patents, 1899

My ESL students worked with future forms last week, and we read a series of predictions, the above among them. It got me thinking about the times in which I set my stories, and what my characters would think if they got a glimpse of modern life.

What would Trey McShannon, who went to war on horseback, and Liam Cochrane, who experienced trench warfare at its worst, think of stealth bombers and ‘smart’ missiles? What would Martin Rainnie think of modern nightclubs, rap and hiphop? If they had to live in our world, what would they and their wives miss most about their own times?

Let’s say I’ve borrowed a transporter and beamed each of my couples down in 2011 for a week. (Of course, their memories of that week will be erased in the process of transportation home. No messing with history!) Before sending them back to their own time, I’ve gathered them at my home for lunch and a chat. More turkey soup, anyone?

Beth McShannon: Yes, please. Jennie, I have to say it’s been quite a week. To see art from all over the world on your computer was amazing.
Jennie: I thought you’d enjoy that. If you could stay a while longer, you could learn how to create your own art that way as well. It’s called graphic design, and I think you’d find it interesting.

Beth: Thank you, Jennie, and I’ll have one of those biscuits as well. (Butters a biscuit and tastes her soup.) Graphic design, you say? It’s tempting, but I think I prefer my brushes. Though being able to listen to music at home and have it sound as if I were in a concert hall – I am going to miss that.

Martin Rainnie: (helping himself to biscuits) Aye, so will I, though I don’t know if I could ever get used to playing or singing into a machine, with no real person to hear me. Give me a crowd in a dance hall, I say.

Jennie: Martin, what did you think of the pub where we ate last night?

Martin: (With a frown) Pub, is it? Well, the fish and chips were edible, and the ale wasn’t bad. Speaking of ale –

Jennie: I read your mind, my friend. Who else is thirsty? (Cracks open a Clancy’s for all)

Rochelle Rainnie: (sips her beer with a sideways glance at Martin) No, it wasn’t bad, though the girl who brought it wasn’t wearing enough to keep from catching her death.

Trey McShannon (Tips back his beer with a grin) I noticed that.

Beth and Chelle exchange eye rolls. Martin grins at Trey.

Martin: Aye, so did I. But the place was so loud I couldn’t hear myself think, let alone talk to anyone, with the lights bright enough to put a man’s eyes out and no dart board or live music. It was like that song I heard on your – what do you call it again?

Jennie: A CD player.

Martin: Aye, well, You know the one. (Begins to sing)
What have they done to the old Rose and Crown?
The Ship, the King’s Arms, and the World Upside Down.
For oak, brass, and leather, and a pint of the best
Fade away like the sun as it sinks in the west.

Jennie: Yes, the Ian Robb song. I see your point, Martin. As for the clothes, not to worry – to everyone else in the pub, you appeared to be dressed in the latest fashion.

Alice Cochrane: Heaven help us, Jennie! As for the music, I felt the same as Martin. And when we left, that noise coming from the place across the street – WHAT did you call it?

Jennie: Hip-hop. It’s very popular.

Alice: If you say so. I did like the jazz you played for us on your machine, though. Do you suppose I could take some sheet music home with me?

Jennie: That might not be smart, Alice. You might alter musical history. Liam, you’re being very quiet.

Liam Cochrane: I just can’t believe how Halifax has changed. All concrete and glass on the waterfront, and the new – what was it? – oh, condominium – going up where old St. Joseph’s used to be. Though the school is still there across the street. And the traffic!

Trey: I hear you, Liam. I’d like to try my hand at driving a car, though – something that went where I steered it and didn’t have its own ideas about things.

Liam (laughing) Our Model T has a mind of its own, I think.

Alice: It certainly does. It’s more temperamental than any horse I ever knew.

Trey: Well, Flying Cloud and I have an understanding, when it comes to that. He’s got good pasture and the best mares I could afford, and he deserves it. We saved each other’s hides more than once.(Shakes head)My war was bad enough, but from what you tell me I wouldn’t want to fight in yours, Liam. Too much killing from a distance.

Liam:(stretches out his bad leg) Yeah, there was. I think there should be a rule in war, that you have to look a man in the eye and know his name before you can kill him.

Martin: Maybe you should have to drink with him, too. Trey, I’m looking forward to meeting your Flying Cloud. Your father speaks of him often still. The fastest colt he ever raised, he says.

Trey: Yeah, he was, and he can still run. You’ll meet him next summer when you bring the family to visit.

Rochelle: Little Trey is so like you, but Greer and Sidonie are both the image of Martin. I can’t wait to meet your Chelle, too, though how we’ll keep the names straight I don’t know, any more than I know how we’ll keep Dad out of trouble.

Jennie: I’m not sure even I can do that. Chelle, if I wasn’t able to send you home, what do you think you’d really miss about your time?

Rochelle: Writing letters. With Trey so far away, we’ve written a lot of letters over the years. From what you say, very few people in your time do that.

Beth: I’d miss that too, but more than anything I think I’d miss cooking and baking on my wood stove – now that I know how.

Trey:(with a sly look at Beth) The house is still standing, too. Remember –

Beth: (blushing) Of course I remember.

Liam: I don’t know…I think I could get used to your time. It’s great to see how Halifax has put itself back together since the Explosion. I’ll always miss Richmond the way it used to be, but I think most of all I’d miss working on boats, using my hands, having the time to get to know the owners.

Martin: I’d miss live music at the Mallonby pub, playing with the people I’ve played with for years. Seeing all ages at the Carston hall dancing to my music.

Trey: Well, if I was ranching in your time I’d likely still do a lot of the work on horseback, so I guess I’d get along, but there’d be more people and less open range. That’s what I’d miss. I’ve never been one for crowds.

Jennie: No, you haven’t. Now, has everyone finished their drink? It’s been wonderful having you. Now, step this way to the transporter room, everyone…


  1. Ann Stewart
    January 17, 2011 at 1:47 am

    Very cute, Jennie. If I had my way I'd much rather go back in time to live with Beth and Trey.For a little while anyway. 🙂

  2. Theanne...
    January 17, 2011 at 2:55 am

    Imaginative…and thought provoking AND you've piqued my curiosity about your books *smile* A quieter, kinder, slower time would be my cup of tea…but could I take my computer and lots of charged batteries…!!!!!

  3. Jennie Marsland
    January 17, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Hi Ann, I've often thought I'd like to visit Trey and Beth's time. I don't think I'd even mind the labor-intensive housework, but doing without antibiotics and painkillers and dentists is another kettle of fish. No thanks, I'm too much of a wimp!

    Theanne, wouldn't it be nice if life weren't so hectic? But like you, I'd miss my computer.

  4. Julia Smith
    January 17, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    'I think there should be a rule in war, that you have to look a man in the eye and know his name before you can kill him.'

    Close contact warfare, long-distance warfare – it doesn't seem to matter if people have demonized the opposing side. Loved your chat with your characters, Jennie!

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