The violinist's Queen St lament

Last updated 07:03 20/12/2012

It was a random act of kindness which would have moved even that great exponent, the late Princess Diana - and it went around the world.

When a New York policeman gave the once-over to a homeless man huddled against a cold wall, he noticed the man's bare feet.

Unlike the usual image of the Big Apple's tough cops - he went away, bought the man a pair of boots and knelt to help put them on.

This act of humanity was snapped by an amazed tourist and photos set it loose on the websites of the world.

It "went viral" - as they say these days. It caught the imagination of millions.

And for some reason, I was back more than 50 years.

When I first found Queen St - a country boy unused to the oddities of big city life - a well-known/little-known character walked the street seemingly totally out of touch with the people around him.

He was playing his violin endlessly and passionately as he walked.

Queen St of those days saw nothing odd in that.

The popular legend was that his wife had died in the blazing wreck of their home while he saved his violin.

Newcomers like me were riveted by him - this tall, unforgettable, completely absorbed figure walking briskly through businessmen heading for conferences, young lawyers - formal papers in hand, heading pods of brothers-in-law self-importantly towards the old Magistrate's Court or the Supreme Court dramas over the crest of the hill.

Auckland's commercial big names idly passed the time of day with fellow members on the way to the Northern Club, past hectic shoppers remembering someone's birthday at the last minute, teenagers in their first job chatting noisily on street corners.

Motorcycle gang members parked lined up alongside their shining mounts outside Queen St 246 that they regarded as their patch.

Later, a brave university student parked his little brother's trike at the end of the row, took out a cleaning rag and solemnly mimicked the routine which the patched men of heavy metal lavished on their steeds for most of their day before they roared off, to lord knows where.

There were words said and the fearless triky very wisely never called again for an encore.

What would have been the biggest example of a turf war on Queen St was fought some time in the early fifties when a self-appointed posse of Compulsory Military Trainee other ranks came from Papakura camp bearing some grudge and staged a raid on the bikers.

It was quite a dust-up. as the newly-fit CMTs tried out some of their new fitness and skills.

A one-time national champion boxer, meagre prize money long spent, heading to work on the wharves was activated endlessly as playful tram drivers rang their bells when they sighted him.

Old reflexes surfaced. He immediately settled into a fighter's pose, leading with his left, crossing with his right.

People - and another weird memory.

More than 50 years ago, a young Auckland Star reporter - not me - came back from an assignment with a colour story from Herald Island. He had text and pics of a man who had the body of his embalmed wife in her casket in their front sitting room.

I was unwise enough to ask the writer what health considerations were involved. He quoted the mourning husband's reply: "There are some problems with ants in the summer."

One colourful Auckland city identity from a long chain of footpath celebrities died in recent months. That warranted a news item for TV3.

Simply known as Margaret, she had clear territory - K Rd, Ponsonby Rd and its environs. She apparently lived in a Parnell unit and travelled from there and back by bus most days for 27 years.

In her long grey fur coat, with sharp eyes, she had impressive presence, and plied upon this for cigarettes, spare change and casual food. Woe betold anyone who had those needs put on them and could not or would not provide.

A woman of few words, she used them all full volume at such moments.

I thought too of the imposing bearded, heavy-coated and surly night tenant of the one-time tram passenger waiting shelter at the city mouth of Grafton bridge.

For years, he made it very clear he disliked being woken and having to move each morning.

And I remembered my first contact with the overseas homeless.

I was approached one afternoon on Sydney's Central railway station by a very well-spoken character carrying a briefcase.

"I am very sorry to worry you but I appear to have left my wallet on my sideboard at home and I haven't a bean on me, nor my rail pass. I wondered if you could help me."

I took in at a glance, the grubby, worn, long unwashed shirt, untrimmed hair, shoes close to collapse. I sympathised with him without a hint of disbelief.

I helped. He shook my hand warmly and we went our ways.

I've never forgotten him, just as I remember Auckland's man with the violin and wondered who and why, where from and what lay ahead and behind them on the often heedless streets of their cities.

Especially at Christmas. When the violin's output had a particular quality - for those who heard it, that is. Did you?

If you know more about the man with the violin, write to Off Pat via this paper or email offpat@snl.co.nz.

Happy Christmas - and a year of random kindness to all.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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