Shopping paralyses me.
Not in the ‘lost male in home furnishings’ way (although I once managed, embarrassingly, to lose myself in a Macy’s outlet), but more the ‘holding two items in either hand and sweating’ way.
The excess of choice, the thousands of single items to choose from – in this shop, on this day, NOW – jam my circuits and lead me to walk away, empty-handed.
Take last weekend. With an hour to spare in London, I headed to the Charing Cross Road to browse the bookstores. I’d even drawn up a short list of potential buys on my phone – what could possibly go wrong?
Some 45 minutes, and four bookshops, later and I am standing in the middle of Foyles, staring up at three floors of books above. Everywhere I look there is something I could read, hundreds of potential purchases within metres, including everything on my list. I thumb through the H’s of Fiction, make a half-hearted stab at browsing the wall-to-wall Poetry before I shuffle off, stomaching an odd mix of indecision and anger.
And it’s not just books. Every time I enter a record shop I’m confronted with this same tyranny of choice – hundreds of albums I want to listen to but will never have the time to hear.
Shortly after my book trek, while picking through a pile of CDs in a Soho record store I thought of a tweet posted by Brian Eno days earlier: “I realise the reason I like playing records (as opposed to CDs) is that they’re short…I want less music.”
I never believed I’d reach a point at which I want less music, less books, less choice. But it’s happened. Faced with a tsunami (and that’s before we get to the infinite distractions of the Internet) of writing and music, film and TV drama, my reaction now is to step back.
Walking back to my hotel last Saturday, along Marylebone High Street, I spotted an Oxfam shop. I stepped in and made straight for the books’ section, a small collection in a corner of the store.
The choice was minimal but there, on a shelf, was one of the books on my list – The Debt To Pleasure. Without the temptations of a dozen other titles, it stood out – a £2, 20-year-old paperback.
It was the easiest buy I’d made in months.