From T-shirts to hospitals, why I'd choose LESS choice
08:30 GMT, 9 July 2012
Decisions, decisons: From shopping to dining out, do we have too many options
One of the biggest myths about modern living is that choice is good. The truth is that it is debilitating, time-consuming and offers few benefits.
Successive governments have banged on about offering us the holy grail of ‘choice’ when all we want is efficiency and value for money.
The NHS is a perfect case in point. How many of us really care about being able to compare various hospitals for our upcoming surgery The answer is, extremely few.
Faced with routine operations such as a hip or knee replacement, 99 per cent of NHS patients want to spend as little time as possible on a waiting list. Choice in this context is completely fake, a distraction from the real agenda.
The same is true in education — by publishing schools’ league tables and offering parents ‘choice’, the result is misery when the vast majority of mums and dads can’t get their children into their first choice.
If every single primary school guaranteed that all children would leave able to read and write, the notion of choice would be redundant.
As consumers, we regularly get told that choice gives us a chance to express our individuality, but all it does is wear us down.
In our parents’ day, you went out to buy a white T-shirt and the choice was simple. Long sleeves or short. Now, go somewhere like Gap and you feel exhausted before you’ve tried a single one on.
Forget the sleeve length, you can choose pockets or no pockets, V-neck or round, fitted or loose, cotton or cotton blended with Lycra (always a terrible idea for anyone with a muffin top — 90 per cent of us over 40).
When you’ve negotiated all those hoops, then they finally hit us over the head with normal or ‘ethical’ cotton. For God’s sake! Soon T-shirts will come with the same pretentious pedigrees as organic pork chops. We’ll have a chance to pay for the privilege of knowing the name of the ‘happy’ worker who sewed the ruddy thing.
The same draining choice is on offer for jeans — and don’t even get me started on underwear. Marks & Spencer has managed to turn humble basic cotton pants, sold in packs of five or six, into a minefield, something to fail at.
Instead of bikini cut or big Bridget Jones, you have so many styles I guarantee you will return home with something that turns out to be exactly what you didn’t want.
My mate Phil tells me he finds the simple task of buying anti-dandruff shampoo challenging. In the pre-choice era when life was simple, one kind did the job adequately.
Now, the same manufacturer has created shampoos for men, children and families in a whole variety of packs filling 6ft of supermarket shelf space.
Supermarkets are the biggest fraudsters when it comes to choice, offering us the same blueberries packaged three different ways, and dozens of varieties of tiny vegetables, most of which taste of absolutely nothing because they have been grown indoors in massive greenhouses and fed nutrients by robotic watering systems.
Quite soon, someone will appear on Mastermind and their specialist subject will be miniature tomatoes. In Italy and France, farmers grow relatively few varieties, and they taste delicious.
I’m not the only person who deeply resents choice. Tramshed is a new restaurant in Shoreditch, owned by Mark Hix, which serves only two main courses — roast chicken and steak. Hurrah!
The torture of endlessly revising my choice based on what fellow diners are ordering has ended at a stroke.
Nick Jones also thinks choice is over-rated. He started the incredibly successful Soho House group of hotels, clubs and restaurants here and in the U.S. His latest venture, opening next month in North London, called Chicken Shop, will sell just that. Roast chicken, with chips, salad, coleslaw and sweetcorn.
How revolutionary, a menu comprising just five items. A whole chicken or a half or a quarter, is all the choice on offer.
Another fashionable restaurant in London sells just lobster and burgers. Hopefully, this signals an end to pretentious dining out and menus that give us a potted history for every single ingredient.
Choice is a complete waste of time, and time is what we don’t have enough of. Politicians seized on it as a way of pretending they have our interests at heart. Sorry, we’re not fooled.
If you snoop, keep it quiet!
Worried wife: Jools Oliver
I have plenty of sympathy for Jamie Oliver, who must feel frustrated that all his efforts to improve school meals have come to a standstill, possibly because Education Secretary Michael Gove has decided the celebrity chef is too associated with the previous government.
Whatever you think of his TV programmes and zealous approach to getting his message across about healthy eating, Jamie’s heart is definitely in the right place.
He has a beautiful wife and four lovely children, and is said to be worth 151 million.
It’s curious, then, that Jools Oliver always comes across as slightly insecure, lacking in her husband’s undoubted self-confidence.
Interviewed to promote a range of children’s clothes she’s designed for Mothercare, she admits she’s a ‘really bad worrier’ who phones Mum ‘four times a day’.
She gets up at 6am to ensure everything runs smoothly at home and always puts her family first. Jools is happy to let Jamie be out meeting the public and attending events, though he works only a four-day week nowadays, but she sounds extremely suspicious of what her cheeky chappie might be getting up to.
She admits checking his emails, Twitter account and mobile phone. Is it wise (or naive) to reveal this kind of thing Most women in her position would check their husband’s phone, but few would admit it.
Fifty shades of publicity
I know one thing about Fifty Shades Of Grey, the book by E. L. James that’s supposed to represent the acceptable face of pornography for the modern woman — the publishers have certainly employed the most brilliant publicists.
They sent me the book, and I found it utterly dreary. Then, I tried flicking through, just reading the filthy bits, but they were so repetitive, I’d rather listen to the shipping forecast on Radio 4. I returned to my Jo Nesbo thriller, much more rewarding.
Next, I recycled Fifty Shades Of Rubbish to a friend — she managed just an hour, before handing it back. I recycled it again to another friend — she returned it after getting a third of the way through, complaining it was ‘uninspiring’.
When I read that sales of sex toys have boomed since this book has topped the best seller lists, I just laugh. More PR bilge. You can expect to read that factories manufacturing handcuffs and whips have doubled production any day now. Ha! Ha!
Class A hypocrites
Super confident: Louise Mensch, novelist and Conservative MP
It takes quite a lot to upstage my old mate John Lydon, but booking him on the same Question Time panel as the most nakedly ambitious woman in Parliament, Louise Mensch, created a certain ‘atmosphere’.
Anxious that she might be upstaged by the former Sex Pistol, Louise decided to tell us again that she’d taken serious drugs in her youth and didn’t condone them.
She added that Class A drugs usage had caused ‘long-term mental health effects’ and had made her ‘anxious’.
Is there any politician who will say, ‘I took drugs and it was great at the time’ Why are they such a bunch of hypocrites She certainly seems self-confident to me.