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Passing the ‘bucks

Location: Epsom High St. Starbucks. 11am.

The busker is re-positioning his bag on the ground, containing mainly copper coins, but a few silver ones too.

I can’t remember the first time that I felt such an allure to street musicians (the last time I used the world ‘busker’ in Charleston, I got a blank look as they didn’t know what that work meant), but I can remember several distinct times in my life where I’ve sat and stopped and taken notice, because it seems that I am unable to pass by one on the street without stopping and listening to them.

On holiday in Venice back in 2001,I got into fight with my girlfriend because she wanted to walk on and look around the city, and I just wanted to sit and watch the busker ply his trade for a while. We’d been walking the narrow streets and bridges all morning, and to me there was nothing more romantically charming than sit down for half an hour, get some free entertainment against a stunning backdrop of history and relax. But she didn’t see the charm of the busker.

I remember a random Saturday shopping experience in Kingston (south west London) back in the late 90’s, where walking through the market that afternoon, I stumbled upon two university kids, who did a complete acoustic set of Crowded House songs which had me transfixed and late for meeting my friend as I stood and tried to pretend that I could sing along with more of the words that I really knew.

There is nothing special about this guy. His guitar looks beat up and manky . He could do with washing his hair, and it looks like he’s probably worn the hooded sweater top that he’s got on day in day out for the last few months.

Stopping to sit and watch and hear a busker play is a nice interruption from what you were doing. So you’d headed out to go shopping, or go to the bank, or meet your friend for a coffee, and in the same way that a radio station can randomly place a great song that you weren’t expecting and haven’t heard for a while, a busker knocking out a good tune is an even better bonus because you probably chose to put the car radio or your iPod on, and yet here you were just walking down the road and stumbled into a busker.

He’s playing a song that I recognise, but I can’t place. The trouble with acoustic guitar is that it’s not really my thing because I’d usually buy and listen to some processed, electronic and keyboard-based, which is why I’m continually surprised at myself at the allure of a guitar-playing busker.

I sip my Starbucks coffee. Excellent. It tastes the same here as it does there which is somehow comforting and distressing all at the same time, because it just confirms that I can’t pass a Starbucks anywhere in the world now without being drawn in.

But I sit and people watch for a while and realise that I’m playing a new variation of the ‘people game’ that I play. Quite often, I’ll see someone in America who reminds me of someone in England. And I’ll say to myself “Oh, I’ve just the met the American version of … [name of person back in England], and usually email or text that person saying “I’ve just met your US double!”, which is always fun.

Now I’ve realised I’m doing the game in reverse. The last couple of days I’ve been quietly people watching, and have caught myself a couple of times thinking “Oh, that person looks just like [name of person back in the ‘states] – and I’ve found their English double!”, and then email that person telling them. Believe me, there are a lot of transatlantic doubles about.

He starts playing one his own songs (he announces it as being so), and quite passionately, closes his eyes and starts singing as he goes. A little cheesy, but quite endearing. I always have respect for people who set up shop in public like that and put themselves out there ready to be ignored, rained upon, or to find that after two hours they’ve only got 78p in their collection tin.

So: In, out. Here, there. Where is home? A three day trip to ‘here’ is too short and I really should be giving myself longer. But I’ve already got the urge to go ‘there’ again, if nothing else because it would be nice to go and sleep in the surroundings of what has for the moment become familiar to me. But here is familiar too. Nothing too much changes. I feel like I’ve checked in and kept tabs on things again, and it’s nice. Good. Quite pleasant, in fact. And it’s helping me form a plan. I can feel it slowly forming in the back of my head, and I like it, like the fact that it will take a while to come to fruition, and then i’ll be able to put myself out there too with my own version of a beat up guitar and perform away.

I get up to go, and put my hand in my pocket … to pass up some money to him which he deserves. But then I realised that I just paid for my coffee on my credit card, because I have no English money on me – just a wallet full of bucks.

3 responses to “Passing the ‘bucks”

  1. Mum says:

    So, if anyone lives near Epsom, maybe they could go and find the Busker and drop him a pound. I find they are usually quite surprised when you give them cash! It seemed to make you come over all philosophical and even happy for a few minutes Geoff, it was good to see you.

  2. Ben French says:

    Geoff, If you haven’t seen the film “Once” – you really should. You’ll love it….

    Welcome back, if only fleetingly

  3. Such a weird coincidence you talking about buskers, as I made friends with a busker singing opera (at S. Ken) in April. I happen to be sitting here at this very minute in Hawaii waiting for him to ring me up from London!

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