I was hanging out with the ex-father-in-outlaw (never did marry his son), picking cherries. He was telling me about his lovely childhood memories of picking fruit with his uncle. I countered with my lovely childhood memories of trespassing into the abandoned villa at the end of our estate with my best friend to steal fruit. We picked a ton of cherries, until the drunken homeless guy who squatted there spotted us and started to chase us waving a hatchet, and we had to leg it.

I wasn’t being sarcastic: it’s genuinely a lovely childhood memory for me. We didn’t get caught or butchered. Nobody told our parents. I got to eat so much of my favourite food that I made myself ill. My friend eventually became a competitive sprinter. It was all round awesome and jolly good fun. It’s perhaps rather less cuddly than some people believe childhood ought to be, but, back then, our lives were not always cuddly. Thing is, we didn’t expect them to be.

I had a lovely, busy childhood, with plenty of friends and fun. However, even at our happiest we were always aware that our world wasn’t wholly safe. Aside from accidents and illnesses, of which we saw plenty, there was an element of human darkness lurking around us. We knew to avoid certain people and places. We knew that bad things could happen. Our childhood had fairies and unicorns, but also plenty of ogres. Sometimes even the grown-ups in our lives, who we knew to be basically good, would go wrong and end up in jail or hospital or rehab or the morgue.

Shit happened. We weren’t paranoid about it; we weren’t hopeless; we weren’t particularly frightened. We were just aware of the possibility of shit coming our way, and of the fact that you can’t always dodge it. It was part of our lives. Most of our choices carried a cost, or at least a risk. If you ride your bike, you may fall down. If you go trespassing and stealing fruit, hatchet-wielding drunken men may chase after you. It’s all about the cost-benefit analysis. How badly do you want those cherries? How fast can you run? Is it worth it?

Now, for me this is all normal. This kind of thinking is normal, because I can’t remember thinking any other way. The event itself is normal, because that sort of thing happened often enough to make it normal. I’m not saying it’s good, mind you; I’m just saying that, for me, it’s normal.

I find it very hard to explain this to people who don’t think that way and haven’t lived like that. So many people seem to measure normality not against how the world is, but how it should be based on their expectations. Anything that falls outside of their expectations is abnormal, regardless of whether it happens more often than their “normality”.

I don’t get it. I understand wishing for a better world, but I don’t understand what I see as willful ignorance of reality. Then again, viewpoints come down to a cost-benefit analysis, too. Is blissful, willful ignorance worth the risk of getting blindsided?


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