Wednesday, 27 February 2013


Ask yourself, "what is normal?" Answers to this question span the entire gamut of human experience, because my "normal" is me and your normal is "you". That could of course make us destined for a violent and untimely clash (if your "normal" is Jihad, paedophilia or "peanut and jelly sandwiches" [peanut and jelly sandwiches are something the culinary world wishes it could uninvent, putting it right up there with VX gas].

In a similar vein I have a friend who's a police officer. We spend a couple of hours a week talking and spending time with each other. He says it normalises him, as he spends so much of his waking life dealing with individuals whose tail-spin lives damage those around them in a vortex of aggression, violence and crime. His working life is completely different to mine (next week I'm attending training in Paris with mild mannered boffins whilst he'll be kicking down doors and taking names) and it strikes me that what we see as normal profoundly effects our path through life.

Take something really simple, like home ownership. Before the kid came along I lived mostly out of suitcases in a variety of overseas jobs. Within 8 months (he was early!) I'd returned to the UK, purchased a house and established myself. I see it as normal that kids grow up in a house that belongs to the parents, rather than having some vaguely Freudian landlord looming in the distance. I do this because it's exactly what my parents did, and therefore is normal and "makes sense". The effect will probably be that in 25-30 years when my grandchildren are on the way, my son will see the same thing as "normal". The world our children know as they grow up shapes them fundamentally (which is why religious indoctrination of the young can be so very wrong as the wife-beating nutter in the semtex vest probably thinks he's normal too). I feel that having the security of a family owned house makes an individual slightly less deferential, and slightly more ambitious. With these observations in mind, what can we do to establish a good kind of normal for our kids so that they demand and receive a successful future?

Comparing their present status with their future is a valuable exercise whenever you have a choice to make. Let's consider school meals:
Plated service
All the kids sit in their place, and food is brought to their table. There is either plated service, or part-plated service (i.e. they help themselves to vegetables from tureens in the centre of the table). This isn't just for private schools. The state run primary school I attended served meals in this way, and several of the local government-funded schools still do this. I eat like that when "client facing", and when sitting in the officer's mess.
Buffet Service
The kids line up for their meals, and balance plates, cutlery and bread rolls on a tray. They have some power to choose what goes on their plate, but in exchange do their own leg-work. This accurately reflects the factory floor, most office work and the cuisine offered to enlisted men. Societally this is quite normal.
Trays with slots
If the kid's school has those special trays with moulded slots for the different components of the meal, served by a slightly moustachioed woman of indiscriminate age, then your children are role playing prison every lunch-time. It's time to consider home-schooling, or a shank.

Of course, it is possible to become too obsessed by all this, and speaking as a parent who likes his kid to have variegated friends and slightly inappropriate hobbies (canal swimming and practical jokes anyone?), too far is currently represented by Katie Hopkins who comes across as slightly neurotic and definitely snobbish. I'm not overly bothered with micromanaging my son's life in terms of the friends he has or the homework he does (provided he passes the test). Instead I feel that the biggest dose of "normal" he should absorb is that happiness is a given. Hopefully he'll be as comfortable sleeping in a 5* hotel as under a hedge, and as compelling in the boardroom as in the comedy club, just like his dad.


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