“I head up the hill towards Clifton, the leafy part of the city. It’s quieter now, and darker. I find Tesco, and go in. I almost buy that upmarket pizza; the choice tells me Jo wanted a lovely life, something above the ordinary.”
- Liz Jones, Daily Mail 17/01/11
December 30th, 2010
Wandering through the old slave port of Bristol, we are buffeted along Cabot Circus, half-blind from the shop lighting reflecting off the shimmering metal sculpture of Rudolph. Maybe a generic reindeer, who knows. Blink, then carry on.
The gleaming over-bright shops heave as we fight our way past buggies and slow-walking women weighed down by heavy tote bags. Groups of young children attempt to climb the reindeer before their parents notice. I have lost my woollen hat, no protection now from the biting cold, so we duck into a Sports Direct that swims with post Winter Festival consumers, their waistlines briefly expanded with leftovers and too many nights on the booze. The store is a swollen, enlarged version of the one on my own high street in Stoke Newington, North-East London. Comfort in no surprises. I locate an exact replica of the hat I lost, purchase it at a knock down price, a mere £2.99, rip off the tag, place it upon my head and I am as I was before. No difference.
We are here in the former slave port to visit friends, a pre New Years binge. The flat-screens across the country burble about the young woman, a few years younger than myself, strangled and left to freeze on the day of celebration. Frozen, into her mid-twenties, never to change. The Winter Festival soured for the family, the friends, and in part this whole city where, it is admitted, events such as this are few and far between. London-dwellers that we are, we are slightly puzzled by the amount of media interest. People die every day, I think, with commonplace callousness.
One of the friends we visit works for the Public News Corporation, Bristol branch. A camera-woman who has been filming the progress of the case, she fills us in on some more of the details. Parents not ready to make a statement. Missing clues. Maybe it was the landlord. Tesco. I watch the news as PG Tips are brewed, Kettle Chips dipped into Tesco Finest hummus.
The frozen woman’s last moments are caught on CCTV, caught in her local Tesco Express. Her presence in the most ubiquitous of stores makes her nowhere and everywhere. A kind of blurry every-woman. She is buying a pizza. Shortly after this, she will be dead, and the pizza a missing, essential, clue.
The television is switched off in favour of socialising. The day, then night, sinks into a celebratory alcohol swamp. We stumble, finally, onto a blow-up mattress and drift away, preparing for the morning’s hangover and the coach ride back to London, where we have our own Sports Direct, three Tesco Express’ within a three mile stretch (and word is that Clapton will join the club very soon), a Sainsbury’s Local and a Nandos. The shoplifter's choice ever expanding.
A friend calls. The venue in Holloway, he tells me, is set to close, and we will have to re-arrange the gig. Costa Coffee is opening on the spot of so many punk rock shows, to dispense coffee to fuck-knows-who on the Holloway Road. The gig-goers are pushed out to Tufnell Park, where their memories of the Holloway-place will be wiped clean by espresso and free wi-fi.
The televisions inform me that the pizza has yet to be found and the Clapton Tesco, I hear, is coming along nicely (ignore the protesters).
It’s been a busy day. I walk out of Hackney Downs station with time to spare to make it to the bookshop, to see revered writers repeat themselves using different words. A group of late-teenagers congregate outside the station, smoking, shouting. Looking to my left i see it, the new one. Something I had never seen, on that road, before. A new Tesco Express. I realise I have barely eaten all day, and with shame but a sort of compulsion, I enter and surreptitiously purchase one of the only vegetarian sandwiches available. Tesco Value cheese and onion. It sticks to my gums, the onion tasting raw and cheap, the fluorescent cheese artificial . It is disgusting and comforting in equal measure as I wolf it down, leaving the store, past the smoking teens who laugh. They are laughing at me, my sandwich, my lack of imagination.
That morning, travelling up the Kingsland Road I saw a new Tesco Express under construction. No workers in sight, just growing out of the concrete, cancerous and fungal. Opening soon, it said.
My last living moments that can officially be considered real – events that can be played on loop on the Public News Corporation’s 24 hour station – could be spent there. I wonder what my choice of purchases in my local Tesco tells the world about me, my hopes, aspirations, my character quirks. My sexual proclivities, my temperament, my innermost fears.
The young woman’s choice of dinner fails to tell us she wanted a lovely life. It tells us she bought a pizza, from Tesco, like thousands of others that day, today, yesterday and tomorrow.
Her pizza was never found. She is frozen at twenty-five wanting a lovely life, and the new Tesco Express in Clapton will be opening soon.