Date: Thursday 9th June 2011
Location: The old Canterbury Buttermarket
I’m sat outside Starbucks with a freshly made caramel macchiato and a notepad at my table. Its a typical weekday morning in a square which, with its timber-framed buildings and lively street performers, typifies the historical and cultural aspects of this city of Canterbury.
A rather effeminate American tourist on the table next to me discusses the passers by with somebody who I presume is his boyfriend. They are laughing. The tourist came to my aid earlier when he pointed out the chair I was about to sit on was covered in tea, and brought over a new one for me. “Oh! Don’t sit there! That chair looks a little mankyyyyy, that’s why I didn’t sit on it. Here, let me getcha noo one” My heart melted like the froth on my coffee at the voluntary kindliness.
Meanwhile, a man in a trilby hat and a blue t-shirt sits beside the war memorial warbling out his remake of a Neil Diamond song on a guitar which he self-gratifyingly thumps around like a wench.
The song finishes, and the American tourist creates the sole applause and cheers before laughing and remarking to me that, “It’s almost WORSE when only one person claps”
In the background I hear the sound of a plush toy frog with inbuilt giggling sound effects emanating from Hawkins Bazaar gift shop as an excited child looks on and tries to establish where the sound is coming from.
Then there is the ice-cream seller who sits in the middle of the square, leaning against his cart, who is looking pained at the prospect of a rabble of about 20-odd French schoolchildren, shouting above one another in alien tones as they approach him.
Yet, this city is so quintessentially British.
The queue to get into the Cathedral is constant and comprises of faces from all over the globe, all of whom have come here for the same reason – to see the world heritage site up close, feel it’s warmth, and revel in it’s magic.
What I love the most is the variety of languages and voices. Two young ladies who look like they’re into equestrian sports bustle out of Starbucks with their takeway skinny lattes, talking in upper-class tones about something or other. Immaculately dressed, the comparison with the overweight, balding man in the tracksuit who sits nearby looking despondently at his ice-cream as his wife whispers something into his ear, is broad.
♪Why why whyyyyy Delilah♪ – I am pleased the busking musician is playing something upbeat but am less satisfied by the arrival of a third delivery lorry, obscuring my view of the Square. Do they not know that I’m trying to write an observational piece here?! Yet this is the hustle and bustle of this city’s life, and I love it.
A Starbucks employee is now at the table next to me, on a break, with a blood-red coloured juice drink in front of him as he taps away at his phone. I wonder who he is messaging, or what he’s saying. I wonder if he knows that the thing I’m scribbling about on my piece of paper right now, is him.
The musician breaks into a rendition of Let It Be next.
♪There will be an answer, let it be♪
I listen to him warble away to his guitar and feel a moment of awe which is swiftly spoilt by the lady next to me, coughing a loud, rasping cough.
Regardless, I’m still really warming to this musician. Who knows his circumstances – his name, age or birthplace. Who knows what brings him to this Square and who knows why he needs to make the cash from busking. Yet, there is something inspiring about his passion and drive to just keep on singing amidst the cacophony of frog noises, school children, coughing and derogatory remarks from U.S tourists.
In fact, there is passion all around Canterbury. The huge Cathedral behind me is symbolic of many things, mostly historical and religious, but to me, it is a testament to somebody’s dream, and the faith of many, 1100 years ago, to build something so beautiful without the aid of modern day construction methods and machinery. Every brick, every panel, every detail of the stained glass windows… so immaculate, so perfect. Chaucer’s pilgrims, though fictional, symbolise the millions of people who have been driven to Canterbury not by horses, planes and trains alone, but by faith and intrigue.
I begin to feel the continental breeze against my feet, sweeping in from the South-Eastern shoreline.
Two locksmiths return to their van upon completing a job. In cockney tones, they discuss how to manoeuvre their lorry out of the square, “Should be toight, but I’ll be alroight”.
♪And so, slide away, but don’t look back in anger, I heard you say♪, the musician’s repertoire is one that knows the songs that people like – the anthemic and the timeless, and knows how to juxtapose them against the ongoing movement surrounding him.
A German teenager on a school trip has decided to stand right in front of me and munch loudly on an apple. I sometimes wonder what these foreign children make of Canterbury. Are they interested in the religion or culture, or, like most of us when we were teenagers, are they plotting the best way to escape teacher’s attention and sneak off somewhere for a game of pool and can of coke?
♪If I lay here, if I just lay here, will you lie with me and just forget the world♪
A group of pensioners walk together laughing, holding shopping bags containing recent purchases from local craft shops. I wonder what the city is like through their elderly eyes, how its changed over the years and how pleased they are that it has still managed to retain some degree of it’s charismatic vintage soul throughout the decades.
But by now, my cup is nearly empty and my macchiato nearly finished. The sun spills out from behind the clouds. The coughing lady’s Nokia ringtone takes off and I establish that she is German, “So… ja…. und… toll…. ja”. I love the cosmopolitan atmosphere of this place and feel happy to live here.
I begin to feel like I’m taking up a table someone else might need, so I put away my work, pack up my bags and root around in my purse to find some cash to give the musician. For the past hour I have been surrounded by people and things who do the things they love, and love the things they do. This is not the place to find people headlessly pursuing the things they feel they should be doing, but doing the things they want to be doing, and being damn good at it. It was an inspiration. It made my heart smile. It was one of the best cups of coffee ever.
Song of the Day: The Avett Brothers – Kick Drum Heart
Another gem discovered from Last.Fm. An upbeat piece of contemporary pop/folk/bluegrass fresh from North Carolina. The kind of awesome song that will put you in a great mood within minutes and re-affirm the notion that music is powerful.