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The Dolly Mail #34: A Suburban Swansong by Dolly Alderton and Fuck Hygge by Octavia Bright 

When I was eight years old, my parents cruelly ripped me out from London’s zone two and we relocated to the suburbs. Their reasoning was cleaner air and lower crime and more green space and good schools and living in a house rather than a flat - the selfish bastards. Stanmore - Mr Stan More, the plain-faced, forgettable man in the grey Burton suit who stands on the very furthest reaches of the Urban Metropolis, observing the party but never joining in - is the final destination on the Jubilee Line. It is the full stop on the last page of a book that no one reads past Willesden Green, because that’s when the story fades to nothing. It is a wholly, reassuringly neutral place to find yourself; as beige as the lustrous carpets that adorn its every home. Nothing has ever happened or will ever happen in Stanmore - it’s neither a grim enough town to be ironically embraced as one of the nation’s old, smelly loveable dogs nor opulent enough to be enviable. 

 

Unlike my previous home of Islington - where every other building’s right-hand corner was finished with a blue heritage plaque like a postage stamp and we couldn’t move for celebrity sightings - Stanmore desperately clung onto myths of its knowns and not-so-knowns like a drowning man on a raft. There was a rumour that Roger Moore once owned a house on Gordon Avenue. Clive Anderson was allegedly born in the suburb. I only found out in later life that A.A. Gill grew up in Stanmore, and yet I can’t recall ever reading a single sentence he wrote about the place. Which says a lot about how awe-inspiringly nondescript it is - that a writer so skilfully observant he could find something new to say about the way a wheel turns, had nothing to say about the years he spent growing up in Stanmore. 

 

There are a few things that shape a person who spent the majority of their childhood in the suburbs. For example, I can still recite the menus of most chain Italian restaurants like The Lord’s Prayer - a result of spending every Saturday night in a Pizza Express or Prezzo; the only restaurants to be found in the zone five belt of London and the only places we could drink as a teenagers, with the accompaniment of a chewy dough ball or a flaccid tricolore salad. I love central heating, which is a very specific trait of the suburban middle class. We like huge televisions and central heating, whereas properly posh people like cold houses and 1980s TVs the size of a cereal box hidden in the corner of a room. 

 

Bowling alleys. That’s another one. Adults who grew up in the city find them fun in a sort of kitsch, provincial way and people who grew up in the country still find novelty in them for 30th birthday parties. Taking a person who grew up in the suburbs back to a bowling alley as an adult with trigger a form of PTSD. There is no ironic merriment for us in a bowling alley - only memories of every single weekend spent in the same one off a roundabout in Watford, watching the cool boys watch the cool girls lean in too far to their bowl, so their diamante thong poked from underneath their powder pink tracksuit bottoms. A bowling alley was the drop-off centre for mothers of suburban teenagers; the wasteland they would leave them to wander round in for hour after hour while they picked up yet another large cream lampshade from a John Lewis in a local shopping centre (more on this later). 

 

Growing up in the suburbs always felt purgatorial, non-definable, betwixt two proper tribes. I was neither urban enough to lie my way into Fabric at 14, but I was just that bit too far away from The Chilterns to be one of those kids who could name trees and spent hours in a paddock hoop trundling or whatever it is my rural friends did growing up that wasn’t watching endless repeats of Sister Sister in an overheated house. Morrissey once described his teenage life as “waiting for a bus that never came”; a feeling that’s only exacerbated when you come of age in a place that feels like a waiting room - in between two completely different ways of life. 

 

The actual buses never came, either. The only one of any real use was the N5, the night bus that regularly carted me from Camden Town to Edgware at four in the morning, before a half hour westerly walk to Stanmore, winding through deserted Audi-lined roads while all the birds sang. The 142 was the one I spent most of my adolescence waiting for, the route of which rather symbolically takes you to the start and end of Zone Five Life: shopping centres. Brent Cross one end, The Harlequin Centre Watford on the other; The Consumerist Bookends of Suburban Existence.

 

I met my friend Lauren in typically suburban setting - at the 13th birthday bowling party of our mutual friend. For a couple of years, we’d see each other on the “evening in” circuit; the official name given to nights of frozen pizza and Bacardi Breezers consumed in someone’s parents’ living room with large canvas prints on the walls of the kids in white T shirts from a family photo shoot. At 15, we met again at a dinner in an Italian chain restaurant in Stanmore; she had minestrone, I had Caesar salad. In Lauren, I found my Red in Shawshank. We quelled our boredom by forming a band and all our rehearsals took place in the shed in her mother’s garden. Our first gig was, of course, in a restaurant in Hatch End. 

 

When Lauren’s second year at Oxford she wrote a musical set in a tennis club in the North London suburbs with a character loosely based on her mum called Coaster Constance (inspired by Carol’s fear of water marks on tables). As she was writing it, I would get texts in the middle of the night, asking for lists of typically suburban things (“Oh it’s so leafy and green here/We’ve found a routine here: it’s sublime!/Between John Lewis and quiche/we’ve established our niche/and that’s no crime” was the second verse of the opening number). After we graduated, she took it to The Edinburgh Festival and cast me as a Jewish housewife, putting me in a sleek brown bob wig and a tennis skirt. Not only was it well-reviewed, I think it acted as a form of therapy for Lauren - and me in fact. We confronted the suburbs, saw them for what they are and finally let go of our resentment for them. 

 

The irony is, Lauren and I now write together and inevitably every script has a reference to the thunderously middle-class mundanity of cream sofas and Volkswagens. “One day you guys are going to have to stop fetishising suburban middle-aged women,” our friend Adam once observed. “They’re not as much of a thing as you think they are.” 

 

A few years ago, my parents moved from Stanmore to Gloucestershire and now when I go home, I’m bombarded with beauty. I go for long walks across fields, I stare at crumbling buildings and read the accompanying plaques. I buy local chutney and read local newsletters. I sit in cold, candle-lit churches. I am yet to trundle a hoop, but I am out of the waiting room and firmly in the room marked Rural. Going home is a completely different experience - there is no waiting for buses, no afternoons at the shopping centre. I can’t even remember last time I saw a driveway. 

 

“I loved the suburbs when I went home for Christmas,” Lauren told me yesterday. 
“Why?” I replied. “I’m so glad I never have to go back there.” 
“My mum labels everything with stickers that have the family home address on. Phone chargers, casserole dishes. Everything.” 
“Right.” 
“And I have a new profound respect for how clean everything is all the time. Not a superficial clean. A deep cleanness that I will never be able to achieve.” 
“What else?” I asked. 
“I embraced the boredom.” 

 

I thought about roundabouts and retail parks; the Norman Rockwell painting of my early life. Would I give anything to have one hour with Lauren under the flightpath in her garden, working out bossa nova covers of punk songs while her mum brings out an assortment of Waitrose hummous? Would I enjoy being back in a day dream as vivid as the ones I had for all those years spent sitting on The Jubilee Line? Would I love to be that bored again, just for an afternoon? Perhaps I would.

The Guest

It's not a fad, it's a lifestyle, apparently. The Scandi super-trend of hygge has set us ablaze this winter with the fire of 100 pine-scented candles. But writer Octavia Bright thinks now is not the time for hunkering down...


After the news broke that a sick collection of high definition pixels swarming into a variety of expressions, ranging from 'satisfied radioactive chipmunk' to 'lecherous root vegetable' to 'angry synthetic sponge' to 'pumpkin with a cunning plan', whose name literally means ‘fart’, is to become the leader of the free world, I wanted to stay face down on the carpet for a very long time. But it didn’t take long before Carrie, my American co-host on Literary Friction (the literature show we present on NTS Radio) and I were filled with revolutionary fury. First Brexit, which, whether red, white, and blue, green and gold, yellow and turquoise, or black as Theresa May’s dark, corroded heart, was fucked up enough, but now this? 

 

Fuck. That. 

 

So, we asked performance poet and writer Salena Godden, aka ‘everything The Daily Mail is terrified of’, to join us for a show about literary resistance. In our passionate discussion she cried out "fuck your fucking hygge, come on, there’s work to do!” It was a powerful statement and it's been with me ever since. Aside from the fact that the now ubiquitous Danish concept has probably begun to bore you to tears, it got me thinking about comfort, entitlement, and social responsibility. Ripe topics at this time of year when the divide between the haves and have nots is more apparent than ever, and our screens are flooded with devastating images of Syrian civilians fleeing their homes.  

 

I think we can all agree that 2016 was a brute of a year: a monster of loss, fear, and seismic political shifts around the world. It's no wonder that it's also the year that hygge really hit the big time in Britain. “Higgy”, “hoogah”, “huggy” – however you mangle it with your mulled-wine stained mouth, it’s another example of the kind of cultural entitlement that enables us to pluck a term from the annals of a foreign language and fold it into our own without much concern for its original meaning. 

 

It is, of course, plundered from the Danish, where it means something quite charming to do with the enjoyment of simple pleasures. In Denmark, it is enmeshed with the intrinsic principles of that nation’s identity, linked to its bountiful welfare state and representative of a value that appears (at least, from this idealistic distance) to be rolled out across society fairly equally, tied to the covering of basic needs regardless of wealth or status. But it seems that we found our own word, 'cosy', feeble and preposterous in the face of so much recent misery, that we indulged in a little linguistic appropriation and reached our lips around the unfamiliar sounds, pleased with ourselves that we managed to find a way to make turning our backs sound exotic and urbane. And so the bastardised hygge 2.0 was born. 

 

The thing is, fuck hygge 2.0. Now is not the time for hygge of any description. Now is the time for rage, revolution, and action. 

 

Fuck the endless books on the subject. They are not stocking fillers, they are a form of nicely packaged, apathy-inducing, reindeer print mind control. Hygge has become a marketing tool – it’s being used to con you into the belief that if you only have the right pair of fucking socks you will be able to hug your way out of the mess we’re all in. I’m not saying you should be punished for being comfortable, or that you should immediately sell your sequins and grab the hair shirt that’s been gathering dust in your attic, but I am saying: WAKE UP. The world is unarguably changing for the worse, and if you - yes you - stay huddled under your mermaid tail blanket while the apocalypse comes… well, let’s just say there will be limited supplies of hot chocolate at the end of the world. We need your brain firing on all cylinders, not drunk on Diptyque candle fumes and swaddled in quilting.  

 

Yes, the time for hygge has passed, my friends. Whatever your politics, however you voted, whatever language your heart speaks (unless, of course, you are a flat out climate change denier, in which case I have the number of an excellent therapist I can give you so you can start working on dismantling your denial) we are beyond the cosy. Listen, I'm not saying you have to suffer, if your blanket really is the thing you want most at the end of the world, then by all means bring it along. But stop using it to shield yourself from the reality of life in this day, at this time. You do yourself (and the rest of us) a disservice. Bring your blanket, but share it. Bring your blanket, but bring your revolutionary zeal, too. 

 

If we’ve learned anything over the last few months, it must be that hibernating in a snug little nest of our own making is dangerous – cue cries about the perils of fake news, Facebook algorithms, and liberal echo chambers – whether it's one you've crafted with soft furnishings, paraffin lamps, and mason jars, or by settling comfortably back into in an online or in print world that supports your belief system and never challenges it. It's uncomfortable to come up against those that think differently from you, but that's precisely the point. The time for comfort is over. No one has a right to cosiness while so many live lives devoid of even the smallest comfort. Like Salena said, it's time to come out from under the covers, give your blanket to someone in need and take to the streets. Talk to one another, seek out people that see things differently from you and take time to understand their point of view, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel. We need to come together, because winter is bloody coming and it’s coming for every single one of us.

Octavia co-hosts Literary Friction, a podcast about all forms of literature. Follow them on Twitter and Instagram. Download episodes, including the interview with Salena Godden, on iTunes

Whistles have got a great sale on. I LOVE this slip dress
And this simple, elegant 60s style lace shift dress
 
Some of Smythson's famous Panama notebooks are in the sale - I like this one in navy blue
The perfect coat for Spring is in the Zara sale and comfortably fits into my favoured asthetic of Leslie Caron's Gigi. 
These boots are in the ASOS sale and would look so sexy finishing off a head-to-toe black outfit. 
This, in the Anthropologie sale, is rather adorable and would look lovely on a door. 
The French schoolgirl of this theme continues with this classic velvet dress in the And Other Stories sale. 
QUICK, QUICK! If you want a new perfume, buy this one from Penhaligon's while it's still in the sale. Bluebell is fresh, floral and grassy and the perfume I wore for years in my teens (the bath oil of the same scent is still one of my favourite products). A couple of spritzes will have you filling the room with the soft, spring-y smell of hyacinths. And, by a happy coincidence, the bottle is just beautiful.
One of my favourite moments of Christmas every year is making deviled eggs for the boxing day buffet. I don't know when this ritual began or why I took the lead with it, but all I know is it is a job that I now take very seriously. 

After making a big batch this year that got completely demolished, I decided I'm not going to wait until next December to make these delicious retro treats again. With a green salad and a slice of bread, they'd make the perfect dinner. And they make good canapes. Deviled eggs and mint juleps for everyone!

Deviled Eggs (makes 24)
12 eggs 
Four heaped tablespoons of mayonnaise (not low-fat)
One heaped tablespoon of dijon mustard 
Two teaspoons of white wine vinegar 
A dash of Worcestershire sauce 
Salt and pepper 
Paprika 
Chives or dill (optional)

Hard boil the eggs (eight minutes from room temperature, a little longer if they've been in the fridge) 
Slice them in half with a sharp knife 
Scoop out the yolks and mix them in a bowl with the mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and lots of salt and pepper. Mash and stir for quite a while, you want the consistency to be smooth, thick and creamy. Taste as you go - if you like them creamier, add more mayonnaise, if you like them sharper, add more mustard. 
If you can be arsed, use a piping bag to pipe the mixture into the holes in the egg whites (I've seen it done in restaurants, and it does look really good). If not, just use a teaspoon to carefully heap it in. 
Sprinkle with paprika and optional chopped dill or chives. 
This week's George Michael themed Dolly Mix Tape can be listened to on Spotify here
Take 40 minutes to listen to George Michael's funny and at times painfully honest episode of Desert Island Discs

Wisdom, from Carrie Fisher. 

"If you listened to the records, it wasn’t hard to locate the teenage soul boy that used pop as his escape vehicle; who planned his ascent to stardom with the precision of a bank heist". In Memory of George Michael, by Pete Paphides

A lovely tribute to Carrie Fisher, by Daisy Buchanan. 

I can't wait to listen to this in the bath - an hour of music curated by Laura Marling

And this on a walk: Patti Smith interviewed by Alec Baldwin

Some serious property porn for fellow pervs. 

The Dolly Mail is illustrated by the bloody brilliant Polly Crossman, who is available for commissions of all sorts and whose work can be viewed here. Got an article you want illustrated? Or an invitation you want designed? Or maybe you even want a Polly Crossman tattoo. You name it, Polly can do it. Maybe not the tattoo idea, actually, I can't speak for her on that. 

Fascinating: people have been using MDMA to treat PTSD for decades
See you in 2017! 

Dolly x 
The Dolly Mail 
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