As a student in the late '70s and early '80s, I lived in a shared house in Ashford, Middlesex. It was always called 'Ashford, Middlesex' to distinguish it from the more important 'Ashford, Kent' even though since 1965, (when Middlesex as a council disappeared with the creation of Greater London) it was 'moved' to Surrey - no one ever said (or says) 'Ashford, Surrey'. Despite its Twickenham postcode, all letters I received arrived with Middlesex in the address and I suspect this is still the case.
I got a lot of letters then, some of which are so precious to me that despite several moves of house, county and country, I still have with me.
Note that not one has the postcode and not one says 'Ashford, Surrey' but all which clearly reached me from their various starting points.
A rather nice example of mixed-up-ness - more of which in a moment.
It was here, in Ashford, (not Kent, but Middlesex or Surrey), most appropriately, that I was first introduced to entropy. I took to the concept like a duck to water and have been seeing it in action ever since. It helps me to understand why, however hard I try, some things always seem to go wrong. I lived in a house shared with five men, one of whom was my boyfriend at the time - and he and I were the only students. The others were an incredible mix - a real odd bunch - who found themselves together by pure chance rather than choice as the house was their first meeting place.
The phrase 'camp as a row of tents' was probably invented to describe Andrew, one of the lodgers. He and I became absolutely best friends within a short space of time and stayed so over many years. He had a degree from Cambridge in Mathematics, worked at an important computing job at British Airways and also played the piano rather well. He is without doubt one of the most intelligent, interesting and amusing people I have ever met. He and two of the other lodgers, Bill and Richard, were very competitive chess players and many an evening was spent in silence apart from the slap of a hand on the clock that timed their moves. These three men were highly qualified scientists and mathematicians - all three very eccentric in their own ways. The fourth lodger was an attractive, lanky guy with a taste for leggy blondes and a strange, obsessive interest in rank and pinion railways.
It was Andrew that explained entropy to me. With hindsight, I'm sure he was having a gentle dig at my lack of tidiness and general disorganisation but it was so gentle that I didn't pick up on it then. He used a phenomenon of the time, the Rubik's cube, to explain it to me, (though you may, of course, be more aware of entropy as the Second Law of Thermodynamics). Richard had stayed up very late one night doing the cube and had proudly left it for all to see on top of the television when we came down in the morning. To my shame, I picked it up and twiddled it a bit - meaning to nonchalantly pick it up and put it right again when the next person came into the room. And then got into a panic when I couldn't redo it and that it got worse at every turn. Andrew came in and found my distress very amusing. He kindly explained that once something reaches a stage of complete organisation, it could only ever disintegrate or become disorganised - this was entropy. He wrote a big note and put the cube and note back on top of the television saying 'Entropy Happens'. What a shame he didn't copyright the phrase!
That phrase was used over and over during my time in that house - usually as an excuse for leaving my washing up in the sink or other undone domestic chores. I've continued to use it to this day to excuse my children's mess or to try and make them feel better when things haven't gone right and the glue has stuck to the wrong side; or the scissors inexplicably cut off the feet/sword/head or whatever of their picture, instead of following the outline; or when they have started writing in a brand new notebook, only to find they had the book upside down. Anything, in fact, where perfection or order was the goal but the result was mixed-up-ness.
'Mixed-up-ness' is a real word - a lovely entropic sort of word - coined by J. Willard Gibbs in 1903. Shame it was for something unnecessarily complex and scientific. However useful entropy may be as a means or measure for scientists to explain certain phenomena, I think it is so applicable to those things in our daily life that seem to go wrong or awry without any clear reason. Like socks - how is it that despite drumming it into my children to put both socks into the washing basket at the end of the day, I always end up with a selection of odd ones when I've done the washing? Like pens and pencils - we buy hundreds of the darn things, but the moment I need to write down a message following a phone call, I can never locate anything to write with. Like despite constantly picking up toys, papers and small items and putting them away or in their proper place, they will inevitably find their way into a messy heap on the table, sofa or floor? Like when I have a really good clean up, the mess will have gone somewhere else when I turn around? Like in trying to be organised and always having things like pegs, scissors, sellotape and envelopes in a single, accessible place, I end up with nine rolls of sellotape in different places, no scissors, the wrong sized envelopes and never enough pegs?
Entropy is the natural tendency of the organised to move towards the disorganised. It leads to mixed-up-ness.
Well, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!)