What the world really needs is yet another lifestyle book
Is there no end to Scandinavian enterprise? They create a flourishing entertainment industry out of their seasonal affective disorder. They hook us Anglo-Saxons on subtitles, to the extent that these days we use them with English-language dramas whose dialogue is beyond normal hearing range.
Then they bombard us with “lifestyle books” about the joys of open fires, hot chocolate, cakes and candles, which our media pick up on despite the fact that the majority of our population work sixteen-hour days on zero-hour contracts and barely have the time and money to spend on anything cosier than a pack of stale muffins from Tesco.
And now some bright Swede is seeking to clean up by publishing The Little Book of Lagom, following on from the best-selling Danish Little Book of Hygge.
Lagom, apparently, is based on the principles of simplicity, lack of clutter and nothing to excess.
If you read the breathless prose in Vogue telling us that 2017 will be all about Lagom, you would think that nobody had stumbled upon such principles before. It’s probably true, though, that nobody had thought to write a little book about them. The cynic in me thinks that these books are probably “little” because their content is so breathtakingly vacuous that most of us would fall asleep from boredom by chapter 3.
Yep, we all know that Hygge and Lagom are just lifestyle scams, designed to persuade us to buy stuff we don’t need – such as cushions, scented candles and silly sweaters – or not to buy stuff we do need – such as furniture that doesn’t turn us into orthopaedic wrecks, or décor that doesn’t bear forever the stains from accidents with chocolate fondue. Given that we’re more likely to buy unnecessary stuff than not, our addiction to faux lifestyles is what keeps IKEA in business.
Yesterday’s London Times quoted the PR puff for one of the forthcoming Lagom books, which suggested that the Vikings were early adopters of the concept by providing just enough mead at their parties to ensure that everyone had a sip.
A sip? Do me a favour! Do we have any evidence that the Vikings would be satisfied with a sip of mead when celebrating the destruction of half of England? I doubt it. If so, then presumably they were pretty moderate in their other habits. Pillage limited to a cart-load per warrior. No more than three rapes a day. Enslavement of the local population limited to a thousand a month. Unkind, I know. Perhaps I’m just not up to date with the current wisdom about those temperate, peace-loving folk.
Of course I love our Nordic neighbours and their dark dramas. They’re as diverse as we are in the United Kingdom, and just as quirky in their own various ways.
But I see no reason why the Danes and the Swedes should make a fortune showing other countries how to live without a bit of competition from their British cousins. After all, we have a rich tapestry of lifestyles which we have exported to the world without writing cute little books about them. And my goodness we need the money these days.
So it’s time we got into the little book business.
How about The Little Book of Decline, for example? The concept of Decline is all about graceful degradation. Flea-ridden gundogs lounging around in crumbling country houses. Aristocrats in their patched-up corduroys enjoying draughty evenings huddled around wood fires under the baleful gaze of more prosperous ancestors. Decline is about accepting that each generation will be poorer than the one before. It’s about making the best of what remains after everything else has been sold to the Chinese.
And then we have The Little Book of Brexit, one of our lively urban lifestyles. This is the concept of having your cake and eating it. Jolly gatherings of ladies who lunch on asparagus harvested by gangs of Lithuanians living in huts around the fields of Norfolk. Cuticles spruced up by Vietnamese girls working on minimum wages in the local nail bar. The offspring looked after by Romanian au pairs or maids from the Philippines. Joyous conversations inspired by the Daily Mail about all the immigrants who will be sent home when Brexit comes to pass.
If they’re a bit passé, perhaps The Little Book of Silence might appeal. A lifestyle entirely lived inside your head. Streets full of people wearing headphones, staring at the pavement, oblivious to large automobiles about to mow them down. Houses full of children engrossed in their tablets, while mothers and fathers wordlessly use their phones to enter online competitions. The art of self-sufficiency through non-communication. No need for complex language – The Silent express themselves through emoticons, grunts and minimalist body language. The perfect way to navigate a society full of linguistic, cultural and physical potholes.
You might also think that our soulmates across the Atlantic would be full of bright little lifestyle books. Except that Americans don’t do little – at least not any more. Everything has to be large, like the Mother Of All Bombs that Donald Trump has just dropped on a bunch of unsuspecting ISIS troglodytes in Afghanistan. Big walls, big lies and big therapy bills. So watch out for The Big Book of Yuge any time soon. Very Nordic-sounding.
(Oops, there I go again. Every time I post, I promise myself that I will get through to the end without a disparaging reference to the dreaded Trump, but somehow I never manage it.)
Leaving the great attention-grabber aside, I think it’s time I wrote my own lifestyle book. I’ll call it The Little Book of Acceptance. It will be based on the idea that worrying about lifestyles is a waste of time. That watching other people’s lifestyles is voyeurism. And that accepting your own uncool habits and preferences is the key to happiness. Anything else is fool’s gold.
For those of us in our declining years, what can be more tedious than working ourselves into a frenzy in order to meet the expectations of fashion magazines, lifestyle-conscious acquaintances and the authors of silly little books?
Better surely to buy your socks from Marks and Spencer and your cholesterol from Waitrose, to avoid pine furniture like the plague, and to collapse every night into your comfortable sofa in front of a fifty-inch TV watching endless American crime shows and the hygge-free adventures of Scandinavian psychopaths, while your arteries fur and your brain fills up with sticky plaque.
Mind you, these books make great Christmas gifts, especially if you don’t particularly care for the recipient. Which is probably why they all end up in the charity shops shortly after New Year.
No doubt I shall be rewarded for my cynicism. At some stage in my dotage I fully expect to receive for Christmas A Little Book of Dementia which will tell me how to live a happy life as my mind turns to mush. That one will never end up in the charity shop, because I’ll be reading it anew every day.
Enough. Not funny. Stop now.