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Somebody likes Scampi Fries

January 19, 2012

There’s a certain miasma that permeates 24-hour shops and garages. It’s not desperation – quite the opposite, as anyone who’s experienced the urgent need for a stroopwafel at 3am will tell you. Instead, there’s a permanent air of madness and chaos humming away, almost imperceptible behind the shuttered-off canned lager offers and dusty white wine bottles. The local 24-hour shop is an impressive affair. There’s a hot food counter that I am yet to see in operation, but believe exists in a functional form because of the amazing bacon sandwich smells that emanate from the shop in the morning. As we live in place that thinks it’s quite posh, there’s an interesting range of fresh ready meals, extortionate but delicious looking pizzas, organic this and wholefood that.

We tend only to use the shop for bread and milk. On bad nights, you can add a stroopwafel or two and a can of Cherry Coke to that list. One night I was in there trying to pick the least disappointing fresh bread on offer at 10.30pm. I’m not decisive at the best of times, and expended more brain power than is respectable mentally tossing up between an enticing but nutritionally corrupt white loaf and a potentially dry brown effort. When I eventually decided (five stroopwafels it was), I went to the till where the omnipresent Polish guy serving told me he thought I was hanging around in a drunken, failed attempt to buy more booze. This time I was completely sober, but now I know where to go when I’m too drunk even to fall into the kebab shop for a portion of chilli chips and houmous.

I popped in the other night for a loaf (wholemeal seeded – yummy but in erratically cut slices. WHAT’S SO WRONG WITH UNIFORMITY?). The student-aged woman in front of me was flanked by two young lanky guys in hoodies. They looked a bit shifty, but in an embarrassed kind of a way, like when you see men buying tampons or having to hold a bra in the queue at Marks and Spencer. They edged to the door, leaving the girl approaching the till. She was wrangling to the counter a mustard yellow piece of card studded with what has to be the worse snack of all time – Scampi Fries.

She managed to spend over £12 on the savoury snacks. This was no mean feat, even given the extravagant pricing system of the shop in question (what does it cost in Sainsbury’s? Double it and take off a penny. It’s the payday loan equivalent of snack retail). She had just unhooked the point-of-sale display with her and taken it all to the till. Ah, the sweet joy of the carded snack. Gorge yourself on pungent grimness and then relive the happy event every time you see the display card pinned proudly on your wall.

“They’re not all for me,” she shot at the lurking lad in the doorway. “I owe Sarah a bag.”  The metallic bitter memories of “shared” kitchens and the loose sense of ownership enacted by hundreds of housemates flitted uncomfortably through my memory.

I was impressed. My loaf looked pretty rubbish in comparison. It didn’t even have its own branded cardboard backing. “You can’t get these on campus,” she said to no-one in particular as she carried the two plastic bags of fishy doom away, the folded yellow card peeking out, liberated, off to a new life.

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