by Derek Johns
Britain took more than a decade to recover from WWII. It was drained, depleted and short of cash. In fact Britain was broke, as were many of her small businesses. And so was Jim Palmer.
Jim’s business as a handsome and engaging Jaguar car salesman in Bath had crashed. He was lucky to get any sort of job in the post-war economic climate, even as assistant in his wife’s uncle’s gents outfitters in the cathedral town of Wells. As he peddled his bike through the rain to work, past the dripping nettles and dock leaves, with only the sales of a few flat caps to farmers to look forward to, his mug of misery and boredom was slopping over.
Jim measured himself and his worth in the eyes of his beholders, especially women. Addicted as he was to the buzz at the beginning of an affair, his heart sank even lower: without a car there were limits to which he could pursue even the waitress at the local cafe. Of course he loved his wife, Margaret, and his two kids, Billy and Sarah. But Margaret seemed to have become more ordinary, even workaday, since they moved to the cottage. And she’d made friends with a smelly old woman in the village (some weird ex-dancer with dozens of cats), and she had taken to helping to milk the cows for an even less prepossessing farmer next door. And Jim’s son, Billy, was getting hold of stupid ideas about King Arthur from the elderly women who ran the village school: now he wanted to go up Glastonbury Tor even though they had no car. Altogether, Jim Palmer was a deeply unhappy man. Although he was above doing anything shifty, he would cheerfully welcome twenty quid, no questions asked.
Jim Palmer and his family are well known to us, and we all know and like the waitress at the tea room, filling in time before she goes to uni. We know the farmer and the retired dancing girl with the cats.
WINTERING is written by a consummate storyteller who writes with wit and humour, but with compassion.
‘If winter comes, can spring be far behind?’ Let us hope that Derek Johns will write again soon about our green and pleasant land. There is more of Dickens than Waugh or Rupert Brooke to this novel. Derek Johns does see the point of us, and his writing is as serene and powerful as the River Avon.