Join me, p.1
Join Me, p.1Danny Wallace
About the Book
About the Author
Also by Danny Wallace
And Finally . . .
About the Book
Bored people can do the stupidest things.
How about placing a whimsical small ad in the local paper, simply saying ‘Join Me’?
Within a month Danny Wallace was being mobbed by strangers from all over the country, eager to proclaim him Leader and pledge allegiance to his cause – even though no one knew what it was. Least of all Danny.
This is probably the only chance you will have to read the story of how an ordinary man became a global cult leader by accident and we strongly reommend you take it.
About the Author
DANNY WALLACE is a Sunday Times bestselling author who lives in London. His first book, Join Me, was described as a ‘word-of-mouth phenomenon’ by The Bookseller and ‘one of the funniest stories you will ever read’ by the Daily Mail. His second book, Yes Man – in which he decided to say ‘Yes’ to everything – became a hugely successful film with Jim Carrey in the lead role. GQ magazine has called him ‘one of Britain’s great writing talents’.
His column in ShortList magazine reaches more than 1.3 million readers weekly and he was the PPA Columnist of the Year 2011.
His acclaimed first novel, Charlotte Street, is available now.
Also by Danny Wallace
Friends Like These
Awkward Situations for Men
More Awkward Situations for Men
This is for my grandma, Irma Breitenmoser.
And, of course, for Gallus.
‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’
Hello there. My name’s Danny Wallace. I’m very pleased to meet you.
First things first . . . This was never meant to be a book. It was a piece of whimsy. A silly little half-project. But thanks to a huge and diverse group of perfect strangers, it became something much bigger. I’m still trying to work out how.
You look lovely today, by the way.
In all but a very few cases, the names of the people I’ve written about are completely accurate. Same goes for the photos. In those few cases where I’ve changed one or the other, I’ve done so to save anyone any embarrassment, or because they’re bigger than me and they asked.
You’ve lost weight. Are you working out? I like those shoes.
So I hope you enjoy the book, and once again – thank you to everyone who took part in the following few hundred pages. I think you’re great.
Volgograd, March 2003
1. In the beginning was the Word.
2. And the word was There.
THERE IS A man who lives in Camden, North London, who once made me very happy.
He’d written me a letter.
This is what it said:
To whom it may concern,
As requested, here is my passport photo. I have also troubled myself to include our local Indian restaurant menu, and can recommend the Chicken Dansak if you‘re ever in the area and feeling hungry. I look forward to hearing about the next step in our endeavours.
I’d opened it immediately and excitedly, and then read it over and over again. I found it one of the most incredible letters I’d ever received. Why? Because it was a reply to my advert. The advert I’d placed on a whim. And it contained a passport photo of Christian, smiling. Smiling at me; the bloke he’d joined.
‘Wow,’ I’d said to myself. ‘Someone actually did it . . .’
I was overawed. I had my first joinee. A new best friend, of sorts. I mean . . . imagine it. From now on, whatever happened, I would always have this; I would always have Christian Jones of London NW1. Even if no one else ever deemed me worthy of joining in the future . . . even if no one in the entire world ever wanted to accept my offer again . . . Chris Jones was mine, and mine alone. My friend. My mate. My cheeky-faced pal.
Granted, we hadn’t actually met yet, and if it came down to it and the whole world treated me with disinterest and scorn, why would he feel any different? But I had a hunch Jonesy wouldn’t desert me. We’d come this far, me and him, and besides, I was already calling him ‘Jonesy’.
* * *
I should probably explain.
You see, like all good books, this one takes place just after the death of an old Swiss man. And, like all good books – modern classics, you might say – this one unwittingly began life in spring, on a farm, in a village, in a Switzerland sprinkled with sunlight and dew.
It’s early afternoon, and the old Swiss man is tired.
He’s not as young as he used to be – because he’s old – and the farm he once ran with tireless efficiency has got the better of him, as it does every day now. He hasn’t many animals, nor many crops, but he still tries to clean out the cowshed and find fresh hay for the goats and keep up with the weeds, which never seem to tire as he does, the weedy green bastards. He is ninety.
His wife died some years before, leaving the old man to cook himself some lonely and basic meals of potato and ham, and it’s some time after lunch, when the day is already nine hours old for him, that he decides to head back to the untidy wooden house to take his afternoon rest. There are still things to do, but they can wait, they can wait, because he must rest, he must rest.
He washes his face and hands with one of the lavender soaps his wife had collected but rarely used, lies on his bed, closes his eyes, and exhales. The sun is draped around the room, sneaking through the dark slats of the window, dousing the place in muted amber. The only sound is the distant clank of a dozen cow bells on the hillside, and the whistley wheeze of this old, tired man.
He falls into the deepest of sleeps, the last one he’ll ever need, the last he’ll ever be given.
And the old Swiss man pops his old Swiss clogs.
If indeed the Swiss have clogs. I don’t know. I’m only half-Swiss. And it’s not even my best half. I’m still at home in London, probably playing on my PlayStation, or staring at my feet, unaware that any of this has even happened.
I soon would be.
* * *
I studied the menu Chris had enclosed with his letter. ‘The Madras Valley . . . 123 Castlehaven Road, northwest London’. It looked great. Maybe I was romanticising it slightly because of the mood I was in, but I don’t think that any restaurant has ever seemed so appealing
‘We are proud of our chefs and our management,’ it read. ‘We are proud that you the customer choose us to satisfy your appetite’. Well, that was lovely. They hadn’t needed to write that, but they’d done it anyway. What a great world my joinee lived in. A friendly world, where restaurants are proud of themselves, and you get a free bottle of Coke with every takeaway order over £15.
And this sealed it for me: ‘Our chef has twenty years experience as a chef.’ Oh, Jonesy knew his stuff when it came to restaurants, alright. He was a man of taste. A man of quality. A man I knew I should know.
I imagined our shared future. I imagined our summers in the park, drinking cool beers and kicking a battered old football around, laughing like ladies in the afternoon sun. I imagined us marrying twins, and living next door to each other, and going halves on a caravan we’d take to the Lake District twice a year. I imagined growing old with him, maybe by now having to share just the one twin wife, trading in the caravan for a timeshare on the coast . . . and you know what? Life would be good. Life would be great. Because Jonesy would be there.
‘Who is that a picture of and why are you staring at it?’ said Hanne, my girlfriend, suddenly there, interrupting my dreams of what might be. She was drying her hair and smelled of coconuts.
‘It’s Jonesy,’ I said.
‘Who is Jonesy?’ she said, moving closer to take a look. ‘And why are you grinning like that?’
‘I can’t help it,’ I said. ‘He makes me happy. Look at his face!’
I held Jonesy’s picture up. Hanne didn’t react. I pointed at it with my finger, as if that would somehow help. Hanne looked at Jonesy, and then looked at me in the way I imagine some people get looked at after treading on a kitten.
‘Right,’ she said, unsurely. ‘And why does he make you happy?’
‘He just does,’ I said, tucking the photo into my shirt pocket. ‘He’s got a happy face.’
‘You know who have happy faces? Simpletons.’
I made a point of ignoring this unnecessary slight against my new friend by merely grinning at her, but suddenly felt as if I were proving her point for her.
‘Anyway, why do you have a picture of this man?’ she asked.
I decided to try and subtly change the subject.
‘Shall we go out now?’
It’s as subtle as I get under pressure.
‘Where?’ said Hanne.
‘I don’t know. I have absolutely no idea where we could go or what we could do once we got there.’
I left a pause long enough for me to fake having an idea.
‘How about we go to northwest London for a meal at a quality restaurant?’
* * *
I realise, now, that I haven’t really given you ample explanation as to what this whole ‘joining’ business is all about. Well, like those who have joined me, you’ll just have to trust me for a bit. At least you know what my name is. You know I’m a bloke. You know my girlfriend sometimes smells of coconuts. You’ve probably guessed I live in London, given that I was about to head off to a restaurant there. And you know I was excited.
I could scarcely contain myself, in fact. I was about to visit a restaurant recommended to me by the first person ever to have joined me. The first person to have sent his passport photo in, and, consequently, the first to have committed himself to my cause. My grand quest. My very important mission.
What cause? What quest? What mission? I’m still not telling you. Not yet.
But I had to hand it to him: he’d acted bravely. After all, as you’re beginning to understand, I’d given precious little away. He’d simply seen, in that week’s copy of Loot, a tiny, boxed small ad, saying:
Send one passport-sized photo to . . .
And then my address. That was all. All I’d written. All he had to go on. And yet he’d done it. Done it without knowing who he was joining, or what he was joining, or why he was joining, or even what ‘joining’ meant. Truth is, at this stage, even I wasn’t bothered about any of that stuff. I was just overjoyed that he’d joined.
I’ll be honest: I instantly wanted to meet him. But what would we talk about? How would I introduce myself? Would I just say ‘Oh, hello Christian Jones, my name’s Danny, and you agreed to Join Me without really knowing who or what or why you were joining . . . Fancy a curry?’ He’d scream and run away, and it’s better to have no joinees at all than one who thinks you’re probably about to try and get off with him.
But anyway, I wasn’t going to actually meet Christian Jones. Not tonight. That’d be crazy. Creepy, even. No, I was simply going to take my girlfriend to a local curryhouse for a local curry. The fact that it was Chris’s local curryhouse and not mine was by the by.
I grabbed my coat. We were off.
Well, I grabbed my coat, waited the best part of an hour for Hanne to choose between one pair of black trousers and another virtually identical pair, had a cup of tea, approved the trousers, and then we were off.
Now, all this talk of restaurants, tea and black trousers may all sound very exciting, but rest assured, my life wasn’t always this enthralling.
Two weeks earlier, in fact, I was bored.
I’d been bored for a while, but this one day in particular was actually a day I found especially boring. That’s not to say it had been uneventful – far from it. Already, today, I’d stubbed my toe and burnt an egg. So I think you’ll agree, it was all happening, round my way.
And I’m not even usually someone who gets bored. I’m a go-getter, a jet-setter, a heavy-petter. I know what I want out of life, and by gracious, I know how to get it. But what I want out of life is usually a nice cup of tea and a biscuit, and how to get it involves nothing more than a short stroll to the kitchen, so I’m not sure if that really counts alongside the achievements of others.
But please don’t start thinking this is because I’m lazy. I’m not. I can find plenty of ways to fill my days. Plenty of ways that I find completely entertaining and important and vital, but which my friends and acquaintances – and probably their friends and acquaintances – find rather . . . well . . . pointless. But then, that’s half the point. Why commit yourself to a life of entirely admirable research? Why dedicate yourself completely and utterly to the pursuit of things that might actually make a difference? Yeah yeah . . . it’s useful and worthy and useful. But when’s useful ever been fun?
So these days, I seemed to be doing a lot of sitting down. A lot of glancing about. A lot of wondering whether or not I should be doing something else. Something more important. Something for which someone would actually pay me some money. In an ideal world, of course, I’d have Patrick Moore’s job, already being his number one rival for just sitting on a chair, staring into space.
I used to work for the BBC, an organisation guaranteed to impress elderly relatives, but had found myself hankering after the good old days, when I’d had no real responsibilities, no one asked me about budgets or to look at a spreadsheet, and, most importantly, when I could sit about for hours in my pants. I’d agreed to work on one more programme – a lighthearted documentary about the merits of astrology – and then I would return to my previous life for a while. I’d managed to convince a few friends who work on magazines to throw some reviews my way, so I could spend my days watching films, playing videogames and scratching. Although that implies that I have friends on magazines dedicated to scratching, and I would like to stress at this point that I do not.
Hanne hadn’t been particularly happy with my move away from the BBC. She’d liked me working there. She’d liked the fact that – despite no one really knowing what one is or what one does – she could call me a ‘producer’. She’d liked having lunch in the BBC canteen, and drinking in the BBC bar, and getting ten per cent off BBC mugs and pencil cases. Plus, it was all a lot more respectable than telling people your boyfriend just sits at home in his pants, scratching, which is something she did actually once tell someone
The problem was, I’d only recently moved into my flat, having come out of a happy flatshare with my good friend Dave. We’d been flatmates first of all in Harrow-on-the-Hill, and then in the East End of London, where we’d got up to all sorts of mischief and japes. But since the day we’d decided that our flatmate days were over, I’d had rather a lot of time on my hands. There was something about having a flatmate which made it alright to do nothing. To just sit there, commenting on the world, observing it go by. Chatting there, with him, was only one step away from being an intellectual, in my opinion. In fact, it may even have been one step up from being an intellectual. We got a lot done. Put the world to rights. Solved a lot of very difficult problems, over cups of tea and cans of Stella. It is my considered opinion that if, say, a celebrated intellectual such as Samuel Pepys had had a flatmate, he’d have got a lot more done, and perhaps his so-called diaries might be a little more helpful to modern man than they are.
Now, fair enough, many of the conversations I enjoyed with Dave revolved around what you civilians might term ‘the trivial’ . . . but to us, the trivial was to be celebrated. Dissected. Discussed. It was a good way to live, and I missed it sometimes. Like today, for example. Sitting alone, telly off, with Dave an entire East End mile away from me, probably doing precisely the same thing as I was. I stood up and walked to the corner of the room, picked up the phone, and dialled his number. He wasn’t in. I made a cup of tea. I rang him again. He still wasn’t in. This was odd. I was in. Why would he be out?
I wandered aimlessly around my flat, from window to window, peering out from time to time to take in my East London view. The railway line that ferries commuters from Liverpool Street Station to their homes in deepest, darkest Essex. The bus garage, which, late each night, welcomes all the number 8s that’ve been driving from Bow to Oxford Circus and back again all day, and lets them rest until very early the next morning. The council high-rises, lined up in a neat row, with their dodgy hallway lights that blink, twitch and stutter. In the distance, Canary Wharf and the Millennium Dome. Closer, the corner shop. A magpie nest in a tree. A bloke on a bike. Some lampposts. A dog. A fence. A car. A van. A bin.
Join Me by Danny Wallace / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes