The phrase “Now I’ve seen it all” tends to imply incredulity toward a bizarre experience or witnessing some event and suggest that from hereon in, nothing in life could possibly surprise the speaker. Personally, I’ve witnessed some pretty weird behaviour and read about even stranger things and consider myself to be pretty unflappable, if not impervious. I like it like that: as a writer, I prefer to maintain the position of observer rather than participant and am, as William S. Burroughs claimed, a recording instrument:
There is only one thing a writer can write about: what is in front of his senses at the moment of writing… I am a recording instrument… I do not presume to impose “story” “plot” “continuity”… Insofar as I succeed in Direct recording of certain areas of psychic process I may have limited function… I am not an entertainer.
By no means do I consider my self to have seen it all, though, as I was reminded when walking home the other afternoon. A couple was walking down the street in my direction having just ended a conversation with a householder. As the door closed, the woman of the couple – who was probably in her late 50s and wearing a purple anorak – turned to another pedestrian, a woman, who was walking just a few feet ahead of me and within earshot.
“Excuse me,” she said.
The pedestrian stopped. The woman in the anorak raised an object held in her hands and began asking if the pedestrian knew of anywhere…
“I don’t, no,” was the reply. “A park, maybe?”
“But don’t you have a garden or something? I’ve been going down the street and no-one has a garden.”
The houses in the area, row upon row of 2-up, 2-down terraced properties built circa 1890-1910, have small back yards. There isn’t a garden to be found, probably in the entire postcode.
As I passed, I was able to observe the nature of the object the woman in the anorak was holding: a dead pigeon.
This little episode doesn’t have a defined ending, a punchline or a moral. It does, however, demonstrate the differences between the behaviours that are considered socially acceptable or ‘normal’ and those which are not. At least, you might think it does, but I’ve long maintained that social ‘norms’ are little more than a system constructed with the function of inducing mass alienation rather than conformity.
Over the weekend, I spent a lot of time visiting a local hospital. In itself, it was largely unremarkable and there’s no story to be extracted from the experience, with brief exchanges with hospital staff providing only the most cursory punctuation to endless hours of dead time spent waiting for something to happen, or not. But I did find myself, time and again, being reminded of my belief that the most overtly ‘normal’ people are the strangest of all, not least of all because while trying so desperately and unquestioningly to be inconspicuous in their conformity – to the extent that they will condemn others who display traits and behaviours which fail to correspond with their own – they overlook their own ticks and quirks, and even assimilate them into their definitions of ‘normal.’
So, because it’s a hospital, venturing off-ward in pyjamas and dressing gown is normal and acceptable behaviour. Fine, the context counts for a lot but then there are people who venture to the corner shop or make the school run in the same attire and see nothing remotely strange about it. And then again, there are those who venture off-ward or to the shop or on the school run in a onesie and see nothing remotely strange about that, either. Let’s be clear about this: a onesie is a babygrow in an adult size. Yet we now, unfathomably, have ‘wear your onesie to work’ days, and so on. These onesie-wearers are the same overgrown children who are into Harry Potter alongside 50 Shades and yet simultaneously declare kinks like infantilism ‘perverse’.
The hospital corridors aren’t only home to 20-stone onesie-wearers, though. They also contain a microcosm of our (sick) society. And the children’s ward proved particularly depressing. One of a pair of middle-aged women, on leaving, said, “I’ll be back.” Then she chuckled, and added “Eh, I sound like Rambo!” Making wildly inaccurate and ill-informed references to popular culture is ok. Everyone knows what you mean and no-one’s going to correct you. I am, of course, assuming she was referencing the Terminator films, and not Rimbaud.
As the hours dragged by, I found myself growing increasingly frustrated, not by the children, but the parents. Take, for example, the kid aged 7 who spent an afternoon watching pre-school shows including Waybuloo and building a tower of Megablocks, to the immense praise of his rugby fan toff of a father, while repeatedly pulling the clip for his monitor off his hand. The child didn’t appear to be backwards, but simply babied by his parents.
“The person who gave me this cough coughed in my face!” the child moaned during an hour-long sob-session. Kids are cruel, for sure, but that’s all the more reason not to raise your child a stunted sap.
Another mother gave her three year old a wash and nappy change approximately every hour and a half. He couldn’t keep his sensor on either.
Neither set of parents had the nouse to turn off the alarm while the clips were repositioned, meaning the ward was a cacophony of beebs and wails while the medical staff were rushed off their feet attending to children who were simply incapable of remaining still and whose parents were too dumb to figure out what needed to be done.
Then there was the three year old whose overtly middle-class parents sporting shawls and scarves her) and navy velvet blazers with brown shoes (him) gave her an Extra Strong Mint.
“That’s not too spicy for you is it, honey?” they both asked her repeatedly. For about half an hour.
“No,” replied the child each time.
“But you complain that toothpaste’s too spicy, sausage! Here, have some Kit-Kat. It’s a chocolate Kit-Kat (as opposed to those other Kit-Kats that don’t feature chocolate in the ingredients.. oh, wait)… careful, it’s melting because it’s warm! Now you’ve got chocolate on your fingers… let me lick it off so you don’t get it on the bedsheets.”
And so we have in the making one more mollycoddled moron who’ll be mocked mercilessly (and rightly so) by her peers when she refers to mints as ‘spicy’ and so on and so forth.
We may once have been a nation of shopkeepers, but increasingly we’re a nation of fuckwits. I’m as guilty as the next grumpy old cunt when it comes to complaining about the youth of today, but the sad fact is they haven’t got the best starting point. It isn’t a question of class or education, either: the parents here were clearly middle-class, educated people who simply hadn’t a grain of common sense or self-awareness. They simply hadn’t a clue, and they’re largely representative of the broader society, and proof positive that age doesn’t bring wisdom, but simply creates a population of ageing idiots.
A dead pigeon in need of a decent burial or a cozy onesie
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