So I’m walking along Herbert Road towards the Lord Herbert pub. I have a spring in my step. I’m wearing trainers, jeans, a blue T shirt and a jean jacket. It’s a warm July evening. Many of my friends drink in the Herbert. Friends like David the actor (70 year old alcoholic with an ostentatious voice — a pretentious actor’s drone); his girlfriend Gwendolyn who wears fancy a hats. Wally the pianist, another alcoholic (Wally is moody and temperamental but a brilliant musician); John the spikey haired’ punk dressed in leathers and chains, and with holes in the knees of his jeans. Brother’s Ginger and Brian (they couldn’t be more different). Brian is a volatile, mean bastard, easily provoked (another alcoholic, constantly drunk). He threatened me with a knife once. Tosser! His brother Ginger thinks he is a hard nut, a real tough cookie. It’s an act. Musicians: Bob Gannon the drummer with his long blond hair; singer and guitarist John Handley; and Alan Baldwin, a brilliant guitarist and musician. The three of us always drink in the Herbert after a rehearsal in my back room (we are in the same band). Other interesting characters are Barry and Stephanie; Clive and his girlfriend; and a local married woman called Sue who lives just round the corner. Clive and his girlfriend, Barry and Stephanie are heavily into drugs. But this tale doesn’t involve all of the Lord Herbert’s customers. It’s mainly about Barry and Stephanie.
They live in a small but modern block of flats opposite the pub. They have a two bedroom apartment. It’s clean and tidy. There is a shared concrete staircase that threads its way up the building.
I cross the road and make my way towards the flats. It’s cool in the shadows of the staircase. I bound up the concrete stairs two at a time. Barry lives on the second floor. I alight on his landing and knock on his door. I’m emotionally charged, filled with anticipation. I want some grass or maybe a bit of Moroccan resin. Barry is a petty dealer, sells just enough to keep his own habit going. He’s bound to have a spare quarter of an ounce for sale.
The door opens. Barry stands in the doorway. He looks troubled. Hum … there’s something wrong here. “Have I called at a bad time?” I ask.
He invites me in. There’s no animation on his face, not a flicker of a smile. I follow him in to the front room. Clive is sitting in an armchair. He’s drinking a can of beer. I’m not particularly surprised to see him. Addicts meet not out of friendship but out of need. They have one thing in common. Drugs.
“Hello Clive, how are you?”
“Not too bad, mate. Yourself?”
Stephanie is lying on the floor alongside the settee, covered in blankets. I wonder why she’s not snuggled up on the settee. It’s only a two seater but she could lay on it propped up on pillows. Maybe she’s more comfortable where she is? At least she’s able to stretch out.
There’s a malevolent atmosphere in the room. It feels like a morgue. I have a sense of foreboding, as if I am in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Barry pauses. He reaches for a cigarette.
I ask him if he has any dope.
Without warning he lashes out with his fists. I catch a glancing blow my cheek. I’m too shocked to feel pain.
I retaliate without thinking. My fist hits Barry square on the chin, sends him sprawling backwards. He hits the television and falls to the floor. The television crashes down on top of him.
“You’re fucking mad,” I scream. “What the fuck’s got into you?”
Barry eyes are glazed. Trembling, he draws the back of his hand across his bloodied lips. Then tries to stand up.
I turn and stride past Clive who is sitting motionless in the armchair, his eyes wide and mouth open. Tugging at the front door, I step out of the flat and onto the landing. I leap down the concrete steps three and four at a time.
Soon I am in the car park and heading towards Herbert Road. Adrenaline is coursing through my body. I’m shaking, apprehensive, shocked, like I’ve experienced a bolt of electricity. I approached the Lord Herbert. His faded portrait swings from a gallows’ bracket outside the entrance of pub.
I’m about to go in when I hear someone calling my name. I turn round. It’s Barry. He’s emerging from the parking area of the flats. His face is smeared with blood.
“What’s this, pistols at dawn?” I shout back sarcastically, and prepare myself for another scrap.
“I’m sorry, Mick,” he calls out. “Wait …” He approaches. With a trembling voice he tells me that Stephanie had tried to commit suicide. They had spent most of the day in A&E. She’d taken an overdose, then cut her wrists. “When you asked for some speed, it just seemed so incredibly insensitive.”
I feel wretched. I knew something was wrong. Why didn’t I ask how everybody was? “I had no idea, Barry. I’m sorry. Is she okay?”
“Her wounds have been stitched. She’s sleeping it off. She’ll be okay. Come back to the flat …”
I decline. “No, you need peace and quiet. It’s best that you don’t have too many people around you. Let her rest. I’ll speak to you another time.”
We part company. He goes back home and I step into the Lord Herbert.
Bob the drummer is sitting on a bar stool and rolling a cigarette. I sidle up to him. “Hello Mick … do you fancy a pint?” he asks, a warm smile on his face.
“Yeah. A nice pint of bitter, please Bob.”
I am slowly calming down. The beer will help. Bob and I chat about music and the band. I tell him I’ve written another song. Wally is playing a blues number at the far end of the bar, his fingers whizzing expertly across the keyboard. Dave the actor lifts his glass and acknowledges me. John the punk with his spiky hair and a worn leather jacket is sitting at a table with a few friends. He sees me, smiles and nods his head. Ginger emerges from the male toilets, zipping up his fly. His sparse ginger beard looks scruffier than ever. I wonder if he’s had a piss or a wank. Like a pickled egg, his brother is at the bar and looking sozzled, soaked in alcohol. Suddenly everything is normal. We are all Herbert’s and we come from Herbert Road.
Altogether now (sound of electric guitar, crashing chords).
“We are Herberts
We like Sherbert
And we come from Herbert Road.”