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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.

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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.

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