Plaster in Paris

We were returning from an idyllic Pyrenean holiday, and had just boarded the Eurostar in Paris, sweaty heaps after a frantic sprint to the far end of the train, when my wife announced that she had lost her passport.

Technically, as we had cleared UK passport control, this would not impede our return, but it obviously needed urgent action. With the seat next to me still vacant as the doors closed and the train pulled out, I was trying to work out how I would explain to our family that I had brought back all her bags but somehow lost my wife, who would be left standing without money or ID in just the clothes she was wearing.

A few minutes later she strolled up the train, brandishing the passport she had retrieved just in time to jump on before the doors shut.

But what spurred me most to write these words followed slightly later still, when she was rummaging through her bumbag for another important document. My wife then flourished a crumpled sticking plaster, on which she had carefully scrawled a daughter’s address and postcode, which we had needed days before to send her a postcard.

I have never been the most organised person, but travelled with a carefully printed list of those on whom I would inflict the obligatory reminder that, whilst they got drenched in London, I was painting mountains under the Luchonnais sun.

My wife’s Desktop is equally chaotic, with all sorts of strange and often unidentifiable documents strewn over it, something OS X tolerates with better humour than I do. Although my own personal maze of folders may appear as messy to others, it has a rigorous if elaborate system to it. Try as I might, though, my iPad tolerates no such opacity.

The fact is that this new generation of portable devices caters for those who might have migrated from a ‘personal organiser’, not from shoe-boxes and wicker baskets overflowing with jumbled scraps of paper. For all its malleability and personalisation, if you prefer to remain disorganised, an iPad will not work the way you want.

Browse Mac product listings and they portray a public obsessed with tidiness: Cache Cleaners, Tidy Up, Organize, and worse. For those who eschew such aids, more recent versions of OS X brought us Tags to impart a further level of organisation should we desire. But do we really want to be meticulously tidy?

I believe that a lot of us actually prefer to live more exciting lives within varying degrees of disorganisation. If we had been intended to live and work in regimented regularity, then surely the neurones in our brains would be arrayed in geometric precision like super-crystals, not the tangled webs that we are shown in documentaries.

When every last bit of information is always to hand, in the right place, in files with impeccably-coined informative names, we lack the excitement of serendipity. Had my wife’s passport been in her bumbag all the way along, and our daughter’s address been tucked in the address book of an iPad, our journey back would have been far duller.

We continue to trawl the melée of the iTunes App Store for something that will allow my wife to remain as disorganised and chaotic as she prefers. A key feature is the ability to scribble crucial phone numbers on the back of a smattering of photos strewn among a completely disorganised gallery of a couple of thousand images.

The snag is that when we find it, I know what her birthday present will have to be, and I will then suffer the excitement of where she misplaces that iPad.

Updated from the original, which was published in MacUser volume 26 issue 22, 2010.