Sunday, 1 January 2017

Happy Christmas versus the Black Friday of Booze - 10th - 22nd December 2014

Green Park #1 - 10th December 2014
A little boy with a 'sticking up' ginger fringe wearing a lime green bobble hat (that seem to be all the rage this year), chucked some money my way and I revelled in the sound of the long, ringing bowed notes my violin produced as I played some of my favourite Christmas carols. Helpful staff at the stations today made me feel more like doing my job.
Angel - 10th December 2014
Kit Packham, leader of the swinging jazz and blues band, One Jump Ahead (I wrote a live review of the gig they played at the Hideaway, Streatham, on 29th June for Jazzwise Magazine), texted to ask if I'd be interested in depping as double bassist for a gig on 19th December. I'd just unpacked my violin to start playing and being as there's no mobile phone reception underground I had to make a dash for it up the escalator so that I could reply to him. I excitedly agreed to dep, but much to Kit's annoyance, between his text and mine, the client had scrubbed the gig.
The fact that the station supervisor casually remarked that he'd let an "illegal" ie. unlicensed busker play on the pitch just before I was due to start, niggled at my mind: Us licensed buskers had had to audition, pass an in-depth security check and spend an inordinate amount of time on the phone booking our pitches each week to satisfy TFL's rules regarding public performance while at the end of the day, the staff running the stations don't really give a toss who's on the pitches. It's a joke and most times I experience this I complain but of course it falls on deaf ears.
An old black lady, her face all wrapped up in a thick red scarf gave me £2 and the 'thumbs up'; a quirky woman with teddy bear-yellow curls beneath her hat gave me a fistful of 1ps and 2ps; an Asian boy thought it would be funny to pose and sing next to me like a choir boy to a carol I was playing; a family man-type who gave me money looked uncannily / reassuringly like my dead violinist friend, Peter, but with long hair (I'm sure this was Peter's way of telling me that he's still looking out for me wherever he is), and a rap artist told me that he'd been looking for a violinist for ages and wondered if I'd be prepared to come into the studio to do some recording. I said I would, so long as I get paid.
Green Park #1 - 12th December 2014
A cutting wind blowing across the pitch didn't help my sore throat plus the 'down' escalator was out of order, so I only had half the customer traffic walking by. Nevertheless I made as much money on average as I normally do here, plus a gentleman gave me a £5 note with two minutes to go before the end of my session.
Snakes and snakes of school children drowned out my violin then a stylish lady and her friend gave me £2. One of them said that she works for some 'Jewish' charity that she reckoned was sure would like to have me play for them.
Liverpool Street #2 - 12th December 2014
I did better here (on violin) than the guitarist and singer busker with the 'Elvis' voice and Santa hat at Green Park guessed that I would, being as people don't disembark from trains as often over this Central line part of the station. He also informed me that TFL have taken on a load of new buskers which I said was madness given that they can't cater properly for the buskers they've already got.
A sweet dark man gave me a bottle of lurid green Mountain Dew - which is still in the fridge.
Angel - 15th December 2014
A complete waste of time: I packed away my violin after an hour. The only highlights were I was thrown some foreign coins (the likes of which I'd never seen before), together with a mangled 1p and 5p by a furtive, tightly curled-haired woman, then a little girl with wide eyes cautiously put some money in my case as her mother told me that she loves music.
Back in the office the station supervisor asked me if people were "tight-arsed" today. I replied that I didn't know: It was probably a mixture of this and 'Monday morning-itis'. He hoped that things would soon pick up for me. 
Liverpool Street #2 - 15th December 2014
I arrived at the pitch early so that I could get home earlier. While I was waiting for the station supervisor to return to the office (they were short-staffed), I enjoyed meeting the salt of the earth fruit and veg stall ladies on the station, one of whom insisted upon furnishing me with a paper bag for my banana being as there are no bins around on the Underground.
I had to stop after an hour and 10 minutes because of the cold (I'm not prepared to risk getting tendinitis in my fingers again): As I determindly sawed at my violin feeling the weight of my leatherette jacket pulling down my left arm, I thought back to Christmas 2011 when I busked my solo double bass set on the footbridge over the sea in Shoreham and didn't give the freezing weather a second thought.
The money I earned paid for the expensive moisturiser for dry skin I'd just bought at Boots and I enjoyed a tub of bananas, yogurt and muesli with dried-up strawberry on top from the fruit and veg ladies on the way down to the tube platform home.
Green Park #1 - 17th December 2014
Belting out 'Silent Night' on my accordion (the louder 12-bass Jan had bought for me from an antique shop in Shoreham), I remembered what Jan's brother, David had said on Facebook about having recently seen a "brilliant" accordionist playing 'Silent Night' on Charters boat in Peterborough.
My nerves were jangling because I was stressing about a live review I was required to  finish (and hadn't begun formally writing) by this afternoon for Jazzwise Magazine of the Curtis Stigers gig at Ronnie Scott's on Sunday, and being heckled by a drunk wasn't helping. By contast, I thought I saw the very attractive and stylish rear view of Baroness Karren Brady (from The Apprentice) walking towards the escalator.
A father and his son wanted to hear the 'Chelsea Song' they thought they'd heard me playing. I'd actually been playing 'O Christmas Tree' and I believe that 'Chelsea Song' is a football anthem (hey-ho)! I received two £5 notes during which time I heard an announcement that there had been 'a person under a train' at Leyton (or thereabouts) meaning that the Central line was down. I despaired of ever getting back to Hainault so that I could write my review but was sad for the poor person who had felt so desperate as to take his / her own life.
Angel - 18th December 2014
I did eventually get my 'Curtis Stigers' live review written, and as a consquence felt utterly exhausted this morning. Somehow I mustered up the strength to give a hearty performance on accordion and got a gig enquiry from a black gentleman with a grey eyebrow who said he would like me to play at his church. The foreign amplified guitarist who took over from me commented, "It's not so easy playing music." and the station supervisor gave me a Cadbury Roses chocolate, which I thought was a nice gesture.
Green Park #1 - 19th December 2014
Green Park #1 at 8 pm on a weekday has been very lucrative for me in the past, which is why I heaved myself out of the house to play it this evening. It nearly being Christmas an' all, I anticipated takings would be good; indeed I earned £10 in the first 10 minutes. 'The Beatles' busking duo before me had warned me, however, that there were a lot of drunk people out this Black Friday of Booze.
And yes, there were idiotic (bearded) drunks in their droves, but I gritted my teeth and pumped out Christmas cheer on my accordion, reminding myself that in under two hours time it would all be over.
Then, as if in cinematic slow motion, a rowdy group of men in suits mounted the 'up' escalator and I heard a really loud thud as one of these men toppled head first backwards down it, smacking his head on the metal-toothed step. The pissed people at the bottom of the escalator just laughed?! I so didn't want to get involved given what I went through back in October after witnessing a violent attack at Oxford Circus, but nobody was summoning help. Fortunately, though,  as I edged towards the help point a man beat me to it.
The injured man was removed with the back of his head slashed open and both escalators were eventually shut down so that the cleaning staff could attend to the mess. So, desperate for the loo, I was relieved to leave because the remaining customers passing through didn't seem to even notice me standing there playing.
Oxford Circus #2 - 21st December 2014
God only knows why the staff at about 8.30 on a quieter than usual Sunday morning let three drunk lads - one clutching an open bottle of vodka, through the ticket gate, but they did, and just down the corridor from where I was playing Christmasy things on my violin, the baseball-capped lads began a heated discussion. I braced myself as they approached me, but to my surprise they deposited a £1 or so in my case. I smiled sweetly.
Unfortunately, however, they thought that standing next to me would be a good place to continue their argument, but I had other ideas. I politely asked them to move on because they were preventing me from earning money, to which the hardman among them replied, "It's a free country... You're a woman... you shouldn't... I should ask for my money back!" And with that, mercifully, he and his gang disappeared around the corner. I got the amount of money I was after - but at what cost to my personal safety and sanity?
Green Park #1 - 21st December 2014
I had a headache and the tendons along the back of my left forearm were sore (I no longer have the stamina to perform on violin for four hours a day), but I received enough dosh to pay for my food for today and the next day and a smiley woman placed a £5 note in my case and told me to pick it up so that it wouldn't blow away.
Charing Cross #2 - 22nd December 2014
Sorry to end on a low note guys, but I think today's session was worst one I've ever experienced: Unlike last year, the people walking by had zero Christmas spirit. I was on the verge of tears watching them pull mobile phones out of their pockets instead of wallets, and angered by a Chinese tourist who took my photo without asking or paying.
I allowed peoples' insideous looks of near-contempt really get to me, as at least two people nudged my case down the corridor with their ruddy wheeled suitcases, then to top it off, fellow busker, Pierre, took it upon himself to give me 'performance' advice. The words "fuck off" fizzed on my lips.
Fortunately a man and a boy stood and appreciated my accordion rendition of 'Silent Night'; a heavily-rouged old lady gave me £2 and wished me good luck, and naughtily I gained a little satisfaction from staring out a brat of a boy who was jumping up and down and clapping in a taking-the-mickey way.
London seems to be getting fuller and fuller of robotic, corporate, wealthy people for whom buskers don't figure, and in 2015 I really want out - well out of busking on the London Underground so often. My Christmas holiday started here.

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