Diary Of A Busker Day 313 Wednesday January 2nd 2013 (opposite Vodafone, Time: 4:12-5:30pm).
A sad day. It was 4:45. I’d been playing for almost 40 minutes and doing OK – lots of coins from young children out with their parents (one lady requested Stardust so I said I’d ‘look into it’) – and the temperature wasn’t too cold, when, after my James Bond rendition, an Asian guy who’d been standing just to my right comes up. He said he didn’t want to disturb me while I was playing – others don’t mind doing that, I thought – but he recognised my playing from a cd that my 100 year old regular, Henry Gray had. He asked if I knew him. I said I did. Then he told me that Henry had died at 9 o’clock on the 29th – three hours before his 101st birthday. Of course, I knew from Henry’s daughter Sally, who I met on the 17th that he’d caught a bug and was in hospital. It was still a shock though. I suppose you think that someone who’s survived that long won’t be brought down by some ‘bug’.
This man was Henry’s carer Ahmed, or Tito – his nickname, that’s what Henry called him. He told me what happened. Henry had got this Noro bug that’s been going around, then had got a urinary infection, then pneumonia, which is what killed him. He said that Henry loved my cd – I’d forgotten I’d given a copy to Sally, and he’d played it loads of times in the hospital – Ahmed said he couldn’t remember all the times he played it. He also had the framed photo I took of him next to his bed. Apparently he thought I was marvellous – he really loved the cd. I couldn’t believe it – hearing that choked me up a bit.
Ahmed told me some more. On the 27th – two days before he died – Ahmed said Henry knew he was dying. He had some sort of vision or revelation or something. He saw a bright white light and some yellow. When Henry mentioned yellow, Ahmed said ‘What? Yellow?’ and Henry said ‘No, gold’ and he said he saw a road lasting millions of years. And because he was convinced he was going to see his birthday before he died, he thought it was the 30th – his birthday. When this was happening, he was gripping Ahmed’s hand tighter and tighter.
Ahmed was clearly very fond of Henry – I think he’d only known him a few months and he said that though he was just 31, Henry never talked to him like he was a lot younger. He talked to him just as if he was a person like him, like there was no age difference. I talked about some things I remembered about Henry, like the first time we met, down the road at the corner of Marks & Spencer – he said he’d be 100 at the end of the year and he could remember all the old traditional songs they used to sing when he was a child in the village he grew up in. I told Ahmed about when I took my guitar round to his flat to play for him – and his suggestion; to play the Somewhere Over The Rainbow melody in 3/4 time, second time around – very creative, and how sharp his mind was, and him playing some hymns – some of which he’d written, note-perfect on his organ in the next room. Ahmed said that just before Henry went to hospital, he couldn’t move so he carried the organ to the living room for Henry to play, and he could still remember all the songs.
And Henry remembered my visit – Ahmed said he used to talk a lot about it. Of course, thinking and writing about it now, I wish I’d gone round a bit more. Too late. Well I’m pleased he liked the cd – I just couldn’t believe Ahmed saying how many times he played it. It really choked me. I told Ahmed I was honoured – and humbled. I was and am. I don’t think I’ll ever forget him telling me all this – or Henry, I’ll not forget him. And I only met him a handful of times! Ahmed says the service will be on the 10th but he can’t remember the name of the church but he’ll phone me when he finds out. So, a sad moment but as Ahmed says – ‘we all have to die’. Indeed.
We’d been talking quite a long time – about 20 minutes, and Ahmed didn’t want to stop me from playing any longer so we said goodbye, but I really didn’t want to carry on so I played Henry’s favourite – Somewhere Over The Rainbow, complete with his waltz-time melody and then packed up. I went into Boots to get some Xmas (why the X?) pictures developed, then headed up the road, past the Westgate, past the little post office and it was when I was halfway across the Arbor – all dark and nearly home, when I realised I didn’t have my guitar with me. I’d got my bag with my amp and bucket and stool slung over my shoulder, but no guitar. I looked down at my left hand – empty. I’d left the case at the photo machine in Boots. I’d left there and started to think about Henry and completely forgot my guitar! I turned round and walked back – rather briskly, I have to say…and got to Boots which I think they were shutting up – there was a metal grill in front of one of the entrances but I could see through the slats and there it was – my blue gigbag leaning against the photo machine, way down the other end of the shop. Fortunately they weren’t closed yet so I went in the other entrance and retrieved my guitar. Phew. So it had stayed there for half an hour, untouched – un-nicked. (Henry, were you watching over it?!)
After I got home – this time with my guitar – I was still reminiscing about Henry, in fact I almost had an accident and joined him. After coming back from buying a lottery ticket from Pickards, I was crossing the road, not thinking, when I heard ‘BLOODY HELL, MATE!’ A cyclist had swerved to avoid bashing into me. ‘Sorry’, I said. ‘Almost took you out!’ he said.
Joseph Henry Gray – December 30th 1911 – December 29th 2012