April 27, 2009

Head down and shoulders hunched, Danny boarded the train. He kept his hat pulled low just above his eyebrows and made sure his gaze never strayed anywhere above shin height. Although Danny hadn’t been in the public eye for over twenty years, a trip on public transport still created a distinct feeling of dread and discomfort for him. Danny breathed easily as he found himself stepping onto a completely empty carriage. The morning rush had long since finished and the bustling droves of professional commuters were now safely locked away in their offices. Danny removed his hat, sank into his chair and gazed out the window. Slowly, just as cautiously as the train itself lurched out of the station, Danny started to relax.

Danny put his feet up on the seat opposite and, taking one look at the scribbled instructions on the paper scrap in his breast pocket, he began the calming techniques that he had been taught by his therapist during his last session. Picking out one particular tiny cloud in the dreary grey late morning sky, Danny focussed all his attention on this one spot in the distance and slowly allowed himself to give in to an artificial feeling of floating. He suddenly began to feel euphoric, because for once, it was working. He had always been sceptical of such exercises and never experienced any success with them before. But as the train’s rattle and shake began to dissolve into a gentle sway and the abrasive repetitive noise of the wheels passing on the sleepers below turned into one solid pacific purr, Danny felt as if he was sailing through the suburbs, moving far away from civilisation and deep into the heart of his ‘happy place’.

This bliss however, was short lived. Soon Danny could feel the train beginning to slow and as it pulled into the next platform and crawled to a stop, he tensed up and the dread quickly returned in abundance. Within mere seconds, the carriage was filled with a swarm of excessively loud fourteen year olds. Girls and boys in uniforms stormed the train, shouting and laughing and pushing and barging. The carriage, that had been completely empty, apart from Danny, was suddenly standing room only. Into the three seats directly surrounding Danny, landed a steel mouthed girl, her bleach headed boyfriend and their male Teacher, who seemed only marginally older. Nudging Danny in an overly familiar fashion and with such force that it nearly winded him, the Teacher snorted;
“Sorry about this lot. We’re off for a school trip. Too much sugar I think.”
Danny smiled and concentrated on his breathing. He turned and stared out the window, desperate not to be referred to again. ‘Stay calm, they’re probably only going one stop’ he reassured himself.
“So where are you off to?” nudged the Teacher again. Danny forced a smile but still averted his gaze.
“Eh, a good bit out, Great Missenden.”
“Well, what a co-incidence? So are we. Hope you weren’t planning on sleeping” the Teacher snorted and nudged Danny again “Going to the Roald Dahl museum too? A bit old for that, aren’t you?” he snorted even louder and Danny could feel his heart rate starting to accelerate. His breathing began to follow suit.

‘As long as they don’t recognise you, you’ll be OK’ he told himself ‘they can’t be more than fifteen, they couldn’t possibly remember you and even this guy looks younger than you. If he hasn’t recognised you by now, then he’s not going to. You’re OK. Just stay calm. Find yourself another cloud.’ Danny looked out the window to pick out a cloud to focus on and begin his exercise again, but he couldn’t find one. The afternoon, as it had just turned into, had suddenly brightened up and the sky had turned abruptly clear. As if by magic, it was a beautiful sunny, clear and blue-skied day. ‘Nothing ever goes my way’ thought Danny. The train pulled out of station. It was a forty-five minute journey to Great Missenden.

Danny could feel someone looking at him. It was a feeling that he was well used to and so when it came over him again, he recognised it immediately. So adept at being looked at was Danny, that if pushed, he fancied he could even identify the direction of an offending gaze without even looking. He often day-dreamed about going on some television show and doing it blind-folded or maybe do it as a touring live show. He had it worked out that he would stand in the middle of the stage, surrounded by, say, eight people. Each would look at the floor or somewhere and, in turn but out of sequence, they would just… look at him. Still blindfolded, he would point in the direction of the person who was looking at him. He thought people would love that. But the last thing Danny wanted to do now was to throw himself back into the lime-light like that. In fact, all he really wanted was to disappear and never be seen by anyone else ever again.

Danny felt the gaze from directly in front of him and when he looked up, the girl with the braces quickly looked away and stifled a childish giggle. Danny looked back out the window and kept telling himself that she couldn’t possibly have recognised him. The girl took out her mobile phone and began moving her thumb frantically around the key-pad, finishing off with a pronounced stab at the main button. She smiled and looked over at the boy to her left. Danny was watching out of the corner of his eye as the bleachy head boy’s own mobile lit up and the crackly voice of the most terrible Catherine Tate impersonator shouted “Am I bovered. Do I look bovered?” repeatedly from its speaker. Leaving it long enough for everyone else to savour his sense of humour, the boy eventually ended it with a similarly pronounced thumb stab. He read the text, then looked at the girl and then, open-mouthed, he looked at Danny. The boy’s face lit up and just as it did, Danny’s heart sank.

As Danny turned and looked back out the window, the boy and the girl, as if some how it had been pre-planned, simultaneously lifted their mobiles and took a photograph of Danny, who looked around just in time to be snapped full on. The Teacher, genuinely surprised by what he had just seen, immediately scolded the children.
“Hey! What do you two think you’re doing?” and then, turning to Danny, said “I’m very sorry, I just don’t know what got into them.”
“Sorry sir” said the pair, in unison once again. Danny nodded politely and returned to the ever fleeting outside world. There was a brief silence, which was only broken by the boy who began humming. It was inaudible at first but gradually, it got ever so slightly louder. Danny’s ears pricked. He knew he knew the tune. And as the boy’s humming got loud enough to decipher, Danny knew exactly what the child was doing. Once again, as if it had been pre-rehearsed, the girl chimed in with vocals exactly in time with her friend’s humming. At regular intervals, in tune with the music, she would repeat the words “sausages, sausages, yum yum yum, sausages, sausages, yum yum – sausages, sausages, yum yum yum, sausages, sausages, yum yum.” The girl was doing it under her breath but it was a tune so familiar to Danny that the quietest recital of it would instantly register with him. The Teacher was baffled by the children’s behaviour.
“What are you doing? Stop tormenting this poor man please.”
“But sir, it’s the Gill’s sausages boy! Look.”

When Danny was nine years old he was forced, by his parents, to attend a casting call for an advert. A cute and somewhat singular looking boy, Danny stood out from the crowd with his bright red curly hair, upturned nose and extensively freckled cheeks. He was immediately cast to be the face of the new Gill’s Sausages ad campaign. It was an extensive and multi-platform campaign that saw Danny’s face on bus stops, buses, billboards and newspapers. His voice was regularly on the radio and an incredibly embarrassing, cringe-worthy television spot was on morning, noon and night. Danny’s face was one of the most recognisable faces of 1988. In the television ad, Danny, dressed as a pirate, sat atop a giant sausage with a mast and sail that bobbed across a cartoon sea. All the while, he chanted the incredibly catchy and incredibly irritating Gill’s Sausages ‘mantra’; sausages, sausages, yum yum yum, sausages, sausages, yum yum – sausages, sausages, yum yum yum, sausages, sausages, yum yum.

After two years of saturation and the relatively small company’s overly ambitious investment in advertising, Gill’s Sausages went belly up. Danny’s fame and particularly the quality of it meant that he could not last in any school for more than a term; such were the levels of teasing that he was forced to endure by fellow students and often the staff. Everywhere he went, that theme tune followed him like his shadow. Grown-ups and children alike would herald his arrival with their own impromptu performances of it. Danny soon began home-schooling, stopped going out altogether and started to become utterly, utterly depressed. It was ten years before the mania died to down to an acceptable enough level that he felt ready to start building his life. He tried various auditions but was laughed or sang out of nearly all of them. No one was willing to cast him in anything. He was so recognisable that Danny playing any other character would have just seemed like a comedy walk-on or cameo from the Gill’s Sausages boy. Danny ended up surrendering any hopes he had of a career in acting and instead simply took whatever work he could get. Anything that precluded dealing with people face to face would suffice. Danny drifted from call centre to call centre, doing surveys and generally trying to keep a low profile. Occasionally he would agree to do a night club personal appearance here and there. He hated it so much and it made him so unhappy but he needed to supplement his income so he could keep up with his ever escalating psychiatry expenses. It was a vicious circle that he allowed to continue on the proviso that he made himself that, one day, they would eventually forget. Even now, however, at the age of thirty, he still looked enough like his younger self to be recognised daily.

Danny had thought that by now, over twenty years later, that he would be free of this curse. But he had underestimated the emerging generation’s love affair with all things nostalgic, all things ironic. Crap became good, old became new and all things ‘random’ became adulated as strokes of genius. Unbeknownst to Danny, the TV ad in which he sailed the high seas on a swashbuckling sausage had recently hit on a wave of its own and just surpassed three million views on YouTube, with vacuous teens and twenty-somethings all over the world tossing it across Facebook and Bebo, forwarding it across offices and forums. He was one of the current internet sensations and was being toasted globally again for his utter dreadfulness. This was not a world that would forget Danny anytime soon.

“Oh my God, it is the Gill’s Sausages boy” gaped the Teacher sounding more like his student’s than they did. “Haha! From the internet, brilliant! What are you doing here?” Danny looked away, not knowing quite how to answer that. The kids opposite began texting simultaneously and suddenly the entire train carriage filled with a chorus of various obnoxious text message alerts. The news was spreading. Within seconds the entire group of student’s were gathering around Danny’s seat. He sank low in the corner, now surrounded by sixty fourteen year olds. Each one of them, grappling with each other for a better view, each one of them singing;
“Sausages, sausages, yum yum yum, sausages, sausages, yum yum – sausages, sausages, yum yum yum, sausages, sausages, yum yum” and each one of them holding their mobile phones in out in front of them, video recording like some uniformed teen-age paparazzi. Danny was hyperventilating. The walls started to close in and he could feel a tension in his chest like no other he had ever experienced. He had had dreams like this before, where he would wake up in a pool of sweat and shrieking with terror. But this was not a dream and Danny was acutely aware of it. He struggled for breath and began howling in agony, but the children seemed to only love this more. Danny reached out as if looking for a hand of help to descend and drag him away it all. But no hand came, all he could see were the glee filled faces of sixty students and one Teacher, laughing and baying and shouting at him, recording it all from sixty-one different angles. Danny closed his eyes.

Pixelated video of Danny’s death was posted on YouTube on over forty different accounts and surpassed a total of twelve million views in the three days before they were removed.

…Not Also, But Only


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