A week into the New Year I drove to town early to do a spot of shopping. The sun was shining, I felt well again, and I marched up the high street with a spring in my step. The still-thriving high street is predominantly Georgian, with here and there a few remaining Tudor merchants’ houses. The foundations and old stone walls are medieval, and the narrow street runs steeply upwards between the ancient river bridge at the bottom and a textbook motte-and-bailey castle at the top. You can either park at the top and walk down, or park at the bottom and walk up. It depends how you feel.
I hadn’t got far up the high street when I met Luke coming down. In streets as narrow as this one, you tend to look people in the face who are coming towards you. And even with a brain as clouded by drugs and alcohol as his, Luke recognised mine, and his lit up, revealing his trademark gaps in the dentistry, and he stopped for a chat.
If the town council ran a competition, with a trophy awarded every year to the person who takes the most illegal drugs, Luke would be awarded it in perpetuity. The last time I saw him, he was trying to negotiate his way into a reggae night at the local bistro and the bouncer wasn’t letting him in because, apart from anything else, his trousers kept falling down. He lives in a van. He doesn’t work. He’s permanently out to lunch. The local women players can’t get enough of him.
I say stop for a ‘chat’. I was on the receiving end, rather, of an inarticulate and incoherent account of a visit to Bristol, from where, he said, he’d just returned.