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Burnt Oak

Burnt Oak tube sign.

Picture by KingDaveRa: Burnt Oak

By the time Delia assumes presidency of the Anti-Tesco Action Group, the Group’s collective disapproval of the supermarket chain has been expressed in a variety of increasingly desperate and decreasingly efficient ways, including:

  • A lawsuit
  • A petition
  • A picket line
  • Several successive manifestoes, each more sternly-worded than the last
  • A poster in which a small child stands outside Tesco and looks downcast
  • Cross graffiti chalked on nearby walls
  • Irritated frowns at anyone carrying a Tesco bag
  • Occasionally saying “Tesco? More like Messco, as in the mess that we believe their business practices and ethical choices to be!”
  • A Facebook group

Delia comes to the presidency with her own ideas about how to proceed, and mostly they consist of this: a really really big mallet.

The immediate effect of the mallet is undeniable. Each time the group uses it to hit a Tesco, that Tesco disappears into the ground, leaving behind a clean-edged hole and an empty carpark. Wheeling the mallet between branches is pretty slow, but the Group estimates at first that they’ll be able to eliminate Tescos entirely by mid-2010. Randolph (Group Treasurer) doesn’t believe it at first—they’ve failed so often, he barely dares to hope—but once he’s seen the mallet in action even he can’t deny its success.

After a few months, though, Delia meets with Randolph and Libbie (Group Secretary) to assess their progress so far—and when they look at the numbers, it turns out they’ve made no headway at all.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Libbie says. At the same time, Randolph shakes his head: “I don’t understand.”

“We get rid of one Tesco,” Delia says, “and another one pops up. It’s like…” and she trails off, staring.

“Like what?”

She scrambles for papers. “It’s like Tesco Whack-a-mole,” she says. “Literally. Get rid of one Tesco in Tooting, another one comes up in Wandsworth. Get rid of that one, and Tooting comes back, or a new branch pops up in Kilburn. Get rid of the Kilburn branch, and you just start a new one in Glasgow, or Poland, or Mars for all we can tell.” She unrolls a map across the desk and circles the sites they’ve already hit with a blue permanent marker, then switches to green for the new Tescos that have emerged in the last three months. There’s a one-to-one correspondence. “No wonder we aren’t making any headway. Every time we push one down, that very act makes a whole new building burst up somewhere else.”

They look at the map, and the momentary euphoria of epiphany fades away. “So the spring-loaded supermallet is useless as well,” Randolph says bitterly.

Delia stands back and tilts her head to one side. “Not so fast,” she says. “They keep coming up, one after another, but if we can just… eliminate the Queen Mole…”

“I don’t think moles work like that,” Libbie says, but Delia’s already spun around to the computer and started typing quickly. “In Wind in the Willows…”

“Here,” Delia says, turning back to the map and pointing. She picks out another marker—red this time—and indicates a point near Burnt Oak. “1929. Home of the first ever Tesco. In the first day of operation, it sold groceries worth four pounds, and made one pound in profit. Burnt Oak is where the rot started. Burnt Oak is where we need to hit. Right there.” And instead of a circle, she draws a thick, decisive cross. “Where’s the mallet now?” she asks.

“York,” Randolph says.

“Have them drive it straight down. There’s no time to lose.”

“I’m on it,” he says, pulling out his phone and turning away from the table.

Delia touches the centre of the cross gently with her fingertip. “Good,” she says quietly, to nobody in particular. “We’ve got a mole to whack.”

Libbie doesn’t think Whack-a-Mole has a Queen Mole either, but she’s only ever seen it on American cartoons, so maybe she’s missed the point. And the big red cross really does look very decisive.

Posted in Northern Line. Tagged with , , , .

2 Responses

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  1. You are a genius of the highest order.

    I feel, in equal parts, jealousy and admiration.

  2. Thank you! Very glad you enjoyed it.

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