Ed#447 Smiles Are Free

5 December 2013 Alan Attwood

Ed#447 Smiles Are Free

Christmas comes but once a year… Which is probably a good thing for those of us at Big Issue Mission Control. We’re all for Christmas, of course. Fully support the concept. But our annual Christmas edition is, well, a bit of a monster. It’s a bigger Big Issue, to start with. We need eight extra pages to accommodate seasonal messages from vendors around the country, summing up the year past and thanking their customers. This year we also have a bonus – a short story written exclusively by Irvine (Trainspotting) Welsh for street papers all around the world. Think of it as a modern version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, though not quite so jolly and with much more swearing. Yet I suspect that even Welsh’s protagonist, Francis Begbie, would acknowledge that the real stars of this edition – on sale for three weeks rather than the usual two – are our vendors.

Since the very first Christmas edition, way back in 1996, when The Big Issue was still essentially a Melbourne-only publication, it has become traditional for one or more vendors to be featured on the cover. Sometimes I suspect that some male vendors cultivate whiskers to improve their odds of being cast as Santa. This year, the honour goes to John (hmmm, who is bearded) and Susie from Perth. Thanks, too, to photographer Ross Swanborough, WA state manager Jim Petrie (who juggled complex logistics) and Susie’s dog, Precious (below), which may now receive some modelling offers, having revealed impressive poise before the camera.

John and Susie are the cover-stars, but the heart of this edition is the vendor messages: so many that we had to allocate a record nine pages to fit them in – and even then we had to place some on a special seasonal ‘Streetsheet’ page. It adds up to a lot of messages. And every year I am struck by some of the sentiments expressed by the men and women who sell our magazine around the country. They have all experienced hardship and disadvantage, yet the messages are overwhelmingly positive. These are just some that struck me as we put together this edition: “I am doing something better with my life.” “We all take care of each other.” “Be grateful for what you have. Just smile and be happy, everyone!” “Smiles are free, and contagious!” “Thank you for supporting my little business.” “This is a good Christmas because it’s the first Christmas I have a job.” “The money I’ve made has helped me a lot.” “Once again you’ve showed me that people care.” “Count your blessings not your sorrows every day.”

Much can be taken away from these messages – above all else, a bit of perspective. Difficulties often dwindle when compared to the situations of other people, especially when you are exposed to the upbeat attitudes they express. “Be grateful for what you have…” One vendor I know experiences profound problems every day; just getting around is not easy. But whenever I ask him how he’s going, he invariably replies: “I’m going great!” He is in this edition; so, too, Melbourne vendor (and accomplished writer) Mariann B. In our Christmas edition last year, we featured a ‘My Word’ by Mariann, ‘Views from My Pitch’, which ended with the poignant sentence, “I board the Nightrider bus and head towards home, wherever that is.” On p11 of this edition, Mariann returns with another ‘My Word’, one year on…

What else is there? Too much to mention, really, including features by Vin Maskell, Isabella Fels and Andy Drewitt, whose names will be familiar to regular readers. And to new readers – all those buying The Big Issue for the first time – welcome! And Happy Christmas. But beware: this magazine, and the spirit of the people it represents, are rather like smiles. Contagious.