The International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Paris today announced that a "leap centimetre" would be added to the length of the metre at midnight on 28th February 2012, to coincide with the addition of an extra day to the year.
'People are familiar with the time correction that occurs in leap years,' explained the Bureau's Director, Professeur de l'Horloge, to BBC News, 'but many are less aware of the periodic corrections required for the other three space-time dimensions.'
'Time and space came into existence 13.75 billion years ago with the Big Bang,' explained Professor Brian Cox, barging past the elderly Professeur de l'Horloge and knocking him to the ground at the sight of a TV camera. 'Space and time have been expanding ever since. Many people incorrectly believe,' continued Professor Cox, keeping a foot firmly on the spasming windpipe of Professeur de l'Horloge, 'that objects in the Universe are accelerating away from each other due to the explosion of the Big Bang - rather like shrapnel travelling away from the site of an exploding grenade. In fact, objects in the Universe stay relatively still. It is space-time, itself, that is expanding.
'We add an extra day in leap years to compensate for the additional time that has appeared during the previous four years,' continued Professor Cox. 'We increase the length of the metre whenever space has expanded by one centimetre per metre.'
Health officials on both sides of the Atlantic have expressed relief at news of the recalibration of the metre. 'There is a lot of space inside the human body,' explained UK Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley, 'and we now realise that much of the, so called, obesity epidemic has been due to the expansion of that space in accordance with Einstein's and Hubble's predictions. People simply appear to be getting fatter due to the expansion of the Universe. The recalibration will correct this.'
Slimming organisations, however, have expressed concern about the recalibration. 'We expect it to result in a reduction of four dress sizes for a typical woman,' admitted a spokesperson for Weight Watchers. 'Mr Einstein's and Mr Hubble's interference could result in the closure of many slimming clubs due to members feeling satisfied with their new measurements.'
Bon viveurs have been heartened to learn that there are cosmological and quantum mechanical formulae that explain their paunches. Some now even sport tee-shirts proudly proclaiming these equations. I am really a slim participant in an expanding universe reads a slogan on a typical, extra large tee-shirt.
Homeowners have generally reacted positively to the change. 'Now that my front room is larger,' explained a typical UK householder, 'I can fit a bigger TV in. Also, that extra floor space in the garage makes it much easier to park the car. The downside,' he added 'is that council tax rates are based on floor area, and my house has been put into a higher rating band as a result of its increase in size.'
'There have been some complaints from homeowners,' admitted UK Housing Minister, Grant Shapps, 'about council tax rate increases that have resulted from the Universe expanding, rather than from traditional property extensions. However,' he continued, 'in a recent High Court judgement, it was concluded that rateable values could be increased on those grounds. The judges reasoned that, although the extra floor area caused by the expansion of space-time was not the fault of the homeowner, that person still benefited from increased room sizes. It must also be remembered,' he concluded, 'that the self same cosmic phenomenon has given householders additional time to pay their bills.'
Businessmen and holiday makers have also noticed increased costs. 'Due to the expansion of space,' explained a spokeswoman for American Airlines, 'it is now further to fly to destinations. For example,' she clarified, 'from America, flying east, Spain is where Italy used to be. That has led to increased fuel costs, and hence an increase in the price of tickets. Also' she concluded, 'we have had to serve additional in-flight meals.'
'The recalibration certainly comes at the wrong time for the 2012 Olympics,' admitted Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. 'We will still be able to see who wins Olympic events,' he said, 'but whether or not a winning time constitutes a world record in comparison with past winning times will require complex mathematical analysis with reference to general relativity and quantum mechanics. Most horrific,' he noted, 'will be that all records must be formally announced on television by Professor Brian Cox. Thankfully,' he concluded, 'whenever he appears on screen, the phone number of the Samaritans will be prominently displayed.'
Another group thrown into confusion by the expansion of the universe has been traffic police. 'We used to be able to raise thousands of pounds for the Traffic Officers' Social Club by stalking innocent motorists and awaiting minor speed infringements,' confessed a traffic police spokesman. 'Now defence solicitors call astrophysicists as witnesses, who cast doubt upon any evidence related to distance or time, and hence speed. Indeed, only last week, Professor Brian Cox argued, in a case at Winchester Crown Court, that a drink driving offence should be dismissed due to uncertainties about true blood alcohol content following from the local effect of universal space-time expansion on the volume of the defendant's veins. Nobody else knew enough maths to challenge him, and so his view prevailed.'
'Most people benefit from the expansion of space-time,' confirmed a spokesperson for the International Bureau of Weights and Measures. 'We are able to enjoy everything from wider roads and bigger beaches, to improved sex lives for those who have believed a certain anatomical feature to be too short. There is also more time to get things done. Finally,' she concluded, 'people worry about what will happen to us all when space has expanded to the point where, for example, the refrigerator in the kitchen might be miles away from the microwave. Rest assured that this will not happen for many millions of years.'