Diary Of A Busker Day 147 Friday August 26th Winchester High Street (1. opposite Reflex, Time: 1:12-1:35pm, 6-6:17pm, 2. opposite Oxfam, Time: 2:05-4:30pm, 3. opposite Card Factory, Time: 5-6pm).
I manage to get 20 minutes in until it starts raining then I pack up and take refuge in the fire exit of Debenhams, just down the road. I’m soon joined by one of my long time (old)regulars – whose name I still don’t know. People don’t usually tell me their name – unless I ask them. Ever since this man heard me play As Time Goes by, he gives me the “of all the gin joints in all the towns…” line from Casablanca. I keep having to correct him, though, as he always says “and YOU walk inti mine” where it’s “and SHE walks into mine” – Bogart or “Rick” is alone in his bar after it’s closed. My un-named co-fire exit habitee tells m (again) of his 20 years “on the boats” and his 20 years as a cabbie in Southampton. “Course it’s all the Polish and Filipinos there now.” “Yes, but they work hard – the Poles. They work harder than the English”, I say, sensing an approaching zenophobic angle from him. “Yeah, I remember a Polish chap turned up for work – he looked around for a shovel, there wasn’t one so he started digging the soil with his hands! – he was so scared of losing his job.” “Really? Imagine an English guy doing that – it wouldn’t happen.” “No, the unions would….”
After twenty minutes my friend leaves but it’s still raining…I can’t be bothered waiting for it to stop so I set up here and play La Vie En Rose… and get a grimy 50p coin from a lady, “It’s a bit dirty but it’s a good one!” The rain stops and I’m back out, a bit further up the road.
A lady from a recent recital I did in a church hall (in front of 50 elderly ladies – and 1 man) comes up. She remembers me and chats for a bit and I find out that Alfie, the old keyboard busker has died. There’s a piece in the Hampshire Chronicle, she says – a couple of weeks ago. Well, that’s a sad thing. He was always generous to me – always gave some money and I know he liked what I played. Alfie told me about the Jason Lam piano recital at the small church in the alleyway in July. I remember I got there just before it started so I sat at the back. I could see Alfie a few rows in front, on the other side. He looked at his watch every couple of minutes! Afterwards, I walked with him a bit down the High Street. He saw a pigeon and said “Do you like pigeons? Are you a pigeon fancier, eh?” then walked off, chuckling. I remember when I was busking down the road from the statue. Alfie came up and pointing to the statue, said “See that? That’s my grandfather – King Alfred!” then, as usual, walking away chuckling. Alfie had a paralysed face, which affected his speech and made it really difficult to understand what he was saying. I was forever apologising and saying “sorry? what’s that you said, Alfie?” Poor guy.
When it starts raining again I take another break, which I don’t mind as I’ve played more than two hours straight through. This time my shelter is the alleyway where the flower seller is. Frank the accordion man’s there as well. I ask if he’s heard about Alfie. (of course he has – Frank knows everything). “He’s dead, yeah. And you know, I’m not a believer in all this paranormal stuff but I saw him the other day going into Sainsbury’s and I said “You been out much, Alfie?” and he said “I don’t think I’ll be playing much from now on”, then a couple of days later someone said he’d died a couple of weeks before…” I spend about half an hour here, with Frank and a young busker – Harry, with a 12-string guitar he’s done up like a 6 string, and a few of the local Drongos sitting nearby – some of them are Frank’s neighbours it turns out. Then the rain stops again and we’re all back out; Frank’s off home, Harry’s up at the busy end of the High Street and I’m a few yards away from here.
I play for an hour before a market stall man parks his van in front of me, gets out, goes somewhere and leaves his engine on. The exhaust is about 5 feet away from me and it gets so overpowering I have to pack up – in record time! and flee before I get poisoned. All that’s left is a short session – away from that killer van, and I’m wondering where Brenda and Keith are. Thet were the old couple who wanted me to learn Albatross for when they came back to Winchester on this day. I’m sure I’ve got it right – Friday the 26th. I can’t have missed them – I’ve been here all day, apart from my 5 minute toilet break. What a shame – I wanted to play it to Brenda (her favourite song) and also thank her for suggesting it to me as it’s proving a popular number.