St. Paul's - 24th October 2015
"This is where they film First Dates (television programme)," kept popping into my head, plus that I must visit St. Paul's Cathedral one of these days.
When I went to sign in, the station supervisor in the office told me that it's quiet here at 8 am on a Saturday, and to "Have fun!" He was right - it was too quiet, and a such, hard work: No memories of the far out conversations I have with my Polish concert pianist friend, Nuna, or of the single sunflower which mysteriously self-seeded in a pallet on my allotment like a blessing (pictured above), inspired me strongly enough to give a great performance.
I played a new version of Irish fiddle tune, 'The Maid Behind The Bar', but had forgotten where the slurs were. Also, I remembered the actor, Peter Baldwin (he played Derek Wilton in Coronation Street from 1976 to 1997), who was reported dead today, and how life had been for me when I used to watch him and his on-screen wife, Mavis, on the show.
"You win some, you lose some," I reflected to the supervisor at the end, after he asked me how my session had gone.
Oxford Circus #2 - 25th October 2015
The chirpy station supervisor wished me a good day as I left the office, then at the ticket barrier, a member of staff I'd never seen before asked me (regarding my violin playing), "Are you any good?" "I'm alright," I replied. "Just alright?!... That doesn't sound good for this morning!" he warned. I'm used to these jokey little jibes from staff before sessions, which serve only to make me more determined to succeed.
Once again I felt drained, lacked enthusiasm, and so kept a soft beat in my head to help with my timekeeping: A rowdy drinker ranted at me, "Living the dream!"
Standing with her back to me, phone in hand, was an olive-skinned woman with long black hair. I assumed that she was searching for change to give me, but then she walked off. She returned to take some photos of me - which I ignored, but I got irritated when she came back again to take some more. It then dawned on me that when she'd been stood opposite me, she'd been taking my photo using a reversed camera lens. When she disappeared and came back yet another time to ask me questions: "What are you playing?"... "Who is the composer?" I answered them, transfixed by her strange green eyes... but she kept on: "Why were you playing only short pieces... not joined together?... Was it because I was taking a few pictures of you?" "Well, it's nice to be asked or for you to give me a bit of money," I replied, annoyed - especially since she'd almost scored a free interview out of me and clearly had no intention of handing me any cash. "I thought 'cos you're a lady..." she blustered. WHAT DID MY SEX HAVE TO DO WITH ANYTHING?! She continued talking, and I started playing Irish fiddle again, ignoring her. After she finally left, I got a feeling that I'd come across her before.
A black guy with his kid threw me some coins, then he fished out a 'God Loves You' leaflet for my viewing. I told him thanks, but I'm not into all that, and overheard a black woman tell her friend that she hates how people have to always be entertained by musicians down here.
Oxford Circus #2 - 29th October 2015
I took over the pitch from my Parisian singer-songwriter and guitarist busker friend, Edwige. She had twisted her ankle - three times! I told her that I've knackered my knees, and she offered to email me some suggestions about what foods to eat which will help: Flax is good, but cheese is really bad.
On the tube in, I read some lovely lines of French poetry by Paul Valéry which put me in a better frame of mind than all of the doom and gloom predicted for musicians and freelance writers in The Musician and The Journalist magazines.
Compliments for my folk fiddling from guys of, "That's very nice," and "That's very beautiful!" encouraged me; I saw a black man on a hoverboard wearing big fat white earphones, completely cut off from his surroundings; a filthy ball of fluff rolled towards a 'girly' girl who jumped, thinking it was a giant rat (ha!), and a black man with a dyed orange afro gave me money then bowed and winked in appreciation of my act.
An elderly lady with wiry grey-orange hair who looked like my writer friend from Edinburgh, Helen (she sold me my violin), stood beside me and I gave her my best performance. As is the case with many middle class people of her age, she asked, "Where did you study?" "At Chichester," I replied. "Well, at least you're getting out and doing something... It's an exchange," she reasoned. She gave me £2 out of a £10 note I changed up for her.
Lots of commuters thanked me; a small boy made a noise like a siren which matched exactly a phrase I'd been playing; the large brown eyes of a woman who put me in mind of my 'Brighton' psychotherapist, Dr. Eva Coleman, shone with excitement in response to my music as she made a donation, and a foreign lad shouted back at me, "Bravo! Bravo!"
I thought of the BBC Writer's Room online interview with the writer of the fabulous crime drama, River (that's on at the moment), Abi Morgan. Here is the trailer for the show: https://youtu.be/OEqCDbLMjww. Morgan says of the piece, "River is also about living in a city where very few people are actually from London. London does two things for me; it makes me feel connected and it also makes me feel very isolated and quite lonely at times... I always think about that title, London Kills Me, and how London is the best of the world and it's the worst of the world..." I can very much identify with this as a busker on the London Underground.
The 'mouth organist' busker I met at the end of my session told me about how he was playing a 4 pm slot here recently, when the corridor became gridlocked with commuters who'd been allowed through the ticket barriers by staff onto already crowded platforms: He couldn't move, and had had sweat pouring off him.
I bought a poppy from a collector who'd returned to the office where a station supervisor had my license all ready to hand back to me. He said that I'll have to wear my woolies down on pitch #2 in the winter; that I shall be complaining I'm too cold instead of too hot.
Green Park #1 - 30th October 2015
Today's was another surprising session in that even though it'd been tipping it down with rain outside, I had a joyful time.
A lady with bobbed, pure white hair clapped me as she headed for the escalator; a father and son from Denmark requested I play them some Scottish fiddle tunes because they've got Scottish ancestors - which I did, with pleasure; a fellow with a lanky white shaggy dog tossed some cash my way, and a boy, finding a foreign coin on the floor, presented it to me thinking that it was mine.
I had a teaching enquiry from smart-suited Tim from Lewisham who was keen to learn Scottish fiddle; the actress Una Stubbs (a tiny dot of a woman) gave me some money and said ,"Thank you," and passing children seemed, by enlarge, to be quite fascinated by the violin.
My knees hurt, however, and I hoped that I hadn't developed arthritis like my grandma did.
Knightsbridge - 31st October 2015
Busking at Knightsbridge is always a gamble, but the industrial fan opposite the pitch that's on for health and safety reasons all summer was switched off, and I enjoyed the ringing acoustics.
The session started off well earnings-wise: I recalled a little boy in a bright yellow mac with bright yellow boots I'd seen at Green Park station yesterday; an elderly black gentleman was striding towards the escalator when I smiled at him. He then did an about-turn and gave me some coins, and a guy in a black pinstripe suit with ludicrous plucked eyebrows paused beside a pillar to listen to me play about six folk fiddle tunes after having flipped me some dosh.
From this point on, though, the money dried up and I spotted the damn bagpiper who plays outside Harrods - directly above this pitch, thereby diverting all of the interest away from me: The 'Elvis' busker who set up after me, commented it's okay playing here on a Monday or Tuesday, but the money goes down after that.
I left with a sore throat as a result of having been stood performing in a persistent autumnal draft for two hours.