My first job was working at Kingston Library during their Sunday openings. I got £25 for about a four hour shift – later, with more experience, this would increase to £50 as I rose to the lofty ranks of duty manager (responsible for opening up, supervising all staff, resolving any problems, cashing up once the library had closed and locking the building at the end of the day).
After work, I would get the 213 bus home, but rather than getting off at Worcester Park station, I’d stay on the bus one stop further and go to KFC (114 Central Road). I would then walk home, possibly taking one or two sips from my Tango on the way back.
Once home, I would carefully assemble my meal. Placing my Zinger burger neatly on my plate and then adding the fries. I’d sprinkle the contents of the two sachets of salt over the fries and then (and this is important) I would add lots and lots of black pepper.
The black pepper is important because it hints at what was so significant about this ritual. They don’t give you pepper in KFC, only salt. No-one ever gives you pepper; not KFC, nor Burger King, nor McDonalds (except for with the breakfast menu).
There’s something immensely satisfying about adding black pepper to fast food fries. It’s as if you enjoy a secret culinary experience – unintended by such carefully intentional organisations. Adding an entirely new flavour to an otherwise carefully planned meal. Just by grinding a few peppercorns, I was subverting a multinational corporation. These few flecks of ground pepper undermining the work of all the food technicians employed by this global company.
And even more than that, I’d eat it on a plate. With a knife and fork. Or at least a fork (there’s really no need for a knife with a Zinger Burger Meal).
For some reason, possibly relating to a KFC advertisement I may or may not have seen this morning, the memory of my plated post-library Zinger meal joy suddenly came to me earlier today. So much so, that (after calculating how long it would take me to walk back to my flat in Leyton from the nearest KFC in the Leyton Mills retail park) I went to KFC in an attempt to relive this experience.
Of course, since that time in the mid-late 1990s, certain things have changed. Entering KFC today, I realised that a Zinger Burger Meal would no longer satisfy me (not even a large meal, and indeed ever since the introduction of the Tower option, I had been reluctant to ask for a “large Zinger meal” as although I would intend this statement to mean a Zinger meal, made “large” with large fries and a large drink, this has on more than one occasion been misinterpreted as asking for the meal of a large Zinger ie a Zinger Tower, which were it not for the addition of salsa, I’d probably enjoy).
Instead, and cringing slightly as I said the words, I ordered a “Wicked Zinger Box Meal” (there is no other Zinger box meal available, so why do KFC insist I add the word “Wicked”?). Although the Wicked Zinger Box Meal comes with a regular drink and regular fries (there didn’t appear to be a large option, although there was a Tower option), it does comes with a Side of your choice and two Hot Wings. At KFC, there really is only one side any self-respecting chicken fan would even consider ordering. Chicken gravy. A glorious, gloopy, brown concoction (which, though delicious, perhaps isn’t suited to a sunny July afternoon. I ordered it anyway).
It took me precisely ten minutes to get home (two minutes less than I predicted) and happily, the fries were still hot. Fries seem to lose heat quickest, but today they coped fine. Possibly the “box” innovation was helpful here – not only in preventing heat loss, but also helping to avoid the unpleasant moistness which often results when chips are carried in a plastic bag for a prolonged period.
Naturally, I didn’t use the spork provided with the chicken gravy, as the subversive use of real cutlery was part of the appeal. Although interestingly, an equally important part of the ritual is drinking Tango with a straw from the paper cup (complete with slosh cap). Here, at home, I don’t use a proper glass, as I am familiar enough with the experience of drinking a soft drink from a glass. Drinking the same drink with a straw from a paper cup (complete with slosh cap) in my own home, however, is a rare and genuine thrill. Similarly, I can’t even begin to describe the excitement of using the free freshwipe while knowing that I could easily go to the bathroom and wash my hands properly if I chose to. (The instructions printed on the freshwipe packet are perhaps unnecessarily detailed: “Tear open, unfold and use”. Unfold? As you remove it from the packet it’s about two centimetres square, of course I’m going to unfold it.)