The Changes and ‘The Synchronic City’

For many, the lockdowns unintentionally afforded the time to watch films and tv programmes that they’d long been interested in seeing but never got round to. I’m no exception; I spent the first couple of months of 2021 watching The Changes, a series first broadcast in 1975 on BBC1. Aimed at children but with a narrative equally pitched at adults, I found it compelling viewing. What I’d not expected, however, was that this disparate sci-fi tale would contain themes strangely similar to the ongoing UK lockdown measures.

In the story, Britain has been experiencing strange weather that affects the population’s behaviour, causing them to turn against technology, suddenly smashing up machines whenever the conditions occur. The society soon grinds to a silent standstill reminiscent of pre-industrial times. The mindset of most of the population has also altered, reverting back to a quasi-‘Dark Ages’ mentality, with its attendant bible-based, ‘olde worlde’ superstitions. Technology is viewed as being evil.

This is bad news for the main protagonist Nicky Gore, who, in the search for her parents whom she’s lost in the melee, is found sleeping in a barn in a village where farm machinery (deemed as “wickedness” by the locals) has been locked firmly away. She is tried and sentenced to death by stoning by Davy Gordon, a witchfinder general-type who runs the village, but is spirited away by a pair of siblings, Margaret and Jonathan, who, unlike most of the villagers, haven’t fallen under the sway of the superstitions.

The siblings’ father is a different story, however, as he has also succumbed to the witch-hunt mentality. A revealing piece of dialogue takes place when Nicky asks Margaret if the villagers really believe she’s a witch. Margaret’s response is telling: “Well, most of them (do) – because Davy Gordon has persuaded them. Men more than women. You see, since the ‘changes’, they believe doing things like this is God’s will; and our dad is really a kind man but he’s not all that bright. His life has never been very exciting. Well, now he’s right under Davy Gordon’s thumb. He’s got this kind of ‘mission’ in life, rooting out evil. Our mum knows it’s a load of nonsense but even she can’t get through to him”

I was instantly reminded of something I’d heard said repeatedly by Irish author Thomas Sheridan in his Epic Voyage series of Youtube vlogs chronicling the lockdown: “The normies are absolutely loving this, and do you know why? It’s because at last they now have a sense of purpose.” Initially I didn’t get this, until I started to notice people whom I would normally see coming and going to work, now zealously out in the streets in their purple volunteer uniforms, on housing estates, at the entrance of supermarkets, all over shopping centres handing out masks and sanitiser, going from door to door offering testing kits like JW’s flogging the Watchtower. They probably see themselves as activists of some kind, saving the world from a modern-day plague. I’m sure I’m not the only one to notice the glee of shop assistants now charged to tell customers to wait in queues before being allowed in, seemingly reveling in the opportunity to wield a bit of ‘power’.

The similarities of the measures to Abrahamic religious ritual and forced indoctrination have been covered by both alternative and mainstream writers. (By the way, this isn’t an attack upon anyone’s personal belief, it’s merely a comparison of the way in which religious institutions, in tandem with governments, have historically suppressed the worldview of others with a distinct perspective on life.) As for the modern-day “witches”, they are of course any of the individuals who challenge or debunk the efficacy of the measures, or refuse to go along with the programme. Anyone not walking around looking like an extra from a 50s sci-fi B movie is viewed with suspicion, as though they aren’t wearing the required religious garb.

“Men more than women”. When looking at social media, it has not escaped my attention that women appear to be far more outspoken against this than most men, and far less compliant with the government’s ‘health’ mandates. Of course, many women have been more than willing to follow Hancock and Johnson’s latest sermons, yet where has been the resistance from men? It is as though the roles of the sexes have reversed.

Throughout The Changes narrative, only a relative handful of people remain unaffected, which takes on significance. Firstly, there’s the Sikh community whom Nicky meets and briefly travels with. We’re told that it is the Sikhs’ way of life, so different from the populace around them, that safeguards them against the prevailing madness. The same is true of a married couple encountered later in the story, who live in a rural, “off the grid” lifestyle, having gotten away from the hustle-bustle of London. The implication being made in the case of both this couple, and the Sikhs, is that it is their independence from the norms which has created a kind of ‘immunity’ for them. This is comparable and analogous to the independence of spirit that characterises those who haven’t capitulated to the fear and hysteria present amongst most in the present lockdowns.

I’m glad to have had the chance to see The Changes. By its reference to witch hunts, I would surmise that the author Peter Dickinson may have based this upon the actual social dynamics of medieval times, and the powerful hold that these ideas exerted over people. It’s also clear that Dark Ages thinking manages to persist into the present-day reality.


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