The McDonald’s in the Olympic Park has 1,500 seats and is the biggest McDonald’s on earth. Let us ignore the cognitive dissonance of McDonald’s sponsoring the Olympics because we have screamed about that. Let us forget other complaints about the Olympics because, with many golds won by Team GB (an acronym that comes with its own nationalist resurgence and exclamation mark), there is obviously no better way to spend our GNP than on making people run around in circles very fast. Except this is a very self-hating McDonald’s which seems entirely in denial about being a McDonald’s. It could even, apart from the golden arches and the uniforms and the menu, be a secret McDonald’s in disguise, home to a gaggle of French resistance fighters, or al-Qa’eda, or yogis.
The Olympic Park is a concrete nightmare with vast skies. It is grey and sad and when the people leave it will be very ugly indeed; never did a place cry out more for a magic thorn bush to grow and smother it, until a handsome prince (not William) comes and does something about it. It has entrances and exits but very few destinations. It is full of people saying, ‘Hello — how are you?’ in the mad way Americans do, until they shoot you in the face. I would have hoped that McDonald’s, which is screamingly camp, would have joyed up the place a little; when I was a child it was the garish clown that rescued every Saturday afternoon. Even its packaging was thrilling — look, paper on a burger! But no. Somewhere in its marketing journey, probably at the point when Morgan Spurlock leant out of his car window and vomited after eating a McDonald’s in Supersize Me, it began to hate itself and decided to become possessed by the spirit of Wallander. So here is a pine box, sitting in something called World Square, next to the shop that sells the one-eyed Olympic mascots in every shade of yuk. It looks like a mad Swedish suicide shack, or possibly a B&Q.
It promises it will fold itself up and recycle itself after the games because that is what you want from a plastic restaurant — existential self-hatred. It has a garden made of concrete, with bushes in boxes, and it has very smart furniture in orange, snake green and yellow, all straight out of my dreams about Terence Conran. There are vast photographs of people eating lettuce and looking improbably ecstatic. There are semi-circular booths and Dr No chairs and huge lamps and, most annoyingly, walls covered with hundreds of associated words to trick us into thinking we are not in McDonald’s. I start noting them down and find this too becomes a compulsive activity. Succulent. Juicy. Chicken. Sizzling. Death.
The food is the same as in the other 25,663 branches. (Or 25,664; one probably opened as I type.) Lots of people are very snotty about McDonald’s but, possibly because I am convinced it is full of drugs, I quite like it. It also practises natural selection, and is a valuable tool of depopulation, particularly in America. I order enough to convince the girl behind the counter I have a serious eating disorder, even if her smile never moves — a burger and fries, McNuggets, a chicken sandwich which is called a Chicken Legend, a McFlurry (a chocolate bar attacking an ice cream attacking caramel-ish sauce), a chocolate milkshake, a grilled chicken salad.
The salad is indescribably disgusting (even reviewing it feels unfair, like asking a baby to recite the Balfour Declaration) but the actual McDonald’s food is delicious because it all tastes like a packet of crisps. Even the milkshake tastes of crisps. And what is wrong with a milkshake that tastes of crisps? The customers seem happy, if silent and slightly cowed; maybe everyone is ashamed. McDonald’s needs a Pride March.