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Life, not style.

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 08 January 2014
A gentleman comes on the radio to give his Thought for the Day. He says that he leads something he calls a ‘vegetarian lifestyle’. Over at one of those newspapers which likes to make you very, very frightened about everything, a headline shouts: ‘How white women's lifestyles raise breast cancer risk: alcohol and decision not to breastfeed blamed’.

I’ve never had a lifestyle. I have never used the word. I loathe and abhor it. I don’t know quite why it drives me so nuts in the head but I want to throw heavy things through thin windows whenever I hear it.

This horse is not a style statement. She is a horse.This horse is not a style statement. She is a horse.

What is so fascinating is that both these nonsensical examples are stated with such authority and ease, as if they are a recognised thing. What is the vegetarian lifestyle, do you suppose? What are the discrete things which vegetarians do that meat-eaters would never consider? Do they eschew Top Gear and have cats and grow a lot of hemp? Of course they wear sandals, almost certainly favour facial hair, and worry a great deal about the polar bears. But the word style suggests something more. There must surely be a vegetarian school of decorating. In the good old days, it would be mandated macramé, and those sort of variegated pot plants which do a lot of melancholy trailing. I have no idea what the contemporary version of this is. Earth tones and African art, perhaps? I imagine there must be a strong ethnic streak. Vegetarians, unlike those horrid scoffers of bloody ros bif, were never little Englanders.

Then let us move on to the even madder idea of the ‘white women’s lifestyle.’ This is so baffling that I feel my fingers stutter and fail over the keyboard. My poor brain, which is quite battered enough after the Christmas holiday, is shouting: DOES NOT COMPUTE.

I pause for a moment and ransack the dusty corners of my consciousness, to see if I can discern any clues to what the white women’s lifestyle might be. Someone must know. It’s in a newspaper headline. It has to exist.

This Scottish hill is not a lifestyle choice. It is a hill.This Scottish hill is not a lifestyle choice. It is a hill.

I am a white woman. I live alone, by choice, with a rescue lurcher and a red thoroughbred mare whose grandsire won the Derby. I write books and work for a charity. I listen to Radio Four and watch the racing and obsess over my William Hill account. I use Facebook, but mostly, tragically, to post horse pictures. I am an intermittent tweeter. I have no school of interior design, unless you count the Put Books in Every Available Space school. I have no baking skills, but I’m good at soda bread. I like Guinness and the good claret. I get furious about generalisations, lazy assumptions, easy bigotry and bad grammar. I am geekish when it comes to American politics, and can explain to you the mysteries of the filibuster. Every morning, I go to my mother’s house and make her a nice fried egg in olive oil for breakfast. I am currently listening to Nina Simone and Bob Dylan. Despite everything, I still believe in government, but I gave up tribalism for good four years ago and have never looked back.

Well, headline writers: I am indeed a white woman, and that is my life. I have an awful suspicion that it is not only not typical of anything, but that it would certainly not count as a style. It’s a bit muddly, mostly. The piles in my office are a little tottery and the list of calls I have not returned is a little reproachful and it’s so wet and windy that there are always little bits of mud and leaf on my floor. The mud comes in on my gumboots and the leaves are blown in in great piles by the gales. No magazine is knocking down my door to photograph my stylish life, nor should they.

What could this mysterious white woman lifestyle be? Only supporting Roger Federer at tennis, painting exclusively with Farrow and Ball, listening to The Archers on a loop, reading a vast amount of John Updike? I’m trying to think of the whitest things I know - shepherd’s pie, Delia Smith, Cliff Richard, A-line skirts.

But then we run into even more difficulty. Which white do these mavens speak of? Polish white or French white or Australian white? I suspect those styles of life might be a little various. Even within dear old Blighty, Sunderland white is going to be different from Westbourne Grove white. Glasgow white will contrast with Cornish white. Don’t even get me started on Welsh white, which needs a category all its own.

The hysterical thing about this headline is that both parts of it mean nothing. Whiteness tells you not one thing about a person, beyond the base facts of pigmentation. And I continue to insist that humans have lives, not lifestyles.

And there is my small rantish plea for the start of 2014: let people call things by their proper names.

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