There is a Tiger on the loose. It is stalking our high streets. It is prowling our train stations. It has cubs in every shopping mall. It is the Tiger of Tat. And when it roars, it roars: BUY. Tiger, a home accessories chain which opened its first UK shop in 2005, is an emporium of the ephemeral, a grand bazaar of the banal. Here is everything you never needed: oddments and sodments, party bits and barbecue bobs, plastic flotsam and cardboard jetsam. Come buy, come buy! Whoopee cushions and avocado stress-balls, spangled hula hoops and fingerless yoga mittens, cheerleaders’ pompoms and sequinned bow ties. There are walls of coloured playground ‘slime’, tubs of gunk in lurid colours.
Everything is something else. A Sellotape dispenser in the shape of a frog. A duckling nailbrush. A banana pencil case. A pineapple lamp. There are lid-lifters — when a wooden spoon won’t do — like warthogs, and spatula rests — who knew? — like sharks. In this modern Wonderland nothing is the right size. Playing cards are as tall as books, pétanque balls fit in a matchbox, marshmallows are humongous, colossal, XXL. I went to the Tottenham Court Road branch for an ironing spray bottle and came out a quarter of an hour later with a paint-your-own-puzzle kit and a packet of spangled sink scourers. It took ten minutes in minimalist Muji to recover.
Tiger, properly Flying Tiger Copenhagen, is the perfect brand for the internet-addled Insta-shopper. To walk its winding aisles — like its Scandinavian forefather Ikea, once you’re in, there is no turning back — is to replicate the mindless scrolling of social media. Sateen eye mask? Like. Kitten tea strainer? Like. Rainbow sticker pouch? Like. Few Tiger trinkets cost more than a pound. At that price, you might as well go cheaper by the dozen. Toucan bunting, llama piñata, cuddly sloth: all for less than the price of coffee.
But when the novelty wears off — about the time it takes for a Snapchat message to disappear — what to do with a vast inflatable chicken costume bought for a hen-do? Chuck it, junk it, swipe left, overnight system upgrade. Into landfill, onto the beaches, out to the oceans. BBC camera crews will film the turtles of the future, if there are any, choking on flamingo swizzle sticks. Slime doesn’t biodegrade. Tiger sells ‘I Love Milkshake’ keep-cups and refillable parakeet water bottles, but most of its products, and those of its rival Hema (coming soon to a railway terminus near you), are an environmental menace.
It’s boring being good, feeling guilty, washing yoghurt pots for recycling. Naughty consumer, we are told. Silly shopper. Eco wastrel. That’s the secret to Tiger and Hema’s success: a little of what you fancy, tchotchkes to make you smile. The more Marie Kondo purses her lips and tells us to throw away everything but our knickers, which we must fold and file upright whenever they are not in use, the more people will look at a watermelon shower cap, a confetti balloon or a stick-on moustache and say: ‘I’ll have that.’ For the commuter who has given up her morning latte, her afternoon Kit Kat and her Friday evening G&T in a can, a new peacock-feather iPhone case gives the necessary dopamine hit: a sugar-high without the calories, caffeine without the headache, wine without the hangover. Forsaken junk food? Try junk shopping: all you can binge for a tenner.
Tiger’s intentions are honourable, though its methods — snaking shelves forcing you to look at every last cactus pencil sharpener, jingly, jolly-you-along music, and frequent stock changes that encourage you to buy now, regret it later — are cynical. Danish founder Lennart Lajboschitz wants his 863 stores — 92 of them in the UK, contributing to worldwide revenue of nearly £563 million — to be democratic. Llamas for all. It’s ‘Posh Poundland’ for shoppers whose tastes have been formed by the aesthetics of the emoji palette. Last year, Lajboschitz told the Times: ‘One customer said to me, “When I go into a discount store I feel very poor. When I go into Tiger I feel like a millionaire.” ’
When I go into Tiger I wonder what’s got into me. Normally of a puritanical bent (I have storage boxes for my storage boxes), I regress to pick’n’mix pocket-money childhood. I think pink, I coo cute. I relive the walk to Woolworths with a hot pound coin in the palm of my hand. With inflation, a slippery fiver and a trip to Tiger would do it now: toys, sweets, felt-tips and as much slime as you can squelch. ‘Don’t grow up: it’s a trap,’ says a sign in the Tottenham Court Road shop. With Tiger you never have to.