My wellies have split, so yesterday I walked Porthtowan beach with my left foot sloshing about in seawater as warm as amniotic fluid. I loved my wellies, and am very sad to have to replace them. Apart from the fact that they are beautiful, what I most loved about them was that I didn’t have to choose them – my mum chose them for me – and I’ve come to realise that I hate making choices.
I realised this after spending two hours (possibly more) inspecting wellies online. What a total waste of time; time that I could have spent pinning down where human consciousness stems from or finally sorting out a viable sustainable alternative to oil and thereby saving the world. But instead I spent that precious fraction of my life comparing prices, reviews, aesthetics and practicality of rubber footwear.
In the version of the past that I remember, when one needed wellies, one went to a shoe shop where they stocked one type of welly in a choice of dull green or black. Fancy ones had ‘Dunlop’ written on the side, but that was it. And they cost about £3.99.
Today I discovered that the welly situation in the West is very, very different now. Wellies have spread and mutated and developed all sorts of confusing added extras which resulted in my total failure to actually buy any. I became overwhelmed and – I admit it – very slightly stressed by all the choices. If there were only dull green or black all-the-same wellies in the world, I would have purchased a pair in about 2 minutes flat and gone about the rest of my day without a care in the world knowing that shortly I would be able to walk the dog without developing Trench Foot. But all this choice leads to brain-addling indecision.
Plain wellies, to be fair, do still exist. Here they are.
But, how can I just contendedly buy those when THESE exist?
If I bought these, just looking at them would make me happy every day. But, apart from the fact that they are nearly £30 more than the dull ones, would I feel embarrassed sporting the ‘Joules’ logo on the front of my legs? Probably. Joules is brand that yells “I AM QUIRKY MIDDLE CLASS! I RECYCLE AND OWN A SCRUFFY MONGREL! I EAT QUINOA AND HAVE MISMATCHED CHINA! I GROW MY OWN ARTICHOKES!” So maybe I need something a little more understated. Maybe these:
These appear quite unassuming, but they are branded too, and this brand is only pretending to be understated. People who wear Hunter wellies (especially dirty ones) are saying/trying to say, “These wellies have been in the family for generations, you know. My great, great grandfather wore them shooting with Lord Wilberforce of Durham. Have you met my labrador, Monty?” PLUS they cost nearly £80, so sod that. I read a review of these where someone had written, “I love my Hunters so much I’ve bought some for my husband and both the children”… There are people in the world who will spend £320 on rubber footwear. I am not one of those.
I can honestly say that I would not care ONE BIT if there were no choice whatsoever in the realm of the wellington boot. I wouldn’t feel the need to wield a banner proclaiming that we are being oppressed by a lack of variety in waterproof footwear. Or kettles. Or cars. Or irons. Or electric sanders. Or washing powder. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has stood in a supermarket being trolley-bashed repeatedly while staring at the variety of washing powders stretching as far as the horizon both ways and sobbing quietly to myself, “I just want one that cleans clothes.” WHAT CRITERIA are we supposed to use to decide which one to buy? The cheapest? The prettiest? Names we have heard of? Smell? Word-of-mouth? Just PASS ME ONE and I’ll leave quietly. Same thing happened when I was buying a second hand car. They were ALL CARS. They all had steering wheels and exhaust pipes. How was I supposed to CHOOSE between them? Does it drive? Can I sit down in it? Does it stop again when I’ve finished? It happens in restaurants too. Apart from anything with seafood in, I could probably eat any of it. I usually deal with the problem by waiting until the waiter looks at me expectantly, see what leaps into my brain, and order that. I wish they would just issue me with a meal. So long as there’s a cup of tea at some point, I’ll be happy.
When spouse and I became parents for the first time – 22 years ago – we were (cringe) Anarchists, and we believed that our young son should be given freedom to make his own choices in everything. I still believe this, I suppose, but what I didn’t see then is that we’re not really equipped to make free choices without substantial guidance until we’re much older (and in my case, never). The amount of free choice we gave him, we eventually realised, caused him great stress because he would panic even over seemingly trivial choices – if I choose this one, then I might regret it and realise that the other option was better – too much choice used to freeze his faculties with anxiety and then cause him to enjoy his final choice less than he would have under different circumstances.
I don’t know if it’s possible to draw any conclusions from this and my own experiences with choice-based distress, but I wonder if the fact that the doctrine of freedom of choice is used everywhere nowadays is really as healthy as we like to believe it is. Certainly in the area of consumerism it can be pretty distasteful, and in education I believe that choice has been at least partly responsible for a big decline in real learning as opposed to qualification-collecting. But that’s a whole other story.
While I was searching for (and failing to find) an entertaining image for this post, I found this TED talk instead. I think Barry Schwartz says it much better than I did. Damn him.
Oh, and I’d be grateful if someone could just choose some wellies for me. Thanks.