They would always turn up after midnight. Somewhere near the back of the store, between the racks of lamb, bulky beef legs and frozen chickens, they would appear marching in a conga line. Such a scrappy band of brothers, he often thought. Clothed in patchy woolen shirts and caps, always dirty, they would wind their way out onto the main shop floor ready for the nightly fun. In some ways they were a risk. Occupational Health and Safety would freak if they ever found out such creatures were in his shop, but nobody did random inspections in the middle of the night.
The best word he could use to describe them was munchkins. Small and impish, but not exactly delicate. They were far too plump to granted that complement, but as a result it was almost impossible to damage them. Their inbuilt layer of padding seemed to act like a natural shock absorber. All manner of falls and spills, which were a frequent occurrence, held no danger for them whatsoever. He’d once seen one fall all the way from the ceiling to the concrete fall and walk away with nothing more than an embarrassed grin.
They’d been trying to fit too much into the mincing machine in one go that night. With meat clogging the inlet, the crew had stood around arguing, casting accusations and gesticulating wildly when the plucky little fellow had decided to take matters into his own hands. Climbing up the shelving, he’d made his way via an astonishing sequence of steps and jumps to the ceiling fan above the grinding bench. With a flourish he leapt off, obviously intending to land on the blockage and add a little oomph to get it moving again. Unfortunately aim wasn’t his strong suit. The little guy had ended up missing not only the grinder, but the entire bench, pancaking himself with a soggy little squelch on the floor. Bursting into laughter, the rest of the crew had shared their appreciation for his effort, applauding with whistles and catcalls.
And that was the thing about these guys. For them life was all fun. Even when things went wrong, it all still seemed to work out. Misguided, act first think later impulsiveness was their modus operandi. He’d never really worked out what might have happened if that little guy had landed in the machine just as it spluttered back into life, although he had a hunch that it would have been fine. Munchkin sausage wouldn’t have been the special of the day as it were. Not that he could have called them that even if the unthinkable had happened. Munchkin was his description for them, they actually called themselves the Sausage People.
Their appearance one evening over a year ago had come as quite a shock. You don’t go around living life expecting a tiny race of humanoids to be living in your meat freezer. It just doesn’t happen. Well, he’d thought it didn’t happen, but when a conga line comes winding through between your feet, you’re not left with much of a choice are you? He’d been working hard that night, burning the midnight oil in an attempt to find a way to get his butcher’s shop back on it’s feet. The competition from the major supermarket chains was simply pushing out the small guys like him. So that first night that it happened, he’d staggered out the door, had a stiff whiskey and put himself to bed, chalking it all up to stress.
The following day he’d talked himself out of his delusion and bolstered enough enthusiasm to take another stab at his new flavours. But when the music had started again that night, he’d broken into a cold sweat. Refusing to look down at what he knew couldn’t be true, he’d held strong for a while but finally cracked when he felt something bipedal walking across his foot.
By the fourth night he’d had enough. The phantasms showed no signs of relenting and he had to find a way to stay in business. If imaginary creatures were going to exist, then he might as well immerse himself in the delusion. It was the beginning of a beautiful partnership.
The Sausage People turned out to be masters of the processed meats. If it was ground up and shoved into a skin, then they could make it magical. Soon his little butcher shop had reinvented itself as THE purveyor of exclusive designer sausages. Tony’s Wurst Shop. He’d laughed himself silly over the genius of that name. The world was at his feet and the supermarkets just didn’t get a look in.
The best part of the situation was that the Sausage People loved it. For them, apart from slapstick stupidity and pranks, nothing could compare to the joy of sausages. Making sausages. Tasting sausages. Inventing new flavours. Refining the blend. It was their life and they doted over their benefactor who so kindly made the meat and equipment available.
Interestingly enough, another of their quirks had lead to his private nickname. Each night the routine of the conga line ended with a special ceremony of their own creation. Forming a circle around him, they would raise their hands in salute, arms straight out in front, thanking their friend for his goodness before scurrying off to their work. He never knew where they got it from, but it bore an uncanny resemblance to the Nazi salutes from World War II.
Likening himself to Hitler was not an image that he wanted to propagate, but in his subconscious he couldn’t help but notice. So he’d found himself, in private moments only, thinking of himself as the Fuhrer of the Sausage People. A kind, beneficent shop owner perhaps, but definitely not a dictator. In fact, each night when the clock hit midnight, his shop became such a frenzy of activity that he had no more chance of controlling it than a hurricane. During those hours, his shop was not his but theirs. And he loved it.
The title comes from a little anecdote I heard about a poem of Robert Burns. The poem is customarily read before the cutting of the Haggis and contains the line ‘Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!‘. It was once translated into German and then independently from the German back into English and ended up as ‘Mighty Fuhrer of the sausage-people‘. I’ve no idea if it’s a true anecdote, but it sparked my imagination. You can catch the clip from the TV show QI where I saw it here.