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Danny Wallace on sharing too much with a stranger on a train

"He’s in me. Him and his pasty"

Danny Wallace on sharing too much with a stranger on a train
20 June 2018

The older man opposite me on the train is being very dramatic.

He has a pasty he has noisily taken great bites out of, ripping away at it like a Cornish wolf.

Sometimes he shakes his head straight after, as if remembering some disaster at work or argument he’s had with a loved one.

And then he makes a noise.


Somehow, this is the man’s version of how a sigh sounds.

Look at it. Imagine it. That’s not how people sigh.

But each and every time he powerfully goes “Huuurrr” he does so with such gusto that he blows a gale-force wind across our table from his crumb-laden gob.

It’s a brief gust, but one with perhaps the power of a medium-sized table fan.


My sandwich receipt lifts from the table and is blown an inch closer to me. He watched it move but it didn’t seem to register.

Using one finger, I slide it back to its original position. I’ve done this twice.

The man must on some level know that my receipt moved because of his overly dramatic sighs. Yet he does not seem to have made the connection. From where he’s sitting, it must look like I am using psychokinesis to slightly move a piece of paper around, like a low-powered X-Man or a troubled psychic child somehow invoking a poltergeist in the quiet carriage.

He tears another chunk from his pasty and stares into the middle distance. I know another sigh is coming. He is mulling something over.


I haven’t even told you the worst bit. The worst bit is that I have become very aware of what his pasty is. It’s a Greggs Beef & Vegetable pasty. I know this not because he told me, nor because I have written a thesis on pasties, but because every time he sighs I am hit by a warm wall of lightly seasoned beef with potato, onions, carrots and peas.

I have to time my inhalations very carefully so as to avoid the full force of the muggy blast, but it’s almost impossible, and every time one hits my nostrils I am struck by a deeply awful thought: this man is now inside me.

He is. He’s in me. Him and his pasty.

I will leave this train genetically much more similar to this man than I entered it. He is in essence breathing into me. Like a distant savoury kiss of life.

Honestly, I could commit a murder after leaving this train and from the DNA I left behind, I reckon it would be 50/50 whether they blamed me or him. In some ways it’s the perfect crime: coating yourself in someone else’s genetic data, almost like a pasty wetsuit, then plodding around town leaving false evidence in your wake. Perhaps the odd pea or carrot too, just to give the Feds a false lead and a reason to raid Greggs.

He finishes his pasty and crumples up his paper napkin, tossing it onto the table in front of him. It bounces ever so slightly on to my half of the table. I am not a believer in intruding upon other people’s side of the table, even by an inch or two. But this man does not seem to believe in boundaries in any sense. The whole world is his to cover in napkins or just breathe on.

In some ways I envy his freedom. But there is obviously a price to it. It is the freedom that comes only with great sadness; a sadness that distracts from the smaller things, like how you should really keep your pasty to yourself.

I however am not sad and want him to stop breathing on me.

“Huuuuurrr,” he sighs, then glances out of the window.

There’s that beef again.

The first thing I’m going to do when I get off this train is buy 116 bottles of hygiene gel and lather myself in them. I am going to strip naked on the platform, and smother myself in this hygiene gel, then simply launch myself onto my stomach and slide all the way home. Because I am encased in a cloud of stranger. But I can’t tell him to stop sighing on me. That would sound like the most pathetic complaint of all time. 

“Excuse me sir, but could you stop sighing on me?” I’d sound like someone from 1843.

No. I know what to do! I will fight fire with fire! Only by showing the man what his behaviour is like will he understand what his behaviour is like!

And so I just do what he does. I do a massive sigh.


My receipt does not move a millimetre. How the hell does he do it?!

But for the first time, he looks me in the eye.

And his face seems to be saying “mate – I know how you feel”.

And my heart melts.

I’m just grateful someone understands.

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(Image: Getty)