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Sunday, 12 January 2014

Who needs normal anyway?

Photo by Dug Blane
My son has always sung from a different hymn sheet. He was special in the modern sense of the word that in less enlightened times would have been labelled backward or delinquent. 

He was none of those. He was dyslexic and he was thrawn, which is one of those old Scots words that has no exact translation into English. Stubborn, obstinate, determined to do things his own way. All that and more. A battle of wills between a mum and a one-year-old should end in mum's will prevailing, the child-rearing manuals tell us. Aye right. 

From an early age he was always breaking things. If he didn't break them he bent them out of shape. We gave him a Rubik's cube once and within an hour it was a bunch of brightly coloured bits, aesthetically arranged on the kitchen floor. A trike became a dismantled wheel and pedal mobile, suspended from the ceiling.  

His mum said he was a vandal but I figured him for a young engineer, taking things apart to see how they worked. The same idea occurred to him, so he studied car mechanics at college for a while. He was good at it but it wasn't really him. 

"I see being an artist hasn't made you less annoying," I tell him in the St Louis café bar at the far end of Dumbarton Road, as he shoogles our table and keeps on shoogling it, long after anyone else would have folded a menu and shoved it under the short leg.

"Just the opposite, as it goes," he says. "Thing is I've been hearing that from people all my life: "'What's that you're doing?' 'Stop it now!' 'Don't be so bloody annoying.'"

"Did you ever consider not being so bloody annoying?" I say. 

"I did, but it's like that writer's mum who said, 'Why be happy when you could be normal?'"

"That's a coincidence," I say. "I was talking about that with Carol the other day. Are you telling me you tried to be normal?"

"I wouldn't go that far," he says. "But if everyone tells you to stop doing stuff for years and years and years it has an effect. You do that stuff less. Which was all wrong for me."

He angles his head back so he can see under the table, then tries shoogling it from side to side, instead of back and forth. "Is it going to take years and years for you to stop doing that?" I say, as my coffee sloshes over and spreads across the surface.

"Sorry," he says. "The thing is, this is part of my artistic process."
Photo by Dug Blane

"That's becoming your answer to everything," I say. "'I'm sorry I burned down Westminster, your honour, with all the MPs inside it. It was part of my artistic process.'"

"Cracking idea," he says. "But listen. I'm only just getting this myselif. I've discovered there's different stages to fiddling with things - which I've done all my life without knowing why.

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then you annoy them, then they try to make you stop."

"Then you win?" I say. 

"Then you get art," he says. "Not always but often enough to make it worth sticking at it. That's what I've discovered. It validates all that fiddling I used to do, without knowing why I was doing it."

"Now that is really annoying, " I say. 

"What is?" he says. 

"As a dad who wants his son to succeed, I can't tell you to stop shoogling the table now, can I?"

"You can't," he says, giving it an extra shove that tips my cappuccino into my lap. 

"Performance art?" he says, looking pleased with himself.

"Behavioural science?" I say, smacking him gently round the head.


"They're your nail-varnished hands in the photo, aren't they?"

"They are."

"I don't want to sound stupid but what were you holding the camera with?"

"My other hand. I took two shots then photoshopped them together. If you look carefully you can see the join. A bit like the back of your ..... "

"Don't push your luck, son."

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