Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Horror at the Brexit vote - 18th - 26th June 2016


These little fairy faces were there to greet me at my allotment during this most dark and depressing of months. 
This blog is dedicated to Jo Cox, MP.
Bank #2 - 18th June 2016
The fresh lemon and ginger drink I'd just bought from Pret, sustained me throughout my second session of folk fiddling here today, however the mosquito bites on my legs started to irritate in the heat.
A lady with pink, purple and blonde hair made a donation; I received 10ps from 1969 and 1973, and a business-type man thanked me for my music - but didn't follow through with any cash.
I spotted a Japanese bride in a white wedding dress covered by her coat (I'd seen many such brides in Paris this time around), then on my return to the station supervisor's office to sign out, there was a line of armed police outside the door.
Baker Street #1 - 19th June 2016
It was the first time I'd played on this brand new busking pitch for which the vinyl had yet to be laid: The station supervisor left it up to me to decide where I wanted to set up, so long as it was on the mid-level concourse opposite the train announcements monitor. I chose a spot next to the escalators.
An infirm black chap with a walking stick gave me £1 and requested I play some Vivaldi. I told him that I perform mostly Irish fiddle music, and obliged when he wanted me to play some for him. He was then curious about which part of Ireland the tunes were from. Not really knowing the answer, I replied, "Dublin," and feared he'd keep on interrupting me. Thankfully he didn't.
Money kept appearing in my case from over my shoulder (including four £2 coins), and every staff member who saw me, smiled.
I felt very exposed, however, with people coming at me from all directions and thought how easy it would be for somebody to shoot or stab me: Passionate and popular Jo Cox MP had just been brutally murdered in broad daylight as she innocently went about her business within her constituency of Batley and Spen, and in my heart I dedicated this session to her.
Little kids were captivated by my violin, but their mothers dragged them away, and an older Chinese-looking guy complimented me on my playing.
I'd enjoyed busking here, but instinctively felt that 'amplified' buskers would eventually ruin it for us all by playing too loudly.
Charing Cross #2 - 19th June 2016
A well spoken and dressed lady in navy said softly, "Bravo!" as she passed; I let a small blonde boy with a blank expression feel the top of my violin, and he and his young sister tipped me. She had stunning light green almond-shaped eyes and said to me, "You must be a very good musician."
Sporadically, my folk fiddling elicited clapping, and a trendy creature with long brown hair relieved herself of her one and two pence pieces into my case. The bloke she was with then asked if she felt "lighter."
Baker Street #1 - 25th June 2016
I arrived feeling beyond depressed about the referendum vote to leave the EU, given that I've loved being able to work both in England and France: Maybe now I'd have to wave goodbye to my dream of living in Paris full-time.
The fingers on my left hand became mangled with tension as I fiddled away, and I must've told half a dozen people I was sorry but I didn't know the way to Madame Tussauds or the directions to a local pub where many of today's London Pride revellers seemed to be gathering.
Ruminating on how much I hate having been condemned to the label, 'Great British', I felt cheered slightly by the vision of two elderly white-haired men in skirts of golden leaves climbing a flight of steps up to the overground platform.
An androgynous Scottish woman with a glittered side face revealed with her donation that she played brass instruments and (having stood and listened for a while), that she admired anyone who can play the violin, plus a surprising amount of kids exited the station with mini versions of violins (and a trombone) strapped to their backs.
Typically, this pitch had been repositioned in a thoughtless, rubbish place; beneath a booming 'anouncements' speaker, and just over an hour after I'd started performing, I left with a pittance.
Charing Cross #2 - 26th June 2016
I arrived to the news that Charing Cross railway station was closed, which sapped more of the energy I'd already expended this morning challenging my obsessive-compulsive behaviour, then to top it all off, a turbaned member of staff seemed to derive pleasure out of informing me, "It'll be really dead... really, REALLY dead!"
Too down to take much notice of the flow of commuters, I sensed, however, that those who'd tipped me had genuinely enjoyed my accordion set, but each time somebody had approached, I got drowned out by station announcements on repeat - much, much too loud for an virtually empty station.
It occured to me that now more than ever before, I must  listen to my heart and try to follow it (back to Paris).

From Versailles to Bank - 6th - 18th June 2016


Outside Abbesses Métro station, Montmartre.
rue du Mont-Cenis, Paris - 6th June 2016
The sun was shining for the first time in days, heating up the dog shit nearby, but I was so pleased at its appearance that I didn't care if my shoulders got burnt.
I was missing my Polish concert pianist friend, Nuna, who makes me feel not so alone as an artist, but was elated when she agreed to meet me for coffee one more time before I had to go back to England.
Who I took to be a grandfather cradling his baby grandson, stepped around to my Irish fiddling as if it was a lullaby, and I found it wierd that I couldn't hear the voice of a tour guide feeding information into his gaggle of tourists' earphones, though I could see his lips move. A couple of the white-haired members of this party tipped me, and with her donation, a petite, middle aged woman with Caramac-tinted hair and dark eyes told me that my playing was "Très jolie!"
My presence also attracted lots of smiles and contributions from young people who'd migrated here to admire the city view.
Square Jehan-Rictus, Place des Abbesses, Paris - 6th June 2016
It was busy this early evening. I set up on a shady spot where two boys were running around in front of me (at least they weren't kicking a football).
A lad aged about three wearing a stripy navy and white coat that could've passed for a pyjama top came up and said, "Bonjour!" Me: "Bonjour! Ça va?" Him: "Oui." He stared at me penetratingly for ages, then lifted the two euros 50 that I'd collected from the small to the large compartments of my case. I let him touch my violin before he left, then a while later he returned and declared, "Maintenant...." Again he was mesmerized by my folk fiddling to the extent that his mum had to gently coax him away.
French student, Paul, asked if he could record me performing from 10 metres away so's to capture the ambience of the setting for a podcast he was making about different peoples' experiences of Paris. I agreed, and in exchange he took a few (awful) pictures of me and gave me change.
The 'orchid' perfume Elizabeth (the generous shop assistant at L'Occitane) had just sprayed all around my head, really stank, so in-between tunes I attempted to wash it off with the warming water I had left in my bottle. A balding Frenchman wanted to know if it was English music I was playing. "It's Irish," I replied. He then told me that as he was passing Place des Abbessess, my music had sounded "very pretty."
A small olive-skinned girl with long café au lait curls danced jigs along to my fiddling, and the elderly local lady who's part of the furniture here, emerged from the square dressed in navy for a change. 
"Bravo!" shouted both a tiny black lass and a young girl with a freckled face attached to her mother, as another Japanese bride showed up with her groom whose rolls of fat heaved beneath his white shirt and black braces.



Busker, 'Jimmy Hendrix', who talks gibberish to the stallholders and shopkeepers of Montmartre while a backing track blasts out from his amp he often leans his electric guitar against.
La Vannerie, Versailles, France - 7th June 2016
My friend, Nuna, had been sceptical I'd make much money busking in Versailles (where she lives): Before I got off the bus we'd caught together from Versaiilles-Rive-Droite station, she whispered in my ear that she wished me good money.
The story she'd just told me she'd written about a golden violin that a lion (her late partner and my friend, Peter) had found in a forest, enriched my relaxed folk fiddle performance beneath a covered walkway of quaint shops.



Pleasantly surprised to hear my music, plenty of debonair locals tipped me well, and a shopkeeper of tea-related products seemed happy to have me there. Two mature Frenchman who'd been listening to me from inside this shop asked me to confirm that it was Irish music I was playing, then one of them handed me a 10-euro note!
The woman working in the boucherie opposite, however, kept giving me beady-eyed daggers and closed the shop door - so eventually I moved along the wall bit and finished up when I was ready.
Square Jehan-Rictus, Place des Abbesses, Paris - 8th June 2016
A black guy and a boy were playing footy, but fortunately the ball didn't roll in my direction, and a glamorous gran and her husband gave me two euros for playing folk fiddle to their pushchair-bound grandson.
Eventually I ended up shifting from my bosky position to the side of the square into my usual spot before a gang of men on scooters could've easily mowed me down.

I loved this accordionist's performance on a Métro train into central Paris.
Bank #2 - The London Underground - 18th June 2016
It was a miserable, grey day, and I was thinking about how my neck had become more scraggy since I last played here.
The upbeat station supervisor reasoned that I'd remember that the station evacuation point was 81 Cannon Street, because the same number had been assigned to my visitor's sticker.
It was buzzing, and commuters were receptive to my latest Paris trip-infused folk fiddling: A young woman with her trombone in a light green case; an old man in tartan dress (I especially liked his bobble hat), and hipster guys in shades wearing headphones, all made donations, plus a ginger-haired, together with other approximately 10-year-old boys gave me a round of applause.
In applying what I'd learnt doing standing yoga poses to my stance (tailbone tucked under and hips tipping forward), I was able to put less pressure on my knees and back, I clocked a scooter with disco lights, and thought I heard a svelte bastard comment, "That's terrible!"

Boulangerie smells - 1st - 3rd June 2016


My fiddle and I in Montmartre, Paris.
Square Jehan-Rictus, Place des Abbesses, Paris - 1st June 2016
The square was closed today, and the elderly local lady with wrinkly stockings who was around most days couldn't understand why: Inside, gardeners had yanked out the spectacular foxgloves and were replacing them with what looked like calendula plants.
A friendly Frenchman with a grey ponytail and a large cream dog on a lead gave me two euros for my Irish fiddling (as he'd done the last time I saw him here), and two dark-complexioned sisters awarded me the same amount.
Baking aromas from the nearby boulangerie stunned my nose and a little brown-eyed, brown-haired girl shouted "Bravo, Madam!" over and over again as she danced full of joy to my music.
An à la mode bottle blonde in her latter years was sat impassively on the bench opposite for the entirety of my time here. I figured that if my playing had been annoying her she would've moved.

1st June was the day for a new display of flowers to be planted in Square Jehan-Rictus.
Corner of rue du Chevalier de la Barre, Paris - 1st June 2016
The young artist chap who'd positioned himself smack bang in front of me previously was here again, drawing a long-haired woman.
Most bystanders were totally unmoved by my folk fiddle playing, but a tourist filming me on his mobile made a contribution, and I observed the female artist dressed in a black ankle-length coat and green beanie who was always walking past me looking grave. Later on, however, I saw her smile for the first time while she was sketching a guy sat at a table on one of the many terraces of Place du Tertre.
As I was gathering my belongings together a baby pigeon with yellow feathers sticking out of its head was pecking in-between the cobble stones.

'Green beanie' artist in the zone.
rue du Calvaire, Paris - 1st June 2016
I set up at the top of a flight of sheer steps and almost immediately a vibrant lady with a severe orange bob and "Paris" printed in red on the side of her shopping bag gave me one euro and exclaimed, "Bravo!" about my Irish fiddling.
My cashmere scarf was rubbing the already raw eczema on the side of my neck making me feel feverish, and a classy woman in approximately her late 50s furnished me with coins as she crested the staircase.
A snowy-haired Frenchman humming French chanson asked me if my session had gone well. I think it was a sketch pad he was holding, and that he'd been subtly trying to get me to vacate the pitch he regarded as being his, then in timely fashion a guitarist and his mate took over from me and played cross-legged on the steps below.
Square Jehan-Rictus, Place des Abbesses, Paris - 3rd June 2016
Feeling slightly sick from having just devoured a greedy pig-sized bar of white chocolate, I paused to admire the square's flowerbeds which featured some cabbage-type foliage.
It began to rain and an American guy who'd been listening to my folk fiddle set from the bench opposite told me, "Sounds good," then with his donation made a comment about the importance of my coming prepared for the wet weather.
rue Cortot, Paris - 3rd June 2016
Having just had my head massaged and hair cut by charming Frenchmen (even I found attractive), and on hearing the low muffled chimes of the Sacre Cœur's bells, I felt like a queen busking on violin with my beloved Parisian kingdom spread out beneath me.
An ancient French lady who'd chicly swept her mahogany hair back off her veined forehead walked past me a few times and left - so I'd guessed, but there she was stood behind me with 50 cents in her hand which she wanted me to make sure was a "cinquante" for my collection.
Laughing and filming beside me were a bunch of what sounded like native Frenchman. Eventually the bearded one wearing a cap tipped me 50 cents as did a woman whose Indian male companion had been videoing me for ages without having dreamt of asking me if I minded.
I was given a euro by a man in a bright yellow jacket and a rotund old guy dressed in a blue suit surprised me with a grin, then whilst waiting for a bus exploded, "C'est merde!"
I carried on performing to lots of appreciative young people (including a woman with a smiley heart-shaped face) for as long as I could before another downpour forced me to stop, and mused upon how I'd experienced no pain in my arm since employing the 'wrist in neutral' technique to play my musical instruments.

A rash and rain - 26th - 29th May 2016


Rue Saint-Rustique, Montmartre, leading up to the area where I frequently busk.
Corner of rue du Chevalier de la Barre, Paris - 26th May 2016
Tiredness consumed me and I had an ugly, dry rash on the side of my neck which was made worse by my worrying about the faulty lock on my hotel room door I'd hoped was going to be repaired while I was out.
The unstimulating sight of another cheap-looking Japanese bride in a white wedding dress greeted me, then by contrast, an olive-skinned soldier with his gun at the ready winked at me.
As I was leaving, a bristly white-haired artist with a sketch board stuck under his arm (whom I didn't recognize) said something about his "colleague" (my late violinist friend, Peter)? and confided that my fiddle playing was "super."

Six years ago, Peter shut his thumb in this side door of Le Saint Jean, but despite the agony carried on playing his fiddle with guitarist Eirik and I, anyway. He would refer to us as being like foxes; strategically working out which would be the most lucrative of the 'Montmartre' pitches to perform on and in what order.
rue Cortot, Paris - 26th May 2016
I'd make really good money most times I busked my solo double bass set here, but today the atmosphere was sleepy and the only contribution for my fiddle performance I got was from a tourist who'd been admiring the view across the city's rooftops.

A guy with the top half of his hair in a ponytail was playing jazz melodica brilliantly along to backing tracks on one of the Métro trains I'd taken this morning. Inspired by the sound, I treated myself to a Hohner Melodion & Melodica from Star's Music Paris - 11, Bd de Clichy, in the 9ème. 
Corner of rue du Chevalier de la Barre, Paris - 28th May 2016
Just after I'd received my first donation, a brunette, cosy-seeming old lady whose window I'd been busking folk fiddle outside, requested I move on, so I repositioned myself across the cobbles in front of a pair of gates from behind which local residents kept coming and going.
Lots of big ugly cars and buses passed by, as did clusters of unresponsive tourists, but a slip of a kid handed me some coins.
rue Cortot, Paris - 28th May 2016
It wasn't long after a family showed me their appreciation for my music that bottom-heavy raindrops began to splatter my violin, then a young globetrotter-type proffered me a euro as I swiftly packed away.
Place du Tertre - Norvins, Paris - 28th May 2016

Armed soldiers just down from where I was busking at Place du Tertre - Norvins.
Relaxing at a table outside the café beside where I was Irish fiddling, was a wispy woman in flowery attire. Pleased at my arrival, she preceded to take loads of photos of me with her phone on a selfie stick (looking utterly ridiculous). I assumed that given I'd provided her with free entertainment for the past hour she'd give me some money, but she merely sat back down to examine the shots she'd just captured.
Nevertheless, I was experiencing such joy from performing between rolls of thunder, and a rugged, wiry fellow who was most probably a local nodded me his approval from the midst of a herd of mainly tourists inching down the street. I also received handouts from an audience that'd gathered at the bus stop and on the benches opposite and a small girl with dark chocolate eyes grasping a rainbow-coloured plastic hoop who'd strode by a few times.

The Paris Folk Festival took place today in Place des Abbesses, Montmartre.
Place des Abbesses, Paris - 29th May 2016
The eczema I had all over the top half of my body was making me burn, and it was dizzying having boys doing tricks on their scooters weaving in front of and behind me as I was trying to busk folk fiddle.
Hunched on the bench opposite was an old woman I'd been noticing around the place for years. She had a hospital bracelet fastened around her wrist and was wearing nude stockings that were wrinkled around her feet.
Square Jehan-Rictus, Place des Abbesses, Paris - 29th May 2016
An English family gave me a euro, then eventually my violin was getting too rain-drenched to continue - and besides, I just wanted to go back to bed as I don't remember having felt so poorly since I was a child.

Place des Abbesses, Montmartre - 28th May 2016.

I'm not desperate! - 25th May 2016


This declaration of love had been repeatedly sprayed onto many of the roads and pavements around Montmartre.
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
For a change I decided to venture into the 4ème this morning, and since all the buskable bridges over the Seine had already been claimed by jazzy bands and accordionists, I headed to the first pitch I ever busked on in Paris about six years ago (with my double bass) - the Pompidou Centre.
I set up beneath the protective presence of one of this awesome library's metal funnels, next to a row of sketch and caricature artists. There weren't actually that many people around, and the strong sun not only scorched my scalp and shoulder heads, but it caused my fiddle to keep going flat.
A pale fellow who reminded me of the research archivist at the National Jazz Archive, Loughton where I used to volunteer, gave me money after having lent me his ears sat atop a narrow post, and a sage man with Chinese eyes and grey-streaked long black hair studied me closely and seemed to approve of my playing.
Longing for some shade, I relocated to a nearby pedestrianized area where I was approached by a chap in a navy blue suit who revealed he hadn't any cash to give me, but that he'd like to buy me a drink before having to go back to work. I politely declined, then he bombarded me with questions: Do I busk all day? Do I earn much? Isn't it hot performing in the sun? He loitered creepily for the duration of the rest of my session - which wasn't long because busking here turned out to be a non-starter, plus I felt frazzled with OCD.
At least I'd made the money back for the couple of gargantuan bananas I bought at Villejuif-Louis Aragon Métro station on the way into Paris this morning, though!



This and the following violins are displayed in the shop windows of luthiers and music shops on rue de Rome, Paris.
Place des Abbesses, Paris
While I was milling about rue de Rome this afternoon, I treated myself to the stunning book of French songs and jazz standards, Mémento du musicien for five euros, and was determined to pay for it with my busking earnings.
I Irish fiddled underneath my favourite tree beside a bus stop, where two prams full of cherubic toddlers gazed up at me in wonder, then nobody showed me any interest for a good while.
A French couple must've heard me as they came down steep rue Ravignan. The woman looked like Velma Dinkley from the cartoon, Scooby-Doo, apart from she was sporting a verging on Orville-green bob and aquamarine glasses. The pair made a donation of two euros and a man handed me a slip of paper entitled, 'Need money?' It said, "Amateur photographer, Rico, is searching for attractive females to pose nude." Why do people assume that just because I busk, I'm desperate? Why can't it be that I simply love performing my musical instruments in public?!



Clutching a huge black tarpaulin sheet, a grubby man told me that I could only busk in the place (because of something to do with the building opposite), then having seen me off, the friend he was with began setting out some arty objects to sell along the pavement next to a wall.


Terrace of Le Saint Jean, 16 rue des Abbesses, Paris
I played my fiddle well (I thought) and at a considerate volume to the customers enjoying an evening drink on the terrace, but received nothing in return.
Terrace of Le Carrousel, 8 rue Trois Frères, Paris
The music from inside the bar was blaring out when I arrived, but thankfully, the waiter turned it down so that I could busk folk violin on the terrace.
A drunk flâneur-type with a scarf askew around his neck and over-preened eyebrows, asked my permission before pointing his white iPhone in my face to film. He told me later on (once he was seated), that he was from Norway but spoke English and had lived in Chelsea, London. He was with his husband and mother-in-law, who presented me with a five euro note (which paid for the music book I'd bought earlier). He then commented that I must be used to gays like him (?!) before we said goodbye.
A bearded guy with a blonde curly-haired little boy who had a large dome of a head handed him a euro to give me and said that my music had been "very beautiful." Other people at the tables were generous, too.
I departed feeling proud of what I'd achieved today - especially since I'd felt unwell for a lot of it.



The portraitist's draw - 24th May 2016


A lit diagram at Madeleine Métro station of some of the stations I passed through most days on my way to busk in Montmartre.
Square Jehan-Rictus, Place des Abbesses, Paris
A host of sparrows were pecking between the cobbles for titbits in front of me and as soon as I started folk fiddling, two two-euro coins landed in my case.
The bells of Église Saint-Jean-l'Évangéliste punctuated my set, Irish tunes from which an Italian-looking lady deemed (in her own language) "very beautiful"; an Englishwoman with storm cloud hair referrred to the (what I thought were called) foxgloves in the square behind me as being "Canterbury bells," and a guy with no arse in his trousers took photos of me from every conceivable angle, clapped, then sauntered off without offering me so much as a cent.
Out of the blue I had a coughing fit - probably as a result of hayfever which I often suffer from in this area during the summer, and just as I decided to pack up, the driver of a truck much too big for these pretty streets halted to replenish the Vélib (Parisian bicycle sharing system) station.

This doily-like bird adorned a section of wall between shopfronts at the top of rue Houdon, Montmartre.
Place du Tertre - Norvins bus stop, Paris
I received 20 cents from an appreciative, chivalrous sort, but felt as if I was going to be wasting my time here, so I moved on.
Corner of rue du Chevalier de la Barre, Paris


It occurred to me much later on in my stay that I may have unintentionally stolen the above portraitist's pitch, given that he annoyingly planted himself virtually exactly where I'd decided to play my fiddle. He was friendly enough, though, and told me that my playing sounded "very good." Perhaps he believed that my music would attract more potential subjects for him to draw (the street was relatively free of tourists given that it was the beginning of the week). 
The usual suspects artists-wise were there, together with the sad sight of armed soldiers on patrol, plus I saw yet another Japenese bride. The hem of her white wedding dress was grey with dirt and I wondered if she was the same bride I'd seen here yesterday?!
Rain spots were in the air as a couple I guessed were either Spanish or Mexican (the woman reminded me of the artist Frida Kahlo), listened intently to my performance (it was as if the man was testing me), then made a contribution, as did a blonde male photographer who thanked me. Despite all the positive attention I'd been soaking up, I felt fundamentally alone, and a numbness I'd experienced in the middle finger of my right hand during the winter had returned.

So, so happy - 23rd May 2016


Montmartre, Paris, is a popular place for Asian brides to be photographed on their special day.
Corner of rue du Chevalier de la Barre, Paris
I'd wanted to play on this pitch ever since I began busking in Montmartre, but some showy accordionist or singer-guitarist had always beaten me to it. On this dull day, however, it was free and so I plumped to go for it - after I'd devoured a delicious crêpe with sugar from a nearby crêperie for energy. 
There were artists with drawing boards tucked underneath their arms, along with a couple of soldiers cradling machine guns milling around on the road in front of me; a surprisingly relaxed scene I slotted into perfectly. It felt empowering to still be playing my violin here despite all the fear that'd be generated by the attacks on Paris last year and in so doing, I imagined myself giving voice to the victims who'd been so senselessly silenced.



One of the many artists who walk all day up and down rue du Chevalier de la Barre, Montmartre, on the lookout for tourists to draw.
I saw another Japenese bride; a camp guy with flecks of red in his attire gave me two euros; two members of a gang of blonde kids rooted out coins from their wallets for me, and a winkey gent with a chestnut beard and his cheeks aflame made a contribution.