We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Michael Jennings rescued by Tesco

Incoming email from fellow Samizdatista Michael, just received:

This morning, I forgot to pack the charger for my laptop before heading for the airport. Therefore, once the battery had run down, I was faced with the real possibility of being without a computer for a week.

The horror, the horror.

Obviously, this could not stand, so I needed a charger. I had to do this is Rzeszow in Poland, or perhaps in Lviv in the Ukraine tomorrow. (Lviv is a bigger city, but Ukraine is a more backward country). After trying a few local stores, and a branch of Media Markt (the German equivalent of Curry’s), I eventually found a universal laptop charger. I found it in a branch of an obscure, East European chain named “Tesco”. The price was very reasonable, too.

“Markt”? Is that proper spelling, or just email spelling?

I have no idea whatsoever why so many people in places like London find the spread of Tesco – really a wonderful company – to be such a bad thing.

Well, here are some ideas. They are snobs who only want good stuff to be available to richer people such as themselves? They are anti-capitalist scum who hate humans and want humans to die out, but only after they have died first? They oppose international free trade in food (or in anything) and blame Tesco for it? They used to run inefficient food shops that sold stale and overpriced food, until Tesco drove them out of business?

I’m sure commenters can suggest further motivations for Tescophobia.

41 comments to Michael Jennings rescued by Tesco

  • Nuke Gray

    I always knew these new-fangled computers wouldn’t last! If he’d had a notebook and pens, they wouldn’t have failed him! Or he could have read a magazine, if the actual exercise of his arms in pageturning didn’t wear him out. I bet the ‘Infernet’ don’t last, neither!

  • I bet most of those who oppose supermarkets have never lived in a place without one. I have, it’s not much fun.

  • “Markt” is German for “market”

  • Brian, if you email him back – and Michael, if your charger worked and you are reading this post, say hello for me to my lost city.

    A bitter-sweet place, Lwow.

  • lukas

    “Markt”? Is that proper spelling, or just email spelling?

    It’s Hunnish spelling.

    I’m sure commenters can suggest further motivations for Tescophobia.

    Hmm, how about this one: their business model is sustained by a subsidized national distribution network and economies of scale in regulatory compliance costs.

  • Westerlyman

    I used to own several food stores and I sold my business in 1988 as I could see that there was no future in small independent food retailing for a number of reasons. I do not blame Tesco, or any other large retailer, for any of these things.

    I simply did not have the power to compete because I was blocked from getting newspapers by the local news distribution monopoly, I could not get liquor licenses because I could not ‘prove’ a need for the supply. I could not buy half of my supplies as cheaply from wholesalers as I could buy them in my local superstore.

    The only reason why small independents made money in the 70s and early 80s was because they did 25% of their trade on a Sunday when the superstores were not permitted to open and they could charge a higher margin to cover their costs.

    I blame none of these things on the major retailers, They are businesses that took advantage of market conditions, and frankly, I could not hope to provide the range of produce, the quality of environment, or the sheer convenience of having everything a person could need under one roof.

    It is still possible to run a small independent food/convenience store profitably but you have to choose your location exceptionally carefully. However I would not dream of becoming a small retailer again because there are a million more regulations and barriers to entry that have been created by government. The minimum wage for example: In a business where your gross margin is usually around 25% (if you are very good at what you do) the retailer cannot afford to spend more than 6% of turnover on wages. For me this used to mean having a couple of full-timers in each store and about 10 part-timers on a very low hourly rate. This was a voluntary exchange between the worker and the shop owner that gave the worker flexibility of working hours in both the number of hours worked and the timing (to fit in with schools for example) and gave the shop owner an affordable wage bill.

    Anyway, in any business, there is no point being a Cnut (read that however you wish). Swimming against the tide is pointless. Any intelligent businessman moves on to another business with fewer regulations and barriers to entry. These are fast diminishing in the UK and with the inevitable increased regulation of the internet, by whoever takes power, this major new source of commerce will also be restructured to favour big business and government approved services.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    There are times when I do worry about Michael.


  • There are times when I do worry about Michael.

    I like to think that I am an iconic, larger than life figure.

  • Kevin B

    Would it be churlish of me to suggest that the reason so many English people dislike Tesco is that it was founded by Jack Cohen, and the reason they dislike Mark and Sparks is beacause of Michael Marks origin?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Kevin B, I imagine that most Brits hardly know or care who founded these firms. Non-issue, in my view. Of course, it is possible that some snobbish, silly biases exist against such firms, but it appears to be the preserve of the dimmer parts of the chatterati, not the mass public.

    I mean, do ordinary Joes give a flying fuck as to who founded Goldman Sachs?

  • Andrew Duffin

    They are snobs who pretend to favour small independent shops but actually do their weekly grocery shop in Tesco’s along with everyone else.

  • RAB

    Yes I’d put it down to Snobbism and also Baggism.
    The kind of shopping bag you are carrying denotes your social status, doesn’t it?

    So if you are carrying a Tesco, Asda, Morrisons or Somerfield bag, you are clearly a pleb. But if you are carrying a Sainsbury’s or Waitrose bag, you are person of wealth and taste.

    God forbid that you should be seen carrying a Lidl or Aldi bag though. That puts you down as a Dole scrounger or illegal immigrant straight away!

    Well more fool the snobs. The goods in Sainsbury’s and Waitrose are no better, and certainly not cheaper than the rest, and as for Lidl and Aldi, I buy loads of things from them. The goods are first class but the prices are rock bottom. I save a shedload of money in them.

  • Surellin

    The same phenomenon occurs in the US, regarding WalMart, which apparently, being huge and successful, is the font of all evil. I would blame this largely on a sort of nostalgie de la boue. People would like to think that, without big stores that sell cheap stuff, we’d all be back in our ancestral villages (only clean and rich), shopping at the local greengrocers and otherwise acting like happy hobbits. Oh, and no CO2 pollution, that goes without saying. The burden of belonging to a wealthy technical society must be unbearable to these people.

  • Steven Groeneveld

    From the years I spent in Germany I grew to appreciate Lidl and Aldi. I also surmised that any company that could operate efficiently in any country as regulated as Germany would be lean and mean and highly competitive when they expand internationally and that seems to be true. That other company so hated by lefty statists, Walmart couldn’t hack it in Germany and folded after only a few years of trying to get a presence there so I think they are no match for the Lidls and Aldis.

  • Tesco has found its way to US shores in the form of Fresh and Easy Neighborhood [sic] Markets which starte popping up on corners aroundwhereIlive a couple of years ago. They are small footprint stores that offer a more limited selection than a full-fledged grocery chain but have all the basics at reasonable prices. Checkout is strictly DIY, supervised by one person who also bags yur groceries for you while you scan and the small staff do every job. No dedicated check-out people, stockers, no deli, etc. They do what’s needed as needed. Things like milk and eggs cost roughly 2/3rds what I pay in a traditional grocery store with a unioonized strict division of labour staff.

    The UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers union) tried to derail them before they opened, circulating fliers that urged people to oppose allowing the stores to sell beer and wine on the grounds that Tesco had been caught selling to underage people in Britain. Happily the tactic didn’t work and I now have a convenient and inexpensive alternative if I need to pick up a few basic items in a hurry.

  • Tesco has found its way to US shores in the form of Fresh and Easy Neighborhood [sic] Markets which starte popping up on corners aroundwhereIlive a couple of years ago. They are small footprint stores that offer a more limited selection than a full-fledged grocery chain but have all the basics at reasonable prices. Checkout is strictly DIY, supervised by one person who also bags yur groceries for you while you scan and the small staff do every job. No dedicated check-out people, stockers, no deli, etc. They do what’s needed as needed. Things like milk and eggs cost roughly 2/3rds what I pay in a traditional grocery store with a unioonized strict division of labour staff.

    The UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers union) tried to derail them before they opened, circulating fliers that urged people to oppose allowing the stores to sell beer and wine on the grounds that Tesco had been caught selling to underage people in Britain. Happily the tactic didn’t work and I now have a convenient and inexpensive alternative if I need to pick up a few basic items in a hurry.

    (sorry if this ends up appearing twice. I relaized I’d screwed up my own email address just as I hit “post” and tried to stop it.)

  • Paul Marks

    Quite so Brian – Tesco is a good thing.

    I found this out (yet again) when I went into a electrical store duing the January sales to by a radio.

    I later went into Tesco (to do some food shopping) and found better radios at cheaper prices – and they were not even “on sale”.

    Quite recently I decided to finally go on to Skype – and so went out to buy some earphones and a mike.

    I remembered my mistake and checked Tesco before buying anything – and duely found good equipment at better prices than the electrical stores.

    True one will not find everything at Tesco – for example it no longer (at least in Kettering) stocks the “New Statesman” but still stocks the “Spectator”, but this is NOT political bias (corporations are famous, or infamous, for having no strong political beliefs and giveing money to whoever they think is going to win) it was because no one ever bought the “New Statesman”.

    It is the same with books – Tesco (again in Kettering) no longer stocks Barack Obama’s books (although it did) because no one buys them. It (unlike Waterstones and W.H. Smith’s) feels no great ideological duty to push these works (“2 for 1″ and “we recommend…”), it tried to sell them, people did not want them, so it gave the shelf space to books that people did want (by the way if Waterstones and W.H. Smith carry on putting ideology above customer demand they will go the way of Borders).

    When people attack “Tesco” (or any other mass retailer – the classic case is the endless attacks on Walmart in the United States) what they are really doing is attacking the CUSTOMERS.

    In short the “intellectual and political vangard of the people” (the Marxists) in reality HATE the people (they despise them) – they do not want them to be allowed to buy what they want to buy (the stuff that the mass retailers will try and sell them, and compete to offer the highest quality and lowest prices) they want them to be issued with what they “should” have.

  • Sunfish

    The same phenomenon occurs in the US, regarding WalMart, which apparently, being huge and successful, is the font of all evil.

    No, that’s not why the hatred for Wal-Mart.

    In my area, in the last decade, Wal-Mart’s been caught basically buying eminent-domain activities from city governments on at least two occasions that I know of: At WM behest, the city (Arvada and Westminster, one each that I’m sure of) would try to seize property from private owners to turn it around for use as WM’s parking lots.[1]

    In a third city (Lakewood) they talked the city into a special sales-tax exemption WM would collect the sales tax and turn around and keep it, unlike smaller retailers in the same neighborhood who had to pass it on to the city in the way that’s normally done.

    Other private businesses don’t get nearly the same level of eminent-domain concessions from local governments as WM. Hell, you’d need to look at the governments themselves to find the same level of abuse.

    If they supposedly can compete on a level playing field, then why don’t they?

    [1] Admittedly, in the Westminster case, they may have merely bought a threat from the city to convince the owners to sell out cheaply.

  • Paul Marks

    By the way, if anyone doubts that Waterstones and W.H. Smith place ideolgy over profit I will give an example.

    A video is in pride of place in W.H. Smith in Kettering – right by the cash tills (I only go into the store to check things like this, as I pass by, – there is nothing for me to buy there). “Obama and his struggle against the odds”.

    Now this could be an ironic work – as of course, the man has always had everything handed to him on a plate (his whole life) and it is anyone who has ever opposed him who has had to “struggle against the odds” (as the full power of the Comrades and their fellow travellers, in both media and the education system and …., has always been directed against anyone who stands in the way of the Anointed One), but somehow I have a feeling that flim is not ironic.

    It has also been there since some time last year – same copy (the cardboard cover getting a bit more bent everytime I have seen it), never sells and whoever is in charge DOES NOT CARE (making a profit is for lesser beings – besides the school subject guides and so on will sell, the boys and girls have to buy that crap if they wish to pass their state exams – so that will cover the vulgar money side).

    There it still sits in the front of the shop.

    Almost needless to say – W.H. Smith stocks the “New Statesman” even though no one ever buys it (remember this magazine now refuses to give circulation numbers – and it is not because they do not wish to show off).

  • Tendryakov

    Tim Newman:

    I bet most of those who oppose supermarkets have never lived in a place without one. . .

    I have. I was born in 1947, and the first supermarket in Worcester opened in 1961. Prior to that happy event, life had been barely endurable since the dawn of time.
    Thank God that supermarkets and mass immigration made life worth living in the 1960’s.
    No seriously, where can you get a proper rib of beef in a supermarket.? Same goes for faggots and pig’s pudding. And no supermarket could beat my rhubarb – 2 minutes after picking and it’s in the saucepan.

  • It’s quite possible that the W.H. Smith place actually stocks the Obama movie for profit motives. After all the yuppies are paying extra for an image, and part of that image is being an Obama supporter.

  • Tatyana: I am in Lviv (many spellings, but I will stick with this one on the basis that it is probably as good as any) right now. The Polish Tesco sold me a high quality charger, which is functioning splendidly. There are lots of very beautiful buildings here. Very different from more Eastern Ukraine – the Austrian / Polish / Jewish heritage is very evident in the buildings. I am sure it turns into a complete fairytale of a city when covered by snow as in some of those photographs. (I am in a cafe where I ordered a piece of cake with my coffee that turned out to be so rich that it just about explains the downfall of the Austro-Hungarian empire, I think).

    Very bittersweet history, indeed. Many places in this part of Europe have that, unfortunately.

  • Michael, thank you for that photo.
    This must be Gorodotska (Городоцька) – a very long street, that leads to the Train Station, to the left (unseen on the photo) – is a Circus building, on the hill, in the park below used to be a children playground. That’s Elzhbieta’s spire (St. Elizabeth church), in the far left background, there is a square there, shops and restaurants, and the tram line passes it in a straight line to the train station.

    2 streets to the left, and you’ll get to Polytechnic Institute on Alexander Nevsky Street – I lived there for 8 years. I worked in a building across the square from Elzhbieta Church, 10 walking minutes from my house…

    In the next cafe ask for Stefania pastry. It’s layered with sort of a cheesecake filler, oval shape, finished with chocolate glaze. Not too rich.

    For best coffee go to Armenian street, in the city center. Or to Market Sq, to Chocolate Cafe (in the ground floor).

    Well, my direction might be outdated… It was there 18 years ago.
    T

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Sunfish, good point on eminent domain. It is one of the reasons why it is important for us free marketeers not to give too easy a pass to big business, even though it is equally silly to attack a firm like that just because it is big, brash and successful.

  • Surellin:
    …nostalgie de la boue. People would like to think that, without big stores that sell cheap stuff, we’d all be back in our ancestral villages (only clean and rich), shopping at the local greengrocers and otherwise acting like happy hobbits.

    For illustration of one, see comment by Tendryakov on 4/14 @11:51.

    [incidentally, why would a Brit take a Russian -no, Siberian Russian at that – last name for a pseudonym? Could it be in homage to Vladimir Tendryakov, an obscure (for Brits, at least) Russian writer of the 70’s, slavyanophile and moralist?]

  • Tatyana: You are spot on with your directions. I actually walked through the children’s playground and up the hill to the circus building. Both are still there, but they are also rather dilapidated. (The area around the circus building does seem to be a prime location for young locals to get in a little bit of canoodling, however). For some reason, though, I did not take any photographs. I have already found Armenia St and the Chocolate cafe. Coffee is generally good in Lviv – vastly better than Kiev. My inclination is to blame the Austrians for this. The beer is excellent, also. The wine, not so much.

    Another fairly random photo, just for you

  • RAB

    Michael, envy isn’t strong enough a word for what you get up to every year!
    But I hope you are sitting comfortably, because you may have a few problems getting back…
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/7592562/Volcanic-ash-from-Iceland-closes-British-airports.html

  • Michael, thank you!

    That’s a nice familiar scene, too, and the moist air is so Lvov. Be careful on that wet paving!

    And Lwow’ kava is famous. Not so good as in Algarve, though, sigh (and wine as well)
    You’re right to recognize Austrian legacy. Since 1930 there were nothing better built in the city.

  • Tendryakov

    RAB:
    The weather forecast for Birmingham said sunny periods after a cloudy start, but there has been no hint of sun all day and it’s still very cold here. Could this be anything to do with this eruption? I did hear something about it moving south.

    You don’t have to be a foodie or rolling in money to go to a local shop. My mum’s 92, and has been using the same butcher as long as she can remember. She always says “The nearer the bone, the sweeter the meat” and she’s bloody right. She lives on a state pension and not much else, but has a joint most weeks from Narroways, because it is worth paying a bit extra for the superior product. And then there’s the social extras, the hobnobbing, badinage, the local gossip and enquiries about mutual acquaintancies, all those things which are missing in an impersonal supermarket.
    And Tatyana above: faggots are a sort of meatball, native to the English midlands. A genuine faggot is very light because it is made with pigs’ lights (lungs), and has a crispy layer of fat, the pig’s caul (Ñальник) wrapped round it. You cannot get a proper faggot in a supermarket, because modern punters would scream in horror at the contents, so what a supermarket calls a faggot, is usually just a common-or-garden meatball. And a genuine enquiry: rhubarb originates in Siberia. How come Russians – in my experience – don’t bother with it? It’s a truly wonderful fruit/vegetable.

    And blow me down, I’ve found a picture of Russian faggots on the net (if this link works)!

    http://radikal.ru/F/s52.radikal.ru/i136/0910/1a/99b875e5af15.jpg.html

  • Er…Tendryakov, you must be under [wrong] impression that I asked you for explanation of the word “faggot”. Or that I don’t know what rhubarb is (FYI, it’s called ревень and is a very well known and used in Russian cooking).

    Best of health for your mum.

  • RAB

    Nice and sunny here in Bristol Tendryakov. It would seem the problem is up where the airplanes cruise, nasty pumice dust and the like, screwing up the engines.

    It is true what you say about faggots . You have to go to a traditional butcher for them. My father was one until 1960 and made his own faggots, pies and black pudding too.
    Then he bought a general stores instead. Well supermarkets were in their infancy back then, but we still couldn’t match them for price, so we had to find another angle to make us attractive to the customers.
    We did this in two ways. First where we lived in Cardiff, there wasn’t another shop for miles, so we were at the hub of the community. People used to come in for a chat and to pick up on the local gossip as much as they did for buying things, and that way your customers become your friends and you build loyalty that way.
    But the main way we made a decent living was to deliver. 90% of what we sold was delivered to the customers door at a time when supermarkets didn’t do this. I wouldn’t like to try making a living out of a corner shop now though, with online shopping and deliveries by all the big players.

  • Tendryakov

    Tatyana: I’m pointing out that some things you just can’t get in a supermarket – not the real thing, anyway. And faggots have a certain social significance in the UK. With regard to ревень – it’s just that the Russians I’ve met did not seem to know much about it. Perhaps they are am atypical sample.

    RAB: Have you tried kaszanka – Polish black pudding? Brilliant, like ours used to be – dripping with fat and flavour.

  • ..aaaaand you are “pointing out” things I never expressed interest in; yet, seem to avoid answering the only direct question I asked you, Tendryakov.

  • peter

    There was a piece in the FT several years ago decrying the commercialisation of universities and the prospect of students going to ‘tesco universities’. If only…

  • MarkE

    I am old enough to remember going shopping with my mother before we had the current form of supermarket. It was an all day job as she went to the butcher for meat, the baker for bread and the greengrocer for vegetables etc; every visit punctuated by a lot of queueing and gossiping (because you had to keep each of them sweet, which meant charming and witty conversation, even if you hated them). That was not a problem then as my mother didn’t work until I went to secondary school (it was a problem for me as I would have preferred playing out with my friends, but they were all out shopping with their mothers anyway). It would be a problem now however, as Mrs MarkE does work and an hour round the supermarket (or even online at home) is infinitely beter than a day in the high street.

    That said, if we want something special, it tends to come from a specialist rather than the supermarket.

    RAB: I am always amused by the many shoppers in my local Sainsbury who take their shopping out in Waitrose bags (we’re dead green in Witney), although my favourite was the woman who used a Carrefour bag. I have been known to use the bag from a Charing Cross Road bookshop for my own shopping so I can’t really criticise.

  • Well, it’s a pleasant surprise to read that Tesco stock spare laptop power supplies!

    Personally, I like Tesco. I’ve done most of my food shopping there, since around 1997. The food is good (on a supermarket scale), the prices are reasonable, and in the days when I fairly regularly had to work very odd (and unpredictable) hours, 24-hour opening during the week was almost literally a lifesaver – certainly, on many days, it made the difference between getting a proper meal, and not.

    My shopping bag is a Tesco reusable.

    Still, one of my favourite Alan Coren quotes, purely for its ridiculousness, is “the purpose of Sainsbury’s, is to keep the riff-raff out of Waitrose”.

  • BigFatFlyingBloke

    On supermarkets… I was born and lived in Abu Dhabi until I was six (then moved to Dhahran), all in the 80’s, and the big American style supermarkets were beginning to make an appearance and made shopping very easy.

    Then we would come back to the UK [Yorkshire Dales] during the Summer and it would be very difficult to get groceries — at the start of the three week break we would drive the hour and a half to the nearest supermarket (a Sainsbury’s) fill two trolley loads with food then drive all the way and load up several freezers.

    Made you really understand the convenience of having a good local supermarket.

    Now I live in the South West and regularly shop in Tesco — and also use a Farmshop for meat and vegetables, because I have the spare time and the spare money.

  • RAB

    Well this is the sort of nonsense that Tesco is up against round my way folks…
    http://www.thisisbristol.co.uk/news/Tesco-fight-wins-political-backing/article-2022159-detail/article.html

    Here is the money quote from my local MP and some twat from the Council,

    The statement read: “We support your campaign for Stokes Croft to become a distinctive destination in Bristol.

    Oh it’s a distinctive destination alright! It is a rats arse of a road, full of drunks and drug dealers and some of the dodgiest pubs in Bristol.
    If you want to buy some food, your choice is limited to some very scuzzy little shops, and if you want a proper supermarket, you will have to walk back up the Gloucester road half a mile or so , to Somerfields or into the Cabot Circus, and I’m not certain that has one either.The centre of Bristol just doesn’t do supermarkets.
    They have been trying to “Improve” Stokes Croft for the 35 years I have lived in Bristol, and failed dismally.
    Maybe iDave’s Big Society and Community Action will do the trick this time eh? Snicker snort guffaw!

  • Ah, Bristol – lots of memories, mostly fond ones.

    I lived there between ’89 and ’93, when I did my BSc and MSc. For the most part, I lived in and around Stoke Bishop (self-catering student halls, first year), Clifton and Redland (subsequent years), and would typically shop at the Sainsbury’s on Whiteladies Road, on my homeward stomp from the Dept of Physics.

    Back then, of course, I could only afford to have a square meal every other day. The hills kept me fit, too.

    Some might consider it ironic, that I’ve “downgraded my supermarket” yet “upgraded my food”, subsequently…

  • Paul Marks

    Tendryakov.

    What has Tesco (or Morrisons or……) got to do with “mass immigration”?

    Are supermarkets a plot by the evil darkies then?

    Nor does the arrival of supermarkets mean that independent butchers and so on go bust – there are still such shops in Kettering (and we have four supermarkets).

    What did destroy independent shops was the building of council financed “shopping centres” (both by being bulldozed to make way for the shopping centre and by the taxes needed to pay for such council schemes) – at least that was the case in Kettering (I know of what I speak – used to live “over the shop” at 75 Gold Street Kettering).

    But how many of the four supermarkets in Kettering are in the council built shopping centre?

    None of them are – so that dog will not hunt.

    Also supermarkets are not an invention of the 1960’s – during the 1920s and 1930’s big stores were poping up all over the place (often so big that aircraft landed on the roof – as an opening promotion) and they sold just about everything (including food).

    Indeed this goes way back into the 19th century.

    As for books – I doubt that W.H. Smith really does stock the Obama stuff for profit (if it did why keep the stuff when it is so old and bent – it not only does not sell, it makes the store look untidy).

    I was going to say that the one problem with Tesco books is that the store never stocks something I want to buy – but that is not true.

    Only yesterday I went into Tesco and bought a copy of Richard Littlejohn’s just published “13 Years of Labour’s House of Fun”, a good hardback for nine Pounds.

    I wonder what W.H. Smith and Waterstones are selling it for – or even if the W.H. Smith in Kettering is stocking the book at all.

    “The internet is killing us” is an excuse for badly run book shops.