Tim Key: By all means read the newspaper over my shoulder. But read it on my terms

 

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The Independent Online

I've just had a grim time on the London Underground. I'm still shaking.

I've come up the escalator and I'm writing this in the bit next to where you top your Oyster up. I've taken my Berghaus fleece off and I'm sitting on that, but it's still not particularly comfortable so I'm going to get this done as quickly as possible. I doubt it'll be hard though. I'm that worked up by the events that just unfolded, this stuff is slipping out an absolute treat.

I'd been perfectly happy reading my paper. Today it was an Evening Standard, but to be honest I'll read anything when I'm underground. If it's got a sports section and a drop of scandal in it I'm happy. If you've ever seen me climb onto a train and spot a Mirror or the sports section of the Guardian, you'll also have seen me fist-pumping extensively and slapping it into my fellow riders' faces in celebration. So I was more or less a pig in shit down there, whizzing along with a Standard in my mits, reading about Harry Kane's work ethic and hoovering up stats about how many goals he scores each week. Not harming anyone. In my bubble.

Then I became aware that the chap next to me was also reading. Reading my paper.

I don't like it, but I accept that it goes on. He was clearly also excited by the Harry Kane fairy tale, so I can't blame him for poking his hooter in. Hell, if the roles were reversed I'd have likely been pecking his paper. I glanced around the carriage, and I certainly couldn't see another paper for him to claim as his own. I felt his pain in a way. Being newspaperless on the Tube is like being naked at a wedding: you start feeling jittery. So when his rude trunk dipped into my zone I took a deep breath and let him read.

I reached the end of this Kane piece and started to turn the page.

"Wait," he said.

People are climbing over my legs here. The queue has momentarily lost its form and people are approaching the Oyster machine from all angles. I pull my legs up into my chest and balance my laptop against my throat. It's absolutely not ideal. I sometimes wonder whether the Mayor should think about installing cubicles at Tube stations where columnists can hit deadlines out of the way. He's a writer, he must see that that would be helpful.

"Wait." I was dumbstruck. It's one thing to take up residence in a man's newspaper, quite another to – once there – dictate terms. He gestured for me to turn back to Kane and – still in shock – I did. He squeezed his lips together in gratitude. I sat, wide-mouthed in disbelief at the fella's gall. I gazed at the young Tottenham hitman's photo. The fearlessness, the puppy-like enthusiasm, the thirst for work: it all flew off the page. I waited for this annoying slowpoke to catch up.

He gave a thumbs up and I turned forward to the cricket. He pulled a face. Again there was a stand-off. I started to read about Moeen Ali.

"We're not reading about cricket."

"Where's 'we' come from?" I replied.

He tutted and made a great play about looking away. Looking anywhere other than the paper. Looking pissed off. Like I'd let him down.

"If it was my paper..." he began. But I didn't want to hear it and I told him so.

"Listen Beaky," I said. "If we're reading my paper we'll jolly well read about Moeen Ali – that's the deal!"

He waited for me to finish with Moeen, get back on to football. But I was only pretending to read now. I sat in front of that article for 10 stops. To spite him. Occasionally he would try and turn the page. I would spit "wait". And that was us. Sat like that for 25 minutes. Seething.

I've calmed down now, 25 minutes in front of my own writing has sorted me out. I'm done. I'll go down to Waterstones, kill some time before my next meeting.

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