Sunday, 14 May 2017

Of Accidental Buskery And Close Encounters Of The Female Kind

I'm one of those old-fashioned types who feels a compulsion to vote. I have a postal vote, but I had left it late and missed the post. Consequently there were choices. Boat and bicycle won. An hour-and-a-half cruise along the river to March and I was pleased and surprised to find a mooring spot in the town centre. I indulged in a round-about cycle tour of the town and eventually arrived at the district council offices to deliver my ballot paper.

When I came back the sun was shining and I needed to do some practising for a friend's open mic the following night, so I took my guitar and drums into the Market Square to set up and play for a while. I enjoyed having some space around me. It was better than hitting the guitar headstock on a wall or the body of the guitar on my desk, chair or music stand every time I moved. People walked by and let me get on with it. I don't play or sing very loudly so I hope no one felt their space was being invaded. 

After about ten minutes three girls in school uniform walked past. To be honest I didn't really see them, but realised that is what they must have done when one came running back and wanted to give me 30p saying that was all the money they had between them. I was very touched, but a bit torn too. I wasn't busking, didn't have a hat or box for money, but she really seemed to want to give me something. I recognise that. I do the same if I like someone's street entertainment. I opened up my guitar case and let her drop the money in. I thanked her, let the lid drop shut and carried on. About an hour later a man insisted on putting some cash on top of my guitar case. I told him I was only practising, but he said he wanted to give me something anyway and insisted on leaving the money. Then a woman wearing patchwork trousers and handmade shoes arrived and stood to listen. 

When I finished the song I was on she said she had seen me and had had to turn her car round and drive back. She had been living a simple life abroad for several years and had come back to be near her young adult son whom she was missing and who, apparently, was missing her. She hadn't yet sorted accommodation so she was staying with her parents for a while and things weren't going well. She had had a terrible day, mostly triggered by a fierce argument with her father before having to leave the house. She had never expected to reach the age of fifty and still be living with her parents ... indeed owing to lack of space she was actually sharing a bed with her mother. Reeling slightly from this onslaught of information I couldn't help but sympathise. When I was fifty, many years ago, I was living with my own father. Fortunately he had a spare bedroom. She also said she had been learning to play the ukulele ... my heart sank a little. She was looking for a musical partner ... my heart sank a little further.

"Do you have your ukulele with you?" I asked. When she affirmed she had I told her, "Go and get it then!" I had to wonder what the hell I was doing.

While she was away I had nearly enough time to entertain the good passers-by of March with "Cruiser", my song about gay cruising. When I play this one to a captive audience I usually dedicate it to those who either understand or who have no idea what I'm singing about. March people kept marching and were either too busy, unconcerned, irritated or embarrassed to make eye contact or listen too obviously. The woman arrived back in time for the final two verses (perhaps fortunately, missing the climax of the song and arriving in time for the clinic appointment) with her instrument. "I'm not very good, I'm only a beginner ..." she said. I suggested she lead and I'll accompany on some of the things she liked to play. She started with Amazing Grace and seemed happy to have guitar, drums and backing vocals accompany her uking. Flushed with success we went on to Streets of London. Then she started talking about Bhajan songs. I'd heard the term, but don't actually know any so I asked her to play. She did. I think we were praising Shiva, but it sounded good enough for someone else to drop money.

By the end of our session I had been playing for a couple of hours and was cold, unexpectedly up by £1.74 (yes, one pound and seventy-four pence) and this hitherto unknown woman said I had made her day much better. I offered her the proceeds from the final donation, but she refused except to take one two-pence coin. "Id like to take this," she said, "as a reminder that no matter how awful my day has been, there is always a chance that something surprising will happen and turn everything around." I would have to call that a result of some kind.

I celebrated by heading to a favourite restaurant, the Shah Jahan. Even though I had to supplement them a little I ate my earnings by turning them into a delicious mango lassi and vegetable korma. I went back to the boat and decided a post-prandial moment was in order. When I came round it was nearly eleven o'clock. There was a pub adjacent to the town mooring and, although I am not a regular pub goer, I fancied something to drink. Taking advantage of being in a place where I could do exactly what I was about to do I climbed the steps from the mooring enclosure up the bank and entered The Ship. As I was ordering myself a drink a woman also at the bar gesticulated at me as though she were casting magic spells. She turned her head to a dangerous angle and creased her face as though she had just sniffed something and wasn't sure whether to be disgusted or not. If I looked how I felt she would have seen fear and confusion. 

"I've seen you," she slurred perhaps louder than she intended, "You were in the Indian ..." A man, perhaps her companion, pointed out that it wasn't unusual for a man to want a drink after a curry. I had to fight the urge to point out that I had actually been eating korma and not curry, but they wouldn't have heard anyway because the discussion opened up to contributions from the other half-a-dozen or so customers sitting around the bar. They all seemed to have an opinion about the appropriateness of a strawberry-lime Rekorderlig as suitable post-curry refreshment. The barman settled the matter by declaiming that he thought it was a very good choice after such a meal. I retired to a corner where there was just enough light to see the free Towpath Talk I had taken from a pile of this week's edition and squint at the news. I wished I had remembered to bring some spectacles.

Leaving the pub I noticed the sky. There was a bright moon, the brightly lit face of the town hall clock and a streetlight all in alignment. This is the view from the boat. I'm certain that even through my single fruit cider they didn't look as fuzzy as this. Maybe my camera had been indulging while I was away.

From the top - moon, town hall, lamp-post, river bank.

I stayed overnight and headed back to base the next day. Here I am, still cold, and leaving March behind as I headed to where I had left my van.

Leaving town, heading home.

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