Saturday, July 29, 2006

How I became a busker (part twelve)

I had resolved to buy Char a gift on our next meeting; such an impulse was a natural affirmation of the progression of my commitment. But I did not know what to buy with the minimal money in my possession. OK! I was not in need on a living expense level. But I was hardly endowed with disposable wealth either. To buy anything that could offer any semblance of meaning would be difficult with the two or three hundred franks I could muster as safely disposable. There was clearly a situation for ingenuity if I hoped to fulfil my impulsive desire. What could I give her that would not come across tacky or cheap? More important - what could I give her that would excite her? Something that would take her into the clouds and make me feel I had reached her? This seemed an impossible task.
With frustrated puzzlement I chewed on this dilemma while I sat in the Musiekdoos the night before my next meeting with Char. Herman took the stage and began singing. He had such an incredible range on his voice. It was as pure as a lead choirboy. But he had an adult timbre to vary this with. He was a massive fan of John Denver and he played many Denver covers. But on this night he played the Denver song 'Lady'......... and it took me away. He had captured the essence of my 'fairy tale'. His golden voice portrays this song with such splendour... the world should hear him do this.
Herman once confided in me and claimed he had a problem showing emotion to his girlfriend. He even claimed he was incapable of feeling emotion. But the truth lies in his rendition of 'Lady'. His soul transports itself onto the song automatically. He was automatically someone who loves. It was not something he had to feel. It was him. The tears he shed when when his relationship with Astrid came to an end were not because he had suddenly learnt how to feel. The tears were him. Herman was only able to be sincere. If we are all honest with ourselves we would have to admit that, in sincerity, we believe..... but, in between,with equal sincerity we doubt.
As Herman performed the song an idea sprang bright within me. After he had finished his set I approached him and I moved the conversation swiftly onto its purpose... "Herman, if I gave you a couple of hundred francs - would you sing 'Lady' for me and my girl outside by the Schelde tomorrow evening?" "It would be my pleasure to sing it for you. You do not need to pay me." Roughly translated, culturally, in to Anglo Saxon understanding those words meant he would be delighted to give something he has an ability to give.But he would refuse payment because it would nullify the joy he felt in giving. I know this must be a hard concept for the typical US/UK mind to comprehend. Herman and I arranged a signal for commencement of the riverside serenade the next night at a time I felt would be right for Char and I.

My Sweet Lady? A gift for you.
Char returned from her weekend away and when I called round she surprised me with a gift of 200 cigarettes. It made me very relieved I had arranged my own gift. Her gift was a unilateral expression of her love for me. My gift would be a unilateral expression of my love for her. The radar had made us co-incidentally inspired to symbolize love with a gift.
But she had yet to receive my gift. So she was unaware there would be one as I took her to the Musiekdoos for a drink. Once there, I spoke to Herman and the three of us strolled to the riverside, where Herman unpacked his guitar, while Char and I sat on a bench. Char was a shade confused about what was going on. She wondered why we had gone to the riverside with..... Herman began to play his guitar....."I didn't know you would buy me those cigarettes, Char," said I, " but here is the gift I wish to give to you."....and the sweet tones of his guitar seemed to soften the evening air as the city drifted into the borders of a magical world where fairy tales are real. The distant cacophony of city noise seemed to blend with the notes into a benevolent backdrop of sound - a sound that receded from awareness as if by magic, while Herman weaved the mood.... 'Lady?.....Are you Crying? Do the tears belong to me? Did you think our time together.... was all done
Char melted. "Ooh la la!" she exclaimed. She moved to nestle herself on my lap and then she kissed me... long and Herman continued the serenade with perfect delivery...'ve been dreaming - I'm as close as I can be - And I swear to you our time has just begun
Close you eyes and rest your weary eyes
It is quite possible that this was the most romantic moment I had ever experienced.
I promise I will stay right here beside you
It could be said this was the only true Valentino action I have ever done.
Today our lives were joined, became entwined
I have often been romantic, but with any other girl it would seem corny taking it to this extent.
I wish that you could know how much I love you
But for Char it was natural and appropriate, because our love was based on the intensity of soul and, at that time, the mind had little to do with things.
Lady? Are you happy? Do you feel the way I do? Are there meanings that you've never seen before?
What the mind DID know was of vital importance, because I knew that Char needed to know she was loved - beyond any action, or lack of it, that may mark the foreseeable future.
Lady? My sweet lady? I just can't believe it's true And it's like I've never, ever loved before No matter how she may view herself Char has a purity in her soul that only one other person in my life could match.... my mother.
Close your eyes and rest your weary mind
Char bore the ambience of an imperilled daughter and just as strongly....
I promise I will stay right here beside you
...the ambience of my mother's soul engraven into a different life, yet maintaining...
Today our lives were joined, became entwined
...that same selfless spirit.
I wish that you could know how much I love you
For Char, it could represent liability, so she shielded this vulnerability with an outer veneer of cynicism and the re-assurance that she could deem herself callous.
Lady? Are you crying? Char was a cat.
Do the tears belong to me? She wanted love, but she also wanted someone she could scratch.
Did you think our time together was all gone
Purr and scratch. My mind had been able to conclude this much.
Lady, my sweet lady Herman sang and Char could purr, while I steeped myself in the magic these two cast upon my life.
I'm as close as I can be But what made this event magic was the sheer improbability that Char and I could last the test of time.
And I swear to you...our time..has just begun
All that could be said was that it had got this far and we were both intent on it going further. Hence the symbolic gifts to signify this determination.

" What's wrong! What's happening?"
The back of my head was propped by Char's breast as I lay sandwiched between her legs with my hands peacefully rested on her twin tower knees. We were relaxed and happy in the Conscience. Char lightly caressed me as she laughed and joked with two of her friends, Bart and Andre. It was fine that they spoke in Flemish. It left me free to to drink the full richness of her physical presence. Two young guys came to speak with Bart and though it was in Flemish it seemed as though they were moderately arguing over something. Suddenly one of the guys aimed a karate style side kick at Bart and Bart was pulled up and attacked further by the duo. This surprised me. In confusion I looked at Andre, but he seemed equally surprised and too nervous to intervene on behalf of his friend. Char was instantly upset by the attack, so as Bart was one of her friends it seemed it would be down to me to break up the fight. I got up, which made Char even more upset, but something had to be done. I did not know what it was all about so I had no anger to unload, but there was clearly a leader and the led about the assailants. Mr Leader had done the talking and he had launched the attack. So I concentrated on Mr Led. I walked to the fracas and put my arm on the shoulder of Mr Led. I turned him round and said,"Hey!" Mr Led backed off, saying, "I'm Sorry! Don't hit me!" I retorted, "Don't you think two on one is a little unfair?" But it was evident he was harmless so I turned my back on him and concentrated on Mr Leader and Bart as they fought on, "Hey, you guys! Calm down and talk if you got a problem!" I approached them, but Mr Leader broke off the scuffle and retreated out of the square after re-joining Mr Led. Bart was grateful for my aid, but I had only sought to keep the peace.
Char was near hysterical, "It's my fault! It's my fault!" Then she was angry and arguing heatedly with Bart and Andre. Then she seemed to be angry with me. The melee meandered around a corner with Flemish suddenly proving itself as a severe communication barrier. When I tried to hold Char she agitatingly pulled herself away from me. What had I done wrong? Nonetheless it was evident Char was so awash with anger and panic to be in need of assertive calming. I forcefully grabbed both her wrists and shouted into her face, "Char! What's wrong? What's happening?" Suddenly her face changed into a curious mixture of relief and realization, "Of course!" she said, "I forgot! You can't understand Flemish." "Char, you know I can't!" "Ah yes...but it was my fault...and I would have died if you had got hurt. I never thought you would be in danger...because of me."
Quite possibly something clicked inside of her see someone she loved in a position of potential danger. She had to take a good look at her life and see what could be changed. Mr leader and Mr Led were hardly likely to be the consideration of danger that Char perused. It was the drug 'mafia' that she would need to consider.

How I became a busker (part11)

A sense of 'fairy tale' restores the will to live
The experience of that evening in the Conscience inspired a 'sort of' song. 'In the Conscience' was only a basic thing, but Tom had played to Char and I a song called 'Blackness of the night' that he thought may be a Cat Stevens song, but he wasn't sure. I felt my lyrics and the 'Blackness' lyrics complimented each other - especially in the light of recent events. 'In the Conscience' had not been intended as a full song anyway; it was more a means to record the experience. It did, however, strengthen the muscles of the Muse that increasingly awoke within me.
Tom bade farewell as he headed south for a two week period. Tom had proved the first true friend I could claim since my exile. The bridge that had led to him had proved itself by leading toward the bridge that led to Char.
My conversational matter with Char tended to be based on humour or sweet nothings. Char had a very secretive nature and she revealed snippets of her life frugally. Perhaps it was this that heightened mystery. I was always feeling there was much I did not know about her activities, so, even though we were in relationship, I felt somewhat excluded from her in many ways. I would see her, more often, during weekdays; the weekend she tended to reserve for that part of her that excluded me. The whole thing made me a shade edgy.
Edginess gradually passed as my meetings with Char settled into some stability. At first, she would visit after work, but then: "Um...Pierre is complaining. He says I do not pull my weight with the housework. I will have to go straight home after work." So it became more common for me to visit her. But the stability remained. There seemed to be no complications. I asked myself, "Is it as easy as that?" It seemed to be. A part of me even became blase and bored. But even such brief moods as this heralded a vital change toward a vaunted goal of perceived normality.
Inspired by the overwhelming strength of our bond the cultural and circumstantial differences were blurred. Our minds could look at the powerful, unexplainable magnetism of our souls and declare it as a signal of the hand of Fate. Once this was digested, it seemed to speak of positive qualities within us that - in our overly zealous negativity - we had over-looked. More succinctly, there occurred birth. The birth of a new hope. Within and without ourselves a hope of possibilities clung, like a bandage, to our heart. To glimpse the impossibly wonderful transformation of one part of us gives an assurance that the despair dwelling oppressively over other embattled parts is not the inevitability it appeared to be. Instead, it seemed possible to change by substituting despair with new positive resolutions. Our bond restored the most essential desire of all. The will to live.
Char told me she would be away for a few days, so we arranged an evening later in the next week for me to call in on her. This left a sudden gap in my vision of the 'Fairy Tale'.

A sharp reminder of Reality
Soft, balmy nights were frequent...almost expected. It was easy to be fooled into believing it would remain that way. But Antwerp was enjoying an unusually dry, hot Summer. I tried not to think too heavily on the future, but the bulk of my income was supplied by the bubbling terraces. In fact, the exuberance around the Cathedral area was so great that I would often walk with my guitar out of its case , because people would often stop me and ask me to perform. I would play a song and the people would dig into their pockets and shower cash into my 'hat'. The take from such a thing would often exceed the average of a medium sized terrace. I sang 'Nancy Spain' to one couple and the man gave me 2,000f. But he had his money's worth, because he recognized me and remembered the incident to me a couple of years further on. He said it was a special moment and thanked me once again.
But the parade into September warned me that eventually the weather would change, then it would be a hard Winter siege if I planned to cling on to this new life in Antwerp. The awareness grew sharper when the long, dry Summer was suddenly interrupted by two days of rain... against a backdrop of cooler air. The Mediterranean feel was swept away and Antwerp transformed into a dour, depressed city intent only on functioning. It served as a sharp reminder. I was floating in a fairy tale with Char, but the reality of my prospects looked grim. I had come to love Antwerp. I had developed many friendships here. The city had made me feel at home. It had become my home city and my growing affinity with many of its inhabitants made me feel a love for Flemish culture. But now....?
Whatever I felt, within my fairy tale, I was brought down to Earth by the rain. The harsh reality reminded me I was a stranger in a foreign land faced with a quandary. How could I maintain myself in this city? Char had instilled reason to live after the apparent destruction of forty years of my life. But there were serious material obstacles to work through if I was to attempt to stay in a city and country that harboured my emotional re-birth. I was determined not to return to England. The only incentive for heading that way would be to see me daughter, but even she would soon be living in Ireland - even further away. Being unable to see my daughter was a running sore within my soul, but the land of my birth offered me no hope. Only the grinding suppression of my spirit. But Antwerp offered me fairy tales and a basis for aspiration. It allowed me to follow my dreams, my ambition and my heart. I was not just another face ignored...alongside 55 million others. I was in a community where it was possible to be heard. I had to be here in Antwerp, because I became real here....not just another brick in the wall.
Ken, with his New Yorker tendency toward abruptness, was an ideal philosophical sparring partner. Our views were often poles apart, but we shared visions and ideas when they were not. He tried to show the world a hard edge - but toward me he often revealed an almost paternal compassion, shielded by hard edge advice (of course): "Brian! Char is nineteen! Girls change their minds fast at that age," She certainly fitted this assessment though I countered by claiming this was different... because of our level of love. But what level WAS that love? Unless that love can be said to have elevated to unconditional... and affirmed as such... I would be riding for a fall. With Char it always felt as though I was riding for a fall anyway. But if I was not? I needed to think practical.

I had to face up to my fears to survive
A crashing flood had washed away my life and the only emotional rock I could cling to had been Char. But she represented a slippery rock and the rapids would sweep me away the moment I lost my grip. I had to think practical in order to survive. I had to have an idea of how to swim before I lost that grip. If I did NOT lose my grip I would be more secure if my ideas had been worked out. Fairy tales are great, but when the frog transforms into a Prince? Is it simply seasonal? Does the clock strike twelve and reduce the Prince back into a frog? So think practical. But I could not do this because I had no idea of the problems I would face. How could I estimate my turnover capability without a grounding of how seasons will affect such a thing? I had to contemplate indoor bar playing. But this represented a major block to me. I was not a finished article. In fact, I was struggling through the early steps of learning my craft. Someone once told me that in music there is no other criteria than to be convincing. I had an ability to convince... because I could feel my music and be aware how to combine soul and mind to hone out advantage when faced by an audience. Before playing a terrace I would study its inhabitants and do an on the spot assessment of them. I would estimate their ambience factor by placing the potential audience into a category or 'box' within my mind. I would then use my radar to assess their mood, artistic openness and other matters. From this I will select a set of songs to present before them. Telepathic energy was a vital ingredient of the psyche to understand for a performer like me, because I sought to capture and then project a mood. It tended to be harder to assess indoor audiences using this system. A failed assessment on a terrace was an annoyance, but no great deal... but a failed assessment in a bar or restaurant could wipe out that place as an option, because the bar staff may remember that failure. There was much potential and much peril when it came to gigging or bar playing. I balked at the prospect. But Ken had advice for this as well: "There's a bar near the Conscience paying 2,000f for solo musicians. I'm doing a gig there. Why don't you ask if you can do one?"
I delayed doing this, but the rain reminded me I had to survive beyond the terrace season if I wished to keep Char in my life. I forced myself to ask the bar for a gig. They booked me for two weeks on. But my repertoire was still a limited thing. At about a song a week I was trying to memorize more songs. But to fulfil that gig - a full one- I would need my music stand and my songbooks before me. I felt I was totally unprepared for gigs, but I had to go for it.
There was a large Pizzeria where I often ate at - and the manager approached me and booked me for a mini gig at the place two weeks on. The theme would be Country Music and I felt I would need a couple of supporting musicians for this one. Sven (mandolin) and Kevin (fiddle) were happy to join me for the gig - and both were excellent musicians. We would only have to play 15 minutes or so in the restaurant proper, then we would play on in the cellar for awhile. So it seemed an easy enough commission once Sven and Kevin were recruited to the cause.
It added up to two gigs in four days toward the end of September. It meant I could calm the trepidation caused by that first Autumnal rain. My future seemed unnervingly uncertain, but the immediate period upcoming seemed secure. I was in love. I had somewhere to stay. I had friends. I had a reasonable chance of financial stability for the coming weeks.

How I became a busker (part ten)

Sexual Intent with conditions
Char thanked me in the morning for the previous night's rescue and our attachment grew ever more closer. But now I was worried about her safety. The riddle that was Char became a dominant, obsessive force in my life. Meanwhile, in keeping with my marital experience, discussion between partners on sex or bodily function was akin to discussion on what to buy at the shops.... or any other mundane matter. Lewdness and toilet humour bridge cultures far more readily than actual matter of fact directness - as though speaking of the weather, with no intent toward lewdness. Sex can be an incredibly technical matter. Char was my girlfriend, so the matter of sexual intention needed to be worked out. When I played 'Are you out there' to her once she said, "It's a nice way of putting it!" I suspected Char did not have much experience that would commend sex to her. I suspected she would see sex as something a woman gives and a man gets. I am entirely against that idea. There is a world of difference between getting laid and making love. Char and Pierre seemed to be from a Catholic background, even though they may not place much importance on religion. So imagine that morning as Char and I were in her room, with Pierre standing not so far away in the other room... "I want to make love with you, Char," said I, " but only when I am sure you are ready and willing... and I want you to be sober and certain you want to make love too." Char stared back with a half smile - mouth somewhat open and I think she was probably overcome by astonishment.
But that was the key to Char/Brian. We were always able to surprise each other... and our carefully thought out plans for dealing with each other were flummoxed by this. It made for the most perplexing, fascinating relationship experience I have ever had. In fact, it was hard to know whether I WAS in relationship, or not. It was a case of one day at a time. The whole thing seemed crazy and impossible, but that was what made it glorious and soul lifting.

The second rescue of Char
A few days later I had arranged to call on her, but she had left a note asking me to find her on the Conscience. I found her sitting on the foot high wall that formed a tributary square before the frozen, benevolent stance of Hendrik. She was sitting with a friend named Bart and they were sharing a bottle of wine I had taken on the mantle of crusading knight... and I was looking for potential dragons. For some reason Char had been overdosing and she had to be getting drugs from somewhere. So her friends tended to fall under my private suspicion. I held a strong belief that there were light and dark forces involved in the battle for Char. If I was working avidly for the light then there had to be someone working avidly for the dark. Char's life was in danger. Something within me believed her death would have a dire effect on some future possibility. I have never had a reason to adjust or dismiss that intuition. I drank a little of the wine, but declined the joint Bart offered. Not because I disapprove of smoking joints. It is nice, occasionally, to smoke a joint when one is offered. But I have never bothered actually buying the stuff. Anyhow, at that time it was important that I stand aside from the side of life Char allocated to taking drugs, or thinking of them.
It was very quick. Char's face glazed... and she began to slouch... keeling over off the wall. It was fortunate, I reflected, that I was there to catch her. She may have badly hurt herself on the concrete awaiting her fall. I placed my back against the wall and held Char's torso across my lap. Perhaps fazed, Bart excused himself and departed elsewhere. Perhaps he thought we'd be best left alone. If so, he was right. Char was completely out for the count. It would be impossible to attempt to get her home. As a dead weight she would be too heavy to carry... and she would be too insensible to co-operate in any way in aided walking. Her breathing was normal. She was not in distress So I sat in that Holy square.... holding her...looking down lovingly on her peaceful, sleeping face. Through the passing of hours the heat of the evening turned to the cool of the night. I stayed in the same position... keeping her warm...though I shivered often in the night chill. I had to wait for her to revive before I could get her home. Constantly I gazed at her sleeping, while I stroked her hair in comfort. I saw her place a thumb in her mouth... just as my daughter would often do. This magnified the melding and bonding of our two questing souls. A bonding that would enable me to 'feel' her across long distances and made her 'feel' me too. I became aware of the vast power of communication we are capable of achieving - a capability so commonly suppressed by the disbelief of the mind.
Dawn had passed by the time she began to stir. I gently stood her up and hugged her for a long time as she sought to re-tune her awareness. She was disorientated and confused... but eventually fit to be escorted home.

Attraction, weaknesses and confessions
Her brother had gone away for the weekend. We had privacy. For the next 10 hours, from early morning to mid-afternoon, we kissed, embraced, exchanged sweet nothings, or filled in essences of our life stories. The conversation moved to my marriage.....and grief welled up in me as I looked up at her and cried,"I tried to do everything right! But it all turned out wrong." It was a plea for her belief and understanding that this was so. She unveiled her concern and pain for me as I buried my head into her midriff and felt her arms enfold me with comfort. "I will give you money to go see your daughter," she said. The prospect of seeing my daughter would be a wonderful thing, but I knew it would be wrong to accept such an offer.... "No! I would feel wrong taking money from you like this." But the offer held itself up as a statement of emotional commitment. I had built my first bridge to a person in a foreign land who directly cared for me. Cast adrift for more than two months I could finally claim some anchorage.
We spoke of how powerful our attraction was and then, on impulse, she picked up pen and paper and began writing furiously as I sat watching her. After she had finished the impulsively inspired prose she showed it to me and transformed the visual gobbledygook into a verbal translation. The prose spoke of the curious strength of our attachment and her fear that her weaknesses would let us both down. Those swiftly scribbled lines were ominously prophetic. But Char was not the only one of us with weaknesses.... and the accuracy of the prose was also revealed in its recognition of an intense love that weathered all kinds of emotional assaults and conditions.

Fairy Tales are Real (Hear the song I wrote at that time)
From the depths of despair I had been transported to Paradise... all in the space of less than three months. I was in love... and it felt great! I left her apartment at two in the afternoon. I had not slept for over 24 hours, yet I felt exhilaratingly awake and alive. The sun shone from a blue sky and with a Mediterranean heat as I strolled the short distance from Char's place to the Cafe Centrum. I found Scot sitting on the terrace with a couple of teenage girls. He was relaxing in a glow of self content. "Sit yourself down, Brian!" he said chirpily. I did, and then said, "I'm in love. I've just come from her place. She's gorgeous! She's special! I'm just so happy!" "Well, Brian," said Scot, "This is the life. Sunshine, music and girls."
He was right. It WAS the life. I could not remember being quite so happy and content. The world had become a place of fairy tales and sparkling benevolence. Antwerp became a city where dreams came true. The masses of people flowing this way and that on the festive Groen Platz became peaceful spirits... happy to see a Brian wearing a smile instead of his usual self-punishing sadness. Antwerp became the centre of one big, seemingly endless party.

How I became a busker (part nine)

The first rescue of Char
It was Saturday night, mid-August, and I was due to perform my first ever paid gig. But not alone. I would be performing with Tom, Sven, his brother Kevin (only 15, but over 6 ft tall) and an Irish fiddler by name of John at the Elephant. OK, a share of the pay didn't amount to much, but the experience was bullseye - with a great audience. Lots of jumping off the stage and jigging amongst the audience, playing songs like the 'Popeye' theme and Bob Geldoff's classic 'I don't mind'. I chucked in my vocal oar with things like 'Star of the County Down', 'Nancy Spain' and 'Dirty old Town' and other stuff Irish. It worked well, although the next gig we did there around a month or so later didn't work so well. But I was pleased at having blooded in my gig experience. The concentration on the gig had the side effect of making my memory where, or when, to meet Char slightly foggy. I had kinda hoped she would get to the gig, but I believed I was due to meet her at the Conscience afterwards if she could not make it.
The gig finished at twelve and, as tends to happen after a successful gig, an uprush of energy and adrenaline left me speaking to friends or clientele at the bar. My CC experience assured me that casual arrangements needed no special time. At around one I made my way to the Conscience to see if she was there. As I arrived I was disappointed to catch no sight of her. There were three figures lying down in the vicinity of the Hendrik statue - two guys and a girl. One of the guys was groping intimately with the female, who seemed, on the face of it, comatose. It seemed the height of tackiness to be groping a female who was unaware of proceedings in a public place - even if she was his girlfriend. In fact, it seemed the height of tackiness... full stop. I passed by....... and my heart leapt to my throat as I recognized the female lying lost to the world... as the lusty youth groped with his hand beneath her jeans. She had another boyfriend? That's why I couldn't find her?
Anger and betrayal welled up within me. Just walk away and pretend you didn't see her... then forget her! But then I wondered whether she was even aware of what was occurring. Much less who she was with. I could see her eyes were closed... although she moaned with a distant response to the guy's stimulating. But the overall impression indicated she was unaware of proceedings. One inclination was to storm right up and say, "Char! What are you doing? Where was you?" But if this WAS a boyfriend I could be made to look foolish. For all I knew, I could be the 'other' in this... not him. She may have been dating this guy for months.
So.... betrayed, wretched and humiliated... I sat down within a few feet of the spectacle. With a quiet, mournful voice I moaned in an accusing and 'how could you?' way: "Char..."
Her head moved slightly from side to side and a brief glimmer of awakening stirred in her garbled throat. I stood up and walked to another angle. I spoke louder, more firmer, "Char! It's Brian!" She swung her head around more urgently and her voice spoke testingly my name..."Br..Brian?" Her hands pushed at the Valentino creep as she realized his advantageous pawing. The moment I realized she recalled my name, and wanted my presence, I moved in to take control of the situation. I pulled Char into my arms as the protesting Valentino wondered who I was... and what had happened to his catch.
"Brian? I'm sorry," slurred Char, "Where was you? I waited so long!" I wept inwardly at the words. She was waiting? Looking for me? I was not there when she needed me? The whole idea tore into me like a lion's claw. As it was I had crashed in onto a witnessing of her weaknesses - one she may have sought to hide from me. What sort of cocktail knocked her out like this? "Hey!" interjected Valentino, " That's my girl! Who are you?" "She's not your girl! She's not for you.! And that's no way to treat her!" came my angered reply, " I'm taking her home!" "I'll come with you!" stated Valentino. His friend had come alert to the unexpected interruption and was angling to back Valentino up. There were two of them - one of me - and they weren't small in body. So I followed a tactic of diplomacy and firmness, but I didn't see any reason to mask my contempt for them. "No!" I insisted, " I will take her home alone!"

Taking barely conscious Char home
I stood up and lifted Char until her arm was nestled across my shoulder, while my right arm supported her stumbling steps. Her dead weight in less lucid physical efforts made the task pretty hard, but I began the journey while telling Valentino and his pal to go way. But Valentino believed he had made a conquest and was anticipating the great love affair to begin. I wasn't going to be the one to tell Char who she should date, though I hoped I was the one who fitted the bill. But Char was not in a position to speak for herself. I simply knew instinctively she loved me. Or did she? I knew instinctively she would give Valentino his marching orders the moment she became aware of him. Or would she?
Still, however, Valentino persisted - and insisted on helping Char home also. I guess it did make the journey a bit easier. Char virtually had to be carried. The procession stumbled its way to the apartment she lived in with her brother. It was around two in the morning and a light on in the apartment showed that her brother would be up and awake. Another tactic to get rid of the luggage... "Thanks for helping, but her brother is here. He won't appreciate three guys coming in this time of the morning." Actually, I had not yet been in the apartment, nor had I met Char's brother - so I really didn't know anything about what he would think...or say. "No,I'll come in too," insisted Valentino. There were a heap of stairs to struggle up, and with Char all but brain dead I had no more right, in Valentino's eyes, to enter the apartment than him. It was hard to counter such a claim because Char had NOT, heretofore, taken me into the apartment. It may be she would not wish me to visit the apartment if she was sober. So, in a semi-polite circumstance of verbal fencing, we carried Char up the stairs to the apartment, where Pierre, her brother, stood waiting for us.
With dark, curly hair and eyes, like Char, of black, fathomless depths, Pierre displayed, like Char, the history of Spanish blood in Belgium. There is no direct confirmation of this, but the Spanish occupation 300 years back suggested this impression to me. Originally, Char and Pierre were from the French speaking segment of Belgium, but they had lived long enough in Antwerp to consider themselves Flemish. Both, however, spoke English with a strong French accent. Naturally Flemish was their first language. Pierre was twenty one, studious and quiet spoken. Char's bedroom was accessible only through Pierre's living room cum bedroom.
The entourage gave a greeting and a few words to Pierre... and then we proceeded into Char's room, where we laid her gently onto the floor. I sat down by her and she curled up around me as I placed my arms protectively around her body.
Valentino could see very clearly that there was a heavy bond between Char and I. His competitiveness began to slide and he turned slowly into self piteous melodrama and despair. "Every time I try to get a girlfriend - something goes wrong," he lamented. Well... I guess...from what I had witnessed of his ideas of gallant wooing.... he might have to change his attitude a bit in his quest for a female. So I found myself playing emotional councillor to a guy who sought a massive step between creep and attractive. "Somewhere there is a girl for you, but Char.." said I, unapologetic about my presumption while she was unable to speak for herself," NOT for you!" With the comment I tightened my hold on her and her semi-conscious hands tightened their hold on me. Even in her condition I could see the happiness in her smile whenever she became aware that I was there... guarding and holding her close.
After drinking the coffee Pierre had made, Valentino and his friend departed... with the re-assurance, from me, that Valentino would have his girlfriend within six months. Something almost holy seemed to possess me through my interaction with Char. Even Valentino seemed assured by my statement.
A new life gains a new sense of purpose
A few months later, while I waited to play the Conscience, I met Valentino once more by the bench surrounding the tree in the square... "Hi!" he said, "Remember me?" I didn't immediately. There was a lot of stuff crammed into those intervening months. Nonetheless he reminded me of our meeting that night and the blanks were filled. "This is my girlfriend, Anna," said Valentino proudly, in a way that suggested it was in some way thanks to me. In a way of saying, "You were right!" I guess I did spend a bit of time telling him how to make himself more appealing. I really can't remember.
Once Valentino had left, Pierre and I laid Char gently onto her bed - and then we retreated into his room to talk. "This is not the first time she has been like this. Sometimes it is worse," explained Pierre, " Three times she has been to the hospital because she had over-dosed. It is worrying, but what can be done? She needs to return to school to re-take exams in September! She has hardly studied! If she is to go to University she must pass these exams."
My feeling was that this was Fate. I had a task! In addition, I was in love. My task was clear. I had to see if I could turn around Char's life.
"Thanks for bringing her home safe," Pierre continued, " If you wish, you may stay the night here. There is a spare mattress in Char's room."
So I slept a short distance away from the girl I was growing to obsessively love. Enough to reach across and hold hands briefly before sleep.

How I became a busker (part eight)

A new life begins at 40
It seemed life was turning around for me. The haven of Dambrugge - the good company of Tom and Ken - potential romance with Char. But the breakthrough, within my mind, was achieved through Irit. Before leaving England I was 40 years old and feeling each year. Now I was 40 years old, yet growing younger each day. My lifestyle had radically changed and a different part of me was emerging from some vast inner sea. The new emergence burst through like an inner Oceanic volcano. The new 'me' was the powerful upsurge of lava from that volcano. It burst through the Ocean forming a mysterious island. This island augured an open opportunity for new growth, despite its initial, primitive entrance - an entrance built on calamity and destruction. 40 years were swept aside for new birth - 40 years that I could vaguely recall that saw me end up with nothing. Everything I once had was gone, swept away by the tumult of the eruption. What I carried with me into Europe was the stark remainder of 40 years, aside from one very, very important person that I loved so dearly.... my daughter. But, as sure as being lost, she was beyond my reach. The pain of this was hard to bear. But my emergence into Europe offered a new birth and a chance to discover a part of me that could, as a life task, be a required discovery for both the World and I. The children in Narnia, Alice in Wonderland, Thomas Covenant in the Land and a host of other stories about an ordinary life swept into the realms of an extraordinary world.... this could summarize the inner experience of the journey I was about to undertake.
Up until Irit my social contacts were courtesy of Scot, Tom or the extroversy of chance acquaintance. I had remained fairly introverted. Now my extroversy gradually increased as I accepted this new world as my reality. Slowly, though not overly consciously, I would move toward building my own social circles.... because I understood the motivation for such a thing. An important part of 'what we are' is the knowledge that there are those who care for 'what we are'. I had been catapulted into a new life... but this new life was worthless without self-value or without someone who wanted to know a little ABOUT my new life. Not someone in England who spares a few minutes on the phone, but someone here NOW...seeing me, hearing me NOW. I wanted someone who loved me enough to shed a tear if I slipped into the River Schelde and drowned. A selfish thing? No! It is self-value! Without this there is no valid existence and no aspiration. Irit had fired me to write a song through my disappointment with her, but it could only have occurred through my awareness I was valued by her in some way. Like a spark in the night, self value had briefly entered my life once more through Irit - inspiring a desire to do more than just exist. To regain that value I wrote my 'siren song' and it had an immediate effect. It stopped the frizzling away of self-value by directly aiding my introduction to Char. With my music and my social matters I faced two daunting mountains. But when ascending mountains you can rarely see the summit.... merely the edge or ridge that obscures the view of the ascent beyond. Perhaps this is best.... otherwise it might be decided it is too big a task to attempt. One more ridge is merely one more bridge.

Char - with her black, midnight hair...
It was too hot to play during the day and too hot for people to greatly desire to sit on terraces. Those who did would find it too hot to appreciate live music. Late evening was work time for the busker. This meant that Tom and I slept until mid-afternoon, or later, as a general routine. Then we would cook a healthy dinner and relax ourselves awake in the cool dining room. It seemed Dambrugge was the only place I'd been to, in Antwerp, that didn't surround me with humidity and heat. One we were relaxed and refreshed we would head out , around nine in the evening, to work.
In the Conscience Tom and I set up to play the terraces there. I was nervous because I had arranged to meet Char in this square.. and she was due to arrive any moment. That's if she DID plan to honour our early morning agreement to meet. I didn't really know her at all. For all I knew I may never see her again. I was desperately hoping she would come. At the same time I was desperately hoping she would not arrive while I was having a bum gig, so my nerves ensured I concentrated on my singing and performance. I was singing 'Nancy Spain'. It was going well and the energy from the audience felt good.... Char came spinning hurriedly into the Square with her black, midnight hair newly washed and vibrantly swelling around her semi-excited, semi-nervous face. Clearly she was contritious on being slightly late, but clearly she had viewed our meeting as an important event by the time she had evidently spent in preparation. My joy at her arrival was matched by my relief that I was performing and singing well... and by an inner confusion about what should happen next. Having lived in the same area of Southern England for the past forty years it could validly be claimed I was Culturally Closeted (CC). I expected people and situations to respond in a time honoured fashion. There was little in that experience to clue me up on what happens next in this situation.
I was in the situation where I needed to work.... and where I needed to progress this first date with Char. I had to try to achieve both without too much compromise on one or the other. On the one hand I risked annoying my duo partner... on the other I risked annoying and possibly losing Char. Would she be willing to follow me around while I worked. I half expected this, but I couldn't be sure.... and it gave me a shy feeling. In such a case I wanted her to hear me perform perfectly... with never an unappreciative audience to make me feel 'small'. As it turned out, Tom and I were able to continue playing terraces, while Char did a mixture of waiting or alarmingly disappearing for awhile. In between terrace sets I would seek to bridge the difficult mind link and play her love songs. While I sang to her our eyes drunk thirstily of each other and spoke in ways our minds were too primitive to comprehend. Thousands of people flooded the Cathedral and its environs with a party spirit that is part and parcel of Antwerp in mid Summer. It was exciting, but such a gem as Char could be lost to the crowd forever if I failed to win her desire to continue this somewhat chaotic first date and make sure of a second. As I played terrace sets with Tom I hoped Char wouldn't feel I'm neglecting her and poutily dismiss me from her life. The nervousness of this first date made it all too clear that a second date should be in a private environment, where meat can be put on to the bones of attraction.

The souls of Char and I dance
Char worked at the Zoo as a Summer job. The zoo was by Central Station - less than five minutes stroll from Dambrugge. Char suggested that she visit me the next day after work. This was far more amenable an idea than that first date. Suddenly everything clicked in. She could visit me after work at around five.... and when she left to go home, around nine, I could get to the task of playing terraces with Tom. As I retired to bed, after the testing experience of the first date, I could sleep, relaxed, in the knowledge that my new life was beginning to take shape -and that, after believing my life was over, I had a new dawn...and a new girlfriend.
Char would come, after work, to visit me. We would lose ourselves somewhere in each other's soul. I felt sure, on a root level, that we were in love within the first couple of days. Our souls had raced to this... before our mind, body and heart had had time to reason it all out. It almost seemed our souls already knew each other... long before we were confined into separate organic beings here on Earth....

OK! It's your stage, Cranky Brian! Shoot....
Do souls clarify their ethereal relationship by challenging it with the cold, hard tests of survival and its resultant influences on a mind and body that is largely unaware of its true existence in soul form? The survival interpreted by mind, body and heart... may resist the impulses of soul, because the impulses remind us of a wonderful existence we have come that, ultimately, we will return to. To be reminded may instil a wish for premature return... or a vehement, proprietary resistance by mind, body or heart of their territory. But people who arrive at a point where their lives appeared 'washed up' may loosen the confident hold of mind, body and heart - and open a keen awareness of their soul. With awareness of our true nature can come a re-opening of purpose that will re-fire meaning. It could enable the soul to remind mind, body and heart that there are tasks to be done - and that it knows what those tasks are... even though it could reveal only glimpses of what it sees to our barely comprehending mind, body and heart. Soul awareness and a new purpose creates a cocoon ... from which a new person emerges... with a new sense of identity. The survival instinct, which can be the most dominant feature of our lives, is modified and balanced by awareness that seeking to feed good energy to others should NOT be relegated by fear of survival.
...But any idea that this was a simple relationship, within my CC experience, would be swiftly dispelled.

How I became a busker (part seven)

To look outside myself for meaning
My aspirations on the female front became a mass of tattered illusion. It seemed the emptiness in my heart could never be filled and I found it hard to imagine I could ever trust a woman with my heart. My anger and frustration sank into a deep well of sorrow... and my heart cried for love... for meaning..... for someone to refire my emotions and re-connect me to the world of the living. For this, I would need to look outside myself.... at the needs of others. A paradox? To fulfil my need.... I must fulfil another's..... Do you see sorrow in my eyes? - Will you say "No", turn away? - Or stay looking at me though I can't hide my pain - See my loneliness, see my dismay? ...... Got a verse. Got a melody. Now, how about a second verse? .... Do you see longing in my eyes? - Will you say "No", turn away? - Or stay looking at me hoping you can be there - To bring comfort and warmth to my day?..... My new creation entranced me as it broke through an egg of anguish and despair into the melody and words of a chorus... my 'siren' call.... Are your eyes green or blue? - Is your hair dark or fair? - Would you like to get to know me? - Are you out there anywhere? Is my heart on my sleeve? - Does it hide in my pride? - Would you like to get to know me and to be there - by my side?
My critical assessment concluded it would need two more verses. But everything was said... and the song was too 'poor me'. How to brighten it? To fulfil my need... I must fulfil another's...... Do I see sorrow in your eyes? Will I say "No", turn away?- Or stay looking at you though you can't hide your pain? See your loneliness, see your dismay?.... Suddenly the song had evolved into poignant potency because it had empathy for all people of the world who could read their story from the words. The final verse.... Do I see longing in your eyes? - Will I say "No", turn away? - Or stay looking at you hoping I can be there - To bring comfort and warmth to your day?.... The melody was framed onto a waltz (3/4). As my new creation fully emerged from its shell I stroked it. It was a part of me manifesting onto voice and guitar. As with any baby I took parental care to nurture its fragile early life... giving it energy to grow.

The Statue and the Flying man
I spent the evening working with Tom, but I hazily distracted. I wanted my creation to remain with me despite the spoiling concentration required on events that intervened. Sometimes a song simply disappears. I usually work by the principle that any song lost to memory after a day is probably a dud song. But 'Are you out there?' was my first sole creation in Belgium. I wanted to protect it. Ken, Tom and I had co-operated on a humorous song telling the tale of the 'Statue and the Flying man'. It concerned an incident that had occurred in the Cathedral Square between two street performers. Tom had witnessed it and his telling induced reams of laughter from Ken and I. We can firmly say our collaborated song tells "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing like the truth."
Ken spent half a year in New York and half a year in Europe trying to become a 'star' or, if not, just enjoying the crack of it all. He always dared to try to push both himself and his music. My persistent weakness was that I rarely pushed enough... it seems a lifelong flaw. Ken was trying to put together a video for his song, 'Welcome to Antwerp', and he had conscripted Tom to film him in various locations around the city during the day, while I was busy with my creation. I suggested he approach ATV (Antwerp Television) with the song and completed video. It led eventually to ATV doing an interview and allowed Ken to add another piece of publicity to his cv.

Chat Noir - a warm encounter in the warm Summer night
After the evening was gone and the night drifted to two in the morning I strolled, via the Conscienceplein, with Ken and Tom back towards Dambruggestraat. Ken wanted to test the feasibility of night video shots in the Conscience. While Ken danced from here to there... with Tom in attentive pursuit.... I took in the peace of the Square. This peace remained palpable despite the odd twang coming from Ken's guitar, or Ken and Tom's technical exchange on which spot was best.... or the occasional giggle of two girls sitting against the plinth that paraded a stone faced, re-assuring Hendrik Conscience. Hendrik was accredited with teaching the people of Antwerp how to read.... at least that was the mish-mashed legend I was told. Whatever the mundane reality may have been my mind distorted the imagery into a pictorial farce that I found slightly humorous...... "OK, Cedric, now you can read..... Next!"
With nothing to do, except sit and watch my dancing friends, I remembered my new song. I drew out my guitar and played. I was aware of the two girls behind me. Whether they listened, or not, they fulfilled my desire for an audience and that was important for the inner mood. When a song has been written - and when it derives from an immediate emotion - it is as though an inner child is doing the singing. When does a baby become a distinct and separate entity from its mother? When does a mother feel that a baby is an independent being? The two girls ceased their giggling. They came to sit to the left of me about 3 metres distant. The song drew to its sad and melancholic end.... "That was a nice song!" said the girl dressed in black... with black hair and dark pools for eyes. "Thanks," I replied, shyly embarrassed, "It's a new song I wrote today. I'm trying not to forget it."
"Where do you come from?" asked the blond companion. She had a slightly fuller appearance, well endowed in all the right places. With her bright, short Summery skirt she was more instantly appealing on a physical plane. But my future experience on the continent would teach me to swiftly dismiss people who trawl out "Where do you come from?" as an opening line.Those who grew important to me had their very own personal assessment of where I was coming from.... right or wrong.
The dark-haired girl, in contrast to the blond, seemed to be seeking to blend into the night everything except her face and mind, yet this very striving somehow made her more visible to me. The blonde girl was Anya. The dark-haired girl was... "Charlene! But I don't like the last bit! I call myself Char." Well, I guess my first impression was of a small black kitten. But Char was close enough in sound to the French word Chat ( cat). A cat that sought to blend into the night. Chat Noir. The cat had grown to nineteen years old. "We go to the same school," said seventeen year old Anya. Through the ticker tape of intros I asked Char what she wanted to... "I want to write a book," said she.
Cliche! Everyone seems to want to write a book, thought I.......including me. But I picked up the ambience of creative reaching.... so I said, " Sounds interesting." Meanwhile Tom and Ken had completed their dance....or had noticed the sudden onset of a more interesting dance and wanted in.
It was August... Summer...and Antwerp. The early hours of the morning were atmospheric in such a place as the Conscience. Words danced in weaving patterns as the time moved to five.... "Well!" said Ken, " How about a coffee back home? You wanna come, girls?" Char and Anya chewed it over... then said, "OK!"....with the qualification that Anya had to catch a bus at seven, while Char had to leave by nine for work. Yeah, I know these aren't exactly normal hours etc., but this is Antwerp. Day is often viewed as night and vice versa.
Jokes and superficial subjects - guess that was the brunt of it. But it seemed Char and I belonged in a different field, seeing things in a different way to the others. I can make this assertion despite the sparsity of our vocal exchange. I just knew there was some special link between us..... and yet I didn't know this at all. How can I begin to explain any of this?

Don't let her out of your life!
We all sat around the dining table at Dambrugge, except for Tom. He clucked in a humorous assimilation of 'mother', making tea or coffee. Char and I sat side by side, but it was a social atmosphere that demanded open dialogue between us all so any one on one effort was unworkable. So I resorted to body signals. My arm brushed against hers and there was no hasty retraction from her.... nor a belated one. A promising sign. Anya left at seven, but Char stayed until near nine. When she made to leave I saw her to the door. Inside me, something was shaking with urgent need. It stripped away all of my outer veneer. It screamed at me, 'DON'T LET HER OUT OF YOUR LIFE!'. "I don't know why," I stammered, " but I MUST see you again! Please meet me tonight!" My expression was a blur of urgent, panicky pleading. Char's face bore a mixture of surprise, confusion and... curiously enough... traces of a similar urgency. I didn't understand why I had so crashingly fallen for her. I am usually reticent to commit myself too rapidly with new acquaintance.
I didn't know if she really wanted to see me again. She said she would meet me. I had to be content with that.
Once away from her presence I was able to re-muster Brian a little. I was mystified by my emotional outburst to this female stranger. It wasn't like me to be so.
In a city where day often becomes night Ken, Tom and I looked at the clock. It was ten in the morning. We retreated to our respective beds... and our respective dreams.
Welcome to the Labyrinth Busker journal. How much I publish on this blogspot depends on how much I like the blog tools. Meanwhile, here is a list of homepages for some of my websites:
My main homepage
A Flash website where music, images and imagination seek empathy with your soul and mind.
Audio and Lyrics site
This site has recordings of my songs (scraped together on the road) with lyrics. Plain and simple.
About me
My first ever website (published Feb, 1994) is a run down on my busking past, my journal and the vast reservoir of content therein.
My Hometown site contains articles, stories and much more. Treat this area like a magazine and browse what sounds interesting.
Pearce Family Photos
Some remarkable archive photos stretching across the 20th Century - including unique photos of wartime in Iceland and Egypt.
My brother traces his ancestors back into the halls of Kings and onward into the Dark Ages. See history unfold and be entertained.
Philip Seibel is one of the most talented unsigned artists in Europe. Listen to his music and judge for yourself. But one hint: he can play the a**e off most other guitarists in Europe and conceive fascinating songs.
A Buskerbrian History of Time
Busker Brian sees the Universe in a very different way to almost everyone else. Take a look at his alternative theorising.
Asperger's Syndrome
Society wants to place us into boxes. What Society actually NEEDS to progress is the 'individual'.

Anyhow, I'll leave you with that. Bye for now.