Diary Of A Busker Day 138 Sunday July 31st Winchester High Street (1. opposite Card Factory, Time: 1:15-2:45pm, 2. corner of Marks And Spencer, Time: 3:20-5:16pm)
Jeremy, one of my “regulars” – though of late, not a regular donator (I’ve noticed that several people who used to donate, now no longer do so. Perhaps a case of familiarity breeding contempt) comes by just after I start. He’s just seen Marie-Therese (a regular who always DOES donate) up the road. “I believe she’s under the impression that you’re going to look at her guitar – at three o’clock.” “Is she? Well, I did say I would tune it up for her but I didn’t say I’d do it today. In fact I offered to go ’round to her house the other day after I finished here but she got a bit flustered and said she needs to clean her flat up.” “Hm…well I don’t mean to alarm you but I’d be careful if I were you – I think she’s on a manhunt!” “A manhunt? Well, I tell you she better look somewhere else, there’s no way I’m going out with a 75 year old Frenchwoman with a beard.” Jeremy laughs and warns me again.
A shade wearing busker comes up – can he use my tuner? Sure. He wants to busk in the alleyway which is too near where I am now but I’ve been here an hour and a half and I could do with a break. He goes off and I pack up and a few minutes later, on my way to the toilet, I pass him as he’s fighting his way through a rough rendition of Valery – his tribute to Amy Winehouse* no doubt – who could perhaps be turning in her grave – if she could hear it. After the toilet I head off for a peaceful few minutes in the cathedral grounds, but the minute I get there the bells start ringing…and carry on for 10 minutes, this being Sunday, I suppose. I do however, get 5 bell free minutes, then head off back to the High Street…where 2 hours ago there were no buskers. However, now there is a young girl about 8, playing her flute near The Buttercross and Frank with his accordion halfway down, so…carry on walking, and I’m in luck as the be-shaded busker seems to have gone so I can set up at Marks And Spencer, on the sunny side of the street. I’m immediately befriended by Barbara who’s not sure how old she is but says she was born in 1922. I inform her of her age. “Just as long as I can put one foot in front of the other, I’ll keep going. That’s what I say.” I tell her I meet alot of old people – like Ralph, who’s 91 and Henry, who will be 100 soon. Barbara proceeds to give me her life story, then two kids turn up, “Can you play James Bond?” “Yeah sure, just give me a couple of minutes to tune these two strings up and I’ll play it. Have you heard me play this before?” Yes, they have. Barbara puts her life story on hold while I play their request…and at the end they say thanks and walk off, which is what I thought might happen, as I say to Barbara. I’m not going to run after anyone, though – especially a couple of kids, and demand money for requests.
Some guy who I suspect is drunk wants to buy me a can of Coke from Sainsbury’s and asks if I smoke – “A pipe sometimes, and the odd Cuban cigar, but they’re really expensive.” He goes off, comes back later, sits down on the bench opposite, lights a slim panatella, comes over and slides it under a string in my guitar’s headstock. He then gives me a thumbs up and returns to his seat, and is soon joined by 2 figures of a similar ilk. After a while there are 5 of them on the bench, occasionally smiling at me, occasionally giving me the thumbs up and when I can hear it, talking incoherently.
Bethyn, who – if she’s in the mood, occasionally dances (barefoot) along to whatever I’m playing, turns up and decides she is in the mood for it today – and it’s Bach’s Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring with the rather more up-tempo, somewhat “Hillbilly” Black Mountain Rag stuck in the middle. It’s quite an odd pairing but they’re both in the same tuning, so why not. I observe how the addition of a person moving around can attract a lot of attention – many people stop to watch. However, the watchers watch – they don’t give money, they just watch, and clap when I stop playing and when Bethyn stops dancing. I think they’re applauding her, not me, which is fine – she’s 20 years younger than me, she dances quite well… and the drunk blokes on the bench certainly liked it.
At just after 5 o’clock, it goes quiet – quite suddenly. A man on the bench shouts “You’re floggin’ a dead horse, aren’t you?” He’s right, I am so I decide to pack up. The guy comes over. His name’s Mr. “John” and he works cleaning the toilets, 4 days on, 4 days off. It’s better than the job he did before – cleaning the streets. Those street cleaning machines they sit on are dangerous, he tells me. They have no brakes, you know. Mr. “John” imparts to me some interesting information about the world of toilet cleaning. “Women are worse than men.” Are they? How’s that? “Oh yeah, they p*** on the seat, much worse than me.” Really? Why’s that? “Well, they don’t want to touch the seats so they sort of hover. And they leave all their rubbish in there, too – wine bottles, those little ones.” Wine bottles? “Yeah, they drink them in there, when they don’t want people to know they drink, so they do it when they’re in the toilet. They leave all their food wrappers as well.” Food wrappers? I’m intrigued. Mr. “John” explains “They tell their friends they’re on a diet, so they have to eat their McDonalds or whatever in the toilet, so their friends don’t find out.” Women of Winchester, Mr. “John” knows what you’re about.
*English singer found dead in her 2 1/2 million pound London house a few days ago.