A comic story of youth, frustration, and escapism in 1950s Yorkshire on the eve of the swinging 1960s
The story of compulsive liar Billy, who has an uninspiring dead end job as an undertaker’s assistant and lives at home with his family in a sleepy Yorkshire town. His three fiancées fail to keep him adequately occupied and Billy leads a second life in his imagination. Bill
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A long Saturday in the life of 19 year old Billy who skates perpetually on thin ice and today looks like finally he will fall right through. He lives in Stradhaughton in Yorkshire and the year is 1959. It’s a small town. He’s such an aggravating, annoying fool. His boss at the undertakers (a comedy job) asks him to post 200 Christmas calendars out, but he doesn’t do it so he still has them stashed under his bed months later. His boss also asks him to post out some invoices, but he doesn’t do it
But you can’t hate him, because running through Billy is a streak of melancholia as wide as the River Thames. He knows he’s trapped in this small stifling town where nobody is on his wavelength. Not that you’d especially want to be on his wavelength. But still, we know that feeling. So underneath the mostly unfunny comedy is a sad familiar tale plus a whole ton of accurate detail about English provincial life in 1959, after Elvis but before the Beatles, and before the contraceptive pill too.
Speaking of pills, much is made of what Billy calls “passion pills” that he’s got in his pocket. They’re supposed to stir up concupiscence, so with one of his unenthusiastic girlfriends he’s continually slipping a pill or two into her tea then hopping about for the next 15 minutes waiting for them to take effect. Eventually he runs out of patience:
A happy thought struck me, the first happy thought of the evening. I felt in my pocket for the little black beads that were still spilled there. I scooped up a handful, about a dozen or fourteen of them. On the table nearest to us, next to the Witch’s handbag, there was a cup of black coffee, untouched. I unloaded the fistful of passion pills into the Witch’s coffee.
The Witch is his jocular name for the chillier of his girlfriends. So it goes. You will be glad to find out that the pills have no effect.