Do you think we have too much choice these days?
It is certainly possible to be too restricted – to be prevented from access to things that you would choose if you could – but I also think that it’s possible to be overwhelmed by choices. I prefer Tesco Metros to their Superstores, and I prefer greengrocers to both, specifically because there aren’t 200 different types of Cheddar. And if there’s no Cheddar that day, then I’ll get Red Leicester and who gives a damn about cheese anyway? I’ve always had a sneaking admiration for Clement Freud: when faced with the overwhelming choice at a Chinese takeaway he would always order an 18 and a 47 without looking at the menu. (This worked wonderfully until the day that he got Prawn Crackers and Banana Fritters, but hey).
There’s a story about a visitor at one of the grandest country houses in the Edwardian hay day of the Country House Weekend. It had been a good night and in the morning a footman brought a rattling trolley of hot drinks to his bedroom.
“Tea or Coffee, Sir” offered the footman.
“Uh. Tea, thank you” grunted the hungover guest.
“China or Indian?”
“Darjeeling or Assam?”
“Assam” – the guest was really feeling his hangover by this time and just wanted to be left alone, with or without his cup of tea.
“Brown or white?”
“Err…. white, thank you”
“Milk or Lemon?”
“Yes. Milk. Thank. You.” Surely this is the last of these annoying questions?
“… Jersey, Hereford or Holstein?”
(In fairness, in those pre-skimmed milk days, different breeds of cow would be the easiest way of having creamy or low-fat milk, but why spoil a good story by considering milk-processing technology?)
Sometimes you don’t want choice. Sometimes all you want is a cup of tea and you don’t really mind if you are given Assam with milk or Earl Grey with lemon, different though they are, so long as no bugger hammers away at your poor hungover head, making you choose between them.
All of which has come to mind because I have two sets of choices facing me at the moment and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by both.
First choice: I need to buy a new car.
My previous car was totalled on Monday night by a bunch of lads in a stolen van. I really don’t care – I don’t care it was written off – I don’t care what I drive – I don’t even particularly care if the police catch them or not. I just want a car which is (a) functional and (b) cheap.
My specific choice at the moment is whether to buy a car so small that passengers would know what I had for supper three nights previously (bad) but which runs on fresh air and fairy dust (good) and which I could have by Saturday (really good) or whether to spend more time and effort trying to track down a car which I’ll like more but which will cost more to run. And if I go on to Autotrader I am faced with thousands of cars to choose from. Blah. The red one or the green one I can cope with. But 2000? My eyes and mind are boggling.
Ultimately of course it’s a question of how careful I want to be with my money and just how expensive I think petrol can get before we storm the Houses of Parliament brandishing sharpened distributor leads by the light of burning MOT certificates.
Second choice: how do I clear and tidy the living room?
This is just whining really, but my living room is now full of a load of stuff from the car and an assortment of other detritus including recycling and redundant furniture, and I have no idea what to tackle first to make any kind of dent in it. Particularly since I have no car at the moment and therefore cannot take any of it to the tip, away, or elsewhere.
What I really want is for someone to say to me – “See those cars? Buy the green one”, and “see that crap in the living room? Sort it into piles based on colour, call it Art and sell tickets”.