Dhu Lally and the Bampots sees an ex-con being handed a second chance in the music business, a chance he snatches with both hands. Dhu is determined to do it differently this time, being well aware of the many pitfalls, and, more importantly, knowing how to avoid them.
Artwork is by fellow McStoryteller Brian Morrison.
"I held my hands up to the crime and saw out my time.
No way could I see what was in for me farther down the line."
Andrew (Dhu) Lally.
When you bump in to your neighbour from across the landing and he's in the middle of a heated debate with no one but himself, you don't even think of intervening. I was in the new flat for a mere two hours when I heard the commotion but when I peeked through the spyhole I couldn't see a thing. Being naturally inquisitive I pulled on my jacket and stepped out onto the landing, just as Harry did the same. He blanked me and carried on berating himself like I wasn't there, this after helping me upstairs with a few sticks of furniture when I was moving in. He was Harry earlier, Harry with a firm handshake and a ready smile but now he was Harry and someone else. I left them to sort it out among themselves.
Prison changes a man, isn't that what they say? I'm not so sure although it could be said I'm no expert after serving only nine months of a fifteen month sentence. Only nine months? The longest nine months of my young life this far and only fractionally longer than the time I spent in the womb. I held my hands up to the crime and saw out my time. No way could I see what was in for me farther down the line.
Now, I have a probation officer and a criminal record, both of which I brought upon myself.
I owned up to having the pills on me, I owned up to doing a runner but I flatly denied resisting arrest, claiming instead that the arresting officers had been over-exuberant in their endeavours. Either way I was captured, thoroughly dusted down and charged with two out of the three.
Shepton Mullet, my brief, claims I was treated leniently, said we came out of it with a good result........we?
A fifteen month custodial sentence to run concurrently with eighteen months of probation, which apparently meant I would have to see out the remainder of the probation on release; keep my nose clean in other words.
The five weeks I did on remand stood as time served but that didn't sink in until sometime later, my head was well and truly up my arse with the sheer injustice of it all; every con can tell you about injustice.
My one visitor while on remand, except of course for my lawyer, was Peiter Wett, Pe, the true owner of the pills, I was only the errand boy.
I tell a lie, my probation officer made herself known to me just before my release.
Pe Wett assured me there would be a few quid coming my way on my release and I didn't have cause to doubt him. He also promised to look after my stuff since I had been residing with him at the time of my capture, although as far as the courts were concerned, I was of no fixed abode.
That's where I was headed, to Pe's house for the promised remuneration and for my possessions, such as they were. I also wanted to check out my new place of employment, set up by my probation officer, Marion, along with the flat. I had a Sunday ten pm start, stacking shelves at the big supermarket and no way of refusing it in accordance with my parole.
No answer to my banging loudly on the front door and I was about to go round the back to where a key was normally stashed when nosy Noreen from next door advised me Pe had followed me to where I was working abroad, and only a week ago at that; the house was empty.
Pe must have told her a tale when I was sent down but I was confused. I would probably have been made aware if he had been incarcerated, such was the speed and accuracy of the prison grapevine but no such message had come to me.
I found the stashed key all the same and let myself in by the back door, then turned away after the briefest of glances. When Noreen said the house was empty I took her to mean devoid of inhabitants, but no, empty and stripped bare would best describe it, a shell. I left the back door hanging wide open, intending to advise potential squatters of its availability. There were always potential squatters; I knew that from personal experience.
So, no money and no clothes; that didn't bother me so much as the loss of my mementos from my time with the band, good times, the best ever times of my life up until that moment.
I found the store foreman and introduced myself but he said he didn't want to see me until Sunday, he also said he would be keeping a close eye on me. The company ran this goody, goody rehabilitation scheme but it wasn't written anywhere that he had to agree with it. I immediately knew where I stood, at least with him.
That left me two days almost to kill and I set about fixing the flat up to where it was habitable, mind you, anything would have been better than my recent accommodations. I didn't have a lot of money, only what I had made working in the nick and felt badly let down by Pe regarding the cash he had promised. I discovered he indeed was abroad, in Germany, land of his fathers. He made good his escape before the noose tightened according to a mutual friend. As for his house and its contents, no knowledge whatsoever.
I wasn't without friends and most of them chipped in with some small luxury, a radio, a few tins of food, old bedding and towels, even some spends and a few joints worth of smoke.
Harry was still deep in conversation with himself when I returned to the flat so I didn't disturb him. Instead, I played the radio just loud enough to drown out his ramblings and settled down to read a book.
I was in the land of nod at two am when all hell broke loose in Harry's flat. He was arguing with himself at full tilt and in full voice. Smashing glass had me looking out of the front window to see a wooden toilet seat in the middle of the road. As I watched, a microwave oven followed it but didn't quite reach, landing instead on a little Mini car and embedding itself in the roof. I pulled on some clothes and was about to knock on Harry's door when two coppers came bounding up the stairs towards me. My first instinct was to leg it after past experiences with the boys in blue but they ignored me and set about Harry's door with a view to gaining access.
Before they could kick the door in, Harry opened up, a puzzled look on his fizzer. He then asked, ever so politely, if he could be of any assistance to them and I had no choice but to crack up laughing. Let's be fair here, I hadn't had a whole lot to laugh about recently and felt entitled.
A social worker appeared, dragged from his bed going by his bleary eyed state. From there, two guys in white coats arrived, fitted Harry into his new jacket and marched him out. But Harry wasn't done with the night yet and sent one of the coppers on ahead with a well-timed bare left foot, I swear he threw me a wink as they dragged him off. I took my leave of them and convulsed into tears of jerky laughter, one day out of prison and I was alive again, alive and loving it.
Eight o'clock in the morning and the cacophony outside my door made me think I hadn't slept a wink. This time it was a young lady, pretty little thing with blonde hair and big blue eyes. I told her what I knew of Harry's exploits and she rolled those big eyes and shook her head sadly. Henrietta, Henry, was Harry's carer, one of Harry's carers. Part of her caring meant making sure Harry took his medication and so avoid these little episodes, but Harry had a mind of his own sometimes. His own and several others, I could have added, but didn't.
Henry accepted my offer of a cup of tea and I inhaled deeply as she walked beyond me and into the flat.
The courtship lasted about as long as it takes to make the introductions. Henry heard me breathe in deeply and turned towards me so I suppose she made the first move. Either way, the door was hardly closed behind us and we were all lips and hands; call it magnetism.
During round two, which had slowed to a more manageable pace, Henry matter of factly asked had I been in jail. When I asked her how she could tell she bruised my lips with hers again and upped the pace; the conversation pretty much tapered off after that.
I was first to speak during a lull, laughing initially then explaining to the heavily breathing girl beside me. After nine months both in remand and in the nick of protecting myself from various advances, who would ever have thought the first person I would whisper sweet nothings to would go by the name of Henry? Henry giggled throatily then gave me an odd look, like we had just clapped eyes on each other; she was almost right about that.
One more bout of passion, a glance at the time and Henry had to be somewhere else since she cared for more than Harry.
I haven't seen her since but I've been strangely cool about that. Not being one to brag about it, but this type of thing had happened before when I was the front-man and part time guitarist in The Chillum and District Pipe Band. Happened more than once I might add but I was convinced those days were over, until Henry.
I headed out with a view to begging stuff for the flat and made it no further than the back yard. Sitting snugly between two bins was Harry's microwave oven, the plate still intact and sitting on top. By the looks of it the Mini had come off second best so I carried my new oven upstairs, plugged it in and tested it, perfect.
I knew the area well, closer to town than I would normally reside but I was being monitored, so, no choice. A short cut took me past the New Church Studios, actually an old church transformed into music studios but it somehow became the New Church Studios. Anyway, who's standing in the doorway but my good friend, Dark Horse, ex of Dark Horse and the Pale Imitations. We shook hands; Dark Horse asked how long had I been out and had I heard about Pe Wett. It came on to rain then so I was invited in for a cuppa and came face to face with Belinda, my poor old beat up Stratocaster; I was taken aback to say the least. Belinda and I had been through the wars together but sadly parted company at the pawn shop in a time of great need. I can't quite remember exactly why I needed the pittance I was given for her but I do recall swearing I was finished with the music business. And here she was, sticking out like a sore thumb amid the studio's instruments. Dark Horse saw me look and quickly made the connection, we had shared more than one stage back in the day but it only just clicked with him there and then who the guitar once belonged to. She now belonged to the studio owners and Dark Horse was her custodian by virtue of the fact that he now worked there.
As we talked and drank our coffee, a gang of five youths trooped in for their booked time slot. I made to leave but Dark Horse invited me to stay, at least until the rain stopped.
The band set up quickly and ran through a couple of well-rehearsed tunes before giving Dark Horse the nod to begin recording. They were going great guns until the singer kicked in. To be fair he didn't have much of a clue or indeed much of a voice and the session descended into shambles.
Insults were traded and I fully expected fists to fly but before it came to that the singer exited stage left, closely followed by the rhythm guitarist, who turned out to be his brother.
Dark Horse reminded the three remaining members of The Go Faster Stripes they still had three-quarters of an hour's worth of paid time left and they didn't look best pleased. He then informed them that I could play and read music if they wanted to record their songs as instrumentals.
I had no time to think about it as Dark Horse passed Belinda to me and shoved me towards the booth. I never ever dreamt of being reunited with her and here we were. It was still raining heavily so I thought what the fuck; I wasn't in any hurry to be somewhere else. I scanned the music as I tuned the guitar, saw nothing to worry about, strummed a couple of bars of the rhythm for Dark Horse's levels then turned to the drummer to count us in. Trouble was, I couldn't see him over the top of the drums and the lead guitarist fell about laughing. This set the mood and I had a good time fitting in with his music. I knew him to be the band-leader and songwriter just from listening to them earlier when they ran through the songs, and I was truly impressed at his expertise. Dark Horse played it back and I must admit we all liked it, even I sounded good which surprised me after all those years out of the game. What was left of The Go Faster Stripes took the recording, shook my hand and thanked me, then left the studio happier than they could have expected to be. I noticed the drummer was only about five feet tall and didn't look old enough to be out of school, although he and the bass player had a good understanding; a most reliable beat.
Dark Horse had an hour to kill before his next session so we played the demo again while I scanned a copy of the lyrics to the middle song. Before I knew it I was singing over the backing track, which was still on the console, and really getting into it, just like old times.
We shared a joint as the sun made an appearance and I hit the street feeling good, better than I'd felt for a while, optimistic even.
I trawled the charity shops and picked up two pairs of jeans, a leather bomber jacket which looked new and half a dozen t-shirts. I also selected a carrier bag full of books, the pokey having turned me into something of a prolific reader.
The woman in the launderette tried her best to start up a conversation with me, insisting she knew me. That might well have been the case but one look at her drawn features and pasty pallor had me rummaging for one of the books, she reminded me too much of prison and how I came to be there, sort of haunted.
There were workmen in Harry's flat when I returned and I made them a coffee while they fixed the broken window and whatever else he had wrecked. They worked for the council so I asked if there were any jobs going. I didn't have a trade but time spent as a brickie's labourer, plumber's and joiner's mate would surely go in my favour. The foreman thanked me for the drinks and promised to see what he could do. With my new found optimistic outlook I believed him, and besides, I couldn't see much of a future for me in the shelf-stacking business.
I spent what was left of the weekend reading and listening to the radio, familiar with the programmes and presenters since Garage, my cell-mate, left his radio on twenty four seven. I had my favourites, mainly those presenters who could play an entire song without feeling the need to jabber all over the intro, a pet hate of mine.
I was asleep when Marion came to check up on me. She seemed a little peeved I wasn't flirty with her like before when she came to the nick for the introductions, but Henry's timely intervention the other day had served to quell my rampant state. It's true to say I would have nailed Marion the moment she strolled into the visitor's room and by the cold light of day she wasn't all that bad to look at. Not that I had too many choices to go at where women were concerned, but now, she was very low on my list of priorities.
I made her a drink and kept it professional, kept her at arms length. Relating my approach to the council foreman, I quizzed her on my probation's requirements if I should choose to change jobs and was relieved to be told it shouldn't be a problem.
Marion had a bag with her and spilled the contents onto the settee beside her, a gift, old curtains she no longer needed. I gave her the big smile of thanks and draped a friendly arm around her shoulder as I saw her out, thinking it prudent to keep her onside for a while at least.