Opinion

John Bird on poverty: Teach a man to fish...

"Poverty is a kind of death. It deadens and cheapens your being, and it should be dismantled ASAP"

I have an obsession that increases with years. How do you dismantle the poverty in someone’s life? How, beyond the stats, the plans, the support, do you get someone on their feet and moving?

To me poverty is the biggest problem in the world, out of which spurts, like leaky pipes, all the other troubles that beset the world. Holding poverty in your life does your head in, and the fear of poverty gets mankind doing the strangest of things.

Poverty is a kind of death. You live outside of life in poverty. You do not live in democracy. It deadens and cheapens your being and should be dismantled ASAP.

I recently re-met ‘Bill the Print’, a fishing, poet friend of mine who kind of understands my increasing obsession with how do you dismantle poverty: not just make the poor comfortable but get people out of stagnation, and moving. Moving, doing, learning and hopefully earning.

The fear of poverty gets mankind doing the strangest of things

Bill the Print in one of his poems describes one answer for one boy.

Bill, like most fishermen operate on a ‘catch and release’ philosophy and this is how he taught the young boy who he helped grow to a man. And shook off the ‘slough of despond’ that would have had him caught in poverty. Caught in inactivity and caught in defeat.

The Kennet, by the by, is a beautiful river in the west, that runs through Wiltshire and other parts.

I hope his poem cheers your day; it did mine.

ANGLING RESCUE

He was never very bright at school
Slow to learn – the classroom fool.
On top of that, poor lad was fat
And the schoolboys made him pay for that.

His home life too, a tragedy
Mum and dad could not agree
Trapped inside this private hell
He cocooned himself within his shell.

“Wise” counsellors suggested sports
But fat boys don’t feel good in shorts
“Let him try my special therapy”
“A day out fishing – just him and me.”

A docile pond was not my plan
I was a dedicated Kennet man
“One rod for me – and one for you”
“Now copy exactly what I do.”

Enthusiasm plus Dexterity
Soon he’d tie a knot as good as me
With Angling he had found his forte
Academic? No, but a worthy protégé.

His first fish a pike – albeit a Jack
The Rubicon crossed, there’d be no turning back
From sadness & doubt, to elation and bliss
I had witnessed first hand his metamorphosis.

A Barbel and some Perch, Roach Chub and Dace
All landing net size from this magical place
Diffidence gone & we’re both overjoyed
Plus I’d captured his joy on my old Polaroid.

His classroom status – from zero to hero!
Those Polaroid snaps did the trick
Couldn’t read so well but he knew how to fish
There’d be no more taking the Mick.

It didn’t take long till his dad caught the bug
And that was pretty good news
Mother was happy, home life improved
As it helped dad get off the booze.

Well the fat boy got slim, got a job as a plumber
Passed his driving test the very next summer
Still lives at home & the family’s just fine
Through the magical power of a Rod and a Line.

John Bird is the Founder and Editor in Chief of The Big Issue. Email him: john.bird@bigissue.com or tweet: @johnbirdswords

Support your local Big Issue vendor

If you can’t get to your local vendor every week, subscribing directly to them online is the best way to support your vendor. Your chosen vendor will receive 50% of the profit from each copy and the rest is invested back into our work to create opportunities for people affected by poverty.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Seven of the last nine PMs went to Oxford. Has it gotten us any closer to solving child poverty?
John Bird

Seven of the last nine PMs went to Oxford. Has it gotten us any closer to solving child poverty?

Voter ID rules are racist – let’s get rid of them once and for all
voter ID, local elections 2023
Alba Kapoor

Voter ID rules are racist – let’s get rid of them once and for all

Sunak has been like an automaton for so long. Our leaders shouldn't fear being seen as human
Paul McNamee

Sunak has been like an automaton for so long. Our leaders shouldn't fear being seen as human

Smart, no-nonsense moves by Starmer show how toxic and incompetent the Tories have really been
Sam Delaney

Smart, no-nonsense moves by Starmer show how toxic and incompetent the Tories have really been

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know

The Big Issue

Sign up to get your FREE Doctor Who Archive Special

Celebrate the 14th series with your FREE edition of the Dr Who Special Archives