BUSKING AT XMAS ~ BOSTON STREET
Mi mum had given her consent for me to go to Australia with the Big Brother Movement so I was now in the middle of sending forms backwards and forwards to London. The whole process took about a year to complete.
Bruce Whipp, the Australian who used to live next door to us, had already packed in his job and taken his Yorkshire wife and 3 small children back to Australia. Before he had left he said to me that as soon as he had an address and phone number he would send it on to me and being true to his word, I had his letter in my top drawer in mi bedroom.
It was almost Christmas now. The weather had turned icy cold and it looked like we were all in for a cold, hard Yorkshire winter. I had decided to make this Christmas mi last one with Elland Silver Band because as well as leaving home for Australia I had lost a lot of interest in playing Brass Band music. I would be 15 soon and the thought of going to Australia consumed the interest I'd had in the Brass Band.
I would tell most of mi friends at school, "I'll be leaving school earlier than you lot because I've been accepted in a program that takes boys under 18 to Australia and finds work for them on farms and out in the Bush,"
"You're only joking with us Dick-lad.," they'd say. "You won't be leaving school before we do. You'll be stuck in Sowerby Bridge for the rest of your life, the same as us, so why do you persist in spinning us all a big yarn?"
"All right. I won't say another word about it. You're right and I'm wrong. I'll be leaving school the same day as you lot!"
"That's better Dick. It's unheard of to leave school before your time and whoever heard of a 15-year-old boy going to Australia on his own! But, we've got to hand it to you Dick; you sure can spin a good yarn. Where do you think them up from?"
"Just joking lads." I said.
"Yeah, let's play 'closest to the wall'.
As it got closer to Christmas, Elland Band got ready for the Christmas Carol Busking day. Every 25th of December we would all get together as a band and play Christmas carols in the streets and this 25th was no exception. One of the older band members picked me up in Sowerby Bridge 'cause the double decker buses did not start to run till late on Christmas morning. When we were all ready, present and organized we set off up the road, marching and playing in our bright red & gold uniforms. Against a background of pure white snow, no one could miss seeing or hearing us as we stood at the top of the terraced streets and played everybody's favorite Christmas carols.
We always took about 10 band friends along with us and their job was to walk down the streets with the collection boxes and knock at the doors.
"Merry Christmas from Elland Silver Prize Band!", they'd say as the people smiled and put a couple of shillings into the collection box.
Now, prior to the 25th, I had decided to do some busking around the streets with mi trumpet to see how much money I could make for Christmas. I said to mi pal, Steven Powell,
"Do you want to make some money tonight?"
"What do I have to do for it?", he said.
"I'm going out busking with mi trumpet so if you want to come along here's what we'll do."
After I explained the procedure to him, he liked the idea. We decided to meet halfway between this house and mine.
It was a really cold night and the snow was falling in large fluffy flakes as we trudged through the snow to an area I knew of a few miles away. When we eventually arrived in the high-class area, I said to Steven, "We come here because terraced-houses only contain poor people. In this area they're all rich 'cause they live in semi-detached houses or bungalows, so here's the plan. We go to the first door and you knock and as soon as they open it, I'll start to play a Carol on mi trumpet and you start to sing. While you're singing along with me, take this tin I brought with me and stick it under their noses. Make sure you smile 'cause I can't smile and play trumpet at the same time. Oh, and try to look cold and shivery. That's a good one. It always sucks 'em in!"
By the time an hour had passed we had quite a few bob rattling up and down in the tin. Steve and me had a great time that evening, even though it was freezing cold and we were covered in snow. It was so cold that at one point we knocked on a door and waited. As soon as it opened, I put the trumpet to mi lips and played the first two G's to Good King Wenceslas. When I went to push the first and second valves down to make an A, the valves on the trumpet had frozen up so this horrible noise came out of the Bell and we heard a baby start to cry from upstairs. As the door fully opened, an angry young woman appeared. Out of fear, Steve stuck our collection tin under her nose and kept singing. Steve was not much of a singer so the woman said, "Shut that ghastly noise up! You should learn to sing before you go out busking and as far as your friends' trumpet playing goes, he'd have been better off leaving it at home, 'cause all he's done with that noisy, obnoxious thing is to wake up my baby!! Here's 2 bob.", she said as she gave us both a dirty look. "Now bugger off and don't come back here again or I'll call the cops!"
I couldn't help myself so I started to laugh at the situation. "Come on Steve, the lady does not appreciate good music when she hears it!"
"I'll 'good music' you two rascals if you come knocking on my door again this Christmas!"
"Let's go down the road a-ways Steve. There's some more bungalows that I know of. I'll have to take mi trumpet valves out first and spit on 'em to get 'em going."
"Why don't you put some oil on 'em Dick. It'll save you spitting on them?"
" 'Cause valve oil is no good in cold weather. It makes 'em stick worse. They'll be all right in a minute and as soon as I've got 'em freed up I'll just have to keep them moving as we're walking along. Let's go to that big house at the end of that street.", I said to Steve as we trudged on through the cold evening.
"All right, same procedure Dick?"
"Same procedure Steve. As soon as the door starts to open, we'll play. 'We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, then smile and rattle the tin and don't be shy about rattling the tin. The noise of the tin reminds them we're not just here for the good of our health or to play for free. That's how Elland Band does it and it always works, so give it a good hard rattle. Are you ready?"
"All right, knock now. Wait till they come. I can hear their footsteps but don't make a sound yet."
The large ornate door handle started to turn.
"Now Steve!", I said.
I struck up the first few notes of 'We wish you a Merry Christmas', and Steve was right with me. He was also in key, which made a change for him. As soon as the big door swung open Steve's mouth fell open and he stopped singing. I had the habit of closing my eyes when I played so I opened them to find out why he was not singing and rattling our collection tin as we had planned. I almost stopped playing myself when I saw who was blocking the light from the open door. It was Mr. Miles, our school Headmaster! I don't know who got the greatest shock, him or us. 'Screw him.' I thought. 'It's Christmas'! I stamped on Steve's toe and he immediately came out of shock and started to rattle the tin and sing at the top of his voice, in another key.
"All right, you've made your point!", said Miles. "How much is this little prank going to cost me?"
"Most people give as much as they can afford Sir.", I said.
"I should have known you'd say that Swindells before I asked!"
Miles was now well and truly hooked. If he didn't cough up, he knew that I'd tell everyone at school what a Scrooge he was. He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a handful of money. He took a half crown and dropped it through the rough cut-out slot of Steves' tin.
He was just about to put his money away, when I said, "Sir, there's two of us." He gave me one of his famous 'school Headmaster looks' and then dropped another half crown into the tin.
"Would you like us to finish the song Sir?", I said.
"I don't think so Swindells. I think my Christmas holiday has been well and truly ruined enough."
"Well, thank you very much Sir. I hope you have a very merry Christmas."
He wasted no time closing the big, expensive door. As soon as me and Steve got out of earshot, we burst into sidesplitting laughter.
That evening, cold as it was, we were now 3 pounds each better off and for all the canings we'd each received from old Miles over the years, we now felt like we were one-up on the sadistic old bugger!