The day I discovered I am a walking cliche

No! Surely I haven't become that conventional? Louise France is shocked by what the latest official statistics tell her about herself
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The Independent Culture
UNLIKE MANY people - journalists, sportsmen, cabinet minister's ex-wives - I have not taken the last six months off to write my memoirs. However, this week I had the surreal experience of reading my life story in the nation's newspapers. The Office of National Statistics published Britain 1999, its annual snapshot of the ordinary life of the ordinary Briton in this country today. As I read the reports, I was appalled to discover that I can officially be pigeon-holed as Ms Deeply Average.

Twenty years ago, my life as a 31-year-old unmarried, childless woman with a career and a cat (Britain 1999 tells us that for the first time there are a million more cat owners than people with dogs) would have been considered either scandalous or sad. How galling, then, to discover that my lifestyle is now the norm. I'm with the majority of Britons who admit to having tried illegal drugs (put it this way, I did inhale) and reserve churches for sight-seeing weekends in Rome (only one in 10 people regularly attends a religious service).

All the usual areas are covered in the 500-odd page report: how many of us are married, how many of us have children, what we do with our leisure time. As I read through the statistics, I come to the realisation that either I've been accosted by women with clipboards outside train stations many more times than I realise. Or - and admittedly this is the more likely conclusion - this life of mine (which, incidentally, I've always thought pretty original and Out There) is in fact so middle of the road I'm hurtling down the central reservation.

Take, for instance, the statistics on marriage. By 2010, we're told, there will be more unmarried adults than married. Thirty years ago a typical household could be defined as a married couple and their 2.4 children. Today only 25 per cent of homes fit this description and my partner and I are more typical. We've been an item for almost 10 years. I can't speak for him (that would be far too old-fashioned) but I have every intention of loving him and cherishing him until death us do part. However, like the majority of my generation, I feel a wedding is best reserved for Spice Girls and celebrity chefs. As far as I'm concerned we're already bound together by a piece of paper. It has Nat West Joint Mortgage Statement written across the top and comes in the post every month.

One of the biggest changes of the last 20 years is the fact that I don't have children. As Recently as the late Seventies, the majority of women had children in their early twenties. These days, my girlfriends and I talk about kids but it's in that distant one-day-I-might-go-to-the-gym sort of way. The closest we get to them is walking past a branch of Baby Gap.

I remain ambivalent. Call me fickle but when a friend says having a child is like being loved unconditionally for the first time in your life, I think: "Oh yes. I'll have two of those, please." Then I sit next to a bawling baby on the bus and decide I'd rather swim the Channel in a sleeping bag. It comes as no surprise - but then why would it, I am after all average - that one in five women is deciding against having children altogether.

Perhaps I should take solace from these surveys. I need, for instance, no longer be embarrassed by the fact that the nearest thing that I have to a hobby is going to restaurants. It turns out that we're catching up with America where people go out for dinner more than they cook at home. Neither should I hide the fact that my spiritual life - like one in five women in Britain today - is limited to a weekly yoga session.

On the subject of money and work, the report tells us that we've got more disposable income than ever before, but we're careful with it. They even have a name for people like me. I am, apparently, a Hedged Hedonist. Like the majority of women, I work - by 2002 it is predicted working women will outnumber working men.

But, alarmed by the idea that we're all living longer and I may still be going at 97, my savings are swallowed up by pension plans. At the same time I compensate myself for the fact that I work hard by buying incredibly expensive items for the bathroom closet. My grandmother would blanch at the price of the shampoo I buy. But as the adverts say - I'm worth it.

I come to the conclusion that I'm a cliche, as alternative as a loaf of sliced white bread (apart from the fact that in these topsy-turvy times, sliced white is probably considered revolutionary in comparison to the healthy farmhouse granary I buy each week at Tesco).

There is, I realise, only one way for me to restore my street credibility. Before the Millennium I must get married, have a baby, ditch the career and become a housewife.

Who knows. Maybe I will. But there's one exception. The cat stays. Okay?

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