We went to a wedding recently. I didn’t know anyone there, which presents a wonderful opportunity to meet new people – food and drink to any writer. After the ceremony the guests gathered in the garden (it was a lovely day) to sip bucks fizz and be shuffled back and forth by the official photographer. Helen became deeply involved in a conversation with friends and former work colleagues – all nurses – that she hadn’t seen for a while, catching up on gossip and putting the world (or at least their respective places of work) to rights. I found myself nattering with a couple of the menfolk who were equally as disenfranchised by the women’s conversation as I was.
Somehow (ahem), we found ourselves in the bar, and started to get to know each other over a pint. The other two seemed astonished that I was an author, that I’d had my novels published in different countries, had appeared in the science journal Nature, that I’d shared the stage with far more distinguished writers than myself (some of whom they’d even heard of), that I’d met actors and attended events I would never have dreamt of being invited to a decade ago.
As for my new-found friends, it turned out that the softly spoken gentleman, a couple of decades younger than myself, had broken his spine in an accident some years ago and been told he would never walk again. You wouldn’t know this to look at him now, though apparently there is still some pain and his mobility is restricted. Defying the odds, he taught himself to walk again; but, while incapacitated, he grew frustrated, bored, so set about forming businesses, employing people to do the work he couldn’t, and is now the MD of several going concerns which provide a comfortable living.
Hearing this, my other companion seemed a little crestfallen, saying, “And here’s me, Mr Ordinary. I’ve done nothing like you two.” I had to disagree. You see, he had been born in Jamaica, had come across to the UK in his teens and now had a wife, children, and a career as a community nurse. He had left his home and travelled to a new country, to establish a life as part of a completely different culture. In many ways, that strikes me as far more extraordinary than anything we other two had done.
The thing is, anyone who came into that bar and saw the three of us would look straight past, dismissing us as just three ordinary blokes, as we undoubtedly did the other people in there. Yet scratch the surface and we all had a tale to tell, something to set us aside from the norm. As does just about everyone else in the world.
It brought home to me the simple truth that there’s no such thing as ‘normal’.