I came to this country during a very cold winter 10 years ago. I’d arrived from Spain, which was in economic crisis at the time and I’d not been able to work for a year.
I had a friend who worked in London and they helped me get a job as a janitor and find a room to rent. At first, I thought I wouldn’t last long here because that winter was the coldest one in my life, but I soon started to fall in love with the UK.
After adapting to a different culture and solving my problems with the language, I never wanted to leave because I loved the freedom, the way of life, and the fact that people from all around the world live in respectful harmony together in London.
It’s something I’ve noticed, as someone who busks nearly everyday at some of the capital’s famous landmarks.
But when lockdown and coronavirus struck, everything changed. The city, so full of life, came to a standstill. Busking became nonsensical with no audience to play to.
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I was born in Galicia, in northern Spain, and I’ve been studying and practicing everything related to our national instrument – the Galician bagpipe – since I was 10.
I ended up busking after other Galicians in London found out I played it and encouraged me to take it up as my profession. I gave up the janitor job to focus on my new and exciting career in which I would not only busk, but also teach and play private parties, weddings and funerals. I also volunteered to help organise cultural and traditional events for the Galician community in London.
To earn enough money, I decided to play in Westminster. It was here that I met fellow buskers who encouraged me to buy a kilt and set of Scottish bagpipes as they thought it would improve my earnings. It did – I guess tourists love the traditional Scottish look!
It was a challenge to learn to play another instrument, with its different fingering, techniques and tunes, but I love playing Scottish bagpipes. The three drones (the pipes that omit a continuous note underneath the tune), when tuned properly, have a magical effect that touches my heart and soul.
I also love busking because everyday is different. I love seeing people smile, dance and sing along when they request songs. I get joy from playing happy birthday to strangers and from sharing knowledge with other musicians. It’s something great.
The day after I stopped playing because of the pandemic, I saw some of my colleagues on BBC News – I could see that they were the only ones on Westminster Bridge. It was the saddest postcard of the city I’ve ever seen.
It’s been hard for buskers. Tourism, which is our main source of income, has completely vanished. My booked events also got cancelled and I had to stop the lessons I was giving.
Even with my Universal Credit approved, I couldn’t stay home. I felt like I had to go out and do something, whatever I could, to help.
I decided to apply for a job in a hospital as a cleaner, as I had relevant experience. Thanks to a friend I got in contact with an agency that offered me a job and on 31 March, I started work.
But as of two weeks ago, we have not been provided with proper PPE any more, just face masks and gloves
At first, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. There wasn’t a single confirmed Covid-19 patient in the first two weeks. I was really surprised.
By 8 April, the first confirmed case in my area of the hospital appeared; by Easter Monday, eight of the 12 rooms I looked after contained confirmed cases of Covid-19. I could see how these numbers grew exponentially in the whole hospital.
I realised some colleagues and other staff were getting scared. I knew what I was going to face once I started working there and, at least initially, I was expecting an even worse situation, such as a shortage of staff and respirators, ICUs with dying people and patients waiting to be attended to. I thank God that it wasn’t anything like that.
At that time, we were provided with proper PPE every time we had to go into an infected room. But as of two weeks ago, we have not been provided with proper PPE any more, just face masks and gloves. We are told never to touch the patients and never to get closer than one metre to them.
We had a meeting where it was explained to us that we wouldn’t need PPE because our patients had already recovered in another nearby hospital and were moved here to finish their isolation period.
I don’t feel scared because I have a strong faith in God and myself, and I’m a very positive person – I believe in the power of the mind and emotions. But I see other cleaners and nurses feeling scared.
I even gave some PPE I had spare to a nurse who asked me for it. She was very thankful and surprised.
My plan for the future is to stay in this job at the hospital, especially because we don’t know what going back to normality will be like. I really love to help, even cleaning. It’s a huge responsibility because if a room is not properly disinfected after a patient is discharged, another healthy patient can get the virus, or even die. I also love the human relations I can experience in a hospital.
No one knows what’s happening and what’s going to happen, but I love to adapt myself to circumstances. I’d really like to be able to keep busking and performing on the weekends when the tourists come back to London.
I hope it will be a very good time for buskers, musicians, and performers when we defeat this virus and people start to travel again. I look forward to meeting people while out playing.
Whenever I play, musicians of different ethnicities stop to greet me and tell me their stories, from Italian and Greek bagpipers, to Jewish shofar players, or Chinese hulusi fluters.
Being a busker means meeting a lot of interesting and lovely people from every culture, from everywhere. It was a gift and I can’t wait to get back to it.
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