A Waiting Story: The Last Supper or How to Clear a McDonald’s.

Me and the mates were getting a bit tired with the delay in the service of the so called fast food restaurant. What normally takes seconds had taken over a minute and it was clear to us all that the problem lay with the numbers of customers who were queuing in every conceivable space possible: around the block, up into the toilets, down the street to the canal and through the kitchens themselves, snaking around the managers office, the staff mess and the outdoor abattoir.

We realised quickly that we needed to stake our claim on some space in the upstairs seating area so gravitated en masse to a large table by the window. We were quickly successful in scaring off the residents: whether this was because there were so many of us or because John started to cluck like a chicken, I wasn’t sure.

But very quickly 12 of us were sat on and around the faux wood seats and bright yellow leather look alike benches and waited patiently for Mary to bring us our order. To say we waited patiently is, in Matthew’s case, being economical with the truth. He has a very short span of attention and if his desires aren’t gratified within moments of expressing them, he can get very tetchy indeed. He’ll bang the table with his plastic tray, try to blow tunes on the plastic straws and kick any neighbouring plastic seats away from him. Fast food restaurants were in theory made for Matthew but they can never be fast enough for his quick witted and lightening sharp temper. Before long, tens of seconds at most, our patch was showing the results of Matthew’s impoverished patience.

It had the desired effect though: several customers looked at him in alarm, hurried down their already Hurried Meal (why do they call them Happy Meals?) and shepherded their children away from us as fast as their little legs would take them.

Luke thought this was hilarious. But then again he always thinks everything is hilarious: just look at him with a quizzical look in your eyebrows and he’ll start his donkey braying noises. Initially his audience might join in but after a while – perhaps minutes on a good day – their smiles will freeze as the braying gets into their coats, under their skin and into their bones.

That’s the time they back off from Luke and sure enough, today was no exception. The elderly got unsteadily off their seats and hobbled for the exit, a couple of them crossing themselves for good luck. John made matters worse by trying to apologise to the remaining customers. This made Matthew bang the tables louder, Luke added to his farm yard impressions by digging out the sound of cows being slaughtered in the back yard and John started to anoint unfortunate customers with left over plastic cups of Coca Cola.

Mary returned at this point but by this time I’d had enough and decided to execute the coup de grace. I lent over and kissed Mark fairly and squarely on the forehead which of course prompted the management to descend on us with their batons and their tazers.  We had cleared McDonalds of those annoying queues but unfortunately had managed to get ourselves booted out into the street in the process.

We probably won’t be going there ever again if the manager gets his way.

So Coca Cola want to have a ‘conversation’? Two words to start with

Coca Cola in their eminent benign wisdom have announced today that they want to have a ‘conversation’ – presumably with all of us – about the effects their ‘drinks’ are having on the obesity ‘epidemic’ which is sweeping all before it. Whether you hang out in the streets of Manila, watching the street urchins carve out their financial futures from those omnipresent red and and white tins; or you stock break in Frankfurt whilst watching millions of people’s financial futures drop off imaginary cliffs whilst supping your caffeine free, sugar free, value free ‘drink’, Coca Cola want to engage you in a ‘conversation’ about your drinking habits.

The notion of the ‘conversation’ has crept up on all of us across the world it seems, most notably in many public sector bodies who have liked its liberal, paternalistic overtones for years. It is frequently attached to a similarly slippery notion, that of ‘the offer’. “Here you are,” they smile, “here is our ‘offer’ to you and we would like to have a ‘conversation’ with you about it.” If you’re really lucky, there may be some ‘drilling down’ into ‘the offer’ as a way of extending ‘the conversation’.

The benign idea that somehow this multi-trillion private sector is going to sit down at some kind of large kitchen table and enquire about our collective health and worry about our expanding waist lines, fatty livers and soaring blood pressure is not an image which is particularly convincing.

Trouble is, a ‘conversation’ usually depends on one person in dialogue with another which wrestles out meaning between the two of them: meaning which wasn’t there in the first place and has been constructed through that wrestling match. It’s not about one person insisting that their monologue is somehow more important than the other persons; and that if person B could somehow get their thick head around the sense and logic and inexorable correctness of what person A is saying then person B would be a lot better off, healthier, more intelligent and most crucially a better behaved consumer.

And that’s the main problem with the ‘conversation’ wherever you hear it. It’s perpetrators want to modify your behaviour, whilst not modifying their own contribution to that behaviour. Their ‘conversation’ is more frequently their monologue masquerading as a dialogue with you nodding in agreement to all their wisdom. Just two words are needed to change this nature of the modern day ‘conversation’ and neither of them include the words ‘Yes, please.’