Suburbia becomes a cool place to live

At last it's happened. Just as flared trousers have been welcomed back into society, so suburbia has finally been recognised as cool and retro
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In Search of Suburbia, at London's Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, or MoDA, sets out to "unpick the vivid patchwork" of lawn-based life in six suburbs at the northern end of the Piccadilly Line. You've probably done that superior metropolitan snigger: "Cockfosters, who'd live there? Arnos Grove, where the hell's that?" In much the same, ill-informed way, people have poked fun over the years at Theydon Bois and West Ruislip.

Now, though, it turns out that instead of dismissing the suburbs as the last refuge of cardiganed losers, we should have been enthusing over their infinite varieties of front door designs, or their subtly shifting configurations of roof gabling. In fact, just as the Eskimos have 40 different words for snow, so we should have at least that many for suburb.

There are, after all, leafy-avenued suburbs; there are high-walled suburbs; there are can-hear-a-pin-drop suburbs; there are art deco suburbs; there are low-airplane-dominated suburbs - the list goes on.

What's more, according to the MoDa curators, the proportion of the UK population who live in the suburbs isn't some tiny, derisible, semi-detached minority. It's 86 per cent.

That's right. Take a random group of 100 people, and 86 of them will be a Suburban Man or Woman. Without a pipe or a pair of slippers between them.

The fact is, we can't all live in cutting-edge riverside loft developments overlooking hip-and-happening city centres with a 24/7 lifestyle. Or, at least, we can - but by the time we've saved up enough money to buy a place like that, we'll be so old we'll be more interested in a non-happening area with a 12/7 lifestyle.

Personally, I blame TV for bombarding us with subliminal anti-suburban messages. Ask yourself: when did you last see a character in a TV crime drama living in a semi-detached house? Even the lowest-paid mortuary assistant in something like Silent Witness or Taggart seems to have a state-of-the-art flat overlooking something watery. As for TV detectives: well, I can only assume they're all on the take from organised crime, because without exception they seem to live in half-a-million-pound glass apartments with views out over something recognisable like the Houses of Parliament or Battersea Power Station.

It's easy to see why it's happened, of course. Filming in suburban streets involves asking all sorts of permission, paying all sorts of fees to all sorts of people, and having to hold up shooting each time the Major insists on his right to get his Jaguar in and out of his front drive whenever he pleases. By contrast, set up your cameras in a newly-built Thames-side or Manchester Ship Canal-side apartment, and you can film away without interruption.

What's more, you've got developers queuing up to hire those places out, in a bid to indoctrinate us dopey viewers into believing that being stuck in a high-rise glass tower beside a rat-infested river in an area with no shops or community counts as "modern living".

Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if those developers actually paid the TV companies to film in their flats - which would probably count as a sort of illicit advertising, contravening all sorts of broadcasting rules.

Scandalous, really, but there again, we suburban folk don't like to make a fuss. Not face to face, anyway. Perhaps just put in an anonymous call to the TV Complaints Commission, or something.

Cowardly? No, no - you fail to understand. The thing is that over the years, suburban dwellers have developed a sophisticated form of problem-solving which involves something rather more effective than merely striding up the offending neighbour's front path and knocking on their door. It consists of much subtler, diplomatic strategies - such as gossiping, stirring, opinion-canvassing and rumour-starting. Just like the wings of a butterfly, the cumulative tut-tuts of a neighbourhood can stir themselves up into a collective tornado of disapproval.

You know, I believe the term "suburbia" is really rather out of date now. Without a shadow of doubt, this haven of civilised human behaviour should receive a new title, more in keeping with its impeccably high standards of self-regulation and social order. Henceforth, it should be known as Superbia.

In Search of Suburbia, to 26 March 2006, at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (MoDA), at Middlesex University, Cat Hill, Barnet (020-8411 5244; www.moda.mdx.ac.uk; Cockfosters Tube). Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm; Sunday 2-5pm, closed Monday. Entrance free.

Stars of suburbia

"Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James" was a hit single by Manfred Mann, deriding a girl who had chosen to marry a clearly sensible chap. Lots of snide references to toast-buttering, dog-walking, hanging out the washing.

The Good Life. TV sitcom based in Surbiton, which poked fun at perfectly respectable couple (Gerry and Margo) through the eyes of a giggling, pullovered pair of welly-wearers.

Abigail's Party, Mike Leigh's brilliant 1977 BBC play. Alison Steadman stars as the cringe-making Beverly, who with husband Laurence, holds a truly ghastly suburban do. A wonderfully dysfunctional haze of alcohol, sexual innuendo, twiglets, snobbery and shag pile. And it all ends in disaster, too.

Monty Python masterminded a deliberate campaign to make New Malden seem ridiculous, when it clearly isn't.

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