COLUMN: September 28, 2017

One of those hamburgers they have these days

LAST week I had some annual leave because otherwise it would have just built up and then I’d have to have taken it all at once and when I returned there would be somebody sitting at my desk and my editor would say: “We all thought you’d left. We’ve taken on an absolute moron to do your job. And he’s twice as good as you.”

During my week off I visited a couple of bars in a different city with a man who had cut himself shaving his head and, until we noticed, had been going about the place as if he had a head injury, and I failed to win a pub quiz. It was a vintage week of not going to work.

On my last day off, I decided to have a treat to ease myself back in. I was going to have one of those posh hamburgers, because nothing says “luxury” like some mince on a bap.

I went to a branch of that “no frills” burger chain. You know the one, it’s all red and white, and corporately designed right down to the last detail to look as if it hasn’t been designed.

It’s so austere it’s just about on the right side of “You’ll eat what you’re given, peasants.” At any moment you expect a man in a white coat to come in and sluice the floor.

After rubbing my eyes a few times when reading the prices over the counter, I paid for a bacon cheeseburger with medium fries and a Coke, and looked for the smallest possible table that a single person could occupy while still being in some comfort. I did not want to sit on a high stool in case I had to move in a hurry.

I watched the crack hamburger operatives in the kitchen assembling various meals. They clearly knew exactly what they were doing, and I congratulated myself on my choice of restaurant. This was going to be an excellent incredibly overpriced beef roll and chips.

They called my number – of course I had a number – and handed me a brown paper bag, trays being the sort of hoity-toity frippery with which this aggressively “no frills” restaurant has no truck.

Inside the bag there were a burger wrapped in foil, some napkins, a white plastic cup filled with fries, and some extra bonus fries scattered around the inside of the bag. And as I extracted the white plastic cup, more of the fries made a bid for freedom.

You see, the very worst thing in which you can hold fries is a white plastic cup, because they are prone to fall out spontaneously, or if you disturb the pack by removing one yourself. And they do not absorb oil, so your hand, as it gets further into the cup, becomes coated in grease.

It was a shame as the chips themselves were delicious. They had skin on – peeling spuds presumably being an affectation – which made them taste of potato. If only I could have emptied them onto a plate, but plates were considered another frill.

And so I unwrapped the burger. It seemed surprisingly heavy. As it turned out, this was because they had given me a double cheeseburger instead of the advertised and ordered bacon cheeseburger. I decided not to push my luck and tucked in.

It fell apart immediately. The bun had no structural integrity. You know how if you make a cheese toastie and leave it on your plate for a minute it develops “toast sweat”, making the bottom slice soggy, because the water vapour can’t escape?

Imagine what happens when you wrap a burger in “no frills” foil. All the moisture gets trapped inside, making the bun damp. And a damp bun is never going to be up to the task of keeping the component elements of an admittedly tasty burger in position. You might as well use candy floss.

So every time I took a bite, I lost a pickle or some onion onto the table. Because, of course, I had no plate. And my face was covered in burger debris. Halfway through the burger I looked as if I had been starved for a month, then forced to eat stew with my hands tied behind my back.

It was all incredibly stressful, and exactly what I needed. Because it made being back at work seem like a piece of cake. Eaten off a plate, with a fork.

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