I discovered Alma Square on a very hot August afternoon after I had tried to find the motivation to have a drink in the Lord Roseberry.
Alma Square is one of those gentile places that crop up in places like Mayfair, Winchester and Salisbury. An oasis of tree lined shade, green grass and nicely proportioned buildings. Around three sides of the square were late Victorian early Edwardian town houses no more than three stories high. A few were still family homes, one was home to a veterinary practice, one next door to the Lord Roseberry was empty and becoming derelict and the remainder were home solicitors and accountants.
The shade from the trees was better than any cold drink from the bar and so I sat on a bench watching pedestrians and traffic hurry along Westborough.
A period photograph shows Westborough thronged with people, horse drawn carriages struggling to witness the Lord Roseberry of the day open the Liberal Club in the building that is now housing the Lord Roseberry pub. In between being the Liberal Club and a pub the building was also home to a Co-op department store.
Just beyond the wrought iron fence at the Westborough end of the square and across the narrow road leading into the square in the direct is a wall about two feet high just to the left of the gateway. This wall was in the full glare and heat of the afternoon sun. I noticed a big man wearing a hoodie looking rather flushed and behaving aggressively towards another man not as big but just as scruffy. There was some dispute going on between them and then the big man shook the other’s hand and I could hear ‘Sorry pal, you know what it’s like when you’ve had a drink’.
I didn’t need to hear that to realise both of them were drunk. The two men sat down together on the wall drinking from cans of lager. Two of the women sitting on the wall got up and staggered for a short walk. There was some discussion between them and the two men. Somehow, the four of them seemed to think that they were having a good time and getting louder as drunks in a group do. This can lead up to that tipping point where dialogue ends and violence takes over. It was developing along a pattern I have seen many times.
They were not causing any threat to pedestrians walking along Westborough heading home from shopping, days out at the beach or from work but the pedestrians were giving the group a wide berth.
In stark contrast a young man in dark trousers, white shirt and wearing a tie was having a cigarette on the steps of the derelict building. He looked like he might work behind the bar at the Lord Roseberry or at one off the coffee shops dotted along Westborough. He watched the developing antics of the people at the wall.
They had too much booze, too much sunshine, too little hope and possibly too little aspiration.
I don’t know what each of their back stories were. How did they end up behaving like this? Was it just friends going out for a drink together that was about to turn nasty? Was this something they did regularly? What sort of home lives did they all have, if any? Why, and if they could see themselves would they be able to be proud or ashamed?
It was time to leave to meet my wife at the nearby station. Just as I stood up a police van pulled up outside the square. The officers remained inside watching the group on the wall. I walked to the station just two hundred yards away and when I came back along Westborough the police van was gone and the four people from the wall.
Peace and tranquillity had returned to the leafy oasis that is Alma Square.
The next morning when I went past the square the only people near the wall were there trying to spread the message of God and the Bible. I have a feeling their efforts would have fallen on stony ground if they had been in that same spot yesterday afternoon.