Tag Archives: Fiction


Here I sit, in my high speed low carb train, minding my own business. It’s 2052 and it’s one fine world rushing past outside. Would love to savour the view, rows and rows of splendid windmills, but annoyance. People are so gross these days. Instead of politely lowering their voices, they talk as if this was there living room

There’s this guy, two seats ahead, pretty massive, and the voice to go with stones of body. No risk not to hear what he’s telling this other guy, same age, leaner format. Perhaps some kind of colleague, perhaps from an earlier career phase. The two of them boarded at the last stop. Massive didn’t wait to reach their booked seats, was already talking when they entered the carriage:

… and oh yes indeed, it does work. Like hell it does! And this presentation will change the world. Once and for all, and for the best. Trust me, this time next year, we’ll be flying private.

Massive is all excited, Lean has every chance to get spitted at, in the heat of the action. Wonder if he would like to comment, can’t see his face from where I sit. Massive doesn’t give him much of a chance, he’s gushing on and on:

You know how they always say ‘Don’t pretend your invention beats sliced bread’? Well, this one does. With the empathopotion, all will be well, finally. Here, look at this, and that’s just a little selection of testimonials. And don’t you think I picked the most enthusiastic endorsements. Au contraire, totally au contraire. I had to hunt for as low key as possible, because otherwise, who will believe me.

Here, this guy, for example. Won’t turn up to sound, otherwise we’ll get complaints, but just look at this face. Tells you all, doesn’t it? He joined the trial with his partner, as a last resort. They were forever fighting, about pretty much every detail of day-to-day life anyone can imagine, as close to separation as you can get before finally proceeding. Two weeks on the empathopotion, and here they are, hardly remembering what it was they used to fight over. That’s what an increase in empathy achieves. Incredible, isn’t it?

Massive is one annoying person, but I confess I’m starting to take an interest. This empathopotion might be in urgent need of a more catchy name, marketroids will have to come up with something else, but if it does what I’m starting to understand it is supposed to do, wow. No reason to disturb thirty innocent people, not the big bang wow, but a bit of wow anyway. Must be too good to be true.

Massive isn’t done, provides examples number two and three. A single mother struggling with her teenage daughter, both on the potion, two weeks, fighting greatly reduced and much more civilised. An elderly couple clashing over whether or not to give up the house and move into a retirement home, both on the potion, two weeks, unanimous decision to start with a third way and hire live-in help.

Massive doesn’t sound like running out of examples any time soon, but lean surprisingly manages to cut in, and quite an agreeable voice he has:

Yes, sure, point taken, and by the way: I’m familiar with this presentation. You sent it, not to lose time on the train, remember? Or do you need to take your potion, these days, to notice I’m trying to comment? Only joking, of course, don’t get me wrong. But I do wonder what happens if this is administered without consent?

I so love Lean. This thought has been all over my mind ever since I allowed the hypothesis of an effective empathopotion to form.

Unfortunately, Massive chooses this most inappropriate moment to discover his inner polite person and lower his voice. Mental note to check the usual portals for news of an empathopotion. And a little additional care around fluid intake might be a good idea.

Female Winner Season 2

Nice to meet you! Had just gotten ready to celebrate my first full month without a what-was-it-like-to win-Campetition interview when I received your email, so shoot, please do. What would you like to know?

My opinion of Campetition overall? That’s a new one, how nice. This is about, how to put this, about the ethics, right? Really like that question.

What I usually get? Well, there’s the girls stuff crowd. They ask about my workout schedule, how I keep my hair shiny, what makeup I recommend, for girls of my complexion and in general. They also inquire about very private stuff, e.g. my plans on the family side, how many kids I want, if there’s a groom in sight. That part is pretty unnerving. And there’s the lefties. Those ask basically one question “Please endorse cause x.” They do say please, it’s all very polite, but they are basically demanding the endorsement, not asking for my opinion.

That’s what I like, about your question. Someone caring about my opinion. Most media people I met to far hadn’t even figured out that I do come with opinions. Your approach is a novelty, and I like it.

Because Campetition is ambiguous, isn’t it? Having refugees compete against each other, for the right to live and work someplace, what kind of story does this tell about your society? Do moms want their kids on this show? It’s certainly better than Big Brother, especially for a girl. Not overtly sexist, you get to preserve a little privacy and dignity. The overall ambiance is quite nice, they take great care to treat participants ok. No kicking the wounded, the harder, the more down they are, like on The Apprentice.

From the inside, Campetition is pretty ok, very nice crew, totally safe place. They even have a lady for girls to talk to one-on-one, at any time, in case there’s stress. Where else do you get that? Certainly not where I come from, I can tell you, and I was one of the privileged ones, as you will sure have deduced from my accent. But if you look at Campetition from the outside, it’s still shocking, that this kind of show exists in a supposedly civilised world.

There, I said it, supposedly civilised. I’d rather you don’t quote that, too tough a verdict, not my way. Thank you, that’s kind, very much appreciated.

Male Winner Season 2

Oh my God, this really is about Campetition, is it? After all this time?

Ok, not that long ago. Funny, how time feels different, isn’t it? Such a lot has happened since, Campetition feels so far away. Like it had been someone else involved, some prior me I barely remember having been, you know? This whole…, don’t know how to call it, like, phase, episode, bracket, parenthesis, whatever, it was a bit surreal.

Not just Campetition. The whole bloody having-to-run and-nowhere-to-go experience, that’s so totally not what you imagine as part of your life. One day, you mind your usual business and ignore the bloody news as best you can, and wham, next day some freakin idiot has the fucking civil war come your way. And here you are, left with zero palatable choice. For me, it was joining the gang, like my older cousin, or run, run, run.

In the early days, I often thought “bad move, stupid me, should have picked the killer machine option, anything else is bound to be better than this shit”. You run out of money in no time, and then it goes all real dicey. No food, no shelter, no nothing. You end up glad for getting assigned some miserable corner at the toilet end of camp doom, and a wet sleeping bag to roll yourself into and cry.

Campetition was a big improvement, by comparison. A lady I was trying to schmooze up needed help with her own application video. I did my former Nollywood hopeful best and she was pleased, allowed me to create one for myself, and submit it, on her phone and data plan. At that point, I was so broke, I didn’t even have a phone, can you imagine? That’s so below zero, no phone.

And they picked me, of all available idiots. The lady was pissed off like hell, went so wild she even talked me into offering her my slot. But the masters of Campetition said no way, it’s either me or completely new selection process, zero corruption. “Ok,” I said, “than it’s me, but you tell the lady. I don’t want her brothers looking for me for shooting.”. And they sort of did, provided me with paperwork. More paperwork!

You wouldn’t believe how much paperwork there is, in this world. Never knew, me. Because, the amazing thing is, as long as you have the right paperwork, no one ever asks you to show it. But beware, the day you’re without, they’re all over you. And you run in circles no end: No phone without a passport, but no picture and passport appointment without a phone. Loads of no-hen-no-egg dadaism, in the weird world of the paper pushers.

Anyway, I’m digressing. So I made it into Campetition, and won. Dead slow on the bloody paperwork task, was so scared to fuck it up, but I got it resolved after all. Overall, I was still two seconds faster than the next idiot, and that was it. That’s a moment I won’t forget, me all blinking because blended by the spot full on me, and totally not getting it at first. There had been rehearsals for all the rest, who-goes-where-when, but not for this part, obviously, so I was like “What the hell is this now, where is this going?”. One hell of a pleasant surprise, can tell you that.

Campetition, ‘problematic’? Honestly, if you need to ask you might want to book a course on racism, sexism and classism. Just the basics will do just fine, to spare you future embarrassment.

Of course it’s shit, Campetition! Of course I would have preferred to get my visa without jumping through this kind of loops, like some circus lion. By the way, did you notice how and why there are no more circus lions in Europe? No such rules for people…

Campetition is shit, but I’m glad I won. And now that I’m in, I fully understand why they can’t just let everybody in. This place would be is packed. It’s huge, real huge, but not infinite….

Oh, you’re nodding now? Do I perceive a bit of relief? Oh, more nodding.

This was a trap darling, to check if you’re serious, about addressing serious wrongs. Not much wrong with Campetition, not as such per se. It’s the society that is rotten, and this show is just one of the symptoms.

My pleasure, always keen to enlighten.

Talent Screener 3

Well…, what is it like, how best to describe it… This is really hard, you know? Would you like an honest answer, me describing as it is? Or do you prefer the official legend, as in splendid opportunities, new horizons, chance of a lifetime, and bla, and more bla,…?

The truth. Okay… That is one big word, you know?

Let’s try the facts, then. An average of 1.117 applications, per day. Not that many, considering there are some dozens of millions of refugees, if you trust sources like UNHCR. Quite a lot, if you take into consideration that to be able to apply, you need to be in a camp, officially registered, have a functional smartphone with sufficient data volume to provide the required set of three pictures and one video, and pretty good English. We are totally missing out on non-English speaking talent. Breaks my heart, because hey, that’s so not inclusive at all!

No, of course I can’t ‘read’ 1.117 applications per day. No manual processing involved at the first two stages. Central casting sets the parameters, for age, gender and region of origin – bit of a proxy for race, that one, but psst, no mentioning of this aspect, big bad dirty secret.

Stage one, the software sorts the applications according to the parameters. We typically get loads of young men, and hardly any old women, meaning the latter get a much better chance to get land a gig. Can you do me the favour to spread the word? I’d really appreciate a better selection of at least middle-aged ladies. The older, the better, actually. A granny would be cool to have, on the show, but they seem to rarely make it to the camps, for whichever reason.

Sorry, I’m digressing…

Stage two, the software does some advanced sorting, of the pictures. It’s a special algorithm, trained on audience preferences, that delivers a liveability score. You need high and low likeability scorer, for emotional involvement. Officially, the algorithm is very secret sauce and high tech. If you look at what it delivers, you see the usual: Symetric face, good teeth, nice skin and hair good, asymmetric face, bad teeth, pimples and bald spots bad. Pretty obvious, but it does save time to have the software do the sorting.

Stage three is my job: I get presented with perhaps a dozen of promising candidates and call them to check if they’re anything like their applications. More often than not, I can’t reach them, or they’re fake in one or more respects. I often go for days without proposing anyone.

Would this qualify as the truth, or would you prefer more anecdotes?

You won’t believe the kind of stuff I get to see in the videos…

Crumpy Old Creative

You found me? Wow! Congratulations, your research skills must be outstanding. Or do you happen to be romantically engaged with the masters of the streaming universe? No? Sure? Ok, I believe you.

No, I don’t! That’s not how it works.

Someone must have told you, and his, or looking at you more probably her guard must have been down, as happens in the context of sex. Or drugs. Or – no, I won’t go full cliché. Shut up, go away, leave me alone.

Yes, I would consider alcohol drugs. Yes, this statement does apply to really old whiskey. It’s still drugs.

Ok, you’re starting to make sense to the crumpy old creative. A couple of shots of whiskey can work wonders on a lady habitually running on decaf and low calorie isotonic slurp. Still surprised she mentioned me, after all these years. Quite pleasant, to be remembered. Would be even more pleasant to get my share, pecuniarily speaking, but still…

It all started with a textbook unsolicited submission.

You can’t just wake up and pitch to Netflix. You need an agent, to do it for you. His job, if you want to call this kind of address hoarding a job, is to know whom to contact, and what forms to use. The likes of Netflix, they won’t write on their website “Please contact let’s call her alice.bob@netflix.com to propose a show”, you know?

You need an agent. Or a dark web friend with access to a big bucket full of magically rerouted emails and some data mining skills. And here you are, contacting that same alice.bob@netflix.com, with exactly the right kind of header. A more diligently criminal mind than yours truly would have faked a known sender, to avoid any risk of being identified as spam, but I’m scared of police, never no go illegal.

And yes, it worked. Twenty minutes later, we were chatting via webex. Or rather, she was shouting at me. She was so upset, all wild. Called me a a raving disgrace to humankind, and more. Because even coming up with the idea for this show was supposed to be worse than all crimes against humanity ever committed. Bit harsh, bit over the top, but people in her line of work perhaps need that kind of temper, with all the entitled extroverts they have to deal with?

Anyway, she made it very, very clear that she would never, ever allow anything like this show to happen, on Netflix or wherever else I might dare pitch it. And me to promise to forget the stupid idea, and switch back to writing sci-fi. End of encounter.

And here we are, five years later, wondering what happen afterwards. Did she change her mind? How? Did someone else come up with that same idea, title and all, and reach out to a more experimentally minded strategy person? Who dunnit? Do you know?

An in-house development, too vaguely inspired by my initiative to make it worth mentioning or paying me? Honestly? See now, why I’m a crumpy old creative? Or would you like me to aggravate my humiliation by showing off the site sucker documentation of the website where I published the original scraps?

Just kidding, no plans to waste your time any further, grin.

Crumpy, as in crumpy old creative? Cross and grumpy. Got this weird habit of mutilating the English language as often as possible.

Junior Accountant

It’s a job, you know? Just a job. I do the numbers, that’s it.

Don’t care if it’s for Campetition or whatever. Numbers are numbers, the spreadsheet looks the same. We buy stuff, we pay staff, we rent places, management takes business trips, taxman gets his share, it’s basically the same routine everywhere.

No, wouldn’t feel very good working for an arms manufacturer, or big tobacco. Would prefer not to mention on social occasions. Someone has to do those numbers, too, of course, and it’s not the numbers people doing the killing, of course not. But I’d still prefer not to mention.

Whereas being involved with Campetition, that’s pretty cool, for my line of work, makes for good small talk. Pretty much everybody is watching it, and cheering for someone. Like that girl from Syria, two seasons back, don’t remember her name, but so cute. My wife got asked at her gym, if she might be available as personal trainer.

This show really is win-win all over. Fun to watch, and educational. You wouldn’t believe the progress my kids made, for geography, since they are allowed to watch. Clara, she’s first grade, but she can say Afghanistan, and locate it on her beach ball. Very educational, the country clips explaining where the contestants come from. And never too harsh, no risk of causing nightmares.

And for the contestants, it’s even more win-win. Best case they hit the jackpot and get to stay, with all rights to all benefits. Worst case they get deported back to whichever camp they came from, but as famous people with a little cash. You can bet most of them will achieve some kind of what passes for a career under their kind of circumstances. And if they don’t, there are still the nice memories and the pictures.

Embarrassed, for being involved with Campetition? Certainly not!

Stage Hand 18

If it’s racist? You are asking me, the black guy on the minimum wage – and wish it was payed on time and matching the real hours for once! – if Campetition is racist?

Any kind of idea how much how back breaking work is involved to make this big b*shit of a show happen? Do the fences go up by themselves? Does the bloody pool for the f*cking paddle boat race fill by magic? Does the splashed water mop itself up? Ever asked yourself who does the dishes after the all-cooked-zero-waste food package challenge?

Give you a hint: It’s not the camera fodder getting themselves exploited here, dawn to dusk, with barely a lunch break and no canteen. It’s us, the workforce, a.k.a the proletariat, the toiling masses, the idiots of the day.

That said – and it really needs saying more often, even if it puts me at risk of getting the sack – of course it’s racist, Campetition. The whole world order is one big fat bloody racism, why and how should prime time family entertainment be the one exception?

The camera fodder is darker skinned, on average, than management and the audience. No one needs to explain how one more young man from the Middle East or Africa ended up in a refugee camp and desperate enough to apply to compete in this b*shit. But an Oxbridge-educated blonde, he would look and sound out of place, right?

Thought you’d agree. Now guess who has a master in Sociology from Imperial College London and still needs to toil as a stage hand, because no career opportunities forthcoming, always invited, for diversity, never hired? You didn’t guess, did you? And now you feel awkward? Why not blame me, my oh so fragile friend?

Yes, sarcasm. What else?

Sounds & Tunes Lady

Yep, I’m the lead acoustician. Yep, it takes a degree in acoustic engineering to make sh*t like Campetition sound right on all screens. Yep, I’m fed up if referred to as the sounds & tunes lady. Might chew on your balls for dinner, to teach you manners.

Course not, none of the above, no need to go all pale, just kidding. You need one big fat sense of humour not to get mad on this set.

My degree might have helped me land this job, theoretically. It does feature in my CV, somewhere near the bottom of the credentials pile. But I’d rather guess no one cared, or even noticed. Most of what I learned at poly to manufacture manually is performed by tools and libraries. My role is to keep on top of those tools, not as easy as it sounds with a rhythm of two releases per year, at minimum. And to refrain them from going for perfect and make the experience sound fake.

Stuff like Campetition flies by authenticity. An also-ran needs to sound like a loser, his steps, his voice, his breathing. And a champ needs to sound it, confident, authoritative. And just a tad self-deprecating. Otherwise they’d all hate the bragging nuisance, right?

Campetition sounds & tunes would be a no-brainer if management got itself kissed by wisdom. As in finally accepting that professionals like me need to know in advance who is destined for glory and who isn’t, to deliver top notch product.

But no, never no wisdom at management level. They insist on pretending that Campetition is like traditional sports, as opposed to show biz. So I have to guess, and take precautions for the unexpected.

Like that bloody teenager, from Syria I think she was. Must have done some ballet, or kung fu, or whatever. Tiny, tiny, and not particularly clever looking, textbook Campetition loser. Only hedged a bit on that one, and had to adjust on the double when the bloody nuisance swept through the first round. Quite a mess. Especially as lights & looks had guessed my way, too. Music had to carry a lot on this one. Not my proudest moment.

Anyway, was nice talking to you, but need to run now. Intro needs an update of the booms, to make any watching NATO veterans feel at home. You wouldn’t believe how fast some of those guys reach for the keyboard if you don’t adjust war sounds to current state-of-the-art ammunition.

Participant Season 1

Evil? Campetition? No, not really, not in any serious way, in my humble opinion. Evil, that’s guys wanting to shoot you, for no better reason than you being there, unarmed, and them needing to boost their collective fighter ego. Evil, that’s police threatening to break your fingers, for trying to report mafia boys threatening to break your legs for not paying up. That’s evil. Campetition isn’t.

Won’t deny a certain embarrassment, especially around the video of me abysmally failing a delivery task that looks so simple on screen. Some of that footage is still circulating on social media, after all this time. Just the other day a four-year old pointed at me on the bus and went “man no know bike ride, man no know bike ride!”. His mom must have seen it too, she tried so hard not to laugh that she ended up with a hiccup. Nice lady, very nice lady, still regret we didn’t talk.

Embarrassing, yes, having been on Campetition is embarrassing. But the show only inflicts very minor humiliation. As a refugee, you quickly learn to endure much worse, day in, day out.

In my old life, as a professional, even the idea of participating in a contest to prove my ability to work as a delivery boy on a bicycle would of course have been anathema. You don’t think about this kind of career option, right? But when the casting crew shows up at your refugee camp and you haven’t eaten or slept properly for months, one week in a proper hotel, with breakfast, lunch and dinner, clean sheets and warm showers, sounds like an improbably good opportunity, and you go “Yeah, pick me, oh pleeeeease, pick meeee! And that’s before starting to hope to win, and get that fabulous one-year-visa, with work permit.

I didn’t even last through week one. Far too old and clanky, not fit enough, physically. I was the first in a long line of archetypical Campetition losers, only there for the laughs. With hindsight, an ice cube would have better odds at lasting in an oven than me in that show.

But, guess what, even the most embarrassing failure can bring about opportunity. Months after the show, and my subsequent relocation from Lesbos to Turkey under what they call the New Refugee Deal, a nice sounding name for a horrible dead end, I was contacted by the Red Crescent.

One of my former clients, from back home in Herat, my company used to handle all kind of logistics for the US troops, back in the good old invasion days, this military person, back home in the US, he had seen the footage of me crashing my bike and spilling my pizza boxes under the effect of the fire hose. He wasn’t watching the show, not his kind of entertainment, but this clip was all over social media, for a couple of hours.

He recognized me, worried I might have been seriously injured, called his Member of Congress, another veteran, and got me onto a medical evacuation list. Next stop Ramstein air base in Germany, and new embarrassment, because my bruises had long healed. Except for a little diarrhoea, curtesy of the filthy water at the New Deal camp, I was as healthy as a refugee can be. They discharged me from the hospital on the same day, but allowed me to stay on base, for the time being.

Currently, I review Pashto social media post for the military intelligence guys, and translate whatever hints at terrorism plots targeting the US. Based on this job, and the free army barracks type of housing that comes with it, the Germans issued me with an identity card. It has to be renewed every twelve months, but overall, I’m living refugee paradise.

Do you really think Campetition would have handed over my contact details if I had reason to rubbish them? Yes, that’s how it works.

Junior Casting Manager

Yes, pretty new in the job, still counting in months, if you know what I mean. Used to assist casting for toothpaste miracle testimonials. So much easier, ethically. But try looking at six toothy grins per minute, three angles each, for eight hours a day, twelve in emergency recruitment mode, for more than a year… Just try it, before blaming me.

Campetition is evil, ok, not arguing with that statement. But that’s just your normal, globalisation-does-this-to-people-all-the-time variant of evil, ok? It’s actually far more honest than my old job. Teeth don’t grow bigger and more even through brushing, right? See what I mean?

Advertising is one big storytelling hoax. Whereas in Campetition, people do win. Very few people, as in two, ok. They don’t win much, from our point of view, sure. We’ve already got the passport, the wealthy parents, the education, you name it…

Your parents aren’t wealthy? Cool! Mine are, and they expect me to earn a living, for all the studying they sponsored. That pressure, all the time, is so killing me. It’s inhumane, really.

Anyway, yes, Campetition is evil. Like the pole dancing task for the girls. We use it in casting, to weed out the shy ones. That’s really, really bad. No one should be forced to pole dance. But now listen to this: They never even complain. None of the girls. Never.

We’ve of course got an agony aunt, official title stage intimacy counsellor. the agony aunt, she’s present at all times, not just for the sexy scenes. Ours is a clean stage and backstage, we won’t feature in no #metoo scenario. And guess what? The lady in question is bored stiff, because none of the girls talk to her. Full blown bore out candidate, the poor shrinkess, and crying on my shoulder about it.

The girls, they see the dresses they are supposed to wear, very revealing dresses, very tight. Are they going ‘Eek, rampant sexism, down with male chauvinism’? Nope. They go all happy happy wild.

Just yesterday one asked me ‘Madam, any chance I can keep this robe?’. ‘Madam’! Never was I so embarrassed before, really didn’t know where to look. And the so-called robe, it was more negligee than dress, revealing lots matching underwear, all laces.

I told the girl to please call me Beo, and never ever madam again, and asked her if her mom wouldn’t be aghast, at seeing her in this kind of undress-dress. And guess what happens? She laughs, pulls out her phone and shows me her Instagram. Turns out she has a gig as a dessous model, for her mom, who sells sexy wear.

Meaning to say, it’s all a question of perspective.

If they get to keep the dresses? Of course not, we’re one a budget. Meaning the girls always have to dress before makeup, and they get de-makeupped before they can change back into their own clothes. Always feel sorry for them, when I see them shivering and rubbing their bare arms to feel warmer. We really should provide them with towels, bathrobes, something to keep them warmer, I think. Will say this, once I make senior casting manager.

I really do need the money, you know? Don’t we all? Just saying.