Dear Dave

Friday 10 July 2009

Spoilt by choice

Dear Dave,

You'll remember that after an unfortunate incident a couple of years ago, we bought a new toaster. It's a good toaster with many great features:

  • It can take four slices of bread or two larger items.
  • It can defrost stuff.
  • The crumb tray is easy to remove.
  • It doesn't contain any mice.
These are all very handy. The one thing that isn't so useful is the slider near the base which determines the amount of grilling the bread receives. This is marked on a scale from 1 to 6 but there are realistically only two positions which are any use. Setting the slider at just-over-3 toasts the first batch of bread nicely and just-under-3 toasts the second round to perfection.

Of the five centimetres the slider can move, four and a half have little purpose. Level 1 is slightly less effective than leaving the bread in direct sunlight for a few minutes, while Level 6 is reserved for those looking to incinerate documents or commit insurance fraud.

Admittedly, there does need to be some room for adjustment: Do two rounds at just-under-3 and the first lot is still chewy; do two rounds at just-over-3 and the second lot turns black and sets off the smoke detector. The available options seem somewhat excessive, however. Worse, the slider is very easily knocked to one side or the other, resulting in the kids occasionally getting mildly warm bread for breakfast or having to eat charcoal in a kitchen full of acrid fog.

Choice is all very well but sometimes it backfires.

This year on our summer holiday in St Andrews, we made sure to keep the kids entertained. Despite not owning a car and having to carry everything, we packed the Wii, two DSs, a DVD player, art materials, Pokémon cards, a Freeview player, books, Scrabble, a Leapster, a stack of games and a whole bunch of stuff they really wanted to watch.

The children complained they were bored more times on the first day than they did on the entire trip last year.

After that, they were forced to spend much of the next couple of days running around outside in the rain and going for walks in the scorching heat. They only got to choose whether they took a coat. The grumbling didn't diminish much but at least they received plenty of fresh air, sunshine and exercise.

It took most of the rest of the week to find a happy medium between benevolent dictatorship and family democracy - to choose our level of choice, if you like.

We were just in time to go play Frisbee on the beach.

Yours in a woman's world,


PS Coincidentally, the toaster in the holiday flat had a dial marked from 1 to 6. Following a visit from the fire brigade and a meal of tepid Hovis, I managed to determine that around 4 was the magic point on that one...

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