Pizza slash

Monday, August 29th, 2005

Times of stress or empty cupboards in this house (as, I suspect, in most other houses) mean comfort eating and a take-away, or more accurately a delivery. And that, for us, usually means Domino's Pizza.

I spent a very odd summer as a pizza chef during my student years, working for Pizzaland. I don't claim to be an expert, or a connoisseur, but I know what I like and – although curries and Chinese have their place – what I like is round, with cheese and tomato sauce on top.

As life has changed for us, so has the experience – but not the instinct to reach for a large deep pan.

In the early post-university days of low wages, it was a case of counting the pennies to see what, if anything, we could afford. Later, as we got a bit more money, we'd go round and collect, sitting on uncomfortable plastic chairs watching the bustle in the kitchen. Eventually a Dominos opened in our home town and we'd phone for delivery, fielding baffled phone call from drivers who couldn't find our carefully hidden block of flats. Finally, luxury of luxuries, online ordering arrived and now we're even spared the confusion of explaining the address.

We're not spared the nervous anticipation of wondering whether the driver will be able to find us, though. Admittedly, most of them just follow the groove in the tarmac between their store and our flat, but the new ones still struggle. And none more so than the most recent one, a poor young lad from somewhere in the Slavic world who was in his first night on the job.

The phone rang at just about the time we were starting to get restless and impatient. A Bond-villain voice said “Hay-lo. I am tryink to find vere you liff.” In the background was the classic parpy-farty noise of an idling moped.

Now, I'll grant you it's not easy to find our flats. If you look on a map, we're just a name in the middle of a block of grey representing buildings – the access road isn't marked and the most obvious places where you'd expect to find it, if you went by the map alone, couldn't be more wrong.

We're actually down an obscure drive between a nursery playground and a churchyard, but the mad world-dominance plans of the loony vicar have involved removing one of the signs that tell you you're in the right place, and smashing the other so that it now reads only “R COURT”. Also, his hubris led him to install expensive copper lights along the drive, which were stolen within weeks. He replaced them, and the new ones were stolen in days. The drive has been dark ever since.

I explained this – apart from the bit about the vicar – to the delivery driver, and said that I'd come out and meet him if he still couldn't find us. Five minutes later he rang again: “I haff still not found you, I am very sorry”. I went out in search of him.

I walked down the drive, and there was no sign of a moped anywhere near it. Once I was out on the main road I looked to the left and the right, and listened carefully – my old Tufty Club training coming in handy yet again. Far in the distance was a faint buzzing and a red rear light. The driver was obviously circling the entrance to the next flats down the road in the hope they'd magically transform into mine. I phoned him and told him to head back along the road to where he'd find me.

The sound of the moped grew louder. I began to imagine I could smell the pizza. The sound grew quieter again, and the tail-light resumed its patrol around the other flats. Clearly the driver had not believed me when I said he should drive until he found me, and was now circling until I climbed down from whatever tree I was evidently hiding up. Either that or he'd got a nosebleed at the prospect of going so far west and had stopped to recover.

I rang him again, more tersely this time.

Again the engine noise approached, and I swear there was something disbelieving about its note, as if it feared it was being led into an ambush and would soon be leapt upon and carried off for spare parts. Which, in this part of London, is not wholly impossible.

I stepped into the middle of the road and began waving my arms in a manner instantly recognisable to anyone who has seen footage of flightdeck mateys guiding bombers down onto aircraft carriers. I prayed that this particular pizza pilot hadn't already jettisoned my deep pan over Baghdad. I wasn't sure I'd be responsible for the consequences.

He pulled up beside me and there was a moment's silence as we looked at each other. I was ready for a row if he'd tried to be bolshy about it. Instead he tugged off his crash helmet and it was, I'm afraid, something of a Diet Coke Break moment. Soulful dark eyes smiled out an embarrassed apology from under a shock of blue-black hair. Razor-sharp cheekbones cast interesting shadows in the gloom from the streetlights. When he told me in his thickly-accented English that it was his first time I found myself making reassuring noises and murmuring that he'd find it easier next time. He insisted on escorting me back to my flat, trundling along beside me on his moped as I walked. He had promised to deliver the pizza, and deliver it he surely would.

He would have come up the stairs to the door of my flat, but I relieved him of his burden at the ground floor entrance and sent him on his way, still apologising. Back upstairs, Beloved Other Half greeted me with the understandable grumpiness of someone who has been kept waiting far longer than is reasonable for her garlic bread. “He found you in the end, then?” she demanded.

“Don't be harsh on him,” I found myself saying as we ripped open the boxes with barely concealed pizza-lust. “It was his first night on the job.”

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I'm Andy Darley. Sometimes I want to say things. This is where I do it.