Certain regions of supermarkets are lands of horror and darkness. Food is fine. I can do food. Pick things that are tasty and not rotten, put them in basket, wave basket at the automatic scanner thing, hit the automatic scanner thing, then look sheepish while aisle attendant fixes automatic scanner thing. Easy.
However, once you get down to hygiene or household produce, it all gets a bit more terrifying. Those aisles make a fellow feel like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Not in the sense of being a pre-pubescent girl from the 1930s with a dog that looks like something a cat coughed up, but as a result of being adrift in a shiny, colourful, utterly inexplicable world full of strange and slightly threatening objects.
Domestic products seem to be one of the few areas of life where a militaristic communist dystopia sounds pretty decent: at least there you wouldn't have to spend twenty minutes staring at a shelf like a lummox before being able to buy some loo roll. When I find myself trying to compare several dozen indistinguishable brightly coloured varieties of washing up liquid, I do sometimes long to be handed a grimy box of the state-sponsored standard option and then be ordered to move along by a man with a cigar, a machine gun and a raging hatred of humanity.
Instead, your average local supermarket will present you with hordes of options, with minute variations in price and amount, and no discernible way of telling the difference. Years of education do their best to leave us with enquiring minds and a rudimentary grasp of scientific method, so when presented with a wall of washing detergents, we find ourselves asking which one, and why, over and over again. The point of capitalism is supposed to be that we, the almighty consumers, can make an informed decision based on the strengths and weaknesses of the competition. However, since every product is marketed as being the best in every conceivable way, the only things we have to go on are how much they cost and how offensive their packaging is. Applying another of capitalism's greatest inventions, the flow-chart*, the decision-making process looks like this:
(Umm, I should probably declare that this chart is in no way representative of my publishing powers. Point me at InDesign and I can line up pretty boxes. Unfortunately on my steam-powered, wind-up laptop my software options are a little more limited. I feel naked without a drop shadow button.)
Realistically, thanks to the recent demise of money (which is at some point likely to struggle up from the ashes, a bit like the angry henchman at the end of Die Hard, or any other action film of your choice), this elaborate process can usually be cut down to:
- Is it on special offer?
If nothing's on special offer, use the always-reliable** technique for picking restaurant wine, and go for the second cheapest.
There is, of course, an exception to this tyranny of choice: Marks & Spencer, which does fulfil certain aspects of the communist dystopia, namely the lack of choice and the endless queue of the middle classes, but unfortunately neglects the bit where you can actually afford anything. Still, it's a step forward. M&S for the revolution!
* Basically the grown-up version of a choose-your-own adventure book. Fewer of the options lead to being eaten by monsters, unless you're giving a particularly harrowing presentation.
** Warning: not always reliable.