Books by Paul Francis Mc Cann
Web Site: War Poems
Blessed are the poor but even the poor felt sorry for the busker .
I watched the seagulls glide over the river Lee. Feathers on the winter wind, gliding to a skim on the surface until they rested their weary wings by their side, almost screeching to a stop on top of the water. The fading twilight draped itself from Mayfield to the banks of the Lee and I stood watching the silent trickle of the river. I thought how those ripples of stillness flow on to the sea and on and on to America.
I had found accommodation in the youth hostel on the Western Road opposite Cork University.
The bed per night was three punt and fifty pence.
As I walked from the Lee to the centre of town I kept my guitar close to me.
It was almost Christmas 1988, my gut was empty and my fingers were blue.
I stood in Great Patrick Street and my voice cracked in the crisp air.
Christmas shoppers were frantically doing their last minute shop hopping, bargain buzzing, carrying parcels in their arms, bags hanging from each hand and I stood busking. My fingers fumbled picking the blues but the faster I played the more immune I became to the cold. When I hit this seventh A minor chord I hammered it a little hard and broke a third string on the guitar.
Still I carried on busking with the five strings that were left. Money was beginning to pile in to my case and I had something to sing about.
When my fifth string snapped I had to improvise using the fourth string for the base note of the blues for the duration of the evening.
I bought a burger and had a stout then walked back to the IYH feeling much better for the outing.
I never realised how tires I was until my head touched the thin pillow on the top bunk.
I woke up in the morning on the floor; I must have rolled off during the night.
A man walked in to the room and said,
“Good morning “.
It was the warden.
He said sarcastically.
“Is there a problem?”
“How long are you staying?”
“At least until the New Year, if that’s all right?”
“I’ll leave you to it then.”
He said and walked out of the room.
“No, I’ll leave you to it.”
I replied and took my guitar and left the hostel for town.
Outside the snow lay thick on the path and on the street it had already turned to slush.
The morning traffic had already built up to a slow crawl. As I passed by Jurys Hotel I though about getting some part time work and decided to go and ask if there was anything available.
I filled out a form at reception and formally wrote out a brief resume for their attention. There was some evening work for a barman and waiter.
After leaving Jurys I walked down Oliver Plunkett Street and straight into De Lacy House for refreshment before starting another days busking.
I asked the manager there if there were any positions available.
He looked at me and said,
“Sorry but we have enough musicians at the moment. “
“Like I meant any work. Behind the bar or wash up. “
“Come and see me after Christmas.”
“If I live that long.”
I said under my breath.
“What was that?”
“Ah, Well that sounds promising.”
The cold and lack of food had started to take its toll on my body.
I had been overstretching myself on the streets busking and all I had to show for it was tingles in my toes and jingles in my pocket. Small change you know. But busking was my way of life now
Putting pennies from my pocket and readies in my shoes, I had nothing else to give apart from the blues and my busking time and still small change was all I had.
I took my trusty fender guitar and headed into the town centre taking a place near Liberty Street.
It was the day before Christmas and my pockets were empty of cash.
I observed the mad rush of shoppers and would have been crushed under the feet in the stampede down through the street if I hadn’t moved back to the wall were I stood. They resembled hunters out for kill or a stray dog on heat trying to find a partner.
I decided to move along into Winthrop Street and took a position outside the Swiss Gem Jewellery store where I took a stand with my mission to get enough money to see me through the Christmas period. Even just enough for a feed and to pay for my bed at the IHY would be sufficient.
After two solid hours of busking my heart out I came to the conclusion that I was facing an impossible task and decided to give in for a while.
The madness of the silly season had definitely come to town.
It was hopeless going on any longer.
People were blindly running around from place to place in a panic. There were only a few hours left to buy that special gift or that essential item for Christmas.
My throat was hoarse, I felt damp and cold and all I had to show for my trouble was a twenty pence coin.
I looked at the coin in my guitar case; it just lay there as if in contempt on Christmas Eve. Slowly I bent down and picked it up and put it into the top pocket of my denim jacket.
With a sigh I put away my guitar and thought ok, at leas t I’m twenty pence better off and I am not yet a beaten busker.
I made a promise to return later that day for another assault on their hearts.
Maybe after when the shops are shut people will be on the street in a better frame of mind. I have faith in that old Irish spirit of Christmas and where there
Is hope in the heart, there is a blessing to find.
Late that evening I walked on my blistered feet to town hoping to meet some millionaire along the way who would hand me a bundle of money as a gift.
It was good to still have my hopes and dreams.
For three hours I walked around the town busking in different places. My blisters felt like rivets under the soles of my feet.
Each step I took was in agony.
But I had to keep singing and with every melody I found some new lyrics.
Thoughts poured through my head into a place to be stored for later inside my memory banks.
The soft glow of the evening surrounded me with its warm embrace.
I walked past the police station on the other side of the River.
I shuffled my way along very slowly and vowed not to let things get on top of me. The guitar was now getting heavy in my hands. I past by the city hall and over to Mac Curtain Street to the bridge by the Lee where young lovers partied and Christmas revellers gathered to drink the night away. I watched them as they waled along arm in arm like a family and was touched by such intimacy. They were frolicking along as if the party was never going to end.
To the corner of Corks Main Street I went and started busking to the city in the hope that I would get enough to get me through Christmas.
Small change came in and I knew the tide had turned. More money came.
People approached and stood around listening to me.
I was on my way; the busking had hit a spot in their hearts.
I’d won them over. Now I could see there was enough money in my case for a bed and a good feed.
I forgot about my blisters and started to tap my toe and instead of my toes tingling money was jangling into the guitar case.
Paper notes arrived and I knew I was saved.
I guess that’s just the way the money goes.
That night I eat well. I hadn’t felt this way in a long time.
I wished people happy Christmas as I walked past and they returned the greeting.
I knew my way around Cork now and even though I was still a little scattered about what I was going to do, I started to fall in love with this place and its people. They were the most generous people I had ever met.
By Paul McCann
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