The Great british not to take away

2y ago


Where would you find a burger van? In a lay-by, usually, maybe announced a mile before by a piece of cardboard propped up by the road with the legend 'OPEN' on it, in crayon.

Burger vans are places we go to, or that draw us in like sizzling sirens when we were meaning to go somewhere else. They don't come to us. They are mobile yet strangely permanent, like navigational waypoints, distance markers or menhirs connecting us to the Earth's positive energy paths.

Almost 10 years ago, Jeremy Clarkson and I were involved in a film shoot at a race circuit, and one of the props we needed was a burger van. A researcher duly rustled one up, and there it was, by the side of the track. It was even operational. I had a sausage 'wich.

How did he do that? Organise a burger van, I mean. We admitted at the time that we wouldn't have a clue where to start. We could arrange to borrow cars, we could suggest locations, we could probably even drum up some people to dress up as Roman soldiers. But a burger van?

In the years since, I have often, in quiet moments, returned to the quandary. May, quick, arrange a burger van for tomorrow. How?

'…an enabling burger-based solutions enterprise'

That's a 'Burger van'.

Now, obviously, there are organisations that hire out props for film and TV. They can do all sorts of things. Entire period office interiors, Storm Troopers, and every costume imaginable. I've been to a number of these places. I've never seen a burger van.

It's more difficult than it sounds. You could drive to a burger van you knew, and ask the bloke with the spatula if he'd like to bring his van to a racetrack for the day. How much? Well, you'd have to pay him what he'd earn in his lay-by on the same day, and a good van can turn over a lot of money. Plus, there would be the cost of moving it, which would be significant, because a lot of these things haven't actually moved for decades. They've grown into the ground, and acquired an archipelago of plastic furniture, bins, sauce bottles. That would all have to be moved.

May enters negotiations. Would you like sausage or aubergine? No, I want the whole van.

And he still wouldn't do it. An empty lay-by invites annexation by a rival, and regular customers would be disappointed by the absence of their usual burgery. That could have a long-term effect, because the clientele might try another van that they prefer. So burger man would need a comprehensive publicity campaign to make it clear that he was only gone for the day. That sort of thing costs a bloody fortune.

So that approach doesn't work. It would be far too expensive for a 15-second TV exchange that happened to have a burger van in the background. I'd have to find someone with a burger van who wasn't using it.

That van simply can't exist. No-one would have a fully functioning burger van but not use it. That’s bad business, and burger vannery is pure business. Burger vans are not collectors’ items, which is why there isn’t one in the National Motor Museum. If you weren't using it, you'd sell it, and the person who bought it would be someone who was going to use it for an enabling burger-based solutions enterprise. So it's in a lay-by, doing business, and we're back where we started.

Well, look. Normally, if we need something a bit left field, like a Winnebago or a JCB, we just ring up the people who make them, grovel a bit, and borrow it. So why not do the same with a burger van, eh?

I can get you one of these, no problem.

Because as far as I can make out, no-one actually makes a burger van as I would understand one. They evolve from other things – caravans, camper vans, Transits. I’ve even seen one fashioned from an old container on the back of a flat-bed. All burger vans are very old and studied by students of medieval history, looking for evidence that nomadic Danes brought their knowledge of bread rolls to these islands. You cannot build a true burger van any more than you could build the remains of an Iron-Age settlement.

So I’m stumped. I need a burger van, tomorrow. Whichever researcher managed that last time deserves the Victoria Cross.

I settle for a flea in my ear and a lovely cup o' char.



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