Eventually, I got so bored I ended up at Burger King. For no other reason than to amuse myself one evening, after doing next to nothing all day, I entered the car park of the Ladymead retail park outside Guildford.
I wasn’t hungry but I convinced myself I would like a bean burger, because it was either that or sit at home watching the builder boyfriend watching Bangers and Cash, a TV show about old cars for unreconstructed men like him. And I had done that for what seemed like 175 almost consecutive evenings already.
I had one of these bean burgers once or twice as a student in the 1990s when I was flirting with vegetarianism as young people did in those days, not with joyless zeal but in a harmless, apolitical way that ended back at steak and chips when money started coming in from gainful employment.
Inside the cheerful, brightly lit building, there were seven or eight customers milling about, but the man behind the counter called me forward to say that they were waiting for their orders.
What did I want? ‘I would like a bean burger,’ I said innocently.
There followed an existential explanation of the difference between a New Veggie Burger and a Vegan Bean Burger.
I glanced at the colourful pictures of juicy beefburgers on the walls, complete with calories in small print — a single burger carried nearly 1,000.
‘All I know is that it used to be called a bean burger,’ I said, searching.
‘Ah yes, but you want mayonnaise and cheese and all the stuff on it?’ he said, which was reading my mind. I nodded.
‘Then that’s a New Veggie Burger.’ And he tapped his keypad.
I didn’t want anything new, which I tried to explain, but he insisted the old bean burger was now called the new veggie burger, while the new vegan burger was called the bean burger.
‘Is the new veggie burger made of kidney beans?’ I asked.
He assured me it was very nice, but he would not enter into a discussion about beans. From his expression I concluded that he never would. So I tapped my card, took the receipt bearing a number and proceeded to where I could stand while socially distancing. This turned out to be a spot next to the delivery driver pick-up.
Two motorcycle couriers slouched at the counter, mobile phones in ungloved hands, tapping their screens as they waited.
As I watched, one driver put his hand slightly down the front of his trousers fleetingly, as men do when they think no one is looking. Seconds later, a paper food bag was handed to him over the counter and he left. It wasn’t Burger King’s fault.
While pondering this, I realised no one else waiting had received their food.
A well-upholstered mother in sportif wear harrumphed next to her sulky pre-teen. ‘This is slow-King!’ she exclaimed, laughing loudly at her own joke.
One of the servers rushed forward with two large paper bags and thrust them at her.
She opened them and stared inside.
‘We are missing a fries!’ she announced almost immediately. ‘What size?’ said the server.
‘Large,’ she said without looking.
Another server called my number and handed me a package which I didn’t attempt to check. Back in the car, I put the overhead light on and took the items out.
The fries were of a surprising consistency, even accepting they had been hanging on the wall. I bit into one and it was pliable yet durable.
Turning to the bean burger, my first observation was that it didn’t look like beans. It was a rectangular orange wodge, which I rationalised thus: if you left even one identifiable kidney bean inside a fast food item these days it would make children cry. So I gave it the benefit of the doubt and took a bite.
It was delicious, and not unlike the bean burger I had eaten all those years before which boasted of a look and consistency that suggested red kidney beans were in it.
This one entirely hid the presence of real vegetable matter but did taste precisely of it.
After polishing off this feat of modern culinary engineering and searching for a wet wipe, which I found in the centre console, I decided to treat myself to a cigarette I also unearthed in there.
I don’t smoke but every now and then I fancy it and buy a packet, take a few puffs and then forget about it for months or years.
Finally, I turned the key to find I had drained the battery of the Volvo by leaving the light on during my repast so I phoned the builder boyfriend: ‘When you’ve finished watching Bangers and Cash can you come and jump-start me?’
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