It’s weird how fate brings people together. I have two friends that I met when I was in my 20s. Forty-five years later and we are still communicating. The three of us lived in a run-down street in Camberwell called Longcroft Road. John Taylor: very thin, prominent jaw bone and long, fair hair; Alan Merriweather: slightly overweight, long ginger hair, slight lisp; and myself. We were all married. The road was lined on either side by a dozen or so three-storey terraced houses. They had bay windows. Our rear gardens backed onto a small park. John’s house was end-of-terrace. A small cul-de-sac separated his house from a series of prefabricated dwellings with small gardens. They ran the length of the road down to the church at the bottom. Another park area abutted the church. Our local pub was called The Queen. The landlord’s name was Ted. He had a huge, pitted, bulbous nose. His hands were adorned with heavy rings. Ted had a gravelly London accident. He was very friendly, knew all of his customers and called them by name. It wasn’t unusual for him to buy you a beer. The pub had a pinball machine. It was one of the only sources of entertainment apart from a dartboard and bar billiards. The Queen was a brilliant local pub.
John, Alan and I played guitar. John sang. He was good. We formed a band and used his front room to rehears in. It was there that I met a guy called Pete Johnson. He was a bass player. John had placed an advert in one of the music papers, which Pete had replied to. There was nothing remarkable about him. Average height, build. Working-class accent. Casual clothes. Wouldn’t stand out in a crowd. Brown hair combed back, neither long nor short. Pockmarked face. Yes, he was fairly ordinary by Longcroft Road standards.
One evening I was sitting in the front room and listening to Jimi Hendrix, when I heard a woman screaming. The screams were coming from a house across the road. Many dubious people lived in these houses. Some were foreigners. Others criminals. I hoped the screams would die down. They didn’t. Instead they intensified, became louder and more prolonged. I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I said to my wife I was going to find out where the screams were coming from and knock on the door. They seemed to be coming from a house almost opposite.
I stepped out into the street. Yep, screams were definitely coming from a house opposite. I banged on the door. An Italian man answered. He was dressed in a stringed vest. A thick belt held his trousers up. His muscular arms were smothered in tattoos. He looked like he could stiff arm a juggernaut.
“I heard screams and wondered if everything was okay?”
“Are you sure?”
“I said, everything’s fine.”
I could hear the faint sound of a woman sobbing. At least that’s better than screaming, I thought. “Good,” I replied and walked away trembling. The door closed behind me. Don’t mind admitting that I was scared. I paused to listen. The screaming stopped. I guess my small intervention was enough. Never did find out what was actually going on.
I moved on to John’s house. It was only a few doors away. The front door was ajar. I knocked. A voice shouted come in. I entered the house. John and Alan were in the front room. John’s friend Alan Kessing was there too. He was Australian. Blonde hair and Mexican-style moustache. Healthy complexion. Good-looking. He lived on brown rice and vegetables. Said he was a macrobiotic. Sitting in an armchair, he was drawing on a pipe filled with cannabis.
Jocelyn was on the settee, rocking backwards and forwards. Her eyes were bulging. She was trembling. “It’s only acid it will go away, it’s only acid it will go away, it’s only acid it will go away,” she repeated over and over again.
I asked John what was wrong with her.
“She’s taken a lot of acid.”
“More than she’s ever had,” he replied. “She’s such a prude she refused to have any so I dropped three tabs in her tea.
“You dropped three tabs in her tea?”
“Yeah. When she drank the tea I told her what I had done.” John seemed unconcerned.
“You waited until she had drunk the tea then you told her?”
“Yeah, I thought I would teach her a lesson for being so prudish.”
“That’s some lesson, John.”
“She freaked, stuck her fingers down her throat tried to vomit but couldn’t. She’s been like this for a couple of hours now.”
“With all that LSD she’ll probably be like it for a couple of days,” I said.
“I can’t argue with that,” John said. He seemed oblivious of her feelings, the gravity of the situation.
“It’s only acid it will go away. It’s only acid it will go away. It’s only acid it will go away …”
I learned some days after that Jocelyn thought my flesh was dissolving from my body. She thought my face was peeling away and dropping to the floor. All that was left was a skull staring down at her. She was totally out of her head.
Jocelyn always seemed aloof. It was disconcerting to see her as she was: frightened, clutching at straws, all pretense stripped away. That was one bad trip. One hell of a bad trip. It’s a miracle she came out of it.