COLUMN: January 4, 2018

Some Cheshire cheese, but on a French plate for some reason
I AM not the most decisive of people under pressure. No, that is not true, sometimes I can be very decisive. Actually, I’m not sure the word “decisive” is the one I should use. Maybe “resolute”? No, decisive is the one. Definitely.

The point is, the fewer decisions I have to make, the happier I am. I am not saying I would welcome a totalitarian government, but I would probably do all right under one, especially if it banned coriander leaf, melons, and workplace raffles.

But most of life in 2018 appears to be forcing me into decisions that I would prefer not to have to make. I have to decide which company supplies my gas, which of hundreds of TV channels to watch, which of 12 different types of olive oil to buy.

I am exaggerating for comic effect, of course. I do not have hundreds of TV channels, as I only have Council Telly rather than Posh Telly, and consequently have limited access to channels which show exactly the same programme as another channel, but one hour later.

But my fear of making decisions is that of making the wrong choice, because I make the wrong choice far more often than I should. And knowing this fact leads me to make more bad decisions, as I change my mind on the assumption that my first instinct must be wrong.

Essentially, I am constantly engaged in a game of bluff and double-bluff with myself. It is exhausting as I am simultaneously a fiendish opponent and a totally useless one.

So I was the worst person to be faced with an automated check-out over the holiday period, because it offered me the opportunity to buy and weigh my bag at the start of the process, which would allow me to put my items straight into the bag, saving me as many as 30 seconds.

I gave that a lot of thought – should I stick with what I knew, and bag up my groceries afterwards, or should I take a risk on a new and brilliant short cut?

“This is inevitably going to be the wrong choice,” I thought, as I went for the short cut. This is because I have never found a short cut that is more successful than the longer route.

I scanned my bag and then placed it in the bagging area. The computer ummed and ahhed for a moment, then told me to proceed, its fingers steepled.

I tried to scan some cheese, failed, straightened out the bar code, failed again, straightened it out again, succeeded, and put it in the bag.

“Unexpected item in the bagging area”, the computer lied. It had been lulling me into complacency. Instinctively I removed the cheese. Another bad decision.

The light flashed and a supermarket operative appeared. “I took the cheese by accident,” I explained. He stabbed a code into the machine to cancel the cheese and scooted off.

I immediately put the cheese back in the bag instead of scanning it.

“Unexpected item in the bagging area”, the computer said, reasonably this time. The supermarket operative returned. “I accidentally put the cheese back,” I explained. He repeated the cheese cancellation. I now hated cheese, and put it back in the basket.

I tried another item, some washing-up liquid this time. I scanned it correctly, the price came up, I placed it in the bag.

“Unexpected item in the bagging area.”

The supermarket operative appeared. I think he hated me, and I could not blame him. He probably dreams about me now. “I don’t understand why it’s not expecting the things it has told me I’ve got. Oh, it’s the bag, isn’t it?” I said.

“Yeah,” he said.

“I don’t get it. How can it not be expecting a bag in the bagging area? If anything, that is the one thing that a bagging area should be expecting.”

He cancelled the bag without a word and stalked off in search of less problematic customers, like a half-starved Rottweiler on heat, or a sarcastic teenager covered in flaming spikes.

And so I went back to my usual practices of filling up a bagging area while not quite having enough space, and ruing my poor decisions. The cheese worked this time, the check-out having become reconciled to the idea that I might want to buy some. It even accepted the bag. Eventually.

Come to think of it, “decisive” probably isn’t the word.


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