Playing for Alms

Saturday Market

Returning from my weekly fruit and vegetable shopping in Saturday Market Place I always pass various musicians and keep coins in my right hand pocket for them (I’m always sewing up holes in it!). Today I felt different when I gave a group of five assorted brass and percussion players my last change.
There is a gently damp sea mist, but last week when I stood on their patch jangling a tin for ActionAid it was blistering hot. I was collecting for the street children in India and for African children without water in similar heat. I did try a corner in the shade, but no one from either direction seemed to see what I was doing. Some even bumped into me, while others steered clear. Only two offerings from that patch, so I went to the one where there are usually musicians, but not last week. Wisely, they judged it too hot.
It was also a place with a thin stream of pedestrian traffic spread over the pavement where I stood and the first row of market stalls, standing back from a pedestrianised area of the square. Plenty of room for people to pass by on the other side, and I could see them veering away from my orange apron with Action Aid all over it.
I envied my colleague on his favourite strip, a narrow path between the car park and Saturday Market Square. Nearly everyone cleared out their change to or from the car park. It was in the shade too, but as the organiser, he was entitled to it.
You could pick out the ones who wanted to give from far off, because they started pulling out their purses. They were mostly women, though one man came alongside asking, ‘Can I put something in?’ without my noticing. Another elderly man in a baseball cap stood right in front of me, too close for comfort, and asked how much my hat cost.
‘I can’t remember,’ I replied, ‘and it’s not important anyway.’ He grinned and walked off without even giving a penny. Takes all sorts. A few mothers gave their children some silver to put into the collecting tin, but fewer than last year. Money is tight for most people. Curiously pensioners seemed the most willing to give.
A scruffy little dog led its owner to a bollard near me where it relieved itself. Along came another leading its elderly owner to the bollard where it sniffed around in dogged concentration.
‘Come on, Bobby.’ Its owner tugged ineffectually at the lead until Bobby decided to transfer his interest to the next bollard and mark it as his territory. Which made me muse about territories until my time was up.
Not again, thank goodness, until next year…perhaps.