The Evening Standard, 26 May 2011

It is with some embarrassment that I realise I belong to the most incompetent generation of shoppers mankind has ever produced. My grandparents managed to buy food even when rationing meant they were only allowed half an egg a week, which was especially difficult to carry home. My parents were purchasers in the 80s, and managed not to buy anything with giant shoulder-pads in it, not even once. Yet my generation, living in a time where you can shop online and have it brought to your front door (probably when you’re out, but you can’t have everything), now moans that supermarkets offer us so much stuff that we can’t find what we want. That might be the most princessy complaint I’ve ever heard.

Yet Marks and Spencer are taking our whining seriously. Their chief executive, Marc Bolland, has announced that M&S will be revamped after customers complained that they couldn’t find what they were looking for. In a test last year, the company gave ten shoppers a list of ten items to find within an hour. None succeeded. Now, unless the list began ‘One hair from the mane of a unicorn, one lump of moon rock, one Lord Lucan’, that is a staggeringly incompetent display of shopping.

Let’s assume that the list was of ten things which were available for sale in M&S. And let’s assume that they hadn’t hidden the items under furniture or behind doors. Can you really imagine spending an hour in a department store and not being able to find, say, socks, pants, apples and a duvet cover? Me either. Marks and Spencer has perfectly clear signage, and it doesn’t have an impish streak which persuades it to stock bananas in the Menswear department.

Quite the reverse: they are reassuringly predictable. Lingerie is by nightwear, the nicest t-shirts are in Autograph, Per Una is slightly alarming, and the cheese is by the juice. This is true in all branches, or at least all the ones I have ever found. Yet because the ten stupidest shoppers in Britain couldn’t navigate their way round in an hour, this may no longer be true. As part of the revamp, M&S will categorise its stores according to the area they’re in, and change the stock accordingly.

So presumably, if you live in an area where there are lots of babies and no-one but you likes cherry jam, you’ll soon find the children’s clothing taking over the store and cherry jam consigned to history, replaced by pureed vegetables. But if you go to a store in a different area, they’ll have completely different stuff for you to buy. Surely that will make the process of finding things harder, rather than easier? You might spend ages looking for precisely the items that a branch no longer stocks. So maybe the customer isn’t always right, and the shops are fine as they are.

If she can find her way there, Michelle Obama might fancy a trip to M&S. The First Lady found herself on the receiving end of some inverse snobbery, after meeting the Duchess of Cambridge this week. Kate’s dress was from Reiss, cost £175, and demand for it swamped their website within minutes. Whereas Michelle Obama’s prom dress cost at least £1400, and in the topsy-turvy world of fashion, this appears to be a bad thing, though I’m not entirely sure why. Surely she can spend what she likes on dresses, it’s not like she and her husband are hard up. And she knows that whatever she wears will be photographed and shown all over the world. By wearing certain brands, she’s raised share prices, let alone crashed websites. In which case, whatever she wears, somebody wins.

In spite of being extremely clumsy, my trips to hospital are mercifully rare: I keep the sharp things locked away so I can’t fall on them. But some people obviously like a visit to A&E more than others: one woman was recently sent packing by NHS West Kent after turning up with a broken fingernail. Surely even a rudimentary knowledge of the programme, Casualty, would have given her a clue that she was going to the wrong place. In the opening scenes, typically, a small child is flying a kite near an open quarry and an electricity pylon, and the audience guesses which ultimately curable tragedy will befall him. This scene has never, to my knowledge, involved a closed nail salon and broken emery board.

Watching the footage of the Navy Seals raid on Bin Laden’s hideout last month, I couldn’t help but feel that the whole thing was scripted like a movie. The soldiers, the night-vision, the burning helicopter: if it hadn’t been real life, it would surely have starred Sylvester Stallone, and very possibly Jean-Claude Van Damme, too. Well, get ready to book your seats, because Kathryn Bigelow, Oscar-winning director of The Hurt Locker, has been confirmed to direct the movie version of Osama Bin Laden’s death. It hasn’t begun shooting yet, but is already set for release in late 2012, just in time to compete with the next Bond film at the box office. I’m not sure if this is a case of life imitating art, or art imitating life.