Tales from the old days

The schoolgirl picks up her history book and starts to read. She's on the chapter when countries across the world were struck by a fierce disease that left millions tossing and turning with high fever and killed hundreds of thousands of them.

Governments sent out orders for all citizens to stay at home and anyone showing any sort of feverish symptoms or a cough had to be totally isolated, so fierce was this unknown evil, travelling through the land at great speed. As more and more patients infected by the new disease turned up at hospitals, wards became cramped and makeshift medical facilities were set up wherever there was space. Many of the new beds were occupied by doctors and nurses themselves who became infected by their own patients. Relatives were unable to mourn their dead in their own traditional way.

Meanwhile, armed guards patrolled the streets to keep people inside their homes. Citizens were only allowed out to get food, a growing number of them having to queue for charity, as their source of income had dried up.

The worried leaders summoned their wisest medical men for advice. They all scratched their heads and asked for several months to find an answer. Meanwhile don't let anyone go near anyone else, they told their leaders, and order all men, women and children to cover their faces.

The girl looks up from her history book. Without checking the date, she assumes she's been reading about the 17th or 18th century, even earlier. She reminds herself how times change, thank goodness. Things were so primitive in the old days, people so ill-informed, no idea of hygiene; no wonder these epidemics affected so many back then.

She turns to the next chapter, which explains how those millions of people locked in their homes managed to pass the time. It's then that the reader realises the mistake in her previous assumption. Mobile phones, Zoom meetings and remote working: she's reading about the 21st century after all - 2020 to be precise.

She puts down one book and picks up another, this one full of stories about kings and queens, princes and princesses.

One particular saga catches her attention. A much-loved king for many years, abdicates in favour of his son. All are happy with the situation until one day the young king finds he has to banish his own father from the kingdom he reigned over for decades. The old man, disgraced, leaves everyone wondering why someone who has considerably more than most would want to hide away more riches, obtained using dubious methods.

Again, our reader imagines the story comes from centuries gone by... and again she gets a shock. 2020, a year for the history books.