Wednesday, 1 February 2012


ten am in st philip's churchyard
it is bright sunshine but freezing cold
i lay out my guitar case
scattering a pound's worth of coins across it
and launch into lunatic driver
the guitar strings and fret board are freezing
and my fingers quickly go numb
as my digits navigate the neck of the guitar
i can barely finger the chords
local boy in the photograph fares little better
at least i can move my lips
as the sun slowly rises
and the songs proceed
i start to thaw a little
there is a steady flow of human traffic
but after half an hour i haven't received a penny
i'm just wondering whether to cut my losses
and try harborne high street instead
when at long last a little chinese chap tosses a pound coin into my case
i could almost hug him!
my spirits immediately lift
my reinvigorated playing seems to temporarily open the floodgates
and several more donations quickly follow
then i spot a couple of fluorescent-jacketed cops entering the far corner of the square
in seconds i have packed up and am heading to the other pitch i've identified
in the not-so-great eastern arcade
here most of the shops have closed down
but there's a decent footfall
again, after a slow start
the tips seem to gather momentum
despite the lack of sunshine
it is warmer here
the enclosed space boosts the sound of my unamplified voice and guitar
the proximity of passers-by creates a more intimate, shared feel to the street-scene
i'm doing well and starting to really enjoy myself
when i notice a small gaggle of house of fraser managers pottering around
they are looking a bit officious
a few minutes later two polite security people turn up and relay a message
the management wants me to clear off
apparently there a few visiting bigwigs at the store
and we wouldn't want to upset them now would we?
at least they seem apologetic
it feels like quite a gentle eviction but an eviction all the same
i use it as an excuse to buy a hot vegetable pasty and defrost for a few minutes
then i'm back in the square with similar results to last time
no luck for what seems like ages
then a rush of coins
i try to spot a pattern among my benefactors
to my surprise, on balance
i get more joy from older people
especially women
one gives me a welcome cup of hot vegetable soup!
on the other hand
ethnic minorities don't tend to give much
though there are some exceptions to these trends
i get quite a few pound coins but no notes
as the sun disappears behind a tower block
i'm just about to pack up and treat myself to a costa coffee
(a third-off-the-price happy hour from 3-5pm)
when i get pounced on by a street warden
dressed in a ridiculous yellow and purple alice in wonderland uniform
'you can't busk in the cathedral square' he says
i nod and pick up my stuff
('don't talk to the cops' i'm thinking)
'do you speak english?' street warden asks
i grunt and, leaving him standing there, head off to the cafe to rethaw
back in the great eastern arcade
the temperatures are seriously dropping again
i do a final burst without interruption
before i spot a couple more fluorescent jackets
i grab my case to avoid another lecture
and dart off to the station to catch the train home
glowing in the warmth of the train
i do the maths on one of the toughest days' work of my life
final accounts are disappointing but could be worse:
earnings = 12.68 from 4 sessions (about 45-50 minutes each)
outgoings (train, pasty, coffee) = 4.12
profit  = 8.56

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