Diary Of A Busker Day 338 Saturday March 16th 2013 Winchester High Street, opposite Oxfam. Time: 1-2:15pm 3:10-4:05pm
They’re all out today; Rob at The Buttercross with a black umbrella over him, a wise move as its been raining pretty badly the last couple of days. In fact Jude’s football match was cancelled this morning because of it, and there are other buskers scattered down the High Street, all young and with acoustic guitars, so I end up down at the usual place I end up when everywhere else is full.
There are four men who turn up and set up cameras on tripods across the way and I’m wondering what they’re about to do. It looks like they’ve got them aimed at the Union Jacks restaurant just down from me. They’re there for about 15 minutes then two of them dismantle their cameras and stand nearby, then the other two do the same. One of them comes over and drops a coin in, so I take the opportunity to ask what everything’s in aid of. ‘Just taking a slow exposure of the street. We get rid of all the people that way, y’see.’ Ah, so that’s it. ‘Some people think we’re waiting for someone famous!’
Three foreign guys stop and I try to work out if they’re Spanish, Italian or Iranian. Probably Spanish or Italian. I often try to work out where someone’s from and, if by the end, I still can’t, then I try and remember to ask them. One buys a CD. I say I hope he likes it; if not he can come back and I’ll refund him. He says ‘Yes, if I don’t like it, I will come back and smash your guitar!’ I know he doesn’t mean it as he’s laughing when he says it. I still never worked out if they were Spanish or Italian (probably not Iranian), and I forgot to ask. I play Dixie McGuire twice, missing out the middle bit, which I got photocopied at the library on the way in. I put it in my music book which I forgot to put on the ground in front of me – it’s against the wall behind me so it’s useless! I put in some practise on the main bit, though. It really is a lovely little tune.
One man likes my Apache rendition so much he gives me a £10 note! I do the usual ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money/do you want some change/how about a CD…’ No, he doesn’t want a CD, he’s just waiting for some people he’s with to come out of C & H Fabrics, behind me. When they do, a minute later, he raves about me and Apache. One of his friends, who looks like he’s had a few last night, mentions a couple of old songs, one being Wheels, which by coincidence I happen to be in the right tuning for – ‘Wheels? Did you say Wheels?’ So they get a bit of that. His friend (who MUST have had a few last night) wants to buy a CD. Great, that’s two today. He says they have something to do with a golf club at Alresford and they might be able to get me a gig there, which, of course I would greatly appreciate – ‘I’m always on time, always smartly turned out and always sober!’ I say, to which the one woman amongst them replies ‘Oh well, that’s the most important thing!’ Indeed. Can they have a card? Sure, I give them two from my gigbag as my plastic train ticket wallet I usually keep them in doesn’t seem to be in my jacket pocket because I can’t remember anything these days.
I do an hour and fifteen minutes then pack up, the hands being purple and painful. At the bookshop, I sit down and read the introduction to some new book on the Victorian era…then all of a sudden there’s Bruce Springsteen wailing away. I decide to take action. I go up to a young guy wearing a Waterstones shirt and explain my predicament; how it’s rather distracting, nay, impossible, trying to immerse oneself in some literature, with some Yank shouting “BORN IN THE USA!” coming out the roof, ‘…don’t you think?’ Well, according to this chap, they’ve always had music but he can’t really help me as he’s ‘pretty low down.’ I ask if there IS anyone to help me; someone higher up, perhaps? Yes, he can take me to someone ‘much higher.’ And it’s the (paradoxically, rather short) lady behind the counter. So to her I go and explain my predicament, to which she listens quite intently and seems to agree with. However, I get the impression she’s got something to do with the music. She says the idea’s from the continent (I’m sure she’s from there, too), where there is music in coffee bars ‘to relax people and give the place an atmosphere.’ I say it has the opposite effect on me; it doesn’t relax me, besides, there is music in EVERY shop in the High Street, surely people want peace and quiet in a bookshop, of all places. (Or do we have to wait for the grave?) ‘Yes, like a library’ she says. ‘Exactly’ I say. ‘Or a museum or art gallery’ she adds. ‘Yes, exactly. Books – you need to concentrate on the book. You can’t do that with Bruce Springsteen wailing away’ I say/plead. Oh well, one can but try; she says she’ll make a note of my comments and assures me that I’m ‘not alone’ in my concern. Good. She was very pleasant to talk to – I could have got some horrible fat, sweaty, English manager bloke come storming out and intimidate me and tell me to get out of his shop if I didn’t like it.
Back outside, all the spots in the main part of the street are still taken which means I’ve got no choice but to go back to where I was an hour ago. So that’s what I do, although now the wind’s picked up…it really is a lot colder. I still manage an hour, after being delivered a monologue by that tall, white-haired/bearded nutter who sometimes stops to complain about everything (that’s MY job, you nutter) – ‘I HATE this place, full of IDIOTS…NICE idiots. I came here same reason YOU did (how does he know why I came here?) ’bout the same time…the homeless people – I know them all, there’s the one guy, he’s forty-five, looks thirty-five, very handsome…sometimes you have to tell them…this one was, you know, getting a bit CLOSE, invading, so I pushed him about a bit, police came.’ I interrupt – ‘You pushed him about?’ ‘Well, pushed him away. Just a bit. I see everyone – so miserable…cold, no money…’ (Is he talking about me!) While this is going on, I’m setting up; I can’t stand around just listening. He goes on ‘…sorry, I’d give you some change, you know, it always makes me feel a sort of relief when I hear you’ and then he just walks off. No goodbye. He does that a lot; usually mid-sentence, he’ll just stop and walk away.
It really IS cold now and it’s started drizzling. A woman drops a coin and says something I can’t understand so she repeats it and I still can’t understand…she says it again and this time I hear – ‘It’s from the Oxfam shop’ (the coin). Ahh, they still like me, the folks across the road.
One of the things that annoys me most about this “job” occurs now. A bloke asks if I know the Duelling Banjos riff. I say ‘I do but it’s one of those things I forget about until someone mentions it, and I haven’t learned it properly.’ He then sings the notes and touches my guitar fretboard where he thinks the notes are. Now, if there’s one thing that really DOES annoy me, it’s someone touching my guitar. It’s a serious violation. Even so, I restrain myself from committing an atrocity on his person, and try to play it, but my fingers, not to mention BRAIN, are frozen and I don’t know what I’m doing. And while I’m trying to do this; fretting the notes, he brushes my fingers aside with his – and he’s got dirty fingernails which is something I can’t abide – and he touches the fretboard – KILL, KILL, KILL! – DIE, YOU SWINE!!! How dare anyone do that?! Why do I put up with this humiliation? It’s even worse when they put some lowest denomination coinage (shrapnel) in. You feel like you owe them.
Earnings: £38.37 (including 2 CDs)