Paul McNamee: Good things are there if we look for them

Things are not normal and won't be for some time. But there's joy to be found, and it's closer to home than Venus

I was walking down Sauchiehall Street thinking about Venus.

My mind was moving to the phosphine floating around above that unloved planet. And as we all now know, phosphine suggests life. More tellingly, it suggests life emitting a gas, as that life goes about its merry business.

So, I was walking down Sauchiehall Street thinking about Venus farting. Because if there is life, that life will have had a bite to eat and will be letting nature clear itself out, as nature for our newly discovered Venusian cousins, does.

What, I wondered to myself, will the farting aliens think of what is going on down here? All we’ve got to study of them is a little gas. They have quite the menu.

Do they go big, seeing the west coast of America on fire? What do they make of the unprecedented number of hurricanes gathering like deadly bowling balls out of the Atlantic? Are they following the death and fear and global weariness that Covid has delivered? Does Trump worry them, or do they get confused and believe he is a performance artist about to reveal a great truth? I’d like to hear their take on Brexit. While they may only have a farting gas as their single method of communication and, in fact, of registering their actual being, I suspect they’d still come up with a more coherent and honest policy on the Irish border situation than currently exists.

As I followed my Venusian fart fugue into ever more complex worries I realised I was sinking into a fug. Things were grey. What is there here for the Venusians but flat-earther, anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorists and a growing list of fallen Manc musical heroes keen to show they have more time and deep Reddit search histories than sense?

In the bright early evening autumn sunshine on that Glasgow street the worries lifted for a moment

And then I heard the song rise. Somewhere a little way down the street a busker was giving it dixie with a song I couldn’t quite place. But I knew I knew it. Some muscle memory was being coaxed back, something that was good. As I got closer, I realised I was singing along. With incredible tempo, and without dropping a word, our busker was playing Johnny Cash’s A Boy Named Sue. I like Johnny Cash a great deal – who doesn’t! – and I’m pretty sure that the song, from Live at San Quentin, was the first piece of Johnny Cash I knew.

In the bright early evening autumn sunshine on that Glasgow street the worries lifted for a moment as the song returned. Because you can’t help but feel better when you hear it, even without Johnny’s baritone; and because it felt almost impossibly normal. Before lockdown, there were a lot of buskers on the streets of Glasgow. Many people complain about them, but I applaud them all. Even the kid who plays strange metal chord progressions on his own.

So to see a busker go big with such carefree abandon was a sign of something returning. Clearly, restrictions remain; clearly things are not normal. But it felt good, and positive.

I walked up another block and saw our vendor Paddy sell a magazine to a woman outside Waterstones. This cheered me more. Good things are there if we look for them. We can hold them close when the ill winds find their way again through the buttons.

This is what we can share with the aliens. Johnny Cash and The Big Issue. Imperfect in a lot of ways, but humanity amongst us.

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue