Jim Pelham, 40, outside Cross Keys Shopping Centre, Salisbury

“Here in Salisbury we’re unintimidated”

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love Salisbury. It’s a medieval market town but it’s had the title of city for a great many years. I was born in Kent but I drifted here as a baby and this is what I miss when I’m far away. As well as The Big Issue I sell The Salisbury Journal one day a week. We’ve been in the news lately [because of the Novichok poisonings] so sales have been good but that’s cold comfort when you see other businesses suffering. The police keep blocking off all my favourite parts of town. But we’re unintimidated – our boys are better at healing than theirs are at killing.

Salisbury was largely missed during the war so a walk down every single one of our streets is a lesson in the history of architecture. I just love it. I’ve had my pitch here for six years so I rely on a lot of regulars. People are so very kind but there are so many that I couldn’t just mention one. Everyone gives differently.

I’m a reader, which makes being on the streets a bit easier

Before selling The Big Issue I was a medical secretary at Salisbury District Hospital for five years. But there was a witch hunt and I was cast out. There really isn’t any support network for that sort of bullshit. When you’re working for the NHS there’s a strange sort of a mindset where you think, I’m doing this for the patients, and management are quick to capitalise and exploit this. I loved the work, I was the person people would ask, “Jim, how do you spell ‘pheochromocytoma’?” I’d love to get back into it one day as that’s where all my skills and experience are, it’s where my heart is. Everyone I used to work with at the hospital still comes by and asks when I’m coming back.

After that I moved into a hostel but there’s only two years available and after that you’re out on your arse. I’m on the streets and I don’t have the prospect of anything else on the horizon at the moment.

I’m a reader, which makes being on the streets a bit easier. I read vast swathes of stuff and I have a customer, Mary, who brings me books faster than I can read them. At the moment I’m working through a book of Neil Gaiman’s short stories.

I also love music. I lived in the west of Ireland for three years and came back with a penchant for playing session bodhran. It’s a drum with goat skin across a circular frame. You control the torsion with your left hand and have a double-edged beater in your other. It’s an amazingly versatile instrument. I had one of my own but a venue I was playing at wouldn’t give it back, so I’ve had to whittle out a stick from my favourite park and I hit anything I can find. It’s a massive headache for me but I will get that drum back because I still love to play.

My interests…

Literature, music, the arts in general. Being on the streets, it’s hard to listen to music though. I’ve got one Björk album on my phone that I’m so bored of!

If I won the lottery…

I’d keep enough to have a bit of a celebration then I’d find a way of getting the rest to my daughter. She lives in the west of Ireland but we’re not in touch at the moment unfortunately.

On my pitch…

I’m here every day except Thursday, when I sell The Salisbury Journal

Image: Simon Ward

Crosskeys Shopping Centre Queen Street, Queen Street, Salisbury, UK

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