Diary Of A Busker Day 506 Thursday February 13th 2014 Winchester (Opposite Vodafone, Time: 12:48-2:03pm).
Mandolin John – although I never see him with a mandolin anymore, it’s a guitar now – is shouting at The Butter Cross, again in his dark suit – quite smart, but I think he’s a bit of a nutter…he has to be, doing it out here in the cold and (usually) rain. Hey, what am I saying!
At Vodafone, that foreign nanny stops by – I haven’t seen her in ages. Her charge is on one of those really high prams. I say ‘What’s his name?’. She says ‘Ariadne’, so I got that wrong! I don’t know why I thought it/she was a boy, maybe because I couldn’t see any hair, as the baby’s always well wrapped up. When I look closer, though, I can see some light curls peeping out the side of the hood.
This lady’s always friendly and always contributes – she gives me a £2 coin today. I don’t think she speaks much English, though, apart from knowing if someone asks the name of the baby. I’ve tried to speak to her a few times but she doesn’t seem to understand, or maybe it’s me! I think she – or the baby – lives near me, as I often see her pushing the pram up Greenhill Road. The baby’s sweet, though. I think she likes the music, and when I finish a song, the lady urges me to start up again…so it’s The Third Man, of course. They then go across the road and look in the jeweller’s window – well, the lady looks in the window – the baby – Ariadne, I should say – looks at me!
During the 1st Gnossienne, there’s an unusual occurrence. A girl – late teens, maybe early 20s, long black hair, comes up and, in an American accent, says – ‘Hey, d’ya mind if I stay here a bit?’ I thought she said ‘stand’, so I said ‘What? – do I mind if you STAND here?’ She says ‘Yeah, can I stay here and listen?’ (stay) I say ‘Yeah, if you want’. She then puts two coins in the bucket, but she does it in a strange way. She puts her hand right in so I can’t see the coins, but I can – and it’s shrapnel, and she does it really slowly, which is weird. At first, I think she might be grabbing some coins already there. Who knows? – I mean I’ve never seen most of these people who come up…maybe I’m just jaded.
Anyway, she sits down, crosses her legs and closes her eyes, like she’s going into a trance, or coma(!) I don’t usually get this sort of thing, so it’s definitely a bit weird. At the end of the piece, she asks what it was, so I tell her – ‘It’s a Gnossienne, pronounced Naw-see-en, with an N. So, (I spell it out) G-N-O-S-S-I-E-N-N-E’. ‘Oh, that’s too complicated’, she says. So I say ‘Oh right…anyway, it’s Erik – E-R-I-K (I spell that out, too) Satie’.
So then I think I might as well play the famous Gymnopedie, which I haven’t done for a while, as I need the music, and because of the wind the last few weeks, which blows the paper about – well, I can’t be bothered with all that! I start it, get about halfway through until a really loud metallic noise comes from the guitar and suddenly it’s all out of tune, so I have to stop. I apologise and say I don’t know what happened – it’s certainly never happened before – ‘I NEVER have any problems with this guitar, you know’ – I never do. ‘Oh well, there’s a first time for everything’, says Trance Coma Girl.
(Later on, I worked out what happened. A few weeks ago, I replaced the big spring in the Bigsby unit. I thought it’d settled in, and was completely flat to the circular base where it sits, but it mustn’t have been…it is now! Because the vibrato arm is now slightly lower than it was, meaning the spring has sunk into the base…I think)
But it’s OK. I tune up…meanwhile Trance Coma Girl’s boyfriend(?) has turned up and appears rather impatient to be off. He doesn’t even say hello to me. Maybe he can’t work out why his girlfriend’s sitting at the feet of a middle-aged busker!? Same here! Anyway, she gets up, I say ‘So, that’s Erik Satie, you like’, and he drags her off, almost literally. Oh well, it killed some time and distracted me from the cold in my fingers, and any distraction from that is welcome, to be sure. I manage an hour and fifteen minutes – long enough, then I have to stop.
Break time: at the usual – Waterstones, where I look through a tablefull of First World War books, then sit down by the window with one – the name I can’t remember. One page had a photo of a postcard sent to a Great Western Railway porter:
To E. A. Brookes,
Dear Mr. E. A. Brookes. Seeing that you cannot be a man, not to join the army, we offer you an invitation to join our Girl Scouts as washer up.
Bath Girl Scouts – Scout Mistress
On the way out of The Brooks (no relation) Centre, there was an army guy collecting money for blokes who can’t cope after the army (after fighting) and end up on the streets. A good cause but I only gave him 30p. He thought I should wear a hat. I said I never really got on with hats. He said ‘A cowboy hat with the strings, so it doesn’t blow off’. ‘I don’t know’, I said. ‘Or a turban – you’d have it wrapped around you, you know’. ‘Yeah, not a bad idea, I suppose’, I said. A turban!
That was a long break – an hour, but apart from the bit talking to the army guy, my fingers really needed all of it to recover. I wanted to do the second set up at The Butter Cross but when I turned the corner at Smiths, Mandolin – or perhaps I should call him Guitar John’s still there, strumming and shouting. He’s been there hours – how does he do that? Maybe his fingers don’t feel like mine – I keep forgetting I have a super-low pain threshold.
I walk round to the spot in The Square but there’s hardly anyone about. It’s a lot better at weekends. I suppose that’s down to the tourists…and I’m not going down to Oxfam…so it’s back to where I was. Sorry, all you shop and market folks – you’ve got me for another hour. Third song in: The Third Man – zither version, Mandolin/Guitar John walks by – so he’s finished at The Butter Cross. For a second, I think maybe I should pack up and head there, but I might as well stay put.
On the way back, crossing the arbour, a man about 70, who I’ve seen many times over the years but never spoken to, decides he wants to speak to me, as we’re both going in the same direction. His name’s Chris and he’s been compiling a history of the area. Apparently No. 17 Greenhill Road – he tells me this as we’re going past it – used to be a post office. When I told Doll this later, she said ‘Yes, and Marina (who lived next door to us, and died a couple of years ago) used to say she worked there’. And further up, an old lady, who lived at No. 35 – with the pink door, died a couple of weeks ago.