Laurie Graham

What should we put in our time capsule of the plague year?

What should we put in our time capsule of the plague year?
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The ladies of my church knitting circle (note, we are open to those who identify ‘-otherly’, and to practitioners of diverse crafts) are an enterprising bunch, and no techno slouches either. Unbowed by Covid, we have continued to meet via Zoom, bringing along our own tea, cake and creative endeavours. We love a project, and we now have one: a time capsule of the plague year.

This idea is so far proving to be more a feasibility study than a done deal. There are so many decisions to make. What size should the capsule be? Where will it be stored? When will it be reopened, and by whom? And what will they find when they do?

A ruling on the size of the container is still at committee stage, though I believe it’s unlikely to be large enough to accommodate that icon of First Lockdown Madness: a toilet roll.

The decision not to bury our capsule was reached unanimously. In a parish built on granite, why make life any harder? Our sealed box will be stashed in the vestry, to be opened 50 years from now.

Fifty years is a modest lifespan for a time capsule. We chose it on the basis that there may then be people, now children, still around to witness the opening and remember this strange year. Those of us who wonder whether the church will even be functioning by 2071 keep our doomy thoughts to ourselves.

So, assuming our capsule hasn’t been binned during the conversion of the church into a vegan restaurant, who is going to remember to open it and with due ceremony? How can we, who will long be in our graves, remind such a person that the time has come? One of our members (crochet and tech support) has been tasked with finding out if any event reminder apps have calendars as far ahead as 2071.

You can’t bottle fear, loss or hope. Our ideas for the contents of the capsule are modest and perhaps predictable. A hand-sewn mask, a recipe for banana bread, photographs, musings, pressed flowers from a sanity-saving garden, an ancient mobile phone, small brown coins rendered useless by shops that will only accept ‘tap and go’. But with each idea comes an attendant problem.

No sense, for instance, in burning a CD of the blessed return of audible birdsong, because who in 2071 will have the means of playing a CD? Remember floppy disks? And you can’t just seal things in a box willy-nilly and hope for the best. Mice, moths, silverfish, spores, they’ll all be in there having a party. And even without their assistance, stuff degrades. It’s called entropy, and we are getting a crash course in it.

Take paper. Those poems, recipes and grandchildren’s drawings we’ve collected? Are they on buffered paper or unbuffered? I’m buffered if I know. But it matters. The consensus among conservators seems to be that buffered is generally best because over time even supposedly acid-free paper can become slightly acidic. However, for items of animal origin, unbuffered paper is to be preferred, an important consideration when it comes to wrapping, say, any knitted masterpieces. Wool, which is literally a staple of our crafting materials, exudes sulphurous fumes over time. Who knew? Newsprint, on the other hand, exudes something else. Methane, methinks.

Black-and-white photographs apparently survive in better shape than coloured ones, and things written in soft pencil or old-fashioned ink do better than, say, felt-tip pens. No staples, paper clips or rubber bands, and every item needs to be bagged in polyethylene and separated by leaves of lignin-free archival-quality tissue paper. Otherwise, the imaginatively curated contents of your time capsule will turn to smelly, unidentifiable mush.

Our project has taught me a wonderful, collectable expression which alone has made the journey worthwhile: inherent vice. It means that as soon as one item starts to decay, anything touching it is liable to go the same way. One damned thing leads to another. I’ve always suspected as much.

We are now edging slowly towards our final edit. As off-piste crafters we don’t usually work in teams or follow rules, but this capsule will be an exception. I’m quite prepared to see my yet-another-locked-down-Easter Shetland wool egg cosy hit the reject pile, what with sulphur considerations and all, but I did baulk at the (serious) suggestion that we must be careful, if identifying individuals in photographs, to comply with Data Protection Regulations. Or what? Be prosecuted by posterity?

We, now mainly in our seventies and eighties, will all be gone, so I think we can afford to wink at GDPR. Our capsule will be opened in a world we can’t begin to imagine, by a person perhaps not yet born. And that, after all, is what makes it so alluring.

We dropped the words
‘We dropped the words “For richer”...’