yeh six-inch Veggie Delite please

Honey Oat


                                no not sliced


    everything apart from tomatoes, extra gherkins, mayo lite

                                                                                                and a little sweet chilli


The boy I went to prom with worked at Subway when I met him. He told me one time that there are over 37 million combinations of sandwich offered across the entirety of Subway stores. Mine: a six-inch veggie delite, Honey Oat, toasted, grate d cheese -- everything apart from tomatoes, -- extra gherkins, a little sweet chilli, mayonnaise. His job title, written across the top of his payslip every month, was “Sandwich Artist.” There was a whole section in his training handbook entitled Intelligent Eating Habits, as if what Subway offered their customers was no longer a sandwich, but an exercise in pushing the parameters of their creativity and intellect. Once, I watched him try and construct a sub for someone who literally asked for everything the counter had to offer. The customer, disregarding the implied limitations of the Subway menu, insisted on having both formats of cheese, every variety of meat, all of the salad options available and four different types of condiment.

In year 6, I won a sandwich design competition. My prize was an up-close-and-personal guided tour of the local sandwich factory that provided for our school canteen. At the factory, all the workers were wearing those blue elasticated bags over their shoes and hair, the condiments were kept in ice-cream tubs and applied with a plastic spatula by hand. A man in a suit told us all about ‘carriers’ and ‘barriers’ and how they adapted their production line in response to market demands. High-tech developments in machines that deposit precise blobs of sauce had not been developed yet, and I remember very clearly the slight wobble of the mayonnaise every time the  gloved woman dipped her spatula into the tub, and how a crust had formed around its lip that was turning clear and shiny. That day altered my view of the sandwich somewhat, for the context I had drawn for my Millionaire’s Ploughmans was the kitchen at the heart of the family unit, cradled in the hands of a warm, motherly figure. Yet I found myself in a windowless warehouse unit kept at a consistent 1.6 degrees celsius so as to preserve the molecular integrity of the lettuce.

The word ‘carrier’ is used to denote bread, or the vehicle used to carry the sandwich and its fillings into the mouth. Carriers can be slick and unhesitating, engineered like a fast car. Yet a ‘carrier’ suggests something rotten and ominous; it evokes something of dystopian sci-fi movies like iRobot when Emma Thompson talks about the first humans that are carriers of the deadly disease that will turn them into zombies or, ultimately, kill them off. I went to the new Ed Atkin’s show called Old Food the other day and the poster image was a shit-filled sandwich with little plastic babies submerged in it. I went round the exhibition watching the video works waiting for the shit sandwich, but it never came. I realised this is how they try and model it when you get feedback during your progress review at work; the shit is sandwiched in by the positive so you never can quite locate where the shit actually is.

“Sandwiches,” the suited man said, “never sit still.”

Butter or mayonnaise is the usual industry go-to for a ‘barrier’. A barrier prevents the movement of words and things, it’s a substance that prevents bread from going soggy. But at what point does mayonnaise, which is supposed to be supplementary, complimentary, an accessory, even, become a ‘barrier’? I only started eating mayo in December 2016 , and since then I have realised the importance of the presence of mayonnaise in my life and all its connective faculties. Recently, I moved into a new place on a street called Mayow Road and my brother is taking great pleasure in calling it Mayonnaise Road. He spread it round all the family members we have left and now they enjoy calling me up and asking what a house on Mayonnaise Road looks like.

Someone said once about how the shortest poem is a name and I think I now understand what they meant.

It takes a certain kind of mind to really innovate between two pieces of bread.

‘Inclusions’ refers to the ingredients that go inside a sandwich. An ‘inclusion’ is something that cannot be conceived without its other, on exclusion. It suggests something structural or systematic, a governmental scheme or corporation, something where there is a definite inside and outside. Inclusion is an activity of optimisation, it systemically excludes in order to build its own personalised version of a hierarchy.

Such a reckless order is known as the ‘all-in approach’. Subway teaches its employees to actively persuade customers against it, as it makes it incredibly difficult to produce an end-result that complies with the company’s strict composition regulations. Composition is not simply an action in Subway, it’s an ideology. A baked roll shaped like a war machine is renamed in a process that is designed and completed by you - everything is on offer, everything is on the table, ‘more’ + ‘agency’ are packaged neatly into 18 square metal containers. There are apparently no limitations to what we may conceive as an inclusion, they propose a dizzying world of potentially infinite combinations, flavours and variables. 37 million combinations of your dreams. But the eternally expansive concept of inclusion is an illusion, there are glass walls built tightly around the whims of your tastebuds. Supposed choice guarantees the ultimate goal: return custom. Without fail, we come back for our stalwart favourites (that cheese and onion one from the petrol station, a Sainsbury’s BLT, the Tuna Crunch from Gregg’s).

In my head I watched the sandwich-artist become incredibly stressed as the toasted sub started to complain from being stuffed way beyond its foot-long capacity. The resulting sandwich that this particular customer ordered was both liberating and repulsive. It oozed out a sickening, cross-continental combination of meats, cheese, pickled matter and condiments, both sweet and savoury. The precisely engineered carrier - Italian Herb and Cheese© I think - disintegrated under the stress of it all. So-called choice, or the oppressions of ‘choice’, were pushed to the point of collapse, because choice doesn't exist when you choose everything. Upon the attempted reunification of the two sides of bread in a tight paper wrapping, the sandwich imploded and mayonnaise squelched everywhere.

A short story published in A VOID Magazine