Tim Key: Eating pizza in Manchester can be Hell


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The Independent Online

You join me live, at a very delicate moment. I am nestled in the vortex of a highly sensitive social tornado and have resorted to pulling my collar up and burying my nose in my pizza. I daren't look around. The girls I have offended to earn this situation are still muttering about me on the next table. I fold another slice of meat feast into my mouth, and I will them to leave. I am in Hell.

Hell, in this case, is Manchester. But I don't mean that Manchester is Hell. In terms of how vibrant the place is, how positive its people are, and how trendy their independent outlets are, you could argue it's the opposite of Hell. But right now it doesn't feel great, because I've pissed off these girls and there is apparently no escape for me. I'm only here for 24 hours, but my 18:15 train out of Manchester Piccadilly feels like light years away. I'll explain.

I finished my business here last night and today found myself with an embarrassment of free time. After some aimless plodding, I found this little Italian bistro and selected a seat, waitress and pizza, and immediately got down to the thorny business of drinking sparkling water and thinking about my column.

I couldn't have been happier.

But then the girls came.

There were two of them, both about my age or maybe 10-15 years younger, and they had a dog. They made a cheerful little threesome. I smiled at them as they took seats at a table behind my back. It was all very friendly, in fact. But then it got a little too friendly. From out of nowhere, when I thought the pleasantries had been completed, I suddenly felt a large, wet, canine tongue slapping against my neck.

It didn't last long, maybe three seconds of slurping and then gone. The ladies dragged him off and shrieked apologies, though it was clear they found what the mannerless bastard had done very endearing. And in a way, so did I. I didn't look round. That's important to the story. I just focused on my pizza, shooting back the occasional "Seriously, don't worry" over my shoulder. An unpleasant situation, defused beautifully. Though I strongly believe dogs shouldn't lick columnists, I had risen above it. Another slice of pizza, a napkin dabbed on the neck, move on.

Except I didn't move on. I thought of something funny to say, that might defuse the situation even more. I turned round and smiled at the girls, then, with a glint (I hoped) in my eye, I gestured to my wet neck and said, "Was it the dog?".

I thought that would be funny.

But the girls didn't see the glint, or else I hadn't put one in. The one closest looked more offended, as she felt it was her I was accusing of licking my neck more than the other one. Neither of them said anything yet, so I widened my smile, which did more or less nothing.

"Yes it was the dog. We're sorry."

"That's OK."

I turned back round and that's where we are now. Two Mancunians muttering about the Londoner. The Londoner comfort-eating furiously. The dog sat in between us, his huge eyes looking up at me quizzically, apparently saying "Not cool, mate".

"Did you think it was one of us who licked your neck, mate?"

They're talking again. It's all gone wrong. We got on so well when they came in.

"I don't know any more."

"It was the dog."


"Do you believe us?"


I've lost my appetite. The dog whines. He wants my pizza. I look at him. He's not getting anything from me – he got me into this situation. He continues to whine. I start to whine, too. If both of us had kept our mouths shut, none of this would have happened.