Wednesday, 3 August 2011

In which a small rant blows up out of the west

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Everyone has the little things that drive them crazy. At least, I imagine everyone does. Perhaps not Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama. But everyone else.

Mine wane and wax. They rise and fall in importance and strict marking on the Irritation Scale. I used to go nuts about the use of the word like to mean said. As in: ‘I’m like what is John Boehner’s problem?’’

Now I mostly think: whatever. The young people will come around.

Just at the very moment, I am excessively exercised over the use of the word lifestyle, to mean way of life, or way of living, or simply life. It used to be a mild irritant, in the back of my mind. It was tabloidese cliché: footballers, Russian oil tycoons, bankers and lottery winners could be guaranteed to be leading a ‘champagne lifestyle’, or, in more alliterative mode, a ‘lavish lifestyle’.

Now, it has jumped the shark and gone mainstream, and suddenly my teeth are grinding like Mutley’s on a bad day. Benedict Cumberbatch used it in an otherwise rather good programme about Terence Rattigan. (Thank you to the Dear Reader who reminded me to watch it.) Benedict Cumberbatch, I thought, the great talent who is in two of the glittering jewels of the BBC – Sherlock and Cabin Pressure. What is he doing running about talking of Rattigan’s lifestyle?

Then, this morning, a historian used it about the court of Charles ll. A proper academic, on Radio four; I almost choked on my bacon.

It’s not just that it is a stupid, ugly word, slyly suggesting that one’s life should be like something out of a magazine. It is a weasel word, implying that just living is not enough. It is not enough to have a mere life, you must have a lifestyle. You must go all Martha Stewart on our ass.

It’s that, when used in the context of Rattigan and Charles ll, it is a roaring anachronism. Courtiers in 1660 did not have a lifestyle; they would not have recognised the word. They lived in a fever of pleasure, released from the puritanical Protectorate. Rattigan, drinking cocktails and agonising over the reception of his plays and hiding miserably in the closet, did not have a lifestyle; he had a complicated, sometimes brilliant, sometimes sad life.

More pernicious still, those elements of the American right-wing who are terrified to death of homosexuality have started talking about the ‘gay lifestyle’. This is worse than weasel. It is part of the awful, sliding implication that gayness is a sort of bolshie choice, a box set of wrongness, indulged in to frighten the horses. It comes from that part of the religious right which believes, like Michelle Bachman’s husband, that you can ‘pray away the gay’. (Even writing that makes me feel quite peculiar.)

It also forces gayness into a narrow, monochromatic sameness. By the mere fact of fancying someone of your own sex, you are, in this lifestyle definition, all the same. I think of all my gay friends. One is in parliament, an Oxford and Harvard scholar, married to his partner. One is expansive and funny and thoughtful, and produces documentaries. One wears sharp suits and is a political researcher and has a mind like a razor. One was born a long time before Wolfenden, and is still haunted by the arrest and hounding of John Gielgud. One writes plays and films and telly, and is as witty as Noel Coward. One is beautiful and Irish and may turn out to be the most talented actor of his generation.

One is dead. He died of AIDS, in the days before they got the drugs to work. He wasted away before our eyes. He was an artist, and I used to go and stay with him in his stone house near Siena, and I would write, and he would paint, and we would meet for lunch and drink a glass of Antinori under the pergola. He believed in me long before I believed in myself, in the days when I was writing my early, rotten books. I still have a photograph of him on my desk. Fifteen years after he went, he still watches over me as I work.

They all love their own sex; apart from that, they have nothing in common. Lifestyle, shmifestyle.

Today, I am getting the house ready for the arrival of the Beloved Cousin, with all three children. There is the (slightly futile) clearing of piles, the ordering of food, the plumping of cushions, the preparation of the good linen. The Brother takes me to the garden centre, where I buy more box and lavender for the garden. I sternly put things in bags for the charity shop and contemplate a run to the incinerator, amazed, as always, by my ability to accumulate cardboard boxes.

What lifestyle is this? It is just a life, holding in it all the sorrows and joys that flesh is heir to. Today, with the sun out, and the thought of four of my favourite people about to arrive at my house, it is mostly joys. It is not a style; it just is.


Photographs today are of garden, pigeons, dog and evening light:


3 Aug 1

Newest box:

3 Aug 2

I indulged in another naughty hydrangea:

3 Aug 3

3 Aug 4

The newest delphinium:

3 Aug 53 Aug 7

And it turns out I cannot resist a little cotinus:

3 Aug 9

The wild garden:

3 Aug 113 Aug 12

As I looked out to the south, I saw two graceful pigeons, standing stock still, staring into the west:

3 Aug 14

3 Aug 15

3 Aug 16

And here is the misty light on the trees:

3 Aug 17

Her ladyship took her ease on the grass:

3 Aug 18

3 Aug 19

3 Aug 20

And today’s hill, slightly faded in the six o’clock sun:

3 Aug 22


PS. I have just been outside to take the pictures for this post. I wrote it this morning, but have not had time to take the photographs until now. It was a long day of gardening and organising. The final tally for the charity shop was twelve bags of books and bibelots. They even took my old LP collection. I have not had a record player for fifteen years, but I could not bring myself to give away those records. They were my teenage years in vinyl form. (I was such a cliché, it makes me smile: Veedon Fleece, Exile on Main Street, Blood on the Tracks, Ziggy Stardust.)

Anyway, the point is, I have a terrible habit of squirreling things away into bags, and then forgetting about them. Just now, before I came downstairs to do this, I found one such. It was so absurd, it make me laugh quite a lot. In it there was: a CD of Charlie Rich, The Groove Recordings; a white linen shirt; a very nice pair of grey cashmere gloves I had quite forgotten I owned; a pot of Vick’s; an invitation to a Lulu Guinness party from November 2010; a reminder from the Register of Electors; two silver teaspoons; some Extreme Style Texturising Gum for my hair; a dog-eared copy of Montaigne’s Essays; a bottle of Aqua di Colonia Russa by Santa Maria Novella; a box of incense; and an expired Visa card.

WHY? WHY? And, more pertinently, HOW?

That bag is living proof that whatever I do have, it is not a lifestyle.


Oh, and PPS:

One of the kind readers asked to see one of the photographs from yesterday. I feel quite shy about this. I rather love that you hear my voice without seeing my face, apart from one tiny profile picture. But I can’t refuse a Dear Reader. And it is an opportunity to show you the talent of the Younger Niece with the camera.

2 Aug 25

Notice slightly grumpy I don’t really want to have my picture taken face; very flattering warm filter which the Niece applied; and slightly mad hair, which I hacked off a couple of weeks ago with the kitchen scissors. I do that sometimes when I get annoyed with it. Then I dye it dark red out of a box. And my Mum looks a bit wistful and says: oh darling, I did like it when you were blonde.


  1. Two words only : fab picture! X

  2. Lovely to meet you and can your niece make me look as good as you if she takes my photo? FAB!

  3. Fab picture, indeed!

    And while we're airing grievances about words that annoy us...

    The locals have adopted the habit of substituting the word, 'myself' where they should be saying, 'me' or 'I.' It makes me want to tear my hair out. Stick sharp things in my ears. Smack them upside the head.

    ex: 'Myself and Tarquin are going to the movies this evening.'

    'Did you want to come to the beach with myself and Dave?'

    Even purportedly well-educated people are saying it. Do they think it sounds grand? More sophisticated?

    It makes you sound as if you not only were not taught proper grammar, it makes you sound like an eejit! Grrrr...

    Thank you. I feel much better now.

  4. Gorgeous pic of you...goes without saying that the garden & Pigeon always look good...and now a triple whammy x

  5. What a lovely photo! I wish I looked that good when pulling my grumpy face. You look as if you're about to pour out the gin and tell us a rather scurrilous story. I think it may be the arched eyebrow that does it.

    So glad you got a chance to watch the Rattigan programme.

  6. Oh, I'm a Dear Reader! What a lovely thing x
    And what a gorgeous picture. Love your 'mad' hair and yes, I can hear you properly now I've seen you. Thank you.

  7. Not only is the picture truly wonderful (I fully agree about gin & scurrilous story: yes, please) but THANK YOU for the writing, as always. The 'gay lifestyle' story gives me a truthful, head in hands moment; and the idea of 'pray the gay away' makes me want to throw up.

    Thank you for sharing so much of your life. Which you express with such style.

  8. Now that's a column. And I do wonder about this lifestyle thing we're all supposed to have, especially the women. Until we have mastered the finer arts of elastic time, I suspect most of us can't have a 'lifestyle' with all its nuances and shadings but just might muddle through with the life we have. I wish we could pick elements of 'lifestyle' though: lunching out with martinis once a week springs to mind; or having a regular date with a proper masseur. Or not.

  9. Oops - I use lifestyle for the simple reason that my GP said I needed a healthier lifestyle and it had to be for life. I think she said that though to distinguish it from a "diet" as though I am overweight it is not about losing weight. So now I use it. I say I have had to make lifestyle changes to have a more healthy way of life/ healthy lifestyle. I'll try to work on that though as I now see how it can be used as a rod. Particularly with regard to lifestyle magazines.

  10. What LOVELY LOVELY readers you are. Thank you. :)


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