Diary Of A Busker Day 316 Sunday January 13th Winchester High Street (1. opposite Bellis, Time: 2:57-3:26pm, 2. opposite Vodafone, Time: 3:58-4:43pm).
A very cold day, accentuated by a slight wind – the ‘wind-chill factor’, as I believe it’s known in meteorological circles and television weather reports. In fact, I’ve been playing when my hands when my hands have pretty well had enough. Just then a guy with a guitar case turns up who – in my cold induced stupor – I mistake for Rick Tarrant, the quiet busker, usually found around the corner, next to The Slug & Lettuce. I think this chap’s a bit annoyed I’m here but I’ve just set up so I say he could go down the road, to the place opposite Maison Blanc – there’s never anyone there apart from me and I’m here, and he could come back in 20 minutes or half an hour at the most, as there’s no way I can play/freeze here longer than that. Then I realise this isn’t Rick because this guy’s got a banjo case. It’s Chris Cudlip – the guy who operates the puppet attached to his leg. I think I mistook them because they both wear hats although they’re completely different styles: Rick – a small ‘pork-pie’ one, Chris – a flat cap. Anyway, after some talk about the cold – ‘it’s not for the faint-hearted’ he says – he’s off to try his luck down the road.
I get through half an hour – for the last half I can’t feel the ends of my fingers in my left hand. I think this is due to these fingers – four, and occasionally the thumb – having more contact with the cold metal of the strings. Whereas, for my right hand I have the plastic thumbpick (for thumb protection) and only really my forfinger in contact with the metal, my other fingers…cue Focal Dystonia section of hard-luck story. That’s my theory, anyway…and I’m sticking with it. Actually, I CAN feel my fingers – in so far as I can feel the PAIN, but I can’t feel them on the guitar which is no good because, apart from it being a weird sensation, I can’t play right. Somewhat like talking after being numbed at the dentist. Sod this!
I take a half hour off and walk down to tell Chris he can set up where I was…but he’s not there – or anywhere else, it seems. Maybe he went home. I go to the bookshop, then the HMV Shop – always the warmest place around, but very crowded, which is rubbish when I’ve got a guitar and amp. Back up the road…there he is – Chris Cudlip, near where I was. So he didn’t go home. We have a brief chat – about the cold, naturally, and he’s remembered I keep a busking diary. ‘I could tell you a few stories’ he says. I say he should write them down.
At Vodafone, the wind’s not as bad and I’m able to get through 45 minutes – incredible! Halfway through, near the end of James Bond, a man holds out a phone so I stop and, in a bad Connery voice, say ‘Shaken, not stirred’, then resume playing. The bloke says something into the phone then holds it out again just as I’m finishing so I ‘take up the gauntlet’ as it were and add another Connery-era Bondian ‘Schplendid’, as he walks off. Oh! how I live for these light-hearted, cold-relieving moments. Near the end a man walks by – ‘That won’t do your hands any good, the cold.’ I bet he’s right – no good can come of this.
I pack up and walk up the road – Chris is still there. He’s obviously more durable than me – I reckon he’s about 35. I stop to say hello and goodbye and good luck but he seems to want to chat – ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea – a diary. I could tell you some stories (he says again)…I’ve been busking, oh, for 26 years – well, since I was 19. I’m 46 now (I was way off – he’s almost as old as me!), how long’s that? (Long enough)…yeah, 26, 27 years.’ He says he reckons he’ll stop now – do I want to go for a coffee? Because I’m miserable and unsociable I say no thanks – I’m on my way home. But he wants to talk more – ‘Yeah, some people don’t like the busking thing. It’s caused some problems with two of my girlfriends. They were foreign and it was just…not far from begging, as far as the were concerned. One was Japanese.’ I remarked that maybe that’s why Japanese ‘contributors’ tend to give 1p coins, or 2p – if you’re lucky! In my experience, anyway. Although it’s always accompanied by an ingratiating smile and they appear very grateful – in fact I’m sure they really ARE grateful. Weird.
Chris (again) says he could tell me some stories – ‘but it’s too cold out here’ but then proceeds to tell me the stories: how the Spanish police hate buskers. One picked up his amp and ran off so Chris ran after him all the way to the police station where they arrested him. Another time, busking in the red light district of Amsterdam, a man came up, opened his coat to reveal a pistol, and demanded Chris make a payment after his ‘shift.’ Chris, rather bravely – or stupidly?! – refused, and the guy – who went to stand at the other end of the street, didn’t bother him again. Another time – again in Amsterdam – a bent, drunk copper demanded that Chris get him some drugs and, like the other bloke, opened his coat to reveal a gun. Chris told him to go away – he was trying to work! And ‘another time, there was a scooper- you know?’ I know – this is someone who walks by, lowers an arm as if to put something in the bucket, but instead scoops out some of the hard-earned takings. They’re easy to spot as they won’t make eye contact, won’t turn their heads to look at you and don’t slow down. A ‘lady’ did this to him somewhere abroad and he ran after her and ended up in some dodgy alleyway where he was confronted by a bunch of hard blokes – friends or associates of the thief. He thought that was it – he was done for. They wanted to know what was going on so he told them – ‘She stole my money!’ – and they made her give it back!
I tell him these are really good stories – how can he have busked for 27 years and not write any of this down?! I say again he should do it – or someone else will!