It was New Year’s day in Hackney and everything was closed. The streets were dark and empty. Even the most stalwart employee of the 24 hour kebab shop, the little neon man who spent the best part of the year in the window display, maniacally trimming a large cone of meat, had the day off. I had been invited to dinner at a friend’s flat but, having arrived an hour too early, rang the bell and found none of them home. It was cold, snowing steadily, and getting dark outside.
With 1£ in my pocket and nowhere to go, I walked around the block a few times. After leaving heavy breath marks on the storefront windows of two closed up-and-coming gastropubs, a closed used-clothing store, a closed design studio, and a closed empty car-parts shop, I made my way to the only open venue that night; an empty bus shelter. I sat down and took out my iphone. After a few pathetic attempts to connect to BTOPEN Zone’s wireless network, my hand fell limp to the side, in exhaustion. No buses came. Light-headed and parched, fearing what would happen in the next hour and wondering if I would survive to ever eat another potluck again, I sat in quiet terror, staring at the pane of the bus shelter as slowly falling snow threatened to mute the entire city. Hopeless, and suddenly drained of any self-integrity, I leaned against a poster of Keira Knightley and drifted into a deep sleep.
Whether it was hours or days later, I couldn’t remember, but large bright panels of fluorescent lightbulbs and a breeze of musty cold air stirred me awake. The smell of freezer-burn and the sound of Kelly Clarkson told me I was no longer outside. I opened my eyes, and shelves lined with rainbow-colored packaging stretched out before me. Beyond, the tubular dorsal fins of shopping carts circled distant aisles. Above me, a glowing banner exclaimed, “Welcome to Iceland” and that was when I knew I had finally crossed the diaphanous border into UK’s largest indigenous frozen food item discount store.
Though the climes of Iceland were somewhat colder than those outdoors, I felt unnaturally warm; limber in fact. Drawn by strange and innate cravings for savings, I found myself in front of a glass-top freezer-case announcing 90p specials. Ungloving a hand, I pushed back the case’s sliding doors and reached down into a thick white haze. Risking the temperatures at which water freezes, I grasped at the first thing I could find, and bravely pulled out Iceland’s last box of Deep Dish Pizza with Doner. My very own Turkish delight. Grasping it to my heart, I watched in amazement as the red box, which seemed to radiate an unnatural heat, melted away the ice crust that had formed on my coat and around my vital organs. My pupils wide as lolipops, I wandered down Aisle 1, taking everything in.
Enthralled, I spied bags of small, hard, catydid-green granny-smith apples, a beautiful round can of steak and kidney pie big as a film reel, and each proudly announcing crimson-colored Tikki-flavored chicken products, stir-fried eggs, and haggis; enough stacked meals for one to last a bachelor a lifetime. Feeling an urge to splurge, I grabbed a cart and began to load up on products I’d only dreamed of, Ambrosia devon custard, Strawberry-flavored Angel Delight, which includes some real fruit flavorings, and Krüger’s Impress Swirl, the zebra-striped breakfast and desert spread. Next, I found the soda aisle, where 3-liter bottles of my favorite Coca-Cola Big brand products were exactly half off.
In the desert aisle, I stared down into the frozen case of ice cream and saw my very own frozen-food zoetrope. Dancing around a box of Toffee Caramel Fantastica, a line of beautiful Iceland rockettes, can-canning in their matching red and black shop uniforms. “Toffee Caramel Fantastica, shoop shoop shoop,” they crooned into my erogenous zones. Stunned, I stumbled into the meat locker, where I encountered three silk-dressed courtiers and a singing jester singing the praises of food-like products.
I filled my cart to the brim. Drunk on savings, I steered it heavily towards the banner-trimmed register. The ice queen cashier, a supermarket Amy Winehouse with the soul of an angel, wore the signature red and black tux and had jet-black hair. His or her nametag said “Candy.” Without counting its contents, Candy, the divining goddess of discount shopping announced the miraculously low total of my cart: “1 £ please.”
“I SAID one £ please!” The bus driver standing over me asked for the fare again, this time not so sweetly. Jolting upright, I opened my eyes and looked in horror at the chain-linked lot the bus was idling in. Iceland was gone.“Where am I?” I asked.“You’re at the end of the line, sir, please pay your fare or get off here.”“I thought I was at Iceland?” I cried, about to crack. “Can you take me back to Iceland?”The bus-driver laughed. “Iceland?” You mean the country? You’ll need more than a city bus for that. I think you need to get yourself home boy.” I stuck my hand in my pocket, but where my 1 £ had been, all I found was a packet of Strawberry-flavored Angel Delight.
Jerry P. Orridge