Pens of the Earth: Portsmouth 2030

By Chris Walsh

‘It would have to happen to me, wouldn’t it?’ she sighed, plonking her smartphone on the table, its display cracked completely.

‘Vicki, careful!’ replied her mother. ‘You’ll scratch the varnish!’

‘It’s Victoria, not Vicki, Mum. And your precious coffee table’s fine. But my life’s ruined!’
‘That’s a little over the top Victoria, and your phone can be fixed, but what happened?’ Her father was used to this sort of family chat.

‘I was minding my own business, looking round the shops on Commercial Road. I messaged Mia ‘cos there’s this top I knew she’d love, and as I was coming out again, a whole bunch of them rushed past and knock my phone right out of my hands!’

‘A bunch of what dear?’ Victoria’s mother asked.

‘Journos and that. All here for what’s-her-name? The Prime Minister.’

‘The PM’s here? Portsmouth? Why?’ Victoria’s father was suddenly much more interested.

‘Oh, that’s today is it? The bikes thing? I saw something about it online the other day. She’s been invited by our MP to some ceremony to celebrate our Cycling City status,’ Victoria’s mother replied.

‘That’ll be it, Mum. All the journos were shouting questions at her as she was cycling along the pedestrianised bit. I don’t think one of them noticed that they’d broken my phone – I should put in a complaint to someone.’

‘There’s no need for that, Victoria,’ said her dad, picking up her phone to survey the damage. ‘It looks like just the display that’s broken. Take it to the repair cafe tomorrow. They’ll have it good as new in no time.’

‘Yeah, fine, I will.’ Victoria was a little deflated. ‘But I need something in the meantime.’

‘You can’t cope without it for an evening?’ Victoria’s mum knew the answer, but she wanted to make the point anyway.

‘There’s probably something in the drawer over there that’ll do for a few hours,’ Victoria’s dad said, pointing towards the kitchen. ‘I’ll help you look.’

‘Are you all set for tomorrow then?’ Piotr’s father asked him. ‘First day working with your old man.’

‘Yes, Dad,’ replied Piotr, ‘I’ve packed all my little tools and that, see?’ He brought the toolset over to his father, who was setting the timer on the oven. In the small zip-up case, Piotr neatly stored everything he’d collected over the years for repairing smartphones and other handheld gadgets.

Piotr’s father smiled at him. ‘Right, then. Whilst dinner’s cooking, let’s see if we can get the house as tidy as your case!’

‘Aha. This must be five years older than you, at least.’ Victoria’s dad chortled, handing his daughter a small but chunky mobile phone he’d found in the kitchen drawer. ‘You know what, I think this was my first phone.’

‘No way,’ Victoria said with a giggle, ‘The screen’s so small!’

‘Let me see if I can find a charger for it, and it will do for calls and texts. Have you ever had a phone with an actual physical keypad?’ Victoria’s dad asked, passing the old phone to her.

‘How did you cope with something like this?’ Victoria replied clacking away at the keys with abandon.

‘Oh, we were glued to the things just like your generation are,’ Victoria’s mum chipped in as she walked over to her husband and daughter, who by now had half emptied the kitchen drawer. ‘You can back up your music and photos to this,’ she added, fishing a media player out of the drawer. This one had a bigger screen than the old phone, and a handle that popped out of the back. She passed it to her daughter for her to inspect.

‘Is this a wind-up?’ she asked, cranking the handle in a circle. Both her parents burst into laughter.

Piotr finished setting up his table at the repair cafe and waved across the community centre to his dad. He waved back to his son, then beckoned over a young woman with a broken toaster. Piotr didn’t have to wait long for his first task, as a girl about his age approached with a smartphone.

‘My dad reckons it’s just the screen that’s broken,’ she said by way of introduction, adding ‘but if you could give the rest of it a check too …’

Piotr smiled. ‘Sure. I’m pretty sure I can fix this before lunchtime. Can I take your details, so I can let you know when it’s ready?’

‘Oh, okay, yeah fantastic,’ replied Victoria, as she fished the old phone out of her bag.
Piotr’s smile widened. ‘A classic!’ he said approvingly. ‘Bit fiddly though, right?’

‘Definitely,’ Victoria replied, smiling back. ‘And I’m using this for everything else.’

Victoria plonked the wind-up media player on Piotr’s table.

‘Awesome. Very green!’ Piotr said. Victoria laughed.

‘I’m Victoria,’ she said.

‘Piotr’ he replied.

After swapping their contact information, Victoria put the old tech back in her bag.

‘So, I’ll come back at one then?’ she asked.

Piotr nodded. ‘That’s right, see you then.’

Victoria sat sipping a cappuccino in a cafe near the community centre, listening to her music on the wind-up device. Her thoughts drifted back to Piotr. She liked him, and she thought he liked her too. She decided to see if she was right.

At his table in the community centre, Piotr fixed Victoria’s smartphone, pausing only to respond to other queries from other people at the repair cafe. Piotr soon had two other smartphones to fix, but he didn’t think either would take long. As he finished replacing the screen on her phone, Piotr’s thoughts returned to Victoria. He liked her. Did she like him? He hoped so.

Victoria wondered if Piotr was on social media. He hadn’t mentioned that he was, but she didn’t think that was unusual. He was being professional, she decided. It wasn’t like she could check him out anyway – neither of her old devices could connect to the internet. She considered phoning Mia and getting her to look him up, but decided against the idea. People must’ve managed before social media, she reasoned. She was going to be old school this time.

Piotr switched Victoria’s phone back on and was pleased to see its new screen light up. The lock screen had a photo of Victoria with some other young people, her friends, Piotr presumed. He checked that the brightness could be dimmed, and that the auto-brightness feature worked too. Other than the torch, which also worked, there was nothing else Piotr could check without Victoria’s passcode. He had to call her to finish the job. Piotr checked the time. It was nearly one o’clock anyway. He felt a little nervous, but decided that was silly.

Victoria was in the library when the old phone rang. Loudly. Parents and librarians started giving her disapproving looks whilst she rummaged in her bag for the phone, so when she answered it, she was a bit flustered. Seeing that it was Piotr calling didn’t help.

‘Hi, Piotr!’ she said, a little more excitedly than she had planned to.

‘Can you come back? I’ve fixed the screen but can’t check the rest of it without your passcode.’

‘Sure, five minutes,’ she replied.

Piotr, having returned the other two smartphones he’d fixed to their grateful owners, cleared his table. Most of the other repairers had already packed up, some congregating around the tea and coffee table, chatting. Piotr waved to his dad, who waved back, despite still tinkering with a hairdryer.

Victoria bounded back into the community centre, and was a little taken aback at how empty it was, compared to how busy it had been in the morning. She was surprised to be offered an empty chair next to Piotr. He smiled, said hello and passed her her smartphone.

‘Hi,’ she smiled back, unlocking her phone. ‘Good job on the screen.’

‘Thanks,’ replied Piotr. ‘If you could just use it as you normally would for a bit, hopefully there’s no screen flicker or dead pixels or whatever.’

‘Oh, okay, cool,’ said Victoria, but she couldn’t resist asking, ‘Are you on social media?’

‘Um, not like a lot,’ Piotr began, ‘mostly just for like friends and memes, y’know?’

‘Yeah, cool. I’m the same really. Have you seen this one?’ Victoria pulled up a GIF based on a sitcom she was a fan of, showing it to Piotr with a mix of nerves and anticipation.

Piotr involuntarily let out a little squeaky laugh at the GIF, which he was embarrassed about, but it made Victoria smile. Sensing what he hoped was a moment, he explained to Victoria that he’d been sent a link, a video of the stars of the sitcom on a chat show. He leant his phone against his tool case so they could both watch it.

Having finished with the hairdryer, Piotr’s dad smiled when he looked over again at his son. He was laughing out loud with a girl, watching something on his phone. He decided to give them a few minutes before interrupting them.

Inspiration: My piece was inspired by the idea that Portsmouth in 2030 probably wouldn’t be radically different, that people would still meet up and fall in love, but we might have a handle on ending the climate crisis by then.