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Every Dunedin person worth their salt applies a hierarchical system as they attempt to neatly order the chaos of their world. David Loughrey considers how that subconscious system works.
Some things in the world have more value than other things.
Such is the order of things.
That indisputable fact struck me this week as I undertook one of my earliest tasks of the day: choosing socks.
The socks on my sock shelf are set out neatly in piles.
There are two piles, one of work socks, and another of socks for weekends and other days where the arduous grind of labour does not encroach upon the fleeting moments of freedom that are all this relentless life provides us.
The latter pile is at the top in terms of my sock hierarchy, in part because the non-work days are themselves valued more than work days when it comes to the hierarchy of days.
But it is not as simple as that.
Within the non-work pile there is a sub-hierarchy, first of all between the ankle socks used for leisure, and the longer socks used for household and garden tasks that require footwear like gumboots.
Within the longer socks there is a hierarchy marked by socks I bought myself, and those that were presents I received at Christmas (the latter are on top in this case, ranked in order of who bought them for me).
Then there are the ankle socks.
Those are ranked in terms of newness, thickness and style, and those of a similar style are ranked in terms of colours, based on which colour I like the most.
Within that are socks I slightly regretted buying once I had got them home, due to how well they did or did not fit, or a closer inspection of the fabric with which they were made revealing it less suitable than expected.
For some reason manufacturers have decided to make men’s socks out of stocking material with thick bits on the toe and heel, I know not why.
But at the top of the pile, as it were, are three pairs of thicker, newer, blacker, well-fitting ankle socks made from a solid fabric that are kings of the sock realm.
I wear them only now and again to make sure they last, and only on special occasions.
Those socks reign over all below them.
Those socks are awesome.
I like fruit.But I like some fruit more than other fruit, value some fruit more than other fruit, and therefore have a subconscious hierarchy in place.
The hierarchy does not lift the glamour fruit — the strawberries that make a fleeting visit to our palates in midsummer, for instance — into prime position.
Oh, no; that would be too easy.
Cherries don’t make it, they are nothing but an amazing flash-in-the-pan that lands in a wild tumult of outrageous prices, at their most expensive just when you need them most, at Christmas.
There they sit in little white boxes that would bankrupt the average Dunedin wage earner, deep red, alluring and darkly voluptuous, but out of reach.
So cherries are not at the top of the hierarchy.
Apples are not at the top of the hierarchy.Apples are all right, I guess, but they are somehow too common and almost too readily available.
Apples are everywhere and usually cheap, which is good, but they don’t have the X-factor to drag them up to the higher echelons of the fruit spectrum.
In weighing them up, one might consider their crunch factor and the pleasure of giving them a good shine on your pants leg as positives, and they might also get marks for their work in making apple pies extremely valuable in a gastronomic sense.
But the apple does not make it to the top.Tamarillos are up there.
People who like tamarillos are an exclusive clique.
They recognise each other at the tamarillo bin at the supermarket in winter, when the fruit with the sweetest, moistest flesh contained in a robust but pliant red skin with the most elegant slender stalk begins to land in numbers.
They are generally a better class of person: creative, intelligent and compelling.
They don’t need to say anything to each other; just a nod or a knowing meeting of eyes is enough for them to recognise and approve of each other as fellow lovers of this most sublime food, and people of the highest order.
But tamarillos, while high in the hierarchy, are not at the top.
Bananas are at the top.
Bananas are delicious, bananas are sweet, bananas are honest and reliable, and bananas are naturally pre-packaged.
They are not messy, and require nothing in the way of cutlery to access them.
They can be held in the hand like a 19th century duelling pistol or held above the head as one would hold a flaming torch during a village mob scene after the peasants get wind of black magic being undertaken in the creepy house in the forest at the edge of town.
They don’t perform the latter task particularly well, to be fair, but let’s not get caught up in quibbles.
One can peel a banana in the most gratuitous and satisfying way, before consuming its ample, supple flesh.
Bananas are divine.
They are truly the monarchs of the fruit world.
So here are the rules of subconscious layering of hierarchies on to the inanimate objects of the world:
• Make sure you have an item you place firmly at the top of the pile, then make value judgements about all those below that which sits at the zenith.
• Make sure there is an item (eg gardening socks or apples) at the bottom of the pile so you can show it some real disdain.
• Most of all, make sure you layer hierarchies on to every possible grouping of objects you perceive in the world, in a futile attempt to make order from chaos.
There lies the answer to life’s ambiguities.