Most customers I deal with in my shop would tell you that I seem like a happy guy who enjoys running his own business.
For the most part that is true; my business partner and I run a small service business in the centre of Galway’s busy shopping district and, like anyone else running a small shop, we have busy days and quiet days but the main thing is, after two years in business, we’ve been able to pay the bills, pay our staff and keep most of our customers happy. And we’re thankful for that.
However, my close friends, as well as my colleagues and some of my more regular customers will be aware that, all is in fact not rosy in my day-to-day working experience.
Before I go on, I want you to concentrate for a moment and picture this: imagine a sound, a bad sound, a sound that you in fact hate. Innocuous at first but becoming steadily more assured, this sound gets so bad it goes through the ears and gets inside your head, it penetrates your mind and infuses itself directly into your thoughts until it clouds them out in an auditory fog that affects your mood, your thought patterns and, ultimately, your quality of life.
This, of course is subjective; the particular sound you’ve thought of may not have the same effect on me as it does on you and vice versa. However, imagine now that this sound that you hate is played continuously at you, on a loop, for hours, every single day. Can that be classified as torture, and who decides if it can or not?
I have this problem. I have been subjected to this nearly every day at work for the past two years. The sound I am forced to endure comes from the street, right outside my shop. It comes from a place you might not expect: a busker. That is, one busker in particular who, rain, hail, snow or shine, projects his sound daily, for hours on end, consistently and on a loop, the same eight songs, over and over and over.
And boy, does he project. He ‘sings’ or more accurately, he roars at the top of his voice. Even with all the windows of the shop closed he’s still loud. He doesn’t have an amplifier; he doesn’t need one, as he’s twice as loud as any amplifier.
It’s believed the Pentagon forced prisoners at Guantanamo to listen to ‘Barney the Dinosaur’ for 24 straight hours. Sergeant Mark Hadsell, a member of the US Psychological Operations team has been quoted as saying “Your brain and body functions start to slide, your train of thought slows down and your will is broken.” That pretty much sums up the effect my busker has on my work colleagues and I each day.
Just to set the record straight, I have nothing against buskers in general; they are as much a part of the Galway vibe, as say, folks enjoying a chilled bottle of Buckfast at the Spanish Arch on a hot summer’s day. Buskers are a part of Galway life, always have been and always should be, but surely there is a need for some codes of practise. There are issues that need to be discussed with the council.
For example, should a busker be allowed lay claim to his or her ‘spot’, preventing other buskers from using that spot during the time that busker has laid claim to it, day after day, the same time every day?
Should they be required to have a minimum number of songs in their repertoire?
There’s also been a bit of discussion on whether or not buskers should be allowed to use amplifiers on the street, but personally I don’t think amplifiers are the problem. After all, how can an electric guitar be heard without an amplifier? My gripe is that I’m forced to listen to the same busker day-in day-out and it drives me cracked. I can’t work in peace and I can’t think straight, as he has the auditory level of a Banshee.
So how does one address these issues? Well, let’s look at what they’ve done in Dublin for a start. In Dublin they’ve launched a ‘code of practise’ for street performers. The code aims to make buskers and performers less of a nuisance to the local businesses and to the rest of us. This code of practise has been proposed by Dublin’s street performers and then developed with local traders and Dublin City Council. It’s not some draconian law that punishes street performers in any way, rather, the issues were ironed out between the street performers and Dublin City Council so everyone is happy.
The new code focuses on 17 different aspects of street performing. These include volume, amp free zones, proximity to each other, proximity to businesses, pitch ethics, silent acts, behaviour, merchandise, performance times, crowd control, repertoire, drum kits, repeat offenders, health and safety, respecting the code and the benefits of respecting the code. If it works in Dublin, surely it can work here in Galway.
The Pentagon reckons that being forced to listen to ‘Barney’ 24/7 doesn’t amount to torture and I guess they have the final say on what happens in Guantanamo. The closest approximation to the Pentagon we have here in Galway must be the council, so I say to Galway City Council, let’s discuss this openly and fairly and let each side have their say. Then let’s consider adopting a similar code of practise like Dublin City Council has done. And most importantly, let’s stop the torture.