Sunday 1 January 2023

Beneath the streets of London are several stations of the London Underground that are no longer in use. Some were never completed, some were found redundant due to changing patterns of demand, and one, Mornington Crescent, was reopened after many years of closure. But there is one that will never, ever be brought back into service: British Museum. Far below even the lowest and most secret of the basement levels of the institution for which it is named, rumours have surrounded it since its construction in 1900. Its sudden closure in 1933 has never been satisfactorily explained.

In 1976, the Swiss artist H. R. Giger visited London, with a view to seeing some of these “ghost stations”, as they are called. Colleagues in the London art world arranged an introduction to London Transport, who provided a guide, one Henry Cottonwood, a long-serving member of staff who had worked at some of these stations when they were still in use.

Cottonwood found Giger a disturbing individual, but with good grace showed him around Down Street, Trafalgar, and others. But on their final foray, to British Museum, something happened of which he would never speak. Following an episode of “nervous exhaustion” he took early retirement, and refused ever again to travel on the Underground.

Three years later, the first “Alien” film came out, whose eponymous monster and its hideous life cycle were famously designed by Giger. When Cottonwood caught sight of an advertising poster, witnesses said that he screamed, “They’ve escaped!” and fled headlong into the traffic. He was fatally run over.

A shorter version of this story appears at Lawrence Simon’s 100 Word Challenge for 1 January, 2023.

Image: DALL·E, prompted with
“The British Museum underground station, painted by Giger.”

Sunday 16 October 2022


When the wine has been drunk, the bottle is discarded.

When a teaching comes into the world, it comes in a bottle, that being the individuality of the teacher, the time and place where he appears, and the type of people that he draws to himself. A school begins, in which the teaching is delivered.

One day, the teacher is gone, for such people live no longer than the rest of us. The last of the wine having been poured out, his students thereafter venerate the empty bottle, minutely studying the label, breathing the last of the fumes, worshipping the dead husk of his teaching.

Those who would discard the bottle and seek the source of the living wine that he brought are driven away as heretics.

Image credit: Thor Edvardsen, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Once upon a time there were two farmers, Mr Sudgeon and Mr Dudgeon. Their farms lay next to each other, separated by a well-worn cart track. Come harvest time, they sent their produce out to markets in the nearby towns. Both of them used the common track, but it was narrow, and it would happen from time to time that their heavily laden carts met and could not pass.

They were stubborn men and neither would yield, and they would even come to blows. Being stout and hearty, each as strong as the other, their altercations might leave the road blocked to everyone else wishing to pass, for half a day. Neither man would agree to widen the track, for each insisted that the other must lose a cart-width strip of land from his own farm.

It came to pass at church one Sunday, that the spirit of the Lord moved each to perceive the folly of their situation, yet still they could not see their way to a solution. So they spoke together and decided to ask some wise person to advise them. But all of the villagers and townsfolk that they knew would favour one or the other of them, depending on who they did more business with, and they bethought who might settle their argument without favour to either.

At last Mr Sudgeon suggested Judge Gruthvensborough[1], “for,” he said, “ he sits at the head of the court that gives justice to all the county, and will have no reason to favour either of us.” Mr Dudgeon agreed, although, he warned, “Surely this is too small a matter for someone so high to involve himself.” Mr Sudgeon replied, “Let us wear our best clothes, and invite him to lunch at his favorite inn to discuss a confidential matter. This will put him in a good mood, and a lunch costs less than a lawyer.”

They did as they thus planned, and explained their predicament. Judge Gruthvensborough, full of steak and good wine, laughed and said, “This is a small matter, that I might dismiss out of hand. And as each of you has given as good as he has got in your fights, you have no cause of action against each other that could be tried in court. A penalty for breaching the peace would leave the situation unresolved. But I will give you my judgement at once, here and now, providing that you both agree to abide by it, whatsoever it may be.”

Seeing no other possibility of resolving this matter, they readily agreed.

Judge Gruthvensborough pronounced, “Because of your great obstinacies in refusing to give up a single inch of your land, each of you shall surrender a full cart-width to make up a new path at your own expense, one on each side of the old. Let the earth removed to level the new paths be piled on the old to divide the two from each other, and grass and hedge let to grow there. And all who use this road in either direction shall take the left-hand path.”

And so it was done, and that was the invention of the dual carriageway.

Sudgeon and Dudgeon thereafter became great friends, and two better men you never did see.

[1] Pronounced “Groby”.

Image location.

Wednesday 28 April 2021

The Inventions of Pizza


Pizza is not popular in China, and imported Western pizza chains have met with indifferent success. This is despite the fact that pizza was first invented there, more than two thousand years ago, during the Qin dynasty. It was eaten by all classes of society, high and low, and every village would have its own communal pizza oven and characteristic recipes.

But one day, at a great state banquet, one of the guests suddenly picked up his pizza and flung it, frisbee style, at the Emperor. The circular blade concealed inside by a treasonous cook decapitated him.

Pizzas were henceforth banned throughout the Middle Kingdom, pizza ovens and recipes were destroyed, and the very word was expunged from the language.


Once upon a time there was a baker. His genius was not content to bake the same loaves every day, and he experimented with every conceivable method of baking bread, and baking every foodstuff into it: aubergine bread, sardine bread, pistachio marzipan bread.

Once, he had a surplus of unsold bread, that would go stale. He broke it up and baked it into a new batch, creating the renowned “pane del pane”, or “bread bread”.

His greatest invention was to bake a layer of cheese onto a flatbread, and embed therein a variety of vegetables and meat. A fad for this novelty swept through his city, which thereafter gave its name to the dish: Pisa.

Shorter versions of these stories first appeared on Laurence Simon’s 100 Word Story Weekly Challenge.

Wednesday 23 December 2020

404: A Christmas Story

Marley’s web pages were dead: to begin with. No sooner had Scrooge returned from the funeral than he had deleted every page of Marley’s “blog”, for which he had begrudged every kilobyte.

But that night he awoke from uneasy sleep to find a ghostly figure in his bedroom chanting “404! 404!”

“You don’t exist,” said Scrooge testily. “You’re that piece of cheese I had for supper.”

But the figure only said, “Come!” and Scrooge found himself compelled to follow as it drew him beyond the walls of his house and across the earth.

“The Library of Alexandria!” it declared, and Scrooge found himself amidst its burning. “404!”

“Plays and poetry!” retorted Scrooge. “Stuff and nonsense!”

It spoke again, “The archives of the Medici Bank!” and Scrooge was surrounded by workmen carting away stacks of old ledgers as waste paper. “404!”

Scrooge shivered with fear.

Finally, it said, “Ebenezer Scrooge!” and there was nothing but “404! 404! 404!” and Scrooge awoke.

Friday 2 October 2020


Darwinium was accidentally created in the search for stable superheavy elements. Its atomic number is 288, and it has at least fifty isotopes with half-lives of more than a microsecond. That may seem a short duration, but in its brief life it is able to catalyse the combination of ordinary heavy elements to form more darwinium and other superheavy darwinides whose properties vary in many ways, and which can induce each other's transmutation or disintegration. The resulting intense process of natural selection, with upwards of 100,000 generations per second, has resulted in the rapid creation of entirely new forms of matter, faster than human understanding can keep pace with.

Fortunately, it has not yet evolved the ability to digest any of the lighter elements. The few samples in existence have been isolated in aluminium containers, within which the finite resources cause the evolution to eventually peter out. The samples now appear to be quiescent, but there is no known way of destroying them. They have been able to absorb all the high-energy particles we have bombarded them with.

Theoretical calculations suggest that the introduction of as little of 1 gram of the heaviest ordinary elements might allow darwinide to evolve the ability to digest every element down to hydrogen. Some argue that it is our moral duty to release the darwinide so that it may progress to transmute the entire planet and beyond into new life-forms beyond our imagination.

Thursday 27 August 2020


I was at the airport when it happened, waiting to fly out to the UN Emergency Conference on, well, everything. Failure of all the Covid vaccines. The Indo-Chinese war. Escalating threats from the other nuclear powers. Then the Yellowstone supervolcano.

An announcement came over the PA system. “Attention all passengers. Civilisation has fallen. Passengers should only embark if travelling directly home. Once all remaining flights have departed this airport will close permanently. Personal message for Dr. Brezoianu. The conference has been abandoned, because what’s the point? Apologies for the inconvenience.”

I walked out of the airport and drove home, to wait for the end.

Image credit: Marcin Bajer, abandoned airportCC BY-NC 2.0