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CABBAGES & KINGS: Spoons player more gripping than tour guide
10:00am Friday 27th April 2012 in Columns
WITH his wispy white hair and long and unruly white beard, Simon could pass for a leprechaun from Ireland, where he spends much of his life. His broad smile, revealing teeth that could benefit from a visit to the dentist, and his witty quips, guaranteed to attract attention, make him a welcome ‘guest act’ among the Cornmarket Street buskers.
This is before he starts to play the spoons, that traditional instrument (if we can call them such) of tavern entertainers of a century ago. With background music from a small disc player, he turns simple tunes into symphonies.
I felt sorry for a guide escorting a score of Belgian teenage girls around the city. The party had stopped below the tower of St Michael at the North Gate and he was going through the usual stuff about it being the oldest building in town. Simon was in mid-performance by the railings of the church only yards away.
The girls’ eyes and ears were on the music maker; the tower could wait. What was a few more minutes in 1,000 years? Simon grasped the opportunity and without missing a single frantic tap, he invited them to wave. They did – all of ‘em – throwing in a noisy giggle as well.
It’s enough to break a guide’s heart.
STAFF at Oxford’s Register Office, to be found where New Road gives way to Park End Street, must have nerves of steel and the patience of a saint.
Eight feet away on the road is a two-foot-square metal cover that to be described as ill-fitting is an understatement. Each time a vehicle passes over, there’s an almighty clang capable of waking the dead while scaring the living to death.
“It’s been like that for months,” said Iris, an octogenarian from Botley Road who walks into Oxford each day to – I quote – keep her heart ticking and her feet moving.
“Every time I walk past, some bus hits it. I can’t help it. I leap heavenwards. One of these days I won’t come down.”
I noticed there were blue markings on the road, a sure indication that someone had inspected it. But as we know, that doesn’t mean action is in the offing.
THEY were sewing sexy rows of buttons on up-market gowns long before Pippa Middleton was born. But tomorrow Anna Belinda, that couturier for Oxford’s discerning ladies, closes for the last time.
And what will Belinda O’Hanlon, who opened this Aladdin’s Cave of fashion 41 years ago, be doing now she has decided to retire? She’ll be taking it easy, reflecting on what she says has been a wonderful life full of colour.
But, somehow, that corner in Gloucester Street will never be the same again.