The unbearable ordinariness of being (part 2)

But what do we mean by ‘ordinariness’ in the first place?  To start with, of course, it is a derivative of ‘ordinary’, which according to my dictionary has seven completely different sets of meanings – including another name for a penny farthing, and a bishop or judge exercising authority.  However, the most common set of meanings includes ‘commonplace’, ‘normal’,‘uninteresting’.   To this I would add, by way of association, words like ‘familiar’ and even ‘homely’.

Although some people might think, on the basis of this definition, that there is little virtue in being ‘ordinary’, for many others there is something extremely comforting about it.  And by way of further association I would argue that in this country, i.e. the UK, there is a particular comfort to be found in that mythical place called ‘Middle England’, which is about as real as Tolkein’s Middle Earth.  Be that as it may, this has not stopped politicians of all persuasions trying to woo potential voters in this mythical territory, and it even has its own newspaper – the Daily Mail, or so we are led to believe.   However, as Stuart Maconie in his brilliant and very funny book Adventures on the High Teas points out, ‘Middle England’ is a rather slippery entity with no fixed identity. 1

The key point here, however, is not whether Middle England actually exists, but the fact that it symbolises something that is supposedly the epitome of Englishness, and, more importantly, something that epitomises ‘ordinariness’.  But ‘ordinariness’, in the context that I’m describing, i.e. something familiar, homely, is a fantasy.  This may seem a rather peculiar assertion, bearing in mind that fantasies are often regarded as an escape from ‘ordinary’ ‘everyday’ life.

  1. Maconie, S. (2009) Adventures on the High Teas: In search of Middle England. London, Ebury Press. []