I didn't think I'd end up sketching environmental-health officers the day before yesterday, but I happened to be practising my drawing when they, and the police, moved in on a band called The Two Busketeers, playing in Cornmarket outside HSBC. Three police whose numbers — 7467, 3190, and 4988 — I saw, and perhaps another whose I didn't. This seemed excessive.This is a quick sketch of the environmental-health officer who was doing most of the speaking, together with some of what she was saying:
— There's people working here who don't need to hear your noise.
— Don't you think the police have enough to do?
— The rules change, unfortunately. It's your responsibility. We do everything we can. If you choose not to read it, that's your matter. It's your attitude, isn't it?
— If you display printed matter, that's an £80 fine for distribution of printed matter.
— If you give the CDs away, that goes under the distribution of free printed matter.
— If you ask for donations, that's vagrancy, which is begging.
— I'm in the city centre every day. If I see anything untoward.
— And I can tell you that all the busking spots are taken!
It's a rough sketch, and shaky, but I wasn't entirely confident that she wouldn't have me arrested. Perhaps for free distribution of unprinted matter. What was distasteful was the glee that the officers and police seemed to take in telling the band that they weren't allowed to sell CDs, ask for donations towards CDs, give away CDs, or even show their business cards. For example. "There's people working here who don't need to hear your noise". OK, perhaps the officer didn't like the music, or did believe it was too loud. But calling it noise was gratuitous. And there seemed to be more than the legally-required amount of schadenfreude in her final retort: "And I can tell you that all the busking spots are taken!"
Band member to policeman: "It's bloody ridiculous". Police to band member: "I could arrest you right now for your attitude". As a South Korean friend of mine, who grew up under the dictatorship, said: "The band were only expressing their frustration. Surely it's against human rights to arrest someone because they complain".
I've enjoyed listening to buskers, and buying their CDs, in Verona, Eindhoven, Maastricht, Paris, Poitiers, Aachen, and Heidelberg. It seems a shame that tourists from these and other cities won't now be able to get the same enjoyment in Oxford.