An untidy lot, we had a history at home of putting something important in a safe place 

– which meant you’d have difficulty in finding it.    Nowadays the “safe place” in my mind just blanks and I sit up at 3.00 am muttering “ Stephen Boyd” as opposed to Steve Cochran and another Steve that’s still in there somewhere. 

Having a name for dementia hasn’t made it any better.  And we all have those moments when you blank, a piece of information slips.  You did when you were 12 and it wasn’t incipient dementia.   You just forgot.  Left alone, most of the time, the thing swims back to the surface of the mind

and that’s probably normal.

I haven’t spent much time thinking about normal.  Fitting in was made manageable by recognised courtesies and shrewd watchfulness, encouraged by magnificently intelligent and open minded parents who were interested in a lot of things, singularly unthreatened by other people’s experiences and differences in life . 

In a recent contribution to the Radio Academy (a fine experience, not putting it down for one moment) I was electrified to be asked “Didn’t you think it was unusual for a woman to be discussing what you were talking about on air then ?”   No, I said, it never occurred to me.   Daughter and grand daughter of teachers (my mother’s father was a journalist) – if you could find a way, there was nothing you couldn’t talk about.  And I didn’t add then, but I will now – and a good job too. 

The unasked question, the observation pushed aside,  often makes for trouble in life or the hole in an otherwise interesting script (see The Weapon made in 1956, on TPTV last night with George Cole as an opportunistic killer, so slimy that you’d expect somebody to pick up on how dubious he was).  In a word – not normal.

I came to dread normal as in being asked “But is it normal ?” 

  To which I would answer “I don’t know – is it normal (ie acceptable) for you ?”  Unburdened by preoccupations about notions of pleasure, if you are not hurting anybody (physically or emotionally) and you’re having a fine time, so be it.   I am not going to know what goes on in other people’s lives till they tell me about it which often denotes misgiving.  In years and years of listening to other people’s stories, I very rarely heard worry about what anybody else might think.  The person on the phone or in the letter is telling you the recipient that he or she is worried about its normality or lack of it.

There is a new book called Am I Normal ? (by Sarah Chaney) which charts the word moving away from the specific to something with a much wider implication and therefore influence, through the classification of intelligence in children and the pernicious burden of perceived body types .  For years I was told that I was not normal  – I was “excitable” or “melodramatic”. 

It hurt.  But it’s me.   Every time I met somebody from some more exotic location or somebody who was as interested as I was in books, bullterriers or blues – and they found me “normal” – I was reassured.  It is only in later life that I understood the range of normality – it isn’t one thing, it is a whole range of acceptable variants.   Or as they say in the north, nowt so queer as folk.  I can’t remember the first person who described me as passionate, it wasn’t a lover.  But modern parlance extends to energy.  And I love it.|I don’t know whether it is normal or not and I couldn’t care less.  If I have to be stoned for something, let it be for this. 

As in: a man under 40 got on the bus the other day, and he had magnificently defined dark blue green eyes, eyelashes to die for.  A few minutes passed and I asked  “ Excuse me, may I ask a rude question ?  Where are you from ?”   As he turned to smile at me, he said unmistakeably “Wales – but the other side is Italian.”  “Wow” I said.  “Celt and Latin – that’s a mixture –“   And we talked happily for a few minutes till he left saying in farewell ” Keep the energy – it’s wonderful.”      

Angel Falls, worlds highest waterfall

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