I was struck by this analogy this week and it has stayed with me – life at the moment feels like being handed the menu at a Hungry Horse pub.
You know when you go into a super fancy restaurant and they present you with a menu on one sheet of thick, cream A4 paper? There are four options for the main course – probably pork, chicken, fish, and something for the vegetarians. The prices are given just as whole numbers – a solitary 17 – because this place is too fancy for pound signs or pence.
It feels special doesn’t it? You feel like those four options are all going to be delicious, that someone has taken care over them, put thought into them.
And then you go to a Hungry Horse.
They take you to your table, your feet sticking a little to the carpet along the way, and they present you with the menu. There are about 47,000 choices, everything comes with a side of chips and garlic bread and somehow everything is £3.49, even the steak.
(Nobody ever needs chips and garlic bread. Especially not when the main dish is already pasta.)
If you compare the menus, the Hungry Horse gives you more choice. The multiple dinner options should give you a sense of freedom surely? Apparently not. Something I’ve learned, just in the last few months really, is that choice doesn’t equal freedom. In the case of the Hungry Horse menu, choice makes everything feel less.
The Hungry Horse feels like life feels to me since the easing of lockdown – overwhelming, cheap and way too heavy on the carbs.
This sounds like I’m just being terribly snobby, possibly I was a little with the sticky carpet comment, but it’s not really about price, it’s more just supply and demand I guess – basic economics. While options have been limited in the big wide world it’s given the choices that are available more significance and made them feel more valuable. Going out for a walk on a Saturday morning and finding a vintage truck selling coffee and teacakes in a garden centre car park feels so much more magical then walking down a busy High Street, cafés either side of you. With choice, it feels to me, comes the cheapening of individual options.
I know that in theory I should be able to hold onto that magic and to see those special moments regardless of the noise around them, but it’s hard. Imagine a tiny farm shop selling freshly baked bread, milk, apples, and local cheese. Then imagine Tesco. Those things exist within Tesco but it’s not the same – they’re harder to find and you feel less connected to them when you do.
I guess we just have to try to hold those simple pleasures close, to seek them out and to cherish them when we find them. How you do that as the noise of life and of choice starts to build I don’t know, but I do know that chips and garlic bread is never the answer.