I spent my Friday night in a 24-hour Tesco superstore
More first dates than at Nando’s
Until a couple of Fridays ago, I had only ever visited a 24-hour supermarket at night once. It was a few years ago and a friend and I had left the club we were at early, at around 2am. Whilst hunting for a taxi, we stumbled upon a nearby Tesco Superstore. It was like a delicious oasis in the desert. My friend bought some Doritos and for some reason I got a tuna and cucumber sandwich.
Since then I’ve been fascinated by the weird world of the 24-hour superstore and the peculiarly bright and empty aisles that form my memories. So two weeks ago, I eventually decided to find out what they’re all about and spent four hours between 11pm and 3am inside a 24-hour Tesco.
Arriving just before 11pm, I spend my first quarter of an hour browsing the book section. Although quieter than usual, there is nothing otherwise remarkable to report. One guy stands uncomfortably close to me and breathes heavily on my shoulder for a few minutes as while I look through a Star Wars-themed art therapy colouring book. I dismiss him as a creepy fan doing a Darth Vader impression.
As I venture into the rest of the store it became clear this isn’t your ordinary Monday 10am supermarket scene. Instead of the usual neat aisles of products, the toiletries section resembles a scene from a Hollywood disaster film: vacuum-packed red hair dye is sprayed randomly across the floor. I notice I can hear the piped music, which is normally muted beneath the rattle of trolleys. A couple starts making out amidst the wreckage of the toiletries aisle. Only the backdrop of the Eiffel tower could make this more romantic.
Advancing further into my first hour, I begin to wonder what might be so essential that you have to be buying it at quarter to midnight on a Friday night. Bizarrely, most of the people here appear to be couples. Two guys spend at least ten minutes discussing stationary preferences. Another couple pushes around a trolley that is empty except for a gigantic pack of Pampers nappies.
Bored by people, I resort to exploring Tesco’s product range in greater depth. Observations I make include: the cover of Mary Berry’s cooking book is terrifying, and soft toy whales are in clearance because they make sounds that are nothing like whale calls. Still bored, I take a selfie in a CCTV screen and become convinced I’ve captured the defining image of the 21st century.
Just after midnight, the store turns eerily quiet. Even the shop assistants seem to have fled, leaving an apocalyptic scene in their wake. In one aisle there’s a weird puddle emerging from under the bottom shelf. An abandoned trolley lies in the middle of the store with the name Jack and a date on it: I speculate he was taken before he could write ‘SOS ‘on it. Due to the refrigerated temperatures, the bottle green fruit and veg assistant fleeces discarded on the floor have become super appealing to me. Also, I want to go on a ride on one of the sit down cleaning machines and think I would be less conspicuous if I were wearing a uniform.
As it approaches 1am, people begin to trickle back into the store. I’m now having regular stare-offs with the security guard, so I try to avoid the front area. The couple I spotted earlier bulk buying nappies seems to have vanished, leaving a trolley blocking the Tupperware aisle. A drunk looking guy walks in and I follow him to the biscuits and crisps aisle. Disappointingly, he takes no notice of them and just messes around on his phone. I come back forty five minutes later and he’s sitting on a footstool, still checking his phone. I conclude that shelter and free Wi-Fi are the only two essentials for happiness.
At around 1:15 am a guy comes in and heads straight to the refrigerated dairy section where he takes a yoghurt, pays and leaves. This is why you should make shopping lists. However, his visit makes more sense than that of the student who comes in thirty minute later and begins doing a weekly shop. Or that of the student’s friend who follows him around in silence, playing Candy Crush on his phone. To pass the time I think of all the more fun things he could be doing at this time, other than trailing a mate while he browses the frozen food section in Tesco: dancing, having sex, sleeping, anything else, etc.
Feeling disillusioned by peoples’ choices, I take a walk to the cold meats counter. Here, I start to find beauty in the utilitarian aesthetic of the stainless steel worktops and realise I’ve been here too long. I head towards the exit, but when I get there it’s closed. Also, someone has put an infinite line of wet floor signs in front of the empty checkouts although the floor isn’t wet. I’m very tired and thirsty. Feeling trapped, I rush towards the other exit but before I get there I’m distracted by a table and chairs that I see in the near distance with a jug of orange squash on it. When I reach it though, it’s only a mirage. The jug is empty. Even if I did sit down I know the girl on her break, eyeing me at me suspiciously from the closed café’s balcony upstairs would probably chuck me out. I’m very tired.
It’s almost 3am. I tell myself I’ll stay another hour though. I walk out of sight of the girl in the café and find myself in the cleaning aisle. There are two men ahead looking shiftily at the large bottles of household cleaning products. They seem to be in a hurry. It’s 3 o’clock in the morning. I start to feel very uncomfortable. I rush to the store exit and I don’t even care about how suspicious I look as I run past the security guard at the door.
The next morning I realise that the two guys were probably not serial killers and were really just losers like all the rest of us spending our Friday night in a 24-hour grocery store.