The Chaos Theory and ‘Two-Minute Jobs’ (Getting My Excuses In Early)

black claw hammer on brown wooden plank

Strange, isn’t it, how things seldom go as you expect: how a task you have been putting off for months because it seems Herculean, turns out to be a piece of cake; how a job that seems like it should be a doddle actually ends up taking three months and involves rebuilding a sizable portion of the house; how a ten-minute car journey actually swallows up ten minutes to pack the car, followed by thirty minutes trapped in unexpectedly heavy traffic?

My wife always has a selection of ‘two-minute jobs’ set aside for me and these little DIY tasks are a consistent thorn in my side, generally proceeding as follows:
1. Prepare the site: remove anything breakable, cover anything stainable (15 minutes)
2. Get out necessary tools and equipment (15 minutes – unless the shed is involved, in which case 30 minutes)
3. Carry out ‘two minute job’ (15 minutes)
4. Recalculate. Do job again, having screwed it up at first attempt by trying to do it in two minutes (15 minutes)
5. Pack away tools (15 minutes. 1 hour if it involves shed as nothing ever fits back in there)
6. Tidy and clean up – including hiding broken ornament that you missed in part 1 (15 minutes – a lifetime if what you have broken is precious)
7. Get out all tools again as you did not notice the job you have just done is only number one on a list of twenty (15 minutes – unless you packed the drill away somewhere it doesn’t belong and you now cannot find it, until you start to look for the nails and discover that it is in the freezer).

In my experience, nothing ever takes the time it is supposed to. When, for instance, did you last find that your frozen meal was perfectly ready after the time stated on the box? (Come to that, when did you last find cooking instructions that included a microwave of the same wattage as your own?) We have just had a new oven. Everything takes twice as long to cook as it should. The makers are coming to mend it, following which, I know everything will burn.

Or is it just me? I presume we’re not all the same. That a surgeon, for instance, seldom finds that an operation for which he has allowed forty minutes has actually dragged on for over four hours because somebody knocked on the door with a parcel for next door, and then he got distracted by ‘Bargain Hunt’.

Time is ridiculously difficult to get a grip on. Scientists tell us that time is a man-made construct. It makes sense to me: it is fluid, unexplainable and unreliable. As I have said before, I am always insanely early for almost everything I do, as I have an almost pathological dread of being late. I factor so many ‘what-ifs’ into my calculations that it is sometimes a wonder that I do not actually arrive yesterday (eh?). And yet, if I am not for any reason, stupidly early, I am always late. Why? Why am I never simply on time?

I really don’t mind arriving early enough to squeeze in a cup of coffee before an appointment. I’m not so keen on having the time for a three course meal and a movie.

When I catch a bus, I always arrive at the stop at least ten minutes before the bus was due to arrive the day before – when the timetable changed. It is an unwritten rule of public transport that you have always ‘just missed it’.

I do believe that all of life – although this may just be my life – is governed by the rules of the ‘Chaos Theory’. (Actually, I’m starting to doubt myself here. Can something called ‘Chaos Theory’ actually obey a set of rules? Is that all a bit oxymoronic?) Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that, in my experience, everything happens by accident. Everything that happens has a consequence – although seldom the one that you were expecting. Plans, in this scheme of things are futile. Nothing can ever come of them – except disappointment. A sort of aimless drift downriver may prove to be the only viable aspiration. Sooner or later you will end up where life wants to take you. My advice is don’t plan to arrive early.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, I did start off with a plan today, but I have no idea what it was, or where it has gone. It got swallowed in the Chaos, and the consequence was that I forgot to do the list of jobs which I was left, and my evening will be spent in silence…

Preudhomme’s Law of Window Cleaning: it’s on the other side. Winston Preudhomme