Column June 30, 2010: Would you like sighs with that?

I WENT to a fast food chain restaurant this week. I’m not proud of the fact, but I had a voucher so it would have been wasteful not to go. Two burgers for the price of one? Who could turn down a deal like that? Idiot.

I stood in the queue and rehearsed the order in my head, for I had company.

When one visits such an establishment, one doesn’t want to hold up proceedings, or bring back a clear fizzy drink when an orange-coloured fizzy drink was ordered.

And I looked at the voucher. And my carefully constructed world began to crumble.

“Ah,” I realised, “It’s not two meals for the price of one. It’s two burgers for the price of one. This is going to add an unwelcome degree of complication. Let’s see if the man in the baseball cap – Jordann according to his badge – is up to the task of serving me.”

“Can I take your order?” he asked, brightly enough. I stepped forward, voucher in hand, and his face darkened, almost imperceptibly. “This is going to add an unwelcome degree of complication,” I could see him thinking.

“Erm can I have two Zappy burgers. I’ve got one of these” – I proffered the voucher – “with fries and Coke.”

“Two Zappy meals,” Jordann said, entering the details into the till. “What drink?”

“Coke? I said Coke.”

“Anything else?”

I rattled through the rest of the order. “That’s £15.30,” he said. “And I’ve got this,” I reminded him, holding out the voucher again.

He looked at it. “This is for burgers, not meals.”

“Yes, I know, but I ordered two Zappy burgers with fries and Coke, not two Zappy meals. I was quite specific. That’s why I…”

“But I’ve rung up two Zappy meals.”

We looked at each other, locked in a Mexican stand-off. I felt a little tear prickle in my eye.

“I’ll have to get the manager,” he said. And he walked off. I turned around. And saw the queue behind me. It was roughly of the scale of a Moscow bread queue, circa 1983, and just as sour-faced. I gave them a weak smile and a stage “Tut!” But I could tell they all hated me, the man with the complicated voucher.

He came back with the manager, a man with the air of power that comes from realising that one will never have to wear a baseball cap to work again.

“It’s this gentleman,” said Jordann. The manager looked at me. “It’s two burgers for the price of one, not two meals,” he said.

“I know! I…”

Jordann and the manager hunched over the till, muttering technical phrases. Finally, they looked me in the eye. “That’s £14.30.” I’d saved a quid. I could have wept. I’d have paid them £5 just to let me walk away.

The manager departed to supervise some activity with mayonnaise and I took out my card to pay.

“The card machine isn’t working on this till,” Jordann told me. He pointed to the perfectly visible “Cash only. PIN machine out of order” sign in front of me.

With a huff, he lifted up my tray and carried it over to another till. Now, not only had I held up my own queue intolerably, I was about to jump another. The Muscovites started constructing a gallows for me. I was deader meat than the contents of my burger.

I decided that I would not make eye contact with my fellow diners. So intent was I on making my escape, I failed even to play the PIN Cushion game* for the first time ever.

But, somehow, I made it back to my table, where my dining companions were waiting for me. I slumped into my seat, battered, broken, like Hercules after he’d seen off the Hydra.

“Didn’t you get ketchup?” they asked.

* The game where one attempts to enter one’s PIN in the time between the machine displays “Enter Number” and the cashier says “Enter your number.” See columns passim for rules.

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