Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Wretched Wi-Fi! - 10th - 21st April 2016

The view from the busking pitch at Southwark station.

Green Park #1 - 10th April 2016
A stiff wind and frost this morning meant that I felt cold practically as soon as I started the session, but despite these testing conditions. I recorded myself folk fiddling as I do once in a while to listen back to the quality of my performance (playing slowly so's to hone in on my intonation). Surprisingly, after two weeks of not busking, I didn't think I sounded too rusty.
Many commuters were in thrall of their phones or plugged into them; a man in his senior years gave me a fiver, and a young, fashionable guy with a short beard tossed me money (ending up in a 'skateboarding' pose), and mumbled, "Very good!"
A tall, sandy-haired bloke commented, "That was lovely!" with his donation; someone chucked me an 'Old Trafford - Theatre of Dreams - Manchester United Museum' coin token, and a man with freckly patches on his eyes gave me chills.
Balding, portly Basil, who had what I heard as a Polish accent and stank of booze, told me that he'd appreciated my music, asked me my name, and told me he'd like to chat with me some more (after offering me £1) because he liked me very much. He continued that he prefers classical music because the performer "puts more soul into it."
A singer / guitarist busker who put me in mind of Penfold from the British animated television series, Danger Mouse from the 1980's, commented that I was out early for a Sunday and that he was wandering around searching for vacant busking pitches because he can never get through on TFL's  'pitch booking' phone line. Trying it on, he asked if I'd actually booked the pitch: YES; PISS OFF!!
I came away with more dosh than I normally do here at 10 am on a Sunday, and had felt inspired by the video of mega-passionate violinist, Romy Romain, my friend, Maroca Segatto had shared with me on Facebook yesterday.
Green Park #1 - 15th April 2016
The tube driver announced a "suspect package" had been found at Marble Arch as we headed into London, which set my nerves jangling, and when I was in the supervisor's office queuing up to sign in, an 'escalator' contractor barged his way past me. The supervisor then informed me that someone was already busking on my pitch. This turned out to be Australian singer /guitarist, Kath. Even though we'd spoken to each other in person half a dozen times, she ventured, "Are you a member of the scheme?" I produced proof on paper that I'd legitimately booked the pitch via the new online booking tool, then had to wait for her to pretend to check her phone before she exclaimed incredulously, "You're right!"
I finally began folk fiddling 15 minutes late, and within minutes, blood-curdling screams were coming from the nearby 'up' escalator on which some women in red puffer jackets had somehow ended up upside down?! Fellow commuters scrambled to their aid, and I guess they got off at the top safely because there was no more drama.
"Keep up the good work there, darlin'!" shouted out a characterful, snowy-haired lady; a gentleman presented me with coins accompanied by a royal flourish; a pleasant though hatchet-faced older woman listened to me while studying the advertisement on the billboard opposite me, and I was proffered three £2 coins.
A host of men videoed and took photos of me - one of which was a Chinese chap who walked off after he'd got the image of me he wanted, then must of thought better of it because he came back and dropped me £2.
Oxford Circus #2 - 17th April 2016
Having PMT made me feel as if I didn't know where to put myself, and a boy with gravy-coloured eyes and a beautiful smile was the first to give me money. This cheered me up after a member of staff up in the supervisor's office had pushed me out of the way so he could check his work roster.
A guy who could've passed for the French poet, novelist and dramatist Victor Hugo, and as such gave me the impression that he was wise and gentle, gave me money, and I clocked a bloke hauling a double bass which made me long to be playing mine full-time again.
Pain crept into the back of my left forearm and my shoulder ached as I folk fiddled; an elderly black man I'd seen before banged his walking stick loudly on the floor with each slow step he took for a good five minutes, and a blaring station announcement about engineering works kept repeating and repeating.
Reminding me of an ex-fling of mine; Alan Caterer from university, a stubbly, sinewy bloke paused to retrieve for me some coins from his rucksack; a gorgeous black labrador and a tiny dog dressed in a 'military camouflage' coat passed by, and a figure with lengthy grey-black hair from the back released a fiver into my case.
I craved chocolate and creature comforts and contemplated what on earth had compelled me to leave the online OCD support group I'd been a member of for years, and while I was signing out back in the office, the aimiable black station supervisor said he'd come and listen to me next time.
Southwark - 18th April 2016
Today's station supervisor with a ruddy complexion was stand-offish; as if he was itching for me to give him an excuse to be vile - but I gave him none. I asked him if the pitch was popular with other buskers given that I'd never busked here and he replied flatly, "Not really." I said I knew I'd taken a risk in coming here, as scenes of London's urban sprawl from the new ITV Scandi noir drama, Marcella, sprang to mind.
Performing on the fiddle surrounded by a curved wall next to giant plant pots was acoustically thrilling, but (typically for TFL), the busking pitch had been positioned in completely the wrong place on the edge of a vast concourse, nowhere near any bystanders (especially when it's quiet).
A small dark-haired girl gave me some change her parents had just handed her, and danced to my folk fiddling. Her parents then joined in the dance and before departing they all gave me a resounding round of applause. I told them it'd been nice to see people dancing. This turned out to be the crowning moment in an otherwise funereal session during which I only made half my train fare for an hour's playing: In the main, the miserable Mondayers' attention was focused squarely on their mobile devices (I rue the day that TFL introduced Wi-Fi access onto many of the Underground stations).
Eventually the cold forced me to leave, and I felt thankful I had with me the 'Heritage Cashmere' tartan scarf I'd found on Thurlow Gardens, Hainault, during the winter, but just before I packed away, a man with a white barnet produced £1 for me (which kept popping out of my case) from behind his part-eaten lunch.
For whatever reason (maybe because there was another member of staff present), the station supervisor behaved more warmly towards me when I signed out, and agreed that there's not much happening here at this time of  day, and advised that he best time to busk here is of an evening.
Green Park #1 - 21st April 2016
Ever since TFL have been testing the new online busking tool, as I'd predicted, the only pitches I've been able to book have been pretty crap, plus since the terror attacks in Paris and Brussels, I won't play during weekday rush hours. Consequently, I'm not earning half as much as I was a year ago.
I'd left home feeling optimistic about this morning's folk fiddling session being a lucrative one, however, as it was the Queen's 90th birthday and I was playing just across the grass from Buckingham Palace where crowds of people were headed... but I was wrong: Executive-looking women with the standard mane of hair and screechy voices, and phone-checkers like I refuse to become, were among the other joyless sods who sauntered past. It was as if they all knew something I didn't; why today was definitely not a day for music appreciation.
I ached all over from my first stint for a long time on our Health Rider, and depression finally induced me to give up. 
On my way back, I bumped into a fellow 'violinist' busker who claimed that like me, he'd struggled to get money all week, and we wondered what was wrong with people before I told him he was welcome to take over the pitch I'd just left.

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