Opinion

Like nature, we will f ind a way to grow again

We’ve been through the trauma times. We now need to feel that we can rebound, rise again, have fun again

The daffodil and the snowdrop are probably more relevant this year than any year since the end of the Second World War. We’ve been through the trauma times. We now need to feel that we can rebound, rise again, have fun again. Hence nature’s harbingers of renewal.

I can still remember the strange feeling of walking across a bombsite in Bayswater in the early 1950s and seeing flowers growing in a destroyed garden. Nature had outwitted the Nazi bombs. It seemed strange that this was possible. I was such a strange boy anyway that I should have noticed this. I was always pointing stuff out to my exasperated mother, who did not want to hear one more of my observations as she battled with control over the four of us, all wanting to go in different directions.

I was reminded of this last week when a magazine arrived through my door from 1954. It was called Picture Show. I had looked up this now-gone magazine to refresh with my children what I was reading, or trying to read back in the Fifties. I saw the mag on sale for a few quid on eBay, and I made my first eBay purchase.

And there was a film I don’t remember made in 1954 about children playing on dangerous war sites. This was at an old US GI soldier base. Called Bang! You’re Dead, a boy finds a gun and fires it innocently at a man on a bike, who dies. Someone else is accused because of an argument over a barmaid in a local pub. It’s a simple post-war story appealing for us to understand our troubled children; surrounded as they are by the thinking and the debris of the recently ended war.

There are bound to be many emotional and mental scars from what we have been through, as with post-war children

The early Fifties was full of films about renewal after the disaster of war. War films dominated the entertainment landscape, and most of our playground games were about killing Nazis and overcoming the enemy.

I doubt if we will be making too many films about the pandemic with our children playing playground games about it. But there are bound to be many emotional and mental scars from what we have been through, as with post-war children.

I think we were lured out of post-war trauma into pop music: Elvis and then later The Beatles. It was goods and services that were given to us, goods and services that before the war we would have been unable to afford. We were now included in the realms of plenty. Alas we were not given the tools of education and social improvement. We still had to make do with the shite unskilled jobs that involved muscle over brain.

The shooting incident in Bang! You’re Dead did remind me of the first serious book I ever read, that laid the foundation stones of my self- education. It was called Lust for Life and it was a novel based on the life of Vincent van Gogh. It was what made me want to be a painter, this highly romanticised book about the struggle of one man to make art (we all need a little help in making decisions and romanticism is often brought to bear).

The reason I was reminded of the above film is that I read Van Gogh: The Life by Gregory White Smith and Steven Naifeh recently. He was supposed to have committed suicide aged 37. Much has been made of this painter unable to cope with the richness of his troubled imagination and his own mental health problems.

But the recent biography describes two young boys with guns playing in a field where van Gogh was painting. And firing at him, not to kill him but to scare him. Alas they hit him and scarpered, and he died a few days later. These boys were old men in the 1890s and they volunteered to the authors of the book that they actually were responsible.

Possibly van Gogh was only acceptable as a victim who self-destructed. So the suicide story makes his story more ‘romantic’. A book might not have been written about him if his life had not ended on a self-destructive note. Hence I might not have used art to get out of the sticky stuff.

Which also reminds me of a very convincing documentary I saw about another important death in the 20th century: John Kennedy’s supposed assassination. I say ‘supposed’ because the documentary I saw proved to me that Kennedy was not assassinated. He was shot at by Lee Harvey Oswald but that would not have done the damage that was done to Kennedy’s head.

What the documentary tried to prove was that a very new and untried secret service guard in the car behind the president had the safety catch off of his high-powered piece. So when Oswald fired, the secret service man pulled out his gun in a state of great nervousness and it went off, and the bullet tore into the back of the president’s head. Worth considering, I believe.

So the daffs and snowdrops are out. And we prepare for our release. Through the damage and the suffering. Let’s hope we remember how we pulled together.

John Bird is the founder and editor in chief of The Big Issue.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
This government failed to end rough sleeping – so now they're trying to police it out of existence
The Criminal Justice Bill criminalises rough sleeping
Tom Kerridge

This government failed to end rough sleeping – so now they're trying to police it out of existence

So little has changed since the Manchester Arena bombing. I worry terrorists have the upper hand
Cath Hill

So little has changed since the Manchester Arena bombing. I worry terrorists have the upper hand

Homelessness has exploded since I slept on the streets. Here's how to end it once and for all
people experiencing homelessness also face stigma
Matthew Torbitt

Homelessness has exploded since I slept on the streets. Here's how to end it once and for all

BBC Breakfast's Naga Munchetty: This is how we stamp out teenage misogyny and sexism
Naga Munchetty

BBC Breakfast's Naga Munchetty: This is how we stamp out teenage misogyny and sexism

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