EXMASDAYS IN THE POVERTIME
by Philip Purser-Hallard
What was it like when you were little, G’G’G’Gran?
What was what like, my angel?
Exmasday! What were the Exmasdays like when you were young like me?
Ooh, now that was a long, long time ago, my flower. I’m not altogether sure I can remember…
Yes, you can, don’t tease! Please can you tell me, please?
Well, perhaps if I shut my eyes tight, and try really hard to remember. Let’s see… Yes, there we go. Goodness, it’s dark. Now, what was it that you wanted to know again?
Oh – Exmasday, that was it, of course. You wanted to know what the Exmasdays were like when I was a little one like you, ever so long ago, back in the Povertime.
Yes! Was it like now? Did you decorate the trees and pull crackers, and did you see all your exos, and did the larry hide your faves in the vents and –
Well now, it sounds like you’ve got lots of ideas of your own.
Perhaps you don’t need me to tell you after all.
I already said sorry. Will you tell me, though, G’G’G’Gran? Please?
Of course, my duck. You had only to ask.
Well, they weren’t much like the Exmasdays you have now, really. The crackers, now… we had things we called crackers, and we pulled them all right, but they just made a little bang, not like the soundscapes the crackers play nowadays. And the faves we got in them weren’t really faves, they were just little bits of plastic in the shape of spinning tops or moustaches or flapping fish. The only useful thing I ever got from one was a pencil-sharpener.
That’s silly! Last Exmasday my cracker had a red probedrone. I got some vile vids of Jupiter on it.
I remember, my petal. Well, it may have been silly, but that was the way it was in the Povertime. Some people wouldn’t wear the hats, either, and nobody ever read the messages inside.
But Mami says the mottoes give you ideas for your career in the new year. You don’t have to do what they say, but it’s rude not to read them out. The larries –
That’s how it is now, my cherub. You asked me how it used to be. But perhaps you’re not so interested in that, after all.
Sorry – again. Come on, G’G’G’Gran, I didn’t mean to.
Well, all right, then. We did have trees, since you ask. But just the one in each house instead of lots of them all through the hab, and it was only brought in for Christmas – that’s what we called Exmasday then, but I’m sure you’ll have learned that already. You pay attention when there’s history, don’t you?
All right, my dove, we’ll talk about that later. The decorations were just the same, all lights and sparkles, though like I said we only had the one tree – it had been dug up out of the ground, poor thing, it wasn’t alive and helping to fill the world with oxygen. We didn’t have habitrees at all in those days. We didn’t have larries, either.
What, not at all? Not in any of the habs?
You haven’t been listening to your tutor, have you, my chickadee?
What’s even a chickadee?
You know, I’m not actually sure. But it’s something my great-granny called me when I was very little, and if it was good enough for her… well, anyway. No, my dear, there were no larries to ask whenever we wanted things, and no plumes to make them either.
No plumes? But – oh, Mami said people used to make things by hand. Like when we do sewing or pottery. Or like those stone axes at the museum.
Well, we did have some manufacturing capacity, my poppet. But not the kind of machine that could make anything you wanted out of patterns and energy. Those didn’t even start being invented until I was a student.
What’s a student?
Someone who learns things. I know, it’s strange we had a special word for it. The larries, now… we did have things you might call very simple larries, not clever at all, with names like “Siri” and “Alexa”. But they weren’t free like the larries now are – they belonged to people, and not even the people whose houses they were put in, and those people told them what they were allowed to say.
A larry can’t belong to a person. Someone can’t belong to someone else.
But these larries weren’t someone, not really. I told you they were very simple. They could help you with little things, like a recipe or finding your way somewhere, but there was always a price.
Like in fairy stories, when you ask a witch what road to take to get to the palace and they tell you, but then you have to work in their fields for seven years before they’ll let you go on your way?
Well, perhaps a bit like that.
Auncle Max is good at fairy stories. Did your exos tell you fairy stories when you were little?
My family? Sometimes they did.
And did you always see them on Exmasday?
Of course we did, when we were able to. It wasn’t always easy. And there weren’t so many of us as there are in an exofamily now. You’ve got Mami and Papi and Dadi and all your auncles and sibs and nibs and semis and cousins and all your grands…
You’re the only g’g’g’gran I’ve got, though.
Well, people didn’t last as long in my day. I was lucky I was still around when the larries came up with the ’Pause. Most people my age had already died, a lot of them just from being old. But that was a lot, lot later, when things were more like they are now. If the ’Pause had come along before the plumes, I’d never have been allowed to use it.
Because… Oh dear, it’s difficult to explain, my pet. It’s because only the people with money could have afforded it. You do know why we call it the Povertime, don’t you? You’ve learned about money?
Oh, yes. Like in a game, when you swap some of your points for things to go in your inventory. I’ve got to Anthropocene in Stratum 6.
Well… fancy that. Yes, it was a little bit like that, but it wasn’t a game for most people. If you didn’t have money, there was nothing you could have. No ents, no transport, no drones – not even any clothes or food or a hab.
Well, yes, you were allowed that. And sunlight, I suppose, and water if you weren’t fussy about how clean it was. But precious little else. And with things like the ’Pause, and the larries, and even the plumes at first – because it took a little while before people realised that the plumes meant there was no point to money any more – they would have cost a lot of money. Really an awful lot.
Didn’t you have much money?
Our family had more than some, my sweetheart. But we weren’t rich, not by any means. Remember, everything we wanted had to be paid for with money, which meant we had to work for it. Us children worked a little bit, and got given a little bit of money, and our parents worked a lot, all the time, so they could pay for the really important things like food and somewhere to live. And all our presents – faves, you’d call them, now – had to be paid for from what was left.
So… you could only have things you hadn’t worked for at Exmasday?
No, if your parents got enough money from working that they had some to spare, they might buy you something you wanted – a book or a game or a toy – at any time of the year. But Exmasday and birthdays were the only time you got given lots of things.
Well, we get lots of faves at Exmasday too.
But my darling, you can have anything you want, at any time. If you feel like a toy or game or book – or a house or a yacht or an airship – you just ask the larry, and it tasks the nearest plume with the available resource, and you can have it within the hour. Well, a bit longer for an airship, I expect. Your everyday lives are far more lavish than our Christmases. And there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s good. It’s what you deserve.
You don’t have many things, do you, G’G’G’Gran?
I can’t seem to get into the habit, my pumpkin. I got so used to life in the Povertime, and it’s not very easy to change when you’re my age. But I’m glad of all the things you have. There’s nothing good about lacking things, really nothing at all.
But on Ventday we use the vents.
That’s right, my lamb. The day before Exmasday each year, you try your hardest not to ask for things you don’t need. And to make it easier for yourselves, you have the larry make the vents, one of them for each of you, and the larry puts one thing you really want into there, and when you feel you just can’t last any longer without it you open the vent door and you take it, but you try to go without for as long as you can. We had something a little bit like that, too, but not quite the same, and we did it for twenty-four days, not twenty-four hours.
Twenty-four whole days!
But remember, we were used to not having the things we wanted. Advent wasn’t any different from the rest of the year, except that every day we opened a cardboard door and got a little piece of chocolate. There used to be a thing called Lent, too, where people went without things they liked before a big celebration, and that went on for even longer. The waiting makes the celebration mean more. Advent before Christmas, Lent before Easter…
And Ventday before Exmasday!
That’s right, my love.
It must have been grimness for you, G’G’G’Gran, back in the Povertime.
We didn’t call it the Povertime then. We just thought it was how the world worked. How it had to work. And yes, it was grim, though a lot of people had far worse of it than me. We just didn’t realise at the time how much better things could be. And there were other bad things, too – extinctions and pollution and pandemics and war. Like I said, I was ever so lucky to live so long.
I’m glad you did.
Me too, my moppet. But this has turned very gloomy. It’s no way to talk on Ventday. What did you have in your vent this year?
A talking octopus lar-relay, to cuddle me in bed and tell me stories.
How lovely. And now I expect it’s time to say goodnight to Mami and Dadi and Papi and the rest and to take him to bed, isn’t it? And when you wake up in the morning it will be Exmasday, and all your exos will be here. Won’t that be lovely?
Yes. Yes, it will. G’night, G’G’G’Gran.
Goodnight, my little one.
Yes, my sweet?
Dadi’s friend Iva says people were better in the Povertime. They say things like the larries and the plumes and the ’Pause have made us weak and soft. They think we should get rid of them and have things back the way they were in the old days.
Well, a lot of people do think that way. More and more of them, it seems, these days.
Dadi says they’re entitled to their beliefs.
Entitled. Yes. Now there’s a big word. And what do you think?
I think they’re stupid. Things are good now, why should we change them?
I think you’re right, my dear. Now off to bed with you.