A Strange Relationship With Normality

I went on holiday recently. Based on a review of my daughter’s homework book, that is far from any kind of surprise. Given that I wrote about it here makes it even less noteworthy. However, it did give rise to a series of thoughts which I wanted to share: I don’t think I like what you would call normal.

Let’s begin at the beginning: we had never been on a package holiday to a Mediterranean island before we went to Cyprus. We were surrounded by utterly alien things from the moment we set foot on the island: some of them were good, like the beautiful blue ocean; some of them were less so, like the strips of tourist trap, neon light edifices, looks-awful-in-the-daylight strings of bars and cafes.

The conclusion I came to was that you either catch these things when you’re young, or you don’t. I for one will never understand the pull of collecting Hard Rock Café t-shirts from everywhere I go on holiday; I will also never understand the pull of the sunshine holiday. I never did these things when I was growing up – we holidayed in England, in the rain, under canvas, and we “did things” – so I am as sure as all hell not going to be able to wrap my head around any of them now, as an adult.

Some things are just ugly, but you get used to them with time. I am used to going on holiday on Icelandic shores, Norwegian fjords or Swiss mountains. The appearance of a Mediterranean town is fine. The appearance of a Mediterranean town geared to the exploitation of drunk tourists and their neon whims is really just the fifth element of anathema to me. But I’m really snooty, apparently.

What I object to – and yes, I am in no position to do so – is the people who lie around the pool all day watching Netflix and filling in puzzles. Cyprus is a majestic and magnificent country, full of the most wonderful things to look at, and all easily accessible. You can watch Netflix at home. If you just want to not be at work, just take some time off work and do these things. It’s a lot cheaper.

I get the impression that some people only indulge in their “normal” because everyone they have grown up around has done so, and so they take it as the sole option. That’s grotesque. Just because your Mam and your Uncle Jeff grew up going to Torremolinos every Whit Week doesn’t mean that that’s your destiny. You can go to Rhyll in November if you like. Or, heaven forfend, Iceland in June.

This idea that normality is universal is what gets my goat. Just because all of the people you know happen to have fallen in to the same pattern doesn’t make that the only pattern you are allowed to fall in to. Just because they all know who is on Britain’s Got Talent doesn’t mean that you’re missing out if you don’t. Just because the only music you have ever heard is that which is played on your local commercial radio station doesn’t mean that there are no other valid forms of musical self-expression. Neither you or I have any higher ground to claim here, I’m not particularly sad to report.

I think the different objective styles of normality are the true class barriers in this country. There is excess and vulgarity, but the nuance of one trumps the depravity of the other; and vice versa. Where a night drinking lager in a working men’s club, seeing the same faces week in week out is normality to some, others will baulk. While spending a fortune on cabs, cocktails and coke is de rigeur in some circles, many people would rather vomit their spleens. It used to be normal for me to go to heavy metal clubs every weekend, dancing madly until wee small hours, caked in so much make-up.

I have become interested in the concept of “Vertical Normality”, where an idea transcends barriers of class and affluence to become the accepted norm in all strata of one block society. This is not to be confused with a universal normality, as each instance is a discrete set. You want examples, I know you want examples. Nordic Noir drama at the more literate end of the viewing public, and the notoriously pointless time sink of football at the other. Each one has the power to span divisions of class and wealth, but each is locked in to its own hermetically sealed groups. I just can’t stand sports.

I’m not saying that this concept has any bearing on anything in society –not for one second – but it is encouraging for those of us who fear every last inference that “normality” has any place in today’s culture. Feigned opposition to the relativity of normality – my normal is entirely different from yours because we have had entirely different experiences – is at the divisive heart of today’s Culture Wars: One side shouts with moral conviction because they know that what they know is normal, and so it is universal. If my view is universal, then yours is without merit, and so I shout ever louder. Bollocks.

There are areas of crossover. TV programmes and forms of creativity where a lot of people pay their own form of attention solely because it is what everyone they know does, and a lot of other people look on because they think it’s brilliant. There are also some people who look on ironically. But they are idiots. What I’m talking about here is Eurovision. It’s brilliant and terrible, and that is all fine.

Like the neon strips of the Mediterranean, it is gaudy, cheap and designed to entice all comers with promises of thrills and spills. Like collecting Hard Rock Café t-shirts, the flags give the wearer that heady whiff of individuality, all packaged up in the safety of conformity and looking precisely the same as everyone else. Individuality through collectivism; Ayn Rand must be spinning in her grave.

I grew up watching Eurovision, so I am truly blind to it, for all that is good and all that is bad. I love to revel in the cheese, and I love to watch the scores accumulate. I love to listen to the songs, but not so much of them that I get bored. If a song captures me for its entire length it is truly a winner in my land-locked state of mind. All entries where they play their own beefy guitars have won in my view.

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