Singing in Petersfield

Then toward Petersfield we stamp, passing a low-cost retirement village, that looked like it was built in a week. We intitially judge it as an ugly sight, but a closer look shows it to be calm, tidy and proud. The materials were budget, but self-respect is evident, and the people here are not living for expensive paving. And why, we consider, should a dwelling cost a hundred thousand pounds? It is a perturbingly ridiculous thing. You can buy land for that money.

Nearby, we find the first blackberries for some days, and realize their prescence is not to last much longer. Then down a main road, and into town. Hale Petersfield, at the end of the South Downs way.

We decide to busk, partly to win shiny coins, but truly for the joy of it. The money is an encouragement, but the people are life-changing, with their showings and tellings. So we find the first busy spot we see, in an enclosed shopping arena with a statue of a shepherd, his dog, and a ewe. We rest our staffs alongside the shepherd’s own, dig our sign out of our bag, and sit on our bags.

But before we can sing a word, the skies pour water, and we scurry for shelter, dragging our bags with us. We take this prompt to buy the next two OS maps. We are getting through them fearfully quickly, and need to send our old ones back home. So having done this, we are now completely broke; so as the weather perks, we throw ourselves into the economic process.

Three songs in, we are doing well, with smiles galore and a golden coins. Then a yellow-jacked man approaches, and stands square in front of us with eyes that say “Oy”.

We fade out our song, like responsible DJs, and listen as he says: “Sorry lads, no busking in this bit of town. It is privately owned, and the rules state no unarranged musical performances.”

We contemplate our options for a minute, while he waits for a response. The silence is good. Then we smile, and say “that’s fine, we understand perfectly.” Perhaps anticipating more complaint, more of an effort to fight rules with noisy protest, he has nothing to say. “So it goes, old boy, no trouble meant,” we sally finally, for as we know well, the yellow-jacketed man only dishes the rules that others have concocted.

This was the right thing to do. Immediately, a crowd of shoppers rush to champion our defence, crying “No, no, they are good singers, the music is lovely”, and other things, of which modesty prohibits our repeating at this time. As it goes, our untimely forced stop translates into a rush of gold into our hat (the sympathy pound), as people express their indignant support, coupled with shame, that they cannot listen to music they like, on their own streets, in their home town. A board of owners, a long way from here, has decreed otherwise.

But we understand this, we’ve seen it before. In Canterbury, a nu-shopping development called Whitefriars has imposed such conditions. These privately owned shopping arenas, where gladiatorial combat between credit card and advertisement goes on in calculated volumes, desire no outside elements in their calculations of profit. No bicycles, undesirables, or buskers are permitted, by order of the faceless ones. If you live in a town where they are proposing to build you a little privately owned honey trap of shops, know well that it is insidious, a heart-rot that will colonize your streets, and suck the money from local businesses and people. We find it oddly unremarked, that such brash theft of the public high streets is happening so quietly and effectively across England.

Anyway, we are given coffees and telephone numbers, to call further afield. This is the best of busking, when you win a friend to look up, farther down the road. The poor yellow-coated man is forced to explain, to justify the hidden rules to a crowd of shoppers. Eventually even he agrees, that it is “a load of crap, but that’s the rules of my job.” He apologizes, and tells us the next best spot in town to sing. Grateful for this odd little turn of things, we head along that way.

30 yards down the street, we can sing our hearts out. We liked the statue of the shepherd, but we’re alright here, on the council (public?) owned pavements outside the shopping centre.

Just twenty minutes of songs and curious grins later, the yellow-jacketed man again approaches. This time we express indignation: “Hang about, you said we could busk here without trouble. What’s this about?”

He smiles his half-smile, cocks his head, and calmly looks at us before replying.
“What’s this lads, can’t a fellow give you a bit of money for the singing?”

He throws his handful of money into the hat, apologizes for the bureaucratic nonsensity of his job, and wishes us the very best of luck. So we sing on louder, perhaps sweeter, happy to feel welcomed by the town.

3 Responses to “Singing in Petersfield”

  1. DAn says:

    We have one of these horrible areas in Durham… once i got kicked out for just playing some songs to myself out on a deserted car park balcony (it has a nice view). luckily the rest of the town (city) is very busker freindly so make sure you visit if you ever venture up to the north east. x

  2. Jane says:

    Saw your article in yesterday’s Telegraph – have just returned from a visit to friends in P’field and also went to The Harrow – still an amazing pub. If you count the shopping precinct as the town centre – yes, it’s like so many others – but look at the Square, the 15th century buildings around it – Sheep Street, the Spain.

    Guys, well done – how I envy you – used to do a lot of walking, in Greece and in Norfolk (from Hunstanton to Southwold in a week (was very proud of that particular trek!).

    Keep going and enjoy the moments of serendipity.

  3. Alex Story says:

    Petersfield… I once knew a girl in Petersfield…

    The last hour of the coach journey from London to Petersfield was always special. The surrounding countryside is an inspiring sight, especially in the transition from sunset, through dusk and to twilight. The album ‘Pink Moon’ by Nick Drake would be looped at this point and thankfully I can always block out the crude town centre in favour of memories of the surrounding countryside.

    Joe and Olive directed me to the site and it’s amazing to see how your journey is taking shape guys, all the best for your walk!

    Alex Story

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