a Life not a Lifestyle
Switch that bloody television off and listen up. There is no new sex.
It's not gardening. It's not food. And it's definitely not The World of
Interiors. Sex is sex is sex. You have to keep on doing it, or not, the
same old way as before, depending on your preferences. No matter how many
life-style programmes you watch, how well you wield your fork, or how
big your plot is - it's not sex, it's just telly. Everything else is just
a substitute for people with low libidos, no energy, and a fetish for
glossy, coffee table books. Cookery books are not pornography even if
you do keep them in the bedroom, Wallpaper is not a top-shelf mag. The
naked Chef is, unfortunately, not a skin flick and face it - Charlie Dimmock
is not a sex goddess.
What you've got instead is sit-on your arse Aspiration. Wanting is the
new national obsession. We want to have it all. Vicariously. Oooh We do,
we dooo want a wraparound deck, a Zen garden, a walk-in Smeg refrigerator
that looks like an Airstream caravan without the foldaway beds, preferably
stocked with a gang of trendy friends running around inside helping themselves
to bottles of Nantucket Nectar. We want as much granite, slate and marble
as a National Park, and custom mixed dove-grey paint everywhere else.
And, of course, we really, really want a mini Versailles in the back yard
of our inner city terraced homes.
From hi-end to low rent, we are obsessed with media created realities.
Got the tea shirt, the t.v series, the spin off books and the colour co-ordinated
But who actually does it all? We certainly enjoy watching people transforming
their homes into minimalist shrines with only a regional accent, a jigsaw
and a sheet of MDF, but tell me - when did you last see/italics/ a real
builder? Who can find one of these mythical beings willing to even set
foot inside their semi? The idea of an interior designer (of sorts), an
experienced carpenter and several skilled labourers working late, completing
the work on schedule and within budget, is as unlikely in my world as
lactating men. It's like winning the DIY lottery. It may happen to the
lucky few, but no-one talks about it. Telling someone you have a good
builder is like leaving your BMW on the street with the key in the ignition.
And food - my God - now that there are whole channels devoted to cooking,
how can anyone still be hungry? Not that I'm immune to the lure of owning
a Highway 44 of spotless work surfaces, a butcher's block, and anything
German that glitters, but enough, already. In common with most armchair
cooks, I will never do more in my longed-for, American wet dream of a
kitchen that boil a pot of pasta, or burn the toast. Yes, I like cooking
as much as the next overpressed, unappreciated mother but until I have
a live in nanny, a couple of assistants, and a BBC budget to subsidise
it all - to me, domesticity really bites.
Nevertheless I tune in and tune out reality. I pretend that if I had that
uber-kitchen I would be super-mum. No longer would the kids think the
pinging of the microwave, or the siren of the fire alarm were the equivalent
of the dinner bell. The kids would be snatching handfuls of freshly baked
nutritious home made baked goods, while the words: 'Stop it, you're dropping
crumbs all over the hand waxed, cut to order, linoleum floor,' would never
pass my lips. Surely I'm just two rings on the gas hob away from being
an icon in my own lunchtime. Maybe I could even metamorphosise into the
beautiful and engaging Nigella Lawson instead of always looking like one
of the fat ladies, or - on a bad day, Nigel Slater.
It's life by proxy. Virtual reality cooking. Don't bother inviting your
friends. Who has time to see their friends, let alone call them? I would
have trouble finding five people at any one time who are actually speaking
to me. And that includes my husband. It's much simpler to tune in and
borrow Jamie's. While the kids are eating frozen pizza, you can get out
a chilled ready made meal from Marks & Spencer and Ainsley's your
uncle, Delia's your mother, Nigella's your mistress - and your wife doesn't
Our love affair with an idealized lifestyle is an aspirational romance.
We may live in Tesco-fuelled exhaustion, but happiness is surely just
a roof terrace away. But we don't renovate, we decorate, instead of cooking
we buy the chrome lemon squeezer and a set of matching plates. We paint
the walls and pray for low lighting. Many of us don't garden either. We
dig the plastic out of our wallets in garden centres, replace our plants
when the old ones die, and plan our gardens round our lawn furniture.
Personally I often garden during the summer months in Habitat. It's not
horticulture, it's not even culture. It's just shopping. Another displacement
So surely it's time to put down the remote control and actually do something.
We have the lifestyle. All we need is the life.