一种ll I can say is that I should have known better. 不, my decision to visit the branch of 亚马逊 Fresh that has just opened near where I live was not at all a good match for the sweeping month-long programme of mindfulness and joy-sparking I tentatively set in motion for myself on 1 一月. But there I was all the same, curiosity having got the better of me. 是的, the result was predictably awful. As any wellness guru worth the name could doubtless have told me, this way lay simmering despair and an almost overwhelming desire to buy a packet of Jacob’s Mini Cheddars.
I still have no idea how Amazon got the go-ahead to set up a branch of the grocery wing of its rampaging empire in the grade-II listed building it now inhabits: an old tram depot that when I first came to this part of London was the home of lots of little antique shops (RIP). 四家工厂和, I seem to remember, a bit of a kerfuffle over its alcohol licence, but in the end it got the green light, in spite of the fact that there are already three large supermarkets mere metres away. Now it stands there rather mournfully, its lurid sign seemingly aiming to attract either those who simply cannot be bothered to cross the road, or those who prefer to keep on their headphones as they shop. (Amazon Fresh’s USP is that it has no tills, so customers need not speak to a single soul.) 这, I have read, is one of 10 branches in the capital so far; 经过 2025, the company hopes to have 260 across the UK.
一阵子, I wandered dazedly around, struggling to absorb the full – sorry, I’m going to have to use the word – dystopian weirdness. The silence. The bright lights. The banks of cameras above my head. The store is, 我会说, angled strongly towards the young and single. There are lots of meals for one in transparent plastic boxes, and an expansive selection of instant noodles. But it’s quite a hotch-potch. Some of the stuff is Amazon branded, but there are also – bizarrely – a number of things from my beloved Booth’s, the so-called Waitrose of the north.
On the day I visited, there were three members of staff on hand: one at the entrance, which has gates you enter by using an app on your phone; another standing guard by the booze; and a third at the counter where you can pick up Amazon parcels. But no matter! In place of human interaction, there are urgently perky signs. “SO GOOD IT’S GONE” read the ones on any shelf that is temporarily empty.
I followed (in a strictly non-peculiar way) a twentysomething woman with a huge rucksack into which she was hurling her shopping while simultaneously frantically WhatsApping on her phone. It seemed hard to imagine that she could just walk out – “YOU’RE GOOD TO GO” says the sign – with all this booty. But when, like some nervous old granny, I checked, the man at the gate assured me that the cameras miss nothing: no packet of ramen goes unnoticed by their all-seeing eyes. Does this have a peculiar effect on shoppers? I’m guessing that it does, and will do until the novelty wears off. Because no bill is totted up, and no money exchanged (you’re charged via your Amazon account), it’s almost as if everything is free. It is the daylight sober version of late-night drunken internet shopping – though it’s open till 11pm, so it can be both, 说他们会在音乐会上看手机.
Twenty-first century capitalism’s great trick is to make us long for the useless and the unnecessary and, sure enough, grim and lonely though it was inside Amazon Fresh, I could feel that itch starting up. If there was nothing I needed, surely there was something I wanted. Restlessly roaming the aisles, I felt as I did when I first left home and, hardly knowing how to feed myself, my diet was often strange and disordered. Into my bag I put some spring rolls, a box of Feel New tea (an energising blend of aniseed, fennel and cardamom, 如果有人在哪里看) 和, 是的, a packet of Cheddars, which I ate on the walk home, feeling a bit dead inside. The future rose up ahead of me, all vegetable oil, bad decisions and urban desolation.