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Opinion

Out of the darkness, music… and light

There is a need to step outside because it helps. Across Britain, streets are lighting up

There is a man at Jodrell Bank Observatory collecting the sounds of space.

Astrophysicist Professor Tim O’Brien has turned the X-rays from black holes and radio waves from deep space, billions of light years away, into sounds.

They don’t disappoint. The black hole Cygnus X-1 is like a quick, melodic pulsing drum. Appropriately it sounds very far away. The radio waves from the deepest of deep space are even better. A bit metallic, they sound a little like descending scales. The farther away they are, said Hannah Peel on her Night Tracks show on Radio 3, the more extended the descending tone.

There is something mind-boggling and shocking about being outside in the dark and looking up and hearing these sounds. In headphones, obviously. The pulsars are not pulsing within our normal frequencies. They might not even be pulsars. I apologise to all space professionals.

Back down here the joy over incoming vaccinations is tempered by other realities; Tesco announcing they’re stockpiling food over fears caused by Brexit uncertainty; soaring levels of child poverty and the need for huge interventions from food banks; job fears and what things will feel like at the turn of the year; Matt Hancock trying to cry on national TV.

People are trying to lift their spirits, and the spirits of those around them

There is a need to step outside because it helps. Across Britain, streets are lighting up. The front of previously dark buildings are cascades of all manner of lights. People are trying to lift their spirits, and the spirits of those around them. Somebody near me has wrapped a tree trunk in red wool and hung giant red baubles from the spidery, leafless branches. It’s wonderful.

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These things will not feed you. They won’t change hard realities. But as we all now shift from the harshest of lockdowns into something a little better they lift the mood. They make us feel better. The importance of this should not ever be underestimated. We can go out into the dark and see things light up.

We can support small and local businesses. We can support Big Issue vendors as they try to end the year on an up after being hit hard for so many months. And what could be better than the man who has improved the lives of so many others this year? It’s a joy to have Marcus Rashford on this festive cover. I’m certain being here will inspire HIM to help United get their act together…

All of these things can make us feel that something better will come.

And out there in the dark, somewhere, there is music from the most unlikely of places. That’s a thought.

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue 

@pauldmcnamee

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