Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Brazilian butterflies in the supermarket

Chaos theory, one manifestation of which is sometimes called the law of unforeseen consequences, demonstrates mathematically something we all know in our hearts, that great oaks grow from carelessly dropped acorns, sometimes undermining your foundations and causing insurance claims which prove to be the last straw that breaks the back of the global financial camel, etc etc.

Something of this sort must have happened at head office when it was decided that my nearest branch of that top-of-the-market supermarket shall, henceforth, sell 'large appliances'.  This, I was told, means hoovers, fridges and such, rather than obesity trusses.  The shop had already been extended about four years ago (with the principal result, as far as I could tell, of reducing the number of checkouts from twenty to twelve), so that wasn't an option.  Cutting down the stock range was obviously not on either, though I'd personally have settled for a halving of the selection of toilet paper, kitchen roll and washing powder.  So everything else had to be squeezed up to make room for range cookers or whatever.  (Imagine the conversation:  'Darling, have we got everything?'  'I think so, darling, but - don't we need one of these?')

The methodology employed (I always thought that word should refer to 'the study of methods', rather than its common usage, which is a posh way of saying 'method', but in this case I let it stand, as very little actual study seems to have been involved) was not, as it first appeared when I entered the place today, to draw a large map of the store and throw a load of little icons, representing the products, at it to see where they landed.  No, they took a more structured approach, just as a butterfly does when it decides it's time for a wingflap.  If we move the greeting cards up there next to the tonic water, and put one of the two sorts of celery over there by the mangoes, and, and ...  Then, miraculously, a whole empty aisle appears - see? - ready to be filled with freezers and jumbo-sized toasters.

The unforeseen consequence, for me, was that I wasted twenty minutes searching for breadsticks, which turned out to have been moved seven aisles to the south from crisps and snacks, where they'd always been perfectly happy, to reside alongside canned soup and croutons, and I was late for my lunch.  I didn't even have time to drop a new tumble dryer into the trolley.


  1. When you say late for your lunch...do you mean your own lunch? Is it possible to be late for a lunch that you can make at any time roughly between one or three? I am never late for lunch. It's always there exactly when I have finished making it. And, since I always lunch alone it can only be critised by me.

  2. You have to understand that, in my house, lunch is not just a meal, it aspires to the condition of a ritual. This begins with a small glass of sherry at 12.30, and proceeds from there. Only I may vary this. So by 'late' I mean 'in breach of accepted rules of civilised behaviour, through no choice of my own'.