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?

Just Desserts

(///leaned.system.hunter – Westbrook Road, Staines-upon-Thames, UK)

Arnold was fuming. Nobody had brought more honour to the town of Kingsblandingsford. And yet, those small-minded nincompoops on the council refused to give him a fitting award. All he wanted was a statue. A statue celebrating his many accomplishments – explorer, hunter, writer, baker, painter – the list was endless. But the accolade was not forthcoming.

“The system mandates that statues are posthumous,” the mayor insisted. “Wait till you’re dead, then we’ll talk.” And he chuckled and walked away.

“I’ll show them,” Arnold decided. As it turned out, faking his own death wasn’t hard. He lived by himself, he had enough money to start again overseas, and had friends, real friends who could spread the story of his demise during a dangerous trip to the jungle. Best being a hero to the end, he thought.

He had to wait nearly a year before news reached him that the council had relented, and an unveiling was planned for a few weeks later. His beard was full and his hair newly blond. He could attend undetected.

And so he found himself milling with the crowd, cheering as the mayor leaned over and pulled off the cover to reveal the creation underneath.

“The best way to remember Arnold!” the mayor announced. “Immortalised. In cake form!”

The crowd roared with laughter at the large fondant of Arnold, machete in one hand, paint brush in the other.

“He gets his statue to celebrate his ‘many virtues’. And we’re not stuck with it, or him, any longer. Everybody. Dig in!”

Arnold marched away as the town started to eat him up. Let them have fun today, he thought.

He was pleased he had packed his rifle.


Why this location?

Poker Face

(/// – Khalifa International Stadium, Qatar)

It was Pedro’s turn to deal. Marco nibbled meditatively on some fine savannah grass. Franco sipped from his clay pitcher of water. Bob fidgeted nervously, as he always did.

They looked at their cards. Marco checked. Nibbled some more. Franco put down a handful of grass. A sharp intake of breath. All eyes on Bob.

“I’ll see you and raise you,” betting some grass and a twig.

“Every time,” Pedro muttered. “Check.”

Cards were swapped in and out. Betting resumed. Marco folded. He was calm. Franco folded. Less calm. Bob put down three acacia leaves.

“OK that’s it,” Pedro exploded. “Whenever we’re together, it’s the same. You win!”

“Problem?” Bob asked warily.

“Yes,” and Pedro reached for his phone. “CCTV’s been watching you. I know.”

“Know what?”

“You’re cheating. And you’re no zebra!” He turned his phone round to show them the video, and they could clearly see a card being surreptitiously pulled from a black and white sleeve, with golden fur briefly revealed underneath.

“He’s a lion!” Marco and Franco screamed. They turned the card table upside down in their haste to get away. But Pedro stood bravely in front of the unmasked Bob, demanding answers, oblivious to the danger.

“What’s your excuse?” he asked.

Bob stood up and shook off his zebra suit, revealing his huge mane, shining teeth and massive paws. And then he slumped down again, bereft.

“It’s the grass,” he said. “I need the grass.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m such a disappointment to my family. A vegetarian lion! I can’t tell them. But you guys, you’ve got the best grass going at your game. I had to get some.”

The zebras watched as Bob shed tears and quivered on his seat. Pedro went over to him and patted him gently on the paw.

“Next time, lose the costume,” he said kindly.


Why this location?

The Woman in the Back Row

(///space.divide.acted – Radcliffe Camera, Oxford, UK)

Max and Hector clinked glasses. “Your very good health,” Max said.

“And yours,” Hector replied, before putting his glass down with a sigh. “Thirty years. I can’t believe we’ve been doing this thirty years!”

“We’re men of our word,” Max replied. “We said we’d meet back near our old college once a year. And we do. That’s worth drinking to. And look what I found!”

He enthusiastically pulled an old photo out of his jacket and put it down for them both to look at it.

“Goodness,” Hector said. “It’s the old Divide and Rule gang. Will you look at that. What were we doing?”

“Production of Cymbeline. I directed, you acted. Look at us all.”

“All that energy, all that ambition. The incredible things we were going to do!”

Max chuckled. “I know. You were going to win Oscars. I was still planning to go into space. Bertie there expected to win at least two Nobel prizes. Peter hadn’t given up on being World Chess Champion. We were all going to change the world.”

Hector shook his head. “We didn’t though, did we. Done all right, money, families, the usual stuff. Haven’t really made a big dent though. World would have coped just fine without us.”

They drank in silence.

“Don’t forget Charlotte though,” Max pointed out. “There, right at the back.”

“There is that. She was such an oddball though. So quiet. Never socialised, made no real impression on anyone. Just said her lines and then went home. Really strange person.”

Max nodded. “True enough.” He drank some more beer. “But it goes to show, you can never really tell about people. Hard to predict who’ll end up as Prime Minister.”

Hector had a drink. “Yes. Hard to predict.”


Why this location?

Seeing the Light

(///allotment.fishlike.baroque – Ligatne nuclear bunker, Lativa)

The thing that really stood out when the end came was the serenity of it all. Take Ronald, pottering away in his London allotment, standing up to pause and stretch, leaning on his shovel when he heard the deafening noise and turning his head instinctively to the blinding flash in the sky.

Or Deirdre, sipping tea in a baroque café in Paris, nibbling daintily on a shortbread biscuit even as the roar engulfed her. Horace on America’s East Coast, insisting on using the few seconds that remained to hole his putt. Fiona, waking briefly in her Sydney bed to give her husband a final embrace.

You see, it had been the waiting that had been so unbearable. The escalation of conflict. The threats, the counter threats, the growing certainty that this time sanity would not prevail, the human instinct for survival would not rescue them. That had been the torture, the permanent anxiety over the destruction to come.

So people had stopped worrying. They had developed a fishlike ability to forget everything almost instantly and had just got on with living and having fun, determined to enjoy whatever was left to them. They blocked out the madness of their leaders, a madness they were powerless to stop.

People were calm when the bombs fell, and as oblivion swept over the world in great waves, they relaxed, knowing the ordeal of the waiting was over and happy at least to have made the most of their last few days.

Surrendering to the light had proved to be easy after all.


Why this location?

Silly Love Songs

(///hurry.weds.pencil – The Beatles Story, Liverpool, UK)

She was still an old romantic. Boy meets girl, boy weds girl, boy and girl live happily ever after. But the boys she met weren’t like that. “You can’t hurry love” the one who wouldn’t commit told her. “Love will tear us apart” advised the one who never smiled. “Nobody loves me but my mother” said the one who promptly ran away.

So now here she stood at a high table in a busy café, pencil furiously scribbling down her thoughts, when a handsome young man in a leather jacket with a walrus motif on the lapel came up to her. He smiled and swept his hand through his finely coiffed hair.

“Paperback writer?” he asked nervously, pointing at her notebook.

Even though she shook her head she had instantly warmed to him. “Step right this way,” she beckoned him.

He put down his coffee and passed her his slice of honey pie. “From me to you,” he said.

They fell easily into conversation. She told him about learning to make truffles at the Savoy. He told her about his run-in with the taxman and how he had got by with a little help from his friends. She told him about her singing bird. He told her about his holiday in a Norwegian wood.

He had to go. “Can we come together again soon?” she asked.

“It won’t be long,” he reassured her.

“Can I call you up?”

“You know my name, look up the number.”

As they stared at each other, she found herself irresistibly drawn towards him, gripped by an overwhelming desire to hold his hand.


Why this location?