John Bird: The Beatles were a unifying force – now all we need is each other

Reading about the Fab Four and the current unprecedented times we live in all blend together for me

Be not surprised that something deep inside of you starts playing with your mind in this lockdown. I know I’m back at the beginning of time, the 1950s. Back then we were always running out of milk, bread, tea, margarine – butter on Saturday and Sunday – and eggs. And now it’s the first thing I think of when I wake. Have we got enough of the above, the staples of my diet?

Yes, my diet is my prime concern. It’s also a variation on the ‘first up, best dressed’ thinking where you got choice if you were first on the scene. The sooner you arrived for breakfast the more you had of the disappearing eggs, marge and bread, and the mugs of tea.

I am irritating those around me who share my lockdown. I feel as if I’ve turned into one of the old blokes in The Vicar of Dibley, which I still enjoy constant repetitions of, with its characters’ repetitious behaviour.

Possibly the book I’m reading also adds to the sense of ‘back to basics’ and the decades of gone times. Basics when the making of tea and breakfasts were essential. The book is called One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time. It’s by Craig Brown and it is a series of bite-size stories, chapters and reflections on the growth and development of The Beatles. It is refreshing to read and so loaded down with social observations that I can feel the Fifties and the Sixties crowding in around me as we watch the ascendancy of the strumming schoolboys to complete mastery of the musical universe, universally.

My generation had never been through anything like The Beatles. Even Presley eight years before never blew the world away with such completeness as did J, P, G & R. It changed so much. And out of it grew a kind of youthful consumerism that has never let up.

Did you know, I certainly didn’t, that the word Teenager was invented in 1942? ‘Teenagehood’ now is a stage that every mum and dad loves or dreads as a stage that their Nobby or Sadie passes through; a bit like getting their first teeth. So if the bathroom looks like a shithole after they have left it it’s because of that word, invented coincidentally the year of Paul McCartney’s birth.

Mine must have been one of the first generations that passed through the prism of teenagehood. But unfortunately my parents had not kept up with the trends and they had their teenagers out working after school adding to the family coffers, and up at the crack of sparrows on the Saturday morning to labour in the butcher’s or greengrocer’s.

My parents’ generation had the tragedy of the Blitz to unite them, my youth had The Beatles. We all now have supporting, enhancing and ensuring the very survival of the NHS as our rallying call

To say I met The Beatles is a gross exaggeration, but it has not stopped me from adding my own Beatles story to the piles by others who bumped into them. I saw Ringo Starr once standing in an airport VIP queue and exchanged a pleasant smiling nod. When, aged 18, I was pushing a barrow along a Notting Hill street, I blocked the path of a large car behind me. The car’s honking caused me to turn and give them the ‘F-off’ sign repeatedly. When the car got the chance to pull ahead the honking became even louder, with the car shooting ahead quickly. Then I noticed on the back seat the four Beatles giving in comic unison the ‘F-Off’ back to me.

I can imagine the following conversation:

“Did you see the face on that little git?”

“Comic. And looking just like you Paul.”

“No, more like you John.”

“Ballocks. He had a touch of Ringo to him.”

Not of course stopping and picking me up and taking me to a safe deposit box, as I have often imagined.

I was never into The Beatles, largely because girls would measure you as to which Beatle you looked most like. I seemed to be a composite.

The Beatles’ times were unprecedented, and perhaps reading about them and the current unprecedented times we live in all blend together for me. Hence the need for sureties, like bread, milk, butter, eggs and tea. Last week I was asked on a webinar what I was doing for my own mental stability. I said I’m doing my best to get the government to think of how the poorest among us will fare in post-curfew times – the homeless, the disabled, the old.

I said the best stability I can suggest to anyone is, aside from reading lightly and kindly, to see if there’s someone else you can aid. The best of all things about today, I added, is that we have seemingly all come out of our social shells.

To embrace others is the way forward. That that new-found unity has to form the building blocks, I concluded, of a better community reality.

It’s all there in the history books. My parents’ generation had the tragedy of the Blitz to unite them, my youth had The Beatles. We all now have supporting, enhancing and ensuring the very survival of the NHS as our rallying call. Stay safe, stay locked down and stay conscious of all of those who need our helping hand.

John Bird is the founder and Editor in Chief  of The Big Issue.