(this is a true story that happened to me in summer 2004)
NB This blog entry contains swearing. If you are offended by that DON’T READ IT!
I settled down in the seat on the tube, near a sleeping drunk. The train rattled up to speed. I looked over. Two young guys had sat down across the aisle with another one a couple of spaces to my left. They were in a group, early twenties, had crisp jeans, nice phones and rows of white teeth. They joked that the drunk was dead and started to banter.
I pulled my kebab out of its carrier bag. I felt, in contrast to the three young men, fat, sweaty, and dirty. I had been running round London all day. This curious mix of feeling older, but somehow junior, arrived, that I realised would become more common as I become middle aged.
It took a while to unwrap the kebab. As I did so, I remembered the poster which asked people not to eat smelly food on the train. “Fuck it, I’m gonna eat”. The carriage was filling up. The 3 young guys were watching me unwrap my kebab, as they bantered, but it was an awareness I ignored in the way you do in a city. “I am 37, a father, a husband, a man. I’ve been around the block. I can eat my kebab. No one and nothing can stop me. I am not hurting anyone.”
I opened the wrapper and squatting on the top of the kebab was a big pale green pickled chilli. Maybe partly to impress the onlookers, I took a confident bite.
Neat, chilli soaked vinegar exploded into my mouth and seemed to get instantly into my nose (like really hot mustard does), actually, into my brain. lt went everywhere inside. Shit. Fuck. I remembered being paralysed by a chilli once in the 90’s. It was too early to say quite how bad this chilli was going to be, cos of the delayed onset thing, but I instantly knew it was bad.
I desperately shovelled in some meat and coleslaw to try and control the incipient burning and maintain some appearance of normality. Then my brain kind of locked down into this inexorable pepper crescendo. “l’m gonna sneeze! Bastard!”
My eyes were tight shut so I fumbled for the handful of serviettes in the bag. Time kind of slowed down. The sneeze was building up to blow, and I brought the wad of tissues up to my face.
The build up went on and on for ever. lt was like bursting a bike inner tube with a car tyre air compressor –
‘a bit more, a bit more, a bit more,
it’s gonna go, it’s gonna go, it’s gonna go,
IT’S GONNA GO,IT’S GONNA GO,.
IT’S GONNA GO,.IT’S GONNA FUCKING GO,..IT’S GONNA”
It was a monster of a sneeze, at least a 9 on whatever the sneeze equivalent of the Richter scale is. If I could have spoken I would have bellowed ‘Run for your lives!”. It would need special effects and slow mo to do it in a movie, and that technique where things suddenly freeze and you get to look at them from all different angles
BTW I have an usually big rib cage, so I have significant powers in the explosive exhalation department. This time my autonomic nervous system had taken over entirely and thrown every last sinew into it, so it was even more than I could ever do deliberately.
My mum used to let out a very loud, very high + long ‘Choo’ when she sneezed, which we all grew up thinking was normal. But I didn’t do that anymore since my brother got kicked out of Maths because the teacher asumed that noone would make such a bizarre sound while sneezing unless they were taking the piss, which he wasn’t.
But I did close my eyes and kind of came to my senses gradually. This was understandable cos it was like someone had just popped a hand grenade in my mouth, lifted my jaw shut and waited for the bang.
I was still in the middle of major chilli aftershock but as my head returned vaguely to normal, it dawned on me the sense that what happened wasn’t limited to the inside of my skull.
The first clue was that my glasses seemed to have been frosted on the outside by a mist of droplets of variable size, plus some lumps of what appeared to be food.
Second, there was total silence in the carriage except for the sound of two of the young guys totally, helplessly, paroxysmally, giggling. Occasionally they squeezed out the phrase ” that was sooo disgusting”.
Third, the young guy sitting most directly opposite me was looking in absolutely horror at his freshly laundered and ironed shirt and kind of patting it with splayed fingers, then looking at his hands.
At first I thought I must have missed something done by someone else while I was distracted by sneezing. Then, with dawning horror, I came to the realization that they must be reacting to my actual sneeze. My sneeze must have sprayed the whole carriage with god knows what.
Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!
What should I do? I had to decide now. I asked my instincts.
The answer came back:
“Act as though nothing had happened. Just tough it out like Blair + WMD. Don’t apologise. Wait and watch. Er…..Act natural.”
They were all staring at me and alternating between laughing and expressing whispered disgust. I decided to wipe my glasses to give me a better view of the blast zone. This seemed to provoke an increase in the giggling. I looked carefully but could see no obvious signs of anything.
I contemplated leaning over and saying, “I’m sorry, did I sneeze on you”.
No. It was a ridiculous question. Of course I had.
By now I was irrevocably committed to my strategy of bluffing it out and there was no turning back. I decided to resume eating the kebab (minus the chili) which triggered more sniggers, especially when I dribbled chil!i sauce down my T shirt.
Finally as they jumped off at the next stop I noticed one of them taking my picture with a phone.
Great. I was going to be immortalized as this disgusting guy off the tube in some guy’s phone. I didn’t really care. It was funny. It had really happened. I knew I would really laugh about it when I got out of the carriage and I did.”
In 2016 I put this on Facebook and a bunch of people thought it was funny so I decided to send it to Simon Mayo Confessions. Only about a week later and just before a gig at the Blue Lamp with Trio Red my daughter Sophie called and said my kebab story had been read out on Simon Mayo. I was really excited and told the audience to go home and listen to it. That night I went onto iPlayer and listened ion horror.
It was only then I realised.
I am an awful person.
And it took my own story to be read out on the radio more than 10 years later for me to fully realise.