Me and my mate Alan go busking every Saturday. He usually calls for me and we get the bus at Agincourt Avenue, where he dings me on with his travel card. We do alright from the busking; on a good day we can make around sixty quid of a morning, as long as we arrive in town early enough to get the all-important pitch on the corner of College Street and Fountain Street, just opposite the back entrance of Boots. It’s a great pitch because it has shelter from the wet Irish weather, and it gets traffic from several directions. Also, it’s at the west end of town. This means that it picks up the shoppers coming in from Andytown and the Falls in Black Taxis, who might be receptive to a rake of Irish tunes on concertina and guitar. Most Saturdays we have a great time of it. There have been awkward times, like when a ragged squad of kids from the Beersbridge Road tried to nick our hard-earned coin, while aggressively demanding we played ‘The Queen’, until I chased them. There are always the jokers too, who laughingly jig past us, their legs kicked high, arms down straight by their sides. I don’t mind: we make them dance, and I love that. We’re good.
Getting up at all on this cold morning is a struggle. We need to be up at the heinous hour of 9 if we are to secure our pitch. It doesn’t happen. We’d been gigging the night before and had ended up blocked at a party. It is more like 11 when we finally weave our way nauseously down Fountain Street. We’re too late. There’s some tone-deaf bollix there before us, belting out the usual ballads, his polyvinyl guitar case cradling a small hoard of copper coins. We have messed up and we know it. Today is going to be tough. The temptation to go home and fall over for a couple of hours is hard to resist. Still, we decide, we’re in the town now, so we’d best make the most of it. We wander around for a while looking for another pitch, conscious that time is money. Mercifully the Rosemary Street pitch is free. It’s a good pedestrian zone, with plenty of shoppers, and no other buskers within earshot. The only distraction is the young lad selling cigarette lighters, Two for a poun’. He sells quite a few while we’re there.
We set up, Alan sitting on a wee folding stool, me on my bulky wooden concertina case. It’s almost the right height, but I still have to awkwardly stretch my legs out a little to get into a decent playing position. We put Alan’s hard case out in front of us and throw some small change into it to take the bad look off, then start off with a few reels. Soon we’re getting a bit of interest; a young couple bouncing their toddler in time, a fellow musician who makes sure we notice his 50p piece, a suited gent who flamboyantly tosses his shrapnel into the case, winking. Gradually the case starts to look respectable, although we still regret missing the other place. We lift the pound coins.
It is well after lunch time when the wee old lady comes up to us. She is hunched over, towing one of those two-wheeled shopping trolley things behind her. Only old people have them; hers has a green and dark blue tartan pattern. As she bends down close to talk in my ear, I can smell cigarette smoke on her. I expect her to give us 5p and say There’s a wee shilling for ya, love. That happens quite a lot. But not this time: Yez are nothin’ but a pair o’ Fenian Bastards, she croaks hoarsely, then scuttles off as fast as her rickety legs allow. No shilling.
Alan didn’t hear. He laughs fit to burst when I tell him: Brilliant! Me a Prod from the Village, and you not even christened. You couldn’t make it up. Bitter oul’ bitch. We are still joking about it as we pack up. We are starving, and it’s time to take our bagged-up earnings round to Madden’s Bar, where Harry Pat will swap our change for notes while we have soup and a pint for the cure. Not a bad day after all, and there’s enough money for a promising Saturday night.
Audio, read by Conor Caldwell: Sweet Rosemary – Conor