My friend Wyndham – yes! He's a posho! – went on his inaugural visit to Tesco the other day and came back complaining that he didn't like it, horrible place, why would anyone in their right mind shop there, etc. After I sat him down and patiently explained that we can't all afford Fortnum's, dear, he said he vastly preferred Lidl.
It isn't obvious where people will choose to shop any more, which is perhaps why Tesco has just announced falling profits for the first time in decades. Just a couple of years ago, its swelling coffers were front-page news, with new branches of the middle-market supermarket opening on every high street from Hartlepool to Hampstead. In the face of protests about storefronts ruining historic town centres and the exploitation of its suppliers, Tesco seemed unstoppable.
And yet it transpires that you can have too much of a good thing, especially if the good thing isn't really so good. The big Tesco near me in east London is unnerving, not to be attempted with even a trace of a hangover. Every time I take the baby there she screams. And not her usual screams – these are cries of existential ennui, of not knowing why we must do the things that we do, under these artificial lights.
Take me to Sainsbury's, she seems to be saying – why, with its colourful theme, it's like walking around an Andalusian orange grove! (If you squint.) Take me to Waitrose, as green and refined as a billiard table in an old-fashioned gentlemen's club. Take me to Lidl, with its Germanic efficiency; a place you enter, shop and leave, without any need to pause and contemplate life. Let's even go to Iceland. Iceland has prawn rings. But let's not go to Tesco.
Which is why the supermarket chain is throwing a billion quid at the situation, some of which will go towards "introducing a warmer look and feel" to its stores. So we may bid farewell to that old blue and white stripey logo, and the shops that are so bright and cold, with shouty bits, miserable bits, and a lot of self-service checkouts, that entering them feels like walking into a manic-depressive fridge.