Tim Key: 'Of course there are differences between a punch-up and a massage. There must be'



I am relaxing in north London. I'm stretched out in the street; half my body's slumped on a pavement, my head rests against a bin and what's left – legs, hands, hopes, dreams, hips – are in the road. I've just had a massage from an Italian and it's broken me into a million pieces.

My body is not a temple, famously. My body is much more of a scuffed-up Portakabin. And one of the fringe disadvantages of this is that, from time to time – in order to somehow knock some health back into my frame – I have to have a massage. I completed my latest bout not 10 minutes ago and now I'm basking in the sun like a bruised newt, wheezing gently and licking whichever wounds I can reach and lightly patting the others. I feel like I've just enjoyed quite a thorough bar brawl. I'm broken.

Of course there are differences between a punch-up and a massage. There must be. I wouldn't want to risk offending the no-nonsense Italian who's just done me by suggesting the two things are interchangeable. I worry her response to such an accusation would be to do her 'catchphrase' of plunging her powerful Roman knuckles between two muscles where no natural gap exists. But I think, in the cold light of day, even Theresa would accept that both things are about as horrible. I feel tender and keep flinching and looking round, scared I'll suddenly be rushed by another masseuse.

Lying on the slab, absorbing the weight of a 35-year-old Italian lady concentrated through her olive-skinned thumbs, I began to wonder why I wasn't fighting back. I've never been in a bar brawl, but I'm guessing as soon as you're hit, you instinctively grab a chair or a brandy bottle and waggle it at the assailant to show he's not going to have it all his own way. And the more my Italian worked at my flanks, the more I was tempted to grab her leg, haul her to the ground and massage her back. And I use the word 'back' here in the sense of revenge. Lord knows where I would have unleashed my massage. If we're talking tit-for-tat, her shoulders would certainly have taken a drubbing.

So what, then, are the differences between a brawl and a 60-minute appointment with Theresa?

Well, for a start, you'd be unfortunate to be charged £43 for getting started on in a pub. Also, there is an element of consent in a massage, which you don't get at a brawl. If some tooled-up thug yells "Let's be 'avin' yer!" in a Wetherspoon, I'm very unlikely to strip to my underpants, lay down on the bar and invite him to get busy on my back. No, I'll resist and yell back words to the effect of "Shove off!" or "Fight that guy instead!". At the massage parlour, it's different. Theresa is so reassuringly professional, I often strip before even being asked. Other differences include having it in the diary three weeks in advance and playing whale music throughout. Maybe I'd be much more open to pub brawls if the music was a bit more relaxing and I knew it was coming.

I've scooped myself up now. I've propped my arse against a cone outside the parlour and I'm wincing. I can't walk yet, so I'm spending this time doing a mixture of writing my column and being on the verge of throwing up from the pain.

My diary lays open at my feet. I have three weeks to recover before I'm at Theresa's mercy once more. Now I see it there, in red ink, next to a date, I reflect that maybe it isn't nice to know it's coming up.

That'll be a miserable week. Dreading Thursday. And the Italian fingers prising my ribs apart. Maybe I don't want it in the diary. Better if we left it vague. Leave it that, at some point, she'll just jump me in a pub, haul me to the ground and get massaging. Yes, that would be better.

I ring the buzzer again and wait for Theresa to answer. I'll run my plan past her.

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