The Weight of the World

(///plenty.reject.fired – Weight Watchers International HQ, New York, USA)

If Professor Noel McMasters had learned anything, it was that skinny was bad. After all, historical images from Egyptian times onwards had shown rulers happy to carry a bit of weight, a sign of their power and prosperity.

But try as he might, he could never put on an ounce. He wolfed down large slices of cake, plenty of chips, mounds of doughnuts. He spurned all forms of exercise. But he remained scrawny, a man without real influence.

Until the miracle. He and his colleagues were translating the mystery Saqqara Tablet. It revealed the magic devised by the High Priest Amenatho and the incantations used by Pharaohs to quite literally transfer weight from their officials to themselves. That was how they had stayed in such rotund health! And power! Noel could see the path ahead. If he could affect the magic on himself, then surely genuine authority would follow.

Of course, he knew his colleagues would reject any request for help. Nobody would just put him in charge. Instead, he would learn the invocations by heart and recite them at the reception where the findings were to be announced. He could then take over proceedings, showing that he had mastered the magic and should therefore lead all research going forward. He could model his new portlier figure at the same time.

As the assembled sipped champagne and nibbled on crab puffs, he quietly pronounced the words. When he finished, he felt his body stiffen and tighten and then begin to whirl. People gasped and drew away from him as he spun quicker and quicker, and parts of his skin fired off randomly around the room, not stopping until suddenly he crashed to the floor. Skeletal. Dead.

If only Noel had been invited to the final research meeting, when the head of department had unveiled a missing piece of the tablet, Amenatho’s cypher for ensuring the incantations were recited correctly, together with a description of what would happen to those who tried the prayers without it.

At least Noel would always be remembered for his practical enactment of Amenatho’s words. It was a lasting influence of sorts.


Why this location?

A Taste Sensation

(///sushi.zest.crate – Gtech Community Stadium, Brentford, UK)

People told Sam he was mad to open a sushi stand at a football stadium. And they were probably right. He sold very few.

With money tight and panic setting in, Sam gambled on a new concept. The Sushi Pie. After all, football fans loved pies.

Initial sales were sluggish. But the early aficionados told others, and they spread the word and within a month there were long queues. Within three months, concessions of Sushi Pie vendors at other stadiums. Within a year, Sushi Pies in supermarkets.

Buoyed by success, Sam extended the range. But Sushi Sandwiches proved hit and miss, the Sushi Pizza was an acquired taste, the Sushi Smoothie flavoured with lime zest didn’t take off.

Undeterred, Sam ploughed his dwindling profits into Sushi Ice Cream. He was convinced that the salt of salmon and the bitterness of wasabi would complement the cream for a perfect balance.

He was wrong. Supermarkets tried it to no avail. Ice cream vans wouldn’t touch it. And football fans didn’t want ice cream with their pies.

Sam sat morosely on a crate of Sushi Profiteroles as supporters filed out. Sympathetic players smiled at him as they left. He gave them ice creams to say thank you.

As he finally dragged himself away, his phone pinged. The team’s star striker had posted a picture of himself with his ice cream, looking delighted with his treat. The image exploded. It swamped the internet. Online orders of Sushi Ice Cream rose from nothing to thousands within the hour.

Sam stared at his phone. It was incredible! They were selling like hot cakes.

Hot cakes!

Sam started formulating his next recipe.


Why this location?

Cooking with Robin

(///olive.gross.admit – YouTube Headquarters, San Bruno, USA)

The whole world watched ‘Cooking with Robin’. It was the weekly release from the rising illnesses and disappearances, the withering flowers and the dying animals, the events which billions increasingly had to admit were part of their everyday lives.

Robin had erupted into their lives when they had most needed him, when their other certainties had started to collapse. Daily, people debated the root of their troubles, arguing passionately for their conspiracy theorist of choice. But when Robin’s show came on, their hostilities subsided and the gross nature of the horrors was forgotten. Whatever the time of day or night, billions felt compelled to join his live broadcast.

Robin burst into view on every global screen, impossibly perfect face, lustrous blond hair, green eyes trapping the gaze of billions staring back at him and never letting go.

“Our grand finale, a sweet treat,” he purred, subtly licking his upper lip and starting a gingerbread dough. Billions tore open the ingredients bags whose weekly arrival they never questioned.

“We knead and knead,” he continued. Billions pounded away, never wondering how they understood Robin’s every word, whatever their own tongue might be.

“A savoury twist,” he winked, adding paprika and mandrake. Billions mixed them in.

“And now our creation. A gingerbread soldier.” Billions shaped and decorated their figures, with candied peel epaulettes, golden sultana buttons and dried mango trousers, the face completed with piercing glace cherry eyes and an olive for a nose.

“Finally we bake. And while we bake, we sing.”

Mesmerised, billions read the words on screen and found they somehow knew the tune to ‘Kill, Soldier, Kill’.

“And now they are ready.”

Soldiers leapt out of ovens.

Fresh. Hot. Six feet tall.


Billions lay slaughtered.

Robin nodded triumphantly and headed into his new world. He and his soldiers would enjoy devouring the feast which they had painstakingly prepared.


Why this location?

A Nice Cup of Tea

(///damage.tags.path – PG Tips tea factory, Manchester, UK)

Gerald slurped his tea and made a mark in his book. “That’s my 500th cup of the year!” he announced loudly to Barbara. She smiled wearily.

“I’m on the right path,” he blathered on. “May 5th today, 125th day of the year, four cups a day, it’s as predicted. I’m going to have an answer soon!” Barbara stroked Minky, who purred supportively.

Gerald continued inscribing furiously, his pursuit of knowing unknowable facts coming closer to fruition. After all, there was an absolute answer to the number of cups of tea he had drunk in his life. It was an indisputable fact about his life on Earth. Only he didn’t know what that figure was.

So this year he had recorded his every cup of tea to ratify his general habits, confirmed with his mother when he had first drunk tea and reached a hypothesis on how to calculate a reliable estimate of cups of tea drunk over his entire 48 years, taking into account his early office years, his teenage tea resistance phase and his tea-free childhood.

With some confidence, he was homing in on an estimated total for his lifetime of 55,000 cups

“Next year, trips to the toilet. Harder to calculate. Then maybe crisps. Packets and individual ones, list of different flavours. Or tags I’ve cut off clothing. The facts I’m going to uncover!” Gerald beamed. Barbara sighed.

“Have a biscuit,” she said by way of changing the subject, “I baked them specially.”

Gerald snatched it off her, gobbled it up, and smiled. Then he crashed face forward onto the table.

Barbara breathed out. The internal damage from the herbs in the biscuit would resemble a heart attack. She would be the grieving widow.

“That’s one murder in my life,” she told Minky. “That’s a confirmed unknowable fact. And now I’m going to enjoy my 44,326th cup of tea.”

Minky nuzzled her. “Do you know what Gerald’s problem was?” Barbara continued. “I’ll tell you. Gerald’s problem was that he wouldn’t stop talking.”


Why this location?

The Eggs-treme Omelette

(///reading.readjust.nominations – Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone, Wyoming, USA)

Egbert hated many things, chief among them his name. But his angry adolescence had given way to a mature acceptance, and he had vowed to make a virtue of his anger. His Egbert’s Eggs café was a roaring success.

He continued to loathe specific objects though, and needed outlandish diversions to cope. So he invented Extreme Egg Cookery, and was soon frying, poaching and scrambling in deserts, forests and oceans.

Eggs-treme omelette became his most popular dish, and nominations for ever more dangerous locations flooded in. Reading them, Egbert decided on the ultimate challenge.

Old Faithful, world-famous geyser – hot and dependable, while suggesting an inner rage that could only be satisfied by its regular plumes of boiling water.

Authorities agreed. Egbert brainstormed. One method emerged. The omelette mix would need to be encased.

He created a metal ball to be shot into the air with the jet, with the heat of the water trusted to do the cooking. He simulated a geyser to try, test, adjust, test again, readjust, and test again until he had the perfect size and weight.

The day arrived. The cooking sphere sat on a stand above Old Faithful. The waiting proved interminable – Old Faithful was toying with them, but eventually it burst into life and carried the vessel skywards, keeping it up there while superheating it.

As Old Faithful shrank back, the sphere was thrown in an unexpected direction at extreme velocity. The crowd scattered, but Egbert was too slow and the cooking ball smacked him on the head. He lay dazed on the ground. But the crowd seemed more interested in the contents of the dome, which now lay open on the ground next to him.

A perfectly cooked omelette.

People whooped and cheered.

Egbert lay back, his world view confirmed.

He really, really hated eggs.


Why this location?

Last Year’s Resolutions

(///clean.wider.both – Big Ben, London, UK)

“Henry, you’ve done it again!” Henry’s friends slapped him on the back, congratulating him on the annual success of his party trick. Henry smiled a little sheepishly. If only they knew.

But how could he tell them? They would hardly believe that his yearly bravado of perfectly fulfilling his New Year’s resolutions had actually been accomplished by cheating.

Years before, his experiments in the space time continuum had produced a tiny rip. He used it to pass himself an envelope with that year’s highlights expressed as resolutions, retrieving it the year before he actually sent it. He then gave the unopened envelope to a friend for safekeeping and it would be unsealed twelve months later to great acclaim, his friends none the wiser that he had actually written and sent it that very day.

He always enjoyed seeing what his future self had selected – ‘This year I will watch Liverpool win at Manchester United; This year, a man in a green hat will offer to clean my shoes; This year I will go to a gallery opening and be served a sandwich containing both meat and fish’. They were mostly trivial things, in keeping with his life really, where using his complex scientific breakthrough to be the star of his social gatherings had proved more important than publishing his findings for the world to see.

Then one New Year’s Eve, the envelope didn’t arrive.

Henry slumped down in a chair. He knew what it meant.

At the party that night, as his friends congratulated him on being treated to a surprise pilchard fishing trip and being sent a wider hat than he had ordered from a catalogue, he said he would break with tradition. “I’m going to tell you my single resolution this year, rather than hiding it,” he declared.

They listened dutifully.

“Next year, I am going to live every day as it if it might be my last.”

“Bravo,” they shouted, and vigorously shook his hand. “What a year that’ll be. We can’t wait to hear the stories of what you’ve got up to this time next year!”

Henry smiled weakly. He knew that his resolution was true. And more than anything, he wished he could have joined his friends to talk about it all on the next New Year’s Eve.


Why this location?

Who’s on the List?

(///straying.enlised.chemist – Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi, Finland)

It was a mutiny. The elves said the workload was out of control. The annual effort to determine which children had made it to the nice list, and who was stuck on the naughty list, frankly it had become too much.

“It was all very well when the earth’s population was smaller,” their union leader insisted to Santa. “But now there are too many of them. It’s unmanageable.”

“What do you suggest?” Santa asked calmly.

“We need modernisation. Better hours. More time dedicated to wrapping.”

The leader started suggesting ways to improve LIGS (Lists Information Gathering Service). “An anonymous survey for parents to fill in and send back,” he suggested. “Spam,” Santa said. “They’ll ignore it.”

“Social listening, automatically monitoring digital communication to determine each child’s behaviour.” “Straying into snooping there,” Santa advised. “Imagine the furore if that came out.”

“I’ve enlisted the help of a chemist,” the leader said, exasperated. “He could automate analysis of their bodily functions to tell us, I don’t know, something.” Santa shook his head. “Even you must be able to smell that one,” he joked.

“If I could say something,” the elves’ welfare office said hesitantly.

“Go on,” Santa encouraged her.

“Well,” and she cleared her throat. “Isn’t the concept of the naughty and nice list a little, well, antiquated. Don’t we want everyone to have a wonderful Christmas? Why should some miss out for being hyperactive or difficult? Christmas is for everyone.”

“That’s the spirit!” Santa roared. “That’s the true meaning. From now on, the lists are abolished!”

The elves cheered. It was a perfect result. Their workload diminished. The essence of Christmas enhanced. Everyone was delighted.

Except that once Christmas was over, the elf workers council met to look at the year ahead. With no lists there was less to do. With less to do there might be layoffs. And what was an elf to do if there was no Christmas to prepare for?

“I think we might have been a bit hasty,” the union leader said. “I mean, lots of elves enjoyed the list work.”

“Elf wellbeing is very important,” the welfare officer said.

“A very good point,” the leader nodded. “You know what? I think we should go and see Santa.”


Why this location?

Keeping up with the Cohens

(///outdone.lipstick.behind – The Western Wall, Jersualem, Israel)

Every year, the same broigus. The Rabbi was fed up with it. Yet here they were again, Morty and Samuel sitting a few feet away from each other in his living room, boiling with rage.

“This should be a joyous time,” the Rabbi insisted. “But instead you ignore our traditions and the things that make our festival special.”

“He refuses to lay off,” Morty complained.

“I can do what I like,” Samuel rebutted.

“Enough, both of you,” the Rabbi insisted. “Enough.”

He shook his head. It had started out harmlessly enough. A few years previously, newcomer Morty had built an ostentatiously large Menorah outside his house to celebrate Hannukah. People came every night to see him light it. But Samuel, three doors down, felt that as the elder statesman of the community, the attention belonged to him, so he countered with a larger Menorah the following year.

Not to be outdone, Morty added frills – a fairground carousel, a spaceship. Samuel worried about falling behind so created an elaborate steam ship and an ornate dressing table, complete with giant lipsticks for candles.

The bad blood was such that the community dreaded Hannukah and increasingly felt unable to celebrate its message of deliverance and rebirth of the Jewish people, instead forced to pick sides between gaudy Menorahs.

“This cannot go on,” the Rabbi said. “And it won’t. What is it this year? The London Eye up against giant waxworks of biblical figures?”

They were both silent.

“It stops now. Follow me.” The men glared at each other and then dutifully trooped out of the room and into the Rabbi’s garden.

They stood in the dark silence for a moment. “Well?” Samuel asked eventually.

“Just this,” the Rabbi replied, and flicked a switch.

There in his garden, floodlights revealed the most glorious outdoor Menorah they had ever seen. A temple theme. Intricate brickwork. Goblets of oil for the lights.

“You will stop fighting because you won’t go against your Rabbi. And to be honest, you can’t beat this.”


Why this location?