In my little town - the nearest one to the village where I live – there is a High Street with a Smith’s, a Boots and a Woolworths and an assortment of other shops you’d expect to find in any other little town. Outside the Boots Opticians, by a paved walkway that leads to an underpass, stands a woman with a thick, dark brown plait of hair that comes right down below her waist, and in her hands she holds copies of a magazine.
“Big Ishoooooo!” she calls. “Big Ishoooooo, please!”
She has a powerful voice, like a strong, clear foghorn, and she holds the note at the end for as long as she has breath for the “oooooo.” Most people walk past, and if you slow down for any reason she will come up close to you, switch off the foghorn and try to catch your eye with her own, and she will smile with large rosy lips and beautiful teeth and her voice will become like a housecat’s pleading miaow as she says, “Big Issue, madam, please. Please, madam, Big Issue.” If you buy a copy she will reward you with a look that says you have done a good and beautiful thing. If you walk past she will draw in her breath with an eloquent gasp, as though she has just been stung by a nettle, before recommencing her chant.
“Big Ishooooooooo! Big Ishooooooooo, please!” She is known, perhaps not surprisingly, as the Big Issue woman. She does not come from round here. She comes by train and goes back on it after her day’s work. She has been spotted getting off at Croydon.
She has been doing this for years. The note never changes, nor does her voice falter or lose its power. She has always dressed exactly the same, in long skirt and serviceable boots with a shawl around her shoulders and, with that hair, she looks like someone from the cast of Fiddler on the Roof and I picture her great great grandma and mine and (from the Ashkenazy line at any rate) plucking chickens together in some shtetl. She has exasperated, irritated and intrigued me and now, after all these years, I would miss her if she suddenly decided to withdraw her presence. I cannot help but admire her dedication to purpose, her willingness to give herself up to the one song line which has, as I count, only two notes, the main one being on the dying fall of the “oooooo.” She could have been (perhaps is) a singer. She will catch our attention, whether we want it caught or not.
Her voice has been added to the list of tunes that play themselves in my head. My unconscious likes to think it has a sense of humour and has, for example, played “Stand By Your Man” during the break-up of my first marriage as well as something from the mists of time (and how that was downloaded is a mystery) called “Captain of Your Ship” by Reparata and the Delrons. Today it is the chant of the Big Issue woman. I am going to see a new psychotherapist. This makes it sound as though I’m trading in an old one and do this all the time. I have, as it happens, done this before, but not for a long time. Having made the decision to go for it again last year, I put off actually doing anything until the voice that would not be silenced finally won and I said yes just to get it to shut up. It’s not that I don’t respect the voice, it being the utterance of my inner self. It’s just that I’d like to move forward without that particular number being played and re-played:
“Big Issue. Big Issue, please.”
Saw therapist who said she didn't like "seeing clients with entrenched M.E." She had worked in a Health Centre with "some of them" and found that the M.E. "got in the way." She asked me if I had thought of practising "something spiritual, like mindfulness, so that you can practise being in the Now."
Big Issue. Very Big Issue.
Note: I did not consult her because of M.E. but had mentioned on the phone that I had it. The walk to her house from car park was up a very steep hill. On arrival she asked if I had enjoyed the walk. I said I had been concentrating on walking uphill. But, she persisted, had I enjoyed it? I said not really because I had been (I repeated) concentrating on walking up the hill. But, she continued, had I not enjoyed the lovely view on the way up? It was a lovely view, I said, but no, (for the third fucking time) - I had been concentrating on walking up the hill. I realise with hindsight that I should at this point have walked out.
A few vittun F words apply, I think, but nothing seems quite strong enough just at this moment.