[first published on Citizen Sane]
Like so many, I came to Norm via the excellent Normblog, which I first read in 2005. I was a sporadic blogger at the time and read a piece in The Guardian called “The new commentariat“, a profile of the prominent UK bloggers making a name for themselves on the web and directly challenging the editorial authority/hegemony of the mainstream press. Also profiled was Oliver Kamm, another of my favourite bloggers (who now works on the editorial team of The Times), Harry’s Place and several others. Normblog became required reading for me on a daily basis, up to and including today.
I wasn’t fortunate enough to meet Norm in the flesh, but we did exchange some emails (he was gracious enough to respond to my inanities on a couple of occasions) and he even, to my continued surprise and gratitude, bestowed upon me the honour of a Normblog profile. And of course there was Twitter, the great gathering hall of our age, where I followed him and vice-versa. And what a shame (for me) that, while I was a student of politics at the University of Manchester in the mid-nineties, he did not teach any of the courses I took. How nice it would be to go back and choose some of those courses again.
Norm was a calm, measured, wise voice: a rarity in an age where any yahoo can take to the web (particularly Twitter, which at times can resemble a village idiot reunion) and spew forth ill-informed gibberish as they see fit. Speaking of ill-informed gibberish, it was always a joy to see Norm take apart the arguments of certain commentators (particular favourites were Madeleine Bunting, John Pilger and Simon Jenkins) with his inexhaustible supply of reason and good sense. Said commentators would have been paid to churn out their nonsense—Norm did his rebuttal work for free, and humanity benefitted as a consequence.
Another great feature of Normblog was the range of subject matter. A lengthy piece about the legality of the Iraq war would be followed by a poll on the greatest Beatles songs, or maybe something about his beloved cricket or jazz, or a film he’d enjoyed, and then perhaps a discussion about human consciousness or Primo Levi. He covered many topics with enthusiasm in an accessible manner and it was a treat for all of us.
Norm had let all his readers and followers know earlier in the year that he was ill with prostate cancer, something he’d had for ten years. But it was still a shock this morning to learn of his passing on Twitter. As with Hitch a couple of years ago, I’d hoped that he was going to beat it and remain with us for a good while longer but unfortunately it was not to be.
There is much more to be said about Norm but I’ll leave that to the others who really knew him—there are plenty of tributes out there (Nick Cohen’s is particularly good). I just wanted to say something about a man I respected and admired and who, in various ways, encouraged me to blog too in the hope that I could be even half as good as he was.
So long Norm, it was a pleasure reading you.