Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Which marmalade . . . ?

I feel a little guilty at raising this subject, it's one of the sacred cows of modern society and no-one is more respectful of cows than I am. But do you mind if we give a moment's thought to the subject of choice?

I'm not sure whether or not you like marmalade, but it was on my shopping list this week. Have you any idea how many varieties of marmalade there are available to the casual shopper? I didn't actually stop to count, I was too bemused. Instead my wandering gaze strayed from coarse-cut orange marmalade to fine-cut lemon marmalade, to ruby grape-fruit marmalade, to mandarin marmalade, to marmalade with a dash of honey, to marmalade consisting of no other fruit than lime . . . to every variety of marmalade that a pernickety shopper could possibly be expected to fancy.

And, at the end, when I'd finally put a pot of marmalade in my shopping trolley, was I satisfied? Did I feel that I was purchasing what
I truly wanted? Far from it! Having entered the shop with a simple, uncomplicated desire for marmalade, I was now wondering whether my choice had been the right one. Mightn't the coarse-cut orange marmalade have been tastier? And what of the lime? I had never tried lime. Such a wide choice hadn't made me any happier, quite the reverse. It had merely made me question the wisdom of my choice.

I could be wrong, but isn't this problem inherent in the very context of choice? It leaves a nagging sense of uncertainty . . . what if your choice has been the wrong one?

And there's another aspect to choice . . . this doesn't apply to marmalade, but it does apply to oranges and many other fruit. If there were less choice in the range of perishable goods - food that is often imported from halfway round the world - would it mean that less would be thrown away on reaching its 'sell-by date'?
To travel across continents only to end up producing methane gas in a distant landfill site . . . well, it does seem a little absurd.

In my childhood I was told each Christmas how lucky I was to be going to the pantomime. Convinced of my good fortune, I couldn't wait to enjoy this annual treat.
Would I have anticipated this event with such a sense of excitement and privilege had I been invited to choose between the pantomime and the circus? Or would I have ended up slightly dissatisfied with the one whilst feeling slightly deprived of the other?

Now, as an adult, I wonder whether a myriad television channels (each devoting more and more time to future promotion in order to capture and keep their viewers) are going to offer a more satisfying evening's entertainment than the previous four or five?
In much the same way, had I less books on my shelves to choose from, might I value them more?
For an undisciplined, impressionable person, such as myself, choice and confusion frequently go hand in hand.

There is, perhaps, only one area where I would unreservedly support the need for choice . . . the choice to share my thoughts with you . . . the choice to study what I will . . . the choice to make my own mistakes and to follow my own path.

But when it comes to cosmetics . . . or soap powder . . . or marmalade . . . ?

Choice . . . ?
You can keep it!