Let me tell you about my first visit to The Tesco in Surrey Quays. As I got off the Surrey Quays tube station there was, looming above me, a Tom-Tom advert which corrected me on a misconception: ‘You are not in traffic. You are traffic.’ Now, I may or may not have been harbouring this misconception (who can tell? Was I in traffic? Was I traffic? Are we all traffic, and have been traffic for a very long time, but have been ingeniously tricked into thinking otherwise?) .
But at the time, all this advert did was evoke images of 70s sci-fi dystopias where everyone ate homogenous mush that turned out to be something sinister. (I won’t give away any endings.)
Now, in many ways the interior of The Tesco in Surrey Quays is the complete opposite of such sci-fi dystopias. It is brighter than sunlight and more temperate than Milton Keynes. There are no subtle undertones of a totalitarian regime. There is no emergency supply of oxygen because there is no need for an emergency supply of oxygen. And it is vast – so vast that as you set off on an epic trek from one district to another you wish they played a voiceover of Professor Brian Cox over the Tanoy, waxing in wonderment on just how vast it is. Comparisons to Saturn – no, Jupiter. No – something so vast that only Professor Brian Cox and five eminent astrophysicists know of its existence.
In The Tesco in Surrey Quays, a cornucopia awaits in every aisle. At first it seems as if the people there are playing a lovely game of Supermarket Sweep, but a modified version – a more sensible and considered version – where the prizes you win are dealt out in strict proportion to the cash which you hand over.
But you must delve a little deeper to find out the true nature of The Tesco in Surrey Quays. You must push your trolley a little slower, a little more patiently, and you must pierce the thick white noise made up of a million mutterings by attending to just one. There are rumours spreading in The Tesco in Surrey Quays.
‘This Tesco has everything’ a child says to her father, and her father corrects her, telling her ‘No, child, Tesco tends to have everything as time tends towards infinity.’ But nobody would argue that Tesco has much. It has TVs and computers and clothes. There is a baker’s, a butcher’s, a fishmonger’s, a dentist’s, and an optician’s. There is a GP surgery that has just started taking on patients. There is a miniature Pizza Express which serves a limited menu – but which always offers a 2-for-1 so you don’t need to go home and print off a voucher. There is even a homoeopathist who will dilute her remedies according to taste.
Due in large part to the comprehensive suite of amenities provided, some choose to live in the cavernous confines of The Tesco in Surrey Quays. Some canny shoppers have realised that a sleeping bag can easily be tucked up at the bottom of a trolley and that you can sort of make a shower out of the taps in the toilets, if you’re not fussy. A recent Mori poll estimates that 6.4% of the population of The Tesco in Surrey Quays are permanent residents, or ‘statics’ as they like to be known.
The IMF estimates that, in 2020, 3.5 million children will be born inside a Tesco. There is an assistant manager in The Tesco in Surrey Quays who tells me that they are putting the final touches on a Tesco Free School which will be set up between the Fruit & Veg and the Stationery departments. Which is pretty convenient, since all children need stationery. And it’ll be hard for these budding minds to avoid getting a 5-a-Day when the Fruit & Veg is right there, while Frozen Pizza is at least a four days’ walk away.
But the rumours go deeper than this. There is a rumour that the owners of The Tesco in Surrey Quays have actually found the corpse of Sisyphus – he who was once thought mythical – and they have actually, literally extracted his DNA, and have actually, literally, shockingly used this DNA to make clone workers who stack the shelves without rest. On they toil – on for eternity.
And on this first visit, while I was taking a 30 minute rest between Canned Goods and Condiments, I happened to look down at the floor only to make out the rough image of a flattened pipe of Pringles. And then a decomposing red pepper – and then a yellow one, and a green one (which were all presumably intended to come at a reduced price coming as a trio) – and then a Dr. Oetker pizza box and – and I realised that this was no normal flooring at all, but a solid ground of compacted shopping detritus.
And then I looked at the shelves – where the Sisypheans laboured on – and I saw that they were made of much the same thing (a egg carton, a Pot Noodle [Bombay Bad Boy], the packing from a Tesco Value 20-piece cutlery set – it went on and on) and the closer I inspected it the more products I could make out.
I swung my head around in amazement as I realised that this Tesco was an edifice built of and on its own commodities. I stood in horror as I looked down at my own arm – what I had thought of to that day as being composed of my own flesh – and saw a little whisper of a Skips packet, a little jutting out of canned Princes tuna. My thigh was not my thigh, but a composite of many jars of Tesco Value golden syrup.
And of the services provided in that Tesco, was there what I really needed at that point? Was there a little stall featuring an Alain de Botton, who could preach to me of that which we should instead of that of which we could? No. There was no such stall featuring Alain de Botton in The Tesco in Surrey Quays. In the minds of the throngs lining the aisles of The Tesco in Surrey Quays, existential considerations there were not.
And I finally understood why this was so. There was no time to reflect. There was a ‘2 for 1’ on Creme Eggs and if you stopped, you got a trolley up your bottom. So I pushed the trolley on.
But if there was a little stall with an Alain de Botton, preaching cutting edge modern philosophy, claiming to be The First Philosopher of Tesco, selling Morals at 5-for-a-pound and Truths at Asda-price-matched-prices, this is what he would have told me:
You are not in The Tesco in Surrey Quays. You are The Tesco in Surrey Quays.