THERE’S a technique you may or may not have heard of called The Clarkson Test. It’s normally used in the situation where you’re worried your opinions may be prejudiced or mis-placed or wrong. Simply check if your opinion is, or is not, the same as Jeremy Clarkson’s and if it’s different from Clarkson’s – or better still the exact opposite – then you’re fine. The test never fails.

An example of where the test can be useful happened the other day when Mr Clarkson was talking about meat. The former Top Gear presenter owns a farm and, to be fair, has fronted up to reality of it. “I nearly abdicated the responsibility of taking sheep to the abattoir to someone else,” he said. “Then I thought, no, you’ve got to do it.” He also said he was sending his sheep to slaughter because “we all like having a roast”. “These days, I appreciate some people eat seeds and weeds,” he said. “But normal people eat meat.”

In a way, Clarkson’s aversion to vegetarianism isn’t surprising – I’m guessing the infamous Top Gear buffets (where things can kick off, apparently) were never groaning with humous or tofu. But Clarkson’s use of the word “normal” is a bit of a surprise. It’s not a word you hear much these days. It has the smell of long-ago about it, when men only married women, and women only married men, and everyone ate animals, and student common rooms had pictures of the Queen on their walls. But I’m not sure there’s really a place for the word normal anymore. There is no such thing as normal.

The subject of meat eating is a good example. Mr Clarkson says it is normal to eat meat, but what seems just as normal these days is the vegetarian and vegan option. Meat-eating is no longer the accepted habit it once was, and it’s never been so unpopular among young people, or people concerned about the planet, or even, for goodness sake, the French. The French environment minister announced this week that every school in the country will have at least one day where no meat will be served. In France.

The idea of normal is also under pressure in other ways. In the years, long ago, when it was normal to eat a Sunday roast, it was also normal to get married to someone of the opposite sex in a church. But last year in Scotland, for the first time ever, there were more civil marriages than Christian ones, and this year the same has happened in Ireland. On marriage, like meat, there is no such thing as normal.

Gender is the other obvious area where normal is changing. You may have seen the documentary A Change of Sex on the I-Player recently. The series featured Julia Grant who underwent a sex change in the 80s when gender was much more firmly organised into normal and not normal. What was a bit surprising was how much compassion there actually was for Julia even then, but it’s also striking how much things have changed in 40 years. The normal on gender these days is that there isn’t necessarily a normal.

And it doesn’t stop there because it feels like the so-called culture war is actually a disagreement over what is normal. On the furore over the students who voted to take the Queen’s picture off their common room wall, for example, it sounds to me like student politicians who think they’re rebels are still behaving in the way they’ve always behaved – a bit naïve, a bit over the top, and a little bit normal for students. It also sounds like Conservative governments espousing traditional values around traditional institutions can no longer necessarily rely on the fact that it's their views that are normal.

I think all of this is good news. The problem with any concept of normal is those who do not conform to it can be judged, or bullied, or feel pressure to toe the line. Fifty years ago, or even 20 years ago, this led to people doing things they didn’t want to, or getting into relationships that weren’t good for them, or even eating the flesh of animals. I’m not saying all of this has gone, or that the pressure of normal has disappeared. But we are all feeling it less. And that may mean we end up a little bit happier.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.