Page 45 Review by Stephen
Jim is a gentle man who cleans toilets. He's also a simple man with a simple wife who live their simple life in a terraced house with dowdy furnishing. Although close to retirement age, he's been reading job vacancies in the paper, or trying to. He's not very literate, our Jim, nor worldly-wise, neither. These new GCSE/O Level things confound him.
"I wonder what they are. I bet it's to do with Education - that's what it is.... They give them these things at school nowadays. All we got was a Bible and a thick ear."
Nevertheless he's determined to make something more of himself. Like a cowboy.
"Crumbs! Yes, Hilda. We ought to migrate out West! We could have a wagon train across the prairie and have camp fires and sing songs..."
"Yes, it must be a nice job, dear - just riding about chasing cows and going bang bang..."
"There's more to it than that, Hilda. You have to fight for Justice and Liberty, too."
"Oh yes, dear. Of course."
"And you have to shoot the Indians when they come."
"Oh, I see, dear."
"You could be a cowgirl or a bar floozy, Hilda."
"Oh, nice dear."
"Yes, you'll have to have a curly blonde wig and fishnet tights if you're a bar floozy."
"Ooh, that would be nice. I hope I'm not too old."
She is, of course, just as Jim hasn't a clue what he's talking about or getting himself into. His expectations - of anything - are far from realistic. He can't even read the price on a pair of cowboys boots properly, and everything else is just far too expensive, especially the air tickets. However, he's got adventure under his skin now, and settles on becoming a Highwayman with a rubber sword, a children's sucker-tipped pistol, Wellington boots, and a home-made hat and cape. It's when he starts looking for a black charger but winds up with a donkey that things start to go wrong: he runs afoul of The Authorities, first in the park and then at home.
"Good evening, sir. Is that your animal illegally parked on the Yellow Lines?"
"Oh yes! It's my new charger, Black Bess. I'm going to be a Highwayman!"
"I see, sir. Well, the animal has been illegally parked for 27 minutes within the area of a Restricted Zone.... so I must serve this Official Summons upon you to remove said animal from the vicinity."
"... but I live here..."
"I'm afraid that is entirely irrelevant, sir."
"Is it because of The Levels?"
"Beg pardon, sir?"
"Is it because I haven't got any of The Levels?"
"I'm afraid I'm not with you, sir."
"Could I leave her there if I'd got The Levels?"
That's only the start of his troubles; for Jim, you see, isn't just a simple man, he's a simpleton. In a simpler age... he'd be the village idiot anyway. But this is an age of Rules And Regulations, of Planning Permission and insane judges who live no more in the real world than Jim or Hilda. It's bewildering for him.
The Authorities Briggs caricatures beautifully: puffed up, angular and intransigent, soulless and 'tached. The judge himself is an absolute hoot. It's a great big cartoon caper, and wonderfully drawn it is too in its thick, waxy pastels and crayon, especially Hilda in her rollers and saggy stockings and pinny, plus the décor is spot-on. I mean, what is the world coming to when you can't express your inner Highwayman by the roadside at night, without some humourless copper asserting his authority?
"I'm terrified of getting the VAT in late," said Briggs recently. Me too.
For the real-life Jim and Hilda, please see the magnificent ETHEL & ERNEST, Briggs' biography of his parents.