Jonathan Dodd’s latest column. Guest opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the publication. Ed
I’ve never thought of myself as being normal. There are several reasons for this that I know of, and probably lots I’ve never even realised. I suppose the obvious one is that I even think about it. I’ve always thought about normal as the epitome of not really caring about anything. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh, and I don’t mean it to be, but what I want to say is that it presupposes that you’re more likely to do what others do or expect of you, rather than express yourself in a way that would make you stand out.
This may encapsulate your personality and attitude towards being and living. You may feel that being normal is the pinnacle of what you might wish to achieve in this life, and your proof is that you’re in such multitudinous company. Besides, it’s so much easier. You can get all your clothes in M&S, eating meals out (if you ever do) will be normal fare, so unadventurous and inexpensive, and you’ll drive a standard car which will be amongst the cheapest to run and maintain.
You’re leading a blameless life, and we need you
You might indulge in sports, but probably not anything extreme, or actually dangerous, because normally people go to hospital for heart attacks or car crashes, not falling off mountains or breaking a leg while parkouring. All of this is good, and sensible, and there’s nothing to fault in any of it. You’re leading a blameless life, and we need you. I wonder if you need people like me, or if you think that life would be so much easier if I and all the other unnormal people were to magically disappear.
We can see the extreme of this view in Harry Potter, where Harry’s Uncle, Mr Vernon Dursley, believes himself to be perfectly and beautifully normal. Of course, you could argue that the kind of child abuse that Harry had to put up with is completely out of the ordinary, but that’s another consideration entirely. Normal isn’t a thing, it’s an arbitrary line in the sand, with an invitation to stay on one side rather than the other. There’s normal for Muggles, and normal for wizards.
The times they were indeed changing
Luckily for us, normal is somewhat elastic. Many decades ago my mother threatened to kick my brother out when he became a student in London and grew a small circular beard. Ten years later I was wearing hair down to my waist and listening to Jimi Hendrix. She never did get used to it, but she realised that the times they were indeed changing. Nowadays we change things even though many of us are uncomfortable with them, and it’s considered normal to approve, at least publicly.
I’m comfortable with this kind of normal. Gay marriage, the freedom to do what you want rather than being granted permission, social mobility, social media, things on the television that would have given my grandparents heart attacks, and the good old Internet, are all here whether we like it or not. And that is a good thing. Like freedom of the press, it’s digital, not analogue. You either have it or you don’t. I suspect that normal people understand this, even though they’re occasionally uncomfortable with the results.
Their unpleasant plans to reel everyone in
The thing that worries me is that there are a lot of people out there with extreme views who need to pretend to be normal. They know they might get into trouble if they openly peddled their views, and they infiltrate the ranks of the normal to try to spread their unpleasant plans to reel everyone in. These people try to suggest that the NHS isn’t worth keeping, even though they depend on it like everyone else. They want to rip wild animals up or chase them with dogs, or shoot innocent birds reared solely for that purpose. They want to stop paying taxes to support people who aren’t able, for so many reasons, to support themselves.
I am worried about this. I had high hopes back when I was listening to Hendrix in my attic room and annoying the neighbours. By the way, I am sorry for the nuisance and noise, all of you. I was young, I didn’t know better, and I’ve stopped doing that sort of thing. Really. I thought the world would just get better gradually, like walking uphill on a gentle gradient, with the view getting better all the time. I do believe in general that it has been going that way, except in certain crucial areas. But I don’t think everyone agrees with me.
A prevailing wind of social conscience that blew through it all
I see places like Turkey, which was thriving and relatively free only 20 years ago, running backwards towards terror and tyranny, and I don’t understand why. I know that many of the IS supporters wreaking such havoc grew up here in the same country as me, and I don’t understand why they should want to kill indiscriminately for no apparent purpose. I remember when University education was free, and every town had swimming pools and libraries, and there were council houses, and schools had sports fields and milk monitors.
It wasn’t the halcyon paradise that some remember, nor was it a golden age. It was more naïve, it felt safer, and although there were just as many abuses and dirty deeds done in the dark as there are now, there was a prevailing wind of social conscience that blew through it all. It wasn’t perfect, but we miss that in today’s world of zero-hour contracts and no benefits and having to live without a safety net. Even though it wasn’t brilliant, at least it was there.
They haven’t said where their line in the sand is yet
The thing I fear is that those who have been dismantling that world in favour of this one may not have finished their work yet. I fear that they want to go back way past the Seventies or the Thirties, but maybe a hundred years or more. They haven’t said where their line in the sand is yet, and I’m unhappy with that. Is the NHS safe? Probably not. Would the alternative be better, or just better for those running and supplying it? Are we destined for the return of workhouses or slums? Will there be enough police to protect us if social deprivation turns into riots? Not for us, I suspect.
I don’t for a moment think all this will come to pass. I’m not that pessimistic. I just think we’ve been snake-charmed into thinking that this is all right, when it really isn’t. The alternative is so relentlessly vilified that it’s difficult for most people to consider it without fighting off the effects of the propaganda. I do believe that we’ve allowed the barbarians in at the gates, and they’re not dressed in wolf skins and carrying bloodied axes, they’re wearing very expensive suits and they have lots of bodyguards.
We’re in a fight, and we don’t even know who the enemy is
It feels like we’ve allowed a small number of very powerful people to take all the profit out of the economy and squirrel it away in far-flung places, while at the same time squeezing the life and energy out of the country they’re politely pillaging. I hope this isn’t true. It may be too late anyway. We’re in a fight, and we don’t even know who the enemy is. The only thing we have left is our votes, and I have a terrible feeling we’ve already given that power away. It might be too late, or we might save the day, or it might have to get so bad that the wolves move on to other territory and leave us alone to start again. Maybe that’s what we need.
Whatever happens, we’ve done very well, and we can be proud of ourselves. We must not think that the past protects us though. We have to keep behaving in a way that will keep future generations proud of what we’ve done. We’re allowed to make mistakes, but we have to take responsibility for those mistakes and not blame anyone else, and we will go on, because that’s what we do.
My normal wants everyone to be what they want to be
The thing is that there’s no need to listen to me. I’m not normal. All I’m saying is that my kind of not normal is harmless and a bit colourful and all about lifestyle and having fun. And it’s fairly obvious. Perhaps that’s why I can spot the difference between normal people and those who want to appear normal so they can take over. My normal wants everyone to be what they want to be. Theirs wants everyone to be like them. That’s my argument, and I wish you all a better reality, as long as that reality doesn’t become worse for everyone else.
As my hero Kurt Vonnegut wrote – “Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt”. I didn’t understand it then and I still don’t after all these years. Or rather, my head doesn’t, but my heart does.
If you have been, thank you for reading this.
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