I was stood in my local chicken shop the other night, waiting to collect a family feast of chicken, handily served up in a bucket, which undoubtedly could come in handy later if one had overdosed on its greasy contents. As seems to be the case now with all major fast food outlets, you no longer go to the counter to order your food, instead you order at one of a dozen or so free standing touch screen panels, erected where once there was seating, and stood imposingly like the monoliths you see on Easter Island. Of course, this can pose all kinds of problems to certain people and I noticed an elderly couple struggling with this new technology trying to order some chicken wings. Others just queued as they always had done, only to be told about the new ordering system when they reached the counter. And then the shouting started. In fact, shouting seems commonplace in these establishments, as the staff scream and gesture at each others in ways you might normally see on the news when the stock market crashes. It made me wonder if the interview for a job there included an ability to demonstrate various levels of hysteria, as well as the obligatory levels of acne.
Anyway, after a few taps on the touchscreen, I placed my order once my daughter had made her selection, then changed her mind, the changed it again. And again. Finally, armed with the receipt, we took our place in the gaggle of people gathered near the counter, all transfixed by the monitors above our heads, which detailed the progress of our orders. The sense of anticipation as you wait for order 518 to move from the “Order Received” screen to the “Order in Progress” screen and then the punching-the-air moment of “Order Ready For Collection”. It certainly beats the monotony of the “Checkout Number 4” queuing at Tesco. My gaze turned to a small group of people sat in an alcove at the end of the counter. Typical of anyone in their late teens and early twenties, all were transfixed by their mobile phones, all had earphones connected and they all shared the same earnest expression.
In all the sci-fi films I have seen over since my teenage years, there seems to have been a fairly regular theme that in the near future, mankind will be living in some kind of dystopian vision, subjugated by aliens, killer robots, apes or nuclear war. According to these films, humans will be living in tribes in underground caves, as society has broken down and everyone is some kind of warrior. I was reminded of this as I studied this curious group sat in the corner. Every now and then, one of them would jerk to his feet, as if they had received some kind of electric shock and dash to the counter. There they would be given a large insulated bag and I realised this group were the restaurant’s delivery riders. Where I live, these guys have not had the misfortune to be sprayed with acid and robbed by certain lowlife individuals, so they are allowed to be more expressive in their attire and their appearance certainly resembled outfits I’d seen in “The Terminator” and “Planet of the Apes”: unshaven with long hair tied in complicated knots and buns, layer after layer of long and short sleeved tee-shirts, their necks wrapped in those long Middle Eastern scarves you see worn by Palestinian rebels. Leather biker trousers or those Gore-Tex cargo pants with a ridiculous amount of pockets and zips. Shiny biker boots and Darth Vader helmets completed the starship trooper look. One by one, they collected instructions and strode out into the night speaking Jamaican into the walkie-talkie drives clipped to their lapels. Occasionally, the door would open and one of them would be returning from the field, grimy and dishevelled like some battle-weary soldier. Of course, they all had intricate tattoos that covered their arms snaking onto their hands and spreading up their necks, but this is now getting so commonplace – especially if you play football, drive a minicab or work as a policeman – that it is fast losing its symbolism as a sign of rebellion. Nonetheless, they all looked pretty cool to me and I thought if was nineteen years old again, I wouldn’t mind looking like that.
Pretty soon my food was ready and we made our way back to the car. As we got outside, one of these time-travelling foot soldiers from the 23rd Century was reclined across his motorbike, crash helmet under his arm, gladiator-style, smouldering as much as the cigarette he was coolly drawing on. But the moment was ruined by the chavvy ten year-old stood next to him goading, “Oi mate, think you’re cool? You look a right pillock”….