The Toast Problem
I was woken up at about 6.00 a.m. by a hammering on my door.
I shouted downstairs as I dressed. “You know Alun, sometimes I wish you wouldn’t come crashing and banging round here so early, I like a lie-in. What can possibly be so important this early? The boatman hasn’t been yet.”
“I burnt my toast Jed.”
“You burnt your toast! You wake me at six in the morning, before the birds have so much as sent their first tweet of the day, to tell me that.”
“You don’t understand Jed. There’s a face burnt onto my toast. It could be the making of the island Jed. Like that island in the Pacific, where an islander found the face of God burnt onto his crumpet. Millions go to the island every year to pay homage.”
“You’ve got the face of God on your toast?”
“It’s a different face Jed, not God’s, but the principle is the same. A famous face on a toasted bread product is enough to make our island famous. It’s like that island off the coast of China where they found the face of Buddha on a bagel. It’s a Mecca for Buddhists and bagel fans now.”
“So it’s Buddha’s face then?” I persisted.
“No, it’s Ed Milliband."
There was a silence.
“Ed Milliband Jed, the Labour Leader. David’s brother.”
“You expect millions to flock to the mecca of Ed Milliband’s face burnt onto a slice of toast?”
“You’d be surprised Jed. The Labour party has thousands of activists, and there are over 17 million trade union members in the UK alone. More people voted for Labour at the last election than voted for that annoying screamy one on X Factor.”
“Even so,” I said, “Ed Milliband’s not God is he? He doesn’t quite equate to Buddha.”
“You forget the international socialist movement Jed. A billion people worldwide active in the movement, they’ll come here from all over the world, communist China, Cuba.”
“To see Ed Milliband’s face on a slice of toast?”
“Come and see it Jed, you’ll change your mind.”
I followed Alun to his house, which was filled with the aroma of burnt bread. There, on a plate the kitchen table was the most uncanny portrait of Ed Milliband burnt onto a slice of toast.
“You see Jed, it’s the perfect likeness.”
“Yes, it does look like him. I still don’t think anyone will want to come and see it. It’s just toast.”
“You’re so wrong Jed. I’m going to get rich from this, you don’t have to join me if you don’t want to. I’m going to open an Ed Milliband’s Face on a Slice of Toast Visitors Centre. It’ll be a mecca for Ed Milliband supporters around the globe.”
“And where are you going to build this visitor’s centre?”
“The empty house Jed. It’s the perfect venue.”
For the next month I saw very little of Alun, he was busy setting up the empty house, sending emails, press releases and launch invites.
One morning I was woken early, about 6.00 a.m., by a hammering on my door. It was Alun. “Come and see the Visitor’s Centre Jed,” he shouted up the stairs, “it’s nearly ready.”
He had done an impressive job. He had converted the room near the front into a shop full of souvenirs: T Shirts, coasters, mugs, mouse mats and tea towels, all featuring pictures of Ed Milliband’s toast face. There was even a kitchen, offering visitors the opportunity to purchase burnt toast made with the very same faulty toaster that produced the portrait of the younger Milliband brother.
The main attraction though, was in the aptly named Large Room. In the centre of the room was a glass case and within the case was a plate bearing the toast with Ed’s face. “The toast has to be kept in a locked glass at all times, Jed.”
“Why?” I asked. “It’s hardly the Mona Lisa?”
“People don’t try and spread butter on the Mona Lisa Jed. I’m afraid that people will confuse the main exhibit with the toast they purchased in the Visitor Centre Kitchens. Remember what happened to the Vatican’s Kit Kat with the face of the Virgin Mary on it.”
For the next few days I helped Alun with the final preparations: phoning round the media, Labour clubs, unions, churches and Toast Appreciation Societies in every part of the country.
Finally the day arrived, a Saturday. I was woken up by a hammering on my door at 5.00 a.m. “I’m hoping for holiday traffic Jed,” Alun explained, “Ed Milliband’s face on a piece of toast is the perfect way for a young family to spend a weekend.”
We waited for the boatman with the first wave of visitors, but aside from himself and his usual mysterious packages, there was no-one. Alun tried not to show his disappointment. “Do you want to see Ed Milliband’s Face on a Slice of Toast Visitor’s Centre?” he asked the boatman.
“Can’t”, said the boatman, “full day ahead of me.”
The same story repeated itself every day that week and for the next few weeks and eventually months passed without so much as a single visitor to the Centre. Not even Mr Milliband himself responded to Alun’s numerous emails.
One morning I was woken early by a hammering on my door.
“I’m going to close down the Visitors Centre Jed,” Alun shouted up the stairs.
“I’m not surprised,” I said as I descended the stair, “but did you really have to wake me at six to tell me that?”
“That’s not why I came Jed.”
“Then why are you here?” I yawned.
“To show you my toast Jed. Look. It’s the living image of Ken Livingstone.”
I tried not to be impressed, but the likeness was uncanny. “Even so,” I said, “Ken Livingstone’s hardly going to be any more popular than Ed Milliband.”
“Not on his own Jed, but look what’s on the other side.”
I turned the toast butter-side up. Grinning back at me was the mad-eyed smile of Boris Johnson.
“Now if the Boris Johnson on a Slice of Toast Visitors Centre isn’t a success I’ll eat my own burnt toast Jed,” Alun said. And so we begun preparations for the new Visitors Centre. But that, dear reader, is another story.