Tim Key: 'What does it take to get a drink round here? Gurning's getting me nowhere...'


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The Independent Online

There is nothing worse than feeling invisible. I am sat in the bar in my hotel in Bulgaria's capital, Sofia. It is called Bullet and there's a ton of things I don't like about it. The atmosphere is smoky (Bulgaria's cool with people smoking indoors still), it's full of hookers and thugs, and the décor and music are loud. But the main thing I don't like is the fact that I can't for the life of me attract the attention of any of the bloody waitresses here!

I have finally been driven to bringing out my notepad and documenting this sorry situation by the activity I've just witnessed to my left. A waitress with a fringe has just flirted relentlessly with a table of tough guys for about five minutes. She's been asking them if she can get them more whiskeys and laughing at their tough-guy jokes and touching her fringe and pouting. But these guys have got more than enough whiskey to be getting on with, and their jokes are dreadful – it doesn't take a Bulgarian to work that out. Meanwhile, my glass sits before me, empty. I'm doing everything in my power to make eye contact with her and get it filled, but the best I can draw from her is a very fleeting grimace and then she's back to them, rocking her head back at another wisecrack and sashaying off for more Jack Daniel's.

My first glass of cheap Bulgarian lager, I got from the bar. The huge man with the mullet didn't like it and he made it very clear as he slid it over to me that it was table service here. He pointed to the squadron of barely-clad teenage waitresses scurrying through the smoke with trays and ushered me towards a tiny table next to these pissed Neanderthals. They've all got gold rings and unbuttoned shirts, revealing chestful upon chestful of hair I could only dream of cultivating. And, as their glasses overflow with the cloying services of their waitresses, so I sit in my jumper, desperately waving for someone, anyone, to take some interest in my life. To recharge my glass. Another one walks away. Under my breath I mutter "There she goes".

In the UK, my bar presence is famously very good. I lean over the bar, my belly resting on a sodden John Smith's towel or some such, I stretch a tenner out and make it quiver. From this position, it barely takes a wink for someone to come over and serve me, or tell me I'll be next, or at least explain they might not come to me for a while. But here, nothing. I couldn't be opening my face any more than I am. Blinking, gaping, gurning. I look absolutely ridiculous, and yet, nothing.

Am I invisible in Bulgaria? Do I even exist? I begin to question everything. How do I know I am here? I examine the facts. I have been flown here to be in a sitcom, which is British but set in Rome and shot in Bulgaria, in which I play a psychopathic slave from eastern Turkey. It doesn't sound plausible. I wonder whether I have dreamt it. Another, different waitress, circles me but doesn't land. I audibly say "Amazing".

The tough guys' glasses are recharged and the waitress disappears into the fog of smoke. I snarl at them and scribble in my pad. I imagine they are part of Sofia's criminal underworld, but I don't care. I doubt they read The Independent and if they do they probably just get it for the sport. But I'm sure, if they did read this, even they would concede that the bearded underdog in the blue jumper had been harshly done by.

I feel like standing up and slinging the table over. But I fear the wrath of the man with the mullet. I, instead, start to rap my glass on the table. First lightly and now more aggressively. The thugs look across. I exist. I am visible. And now a waitress looks over. And another. And a third. They are coming towards me and I set my glass back down. I am about to be served. Great.