Sunday, 11 November 2012

The agony of choice

It's probably fair to say that we have more choice today than ever before. We can choose what school to send our kids to, and we can choose to send them there on the bus or drive them there in a vehicle that we chose from a huge array of possibilities.
Go into any supermarket and it's questionable whether choice is your friend or your enemy. If you want to buy a tin of beans - not something you'd expect to break into a sweat over - you're faced with a dazzling collage of potential purchases. Since when did the humble baked bean require this level of consideration? Do you buy one of the premium brands, the store's own brand, the cheap ones, the ones in the tin with the coolest design on, the ones on special offer, or the ones that you had last time and they were fine so why not get them again? Decision made on the beans, but there's still sausages on the list which brings us yet another dilemma. By the time you're halfway round the shop you're exhausted, but there's still laundry detergent to get. As you turn into the laundry aisle you suddenly lose the will to live. Confronted with an unending wall of powders, liquids and tablets, all in packaging that promises to revolutionize your life at a temperature that's so eco-friendly you'll be farting butterflies after washing your pants, you finally abandon your overflowing trolley and run screaming for the exit.
Actually it's not like that for me. Most of the time the shopping magically appears in the fridge and cupboards. The grocery fairies are very efficient here.
On the rare occasions I do have to do the grocery shopping myself, it's a military operation. Speed and precision is where it's at. Armed with a comprehensive list of every item needed and a detailed mental map of the store layout I can get everything required in record time and out of satans playground before being sucked into the pit of despair and 3 for 2 offers.
Obviously your gameplan has to be a little flexible. You may have to employ special tactics to avoid the low-rent track-suited mother with the screaming kid, and the bunch of old duffers who're holding the colostomy enthusiast's AGM in the bread aisle, but unless there's a buy-one-get-one-free on 'Old Speckled Hen' I'm 100 percent focused.
When it comes to choice turning from benefit to total mindf*** though, nobody can beat Currys. If you go there to buy a new TV you may have already decided that you want (for sake of argument) a 42 inch full-HD LED set with a glossy screen and a Sony badge on the front, but as soon as you walk into the store all your firm ideas disappear as your eyes glaze over and you start drooling on your shoes. This technological Aladdins Cave will extract your common sense, your sanity and your wallet quicker than anything else unless you're phenomenally strong-willed.
Or it would if you could get assistance. All the sharply pressed assistants with shiny name badges appear from nowhere like the shopkeeper in 'Mr Benn', with their standard "Can I help you sir?".
Naturally your first reply is "No - now f*** off and stop hassling me before I rip off your head and p*** down you neck" which gets somehow watered down (probably by some sort of committee) as it travels from your brain to your mouth where it comes out as "I'm fine for now, thanks".
Three hours later when you've narrowed your choice down to just a couple of likely candidates, you decide you could do with some help. But Mr. Shinybadge and all his friends have completely vanished for an extended tea break so you give up, defeated, and go home empty handed.