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The odd one out

September 20, 2016

Catherina Fitzoverya was visiting for a few days after a gap of several years. All the food and wine were consumed by the time we waved goodbye, hopefully not for another few years before her next visit.


‘How many normal people do you know?’ That is one of those late night questions that should be left unanswered until the effects of alcohol have worn off the next day.

‘Depends how you define normal,’ I said. ‘Why do you ask?’

‘You seem to know only weird people.’

‘How do you define weird?’

‘All the people you know.’

‘I know loads of normal people.’

‘Name them.’


Just because I could think of only two individuals who might be considered normal was no judgement on my circle of friends. I tried Abraham’s argument for the preservation of Sodom and Gomorrah as he presented an ever-decreasing number of devout men to dissuade God from giving the towns the mightiest smite imaginable.


Searching the list of names on my Facebook and Twitter pages did not add to the number of normal people I know. If anything, the ‘unusual comments’ in some of the postings seem to tip the scales in the other direction.


And so the discussion went round and round, without resolution and with no sign of adding anything to the sum of human knowledge. Who worries about “the sum of human knowledge” in the wine fumed early hours of the morning?


Sitting on a lock gate in the sunshine of the following day watching holiday bargees bouncing their way into the lock gave a more sober context to complete the discussion. By then it was too late. Catherina was doing her version of Lot’s wife and remained unmoved by words.


How do we distinguish between those we call normal or otherwise? Ignore slight idiosyncrasies, foibles, quirks, odd habits, peculiarities, eccentricities, mannerisms, traits or vagaries. We each display some inclination outside a norm. It is a mighty leap from any of those minor discrepancies to out and out weirdness.


'Normal' implies there is a norm. Who defines that benchmark? Jeremy Corbin is a saint or a sinner depending on what you want to wrest from politics. Attending a meeting of The Society of Bigots to argue that reason and factual information are the only bases for responding to reality would make me abnormal and weird. Racists, Nimbies, Javelin Catchers and Noodlers have their own version of normal that I might find strange. The Calves Head Club would look askance at a Royalist. The Bald Knobbers of not so long ago had a way of viewing life that made perfect sense to them. Taphophiliacs would leave most of us unmoved and in the dark.           


Knowing what is normal and what is weird sounds simple until you apply the idea to how we judge who is in and who is out. Brexiteers proclaim they are English and they have got their country back. Fine, until you ask how they define being English and wonder which England they mean. Religions are notorious for deciding who is in or out. They have a long list of sinners and saints, saved and damned, holy and unholy. You can thank your lucky stars you are not a gay person living in countries that regard you as an abomination. In parts of the world, being female is like wearing a badge that says I am fair game and there will be few consequences if you do anything you like with me. When the definition of ‘normal’ carries persecution, if not death for those who do not qualify, you take great care in how you define yourself in terms of ‘normal’.


DTrump claims words do not matter when he vilifies, condemns, attacks, provokes criminal acts and accuses whole groups of being a threat. He has his idea of who is normal. He has no doubts about who are the outsiders, the weird ones. He sets himself as the norm in defining normal people. Now that is a frightening benchmark of being weird.


Maybe I missed the point in my protestations with Catherina. I know many normal and weird people but our discussion made me realise they are the wrong words to use in talking about friends. For them I use neither ‘normal’ nor ‘weird’, only ‘special’. None of them can be confined by the narrow definitions of what the self-righteous regard as normal or weird. Knowing people who are special is a privilege and a pleasure. They fill life with variety and goodness.


Catherina, in answer to your question, I know a lot of them and you are up there with the best of them.

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