Jim Pelham, 44, Cross Keys Shopping Centre, Salisbury

Jim loves to read, and he'll be delivering a speech at Salisbury Cathedral in October as part of the city's International Arts Festival

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It’s been challenging but OK on my pitch recently. Some days I can do all right but there have been some days with the rain where I’ve had to maintain good humour, so the gaps in between can be golden. Luckily I lived in Ireland for three years, and if you can’t maintain a good humour in the rain there then the first winter will kill you. I was there back in 1998 working as a barman and a legal secretary and my daughter was born there. I was looking for a quiet life.

Other than that, I’ve been living around Salisbury since 1979 and it has everything really. It’s big enough that you can have your creature comforts, like ground coffee, and I’ve lived in the sticks outside Salisbury before where that can be impossible. That’s a great existential terror for me. But it’s also small enough to be a community. It’s a market town and lots of people have returned to that. It’s been really nice to watch it go from strength to strength.

I’m staying with friends at the moment, and that’s working out cushty for now. I’d love to get some permanent housing but I’m pretty sure the council employs someone specifically to laugh in my face. Or that’s what it feels like sometimes. 

I’ve now been selling the magazine in Salisbury for seven or eight years. I lost my job working as a medical secretary at the hospital as part of the NHS after getting my character assassinated. That kind of makes it difficult to write a CV after that. So I’ve been selling the magazine since, except when I was off my pitch because of Covid. The pandemic was incredibly challenging. At first a lot of people subscribed to the mag, so it was fairly cushty initially. But no one was expecting it to go on more than 12 months, so those streams of income gradually dried up. I’m trying to push the magazine harder at the moment to boost my sales.

It’s tough times currently, but I think there’s a great deal to be optimistic about as well. I’m convinced of this. It’s nice to see the live music scene coming back to life in Salisbury. I think that’s a sign of a healthy society. I play a folk instrument called the bodhrán but I listen to everything. I find drum and bass the easiest to play, whether it’s just because I love it or not I don’t really know. 

There are things I’m looking forward to this year. My friends are getting married in the next month or so and they’re having a big do with a horse and carriage. That’s terribly exciting. I’ll also be delivering a speech at Salisbury Cathedral in October. I’m working with local playwright Jayne Woodhouse as part of a project for the Salisbury International Arts Festival that champions local people. It was curtailed because of the pandemic so I’ve had to wait two years. I’m not nervous about speaking – I’ve banged my head against enough open mics in my time – I’m looking forward to it.

I like selling the magazine, and thankfully I have some regular customers who look after me. They buy magazines, bring me books and buy me coffee. Literally my three wishes! I’d like to thank my customers for all their support over the years and I’d like to reassure them I’m doing fine.

I have a voracious appetite for reading pretty much everything that’s not trying to push a religion or a product on me. I love science fiction and fantasy and pretty much every other genre. I’m mental for the classics. Since lockdown two I’ve got into collecting antiquarian books, such as late-19th century copies of The History of Pendennis with illustrations by the author. Rare old book nerd stuff. Reading is a way out of any situation. It’s a cheap and safe form of escapism. There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away, as the poet Emily Dickinson says.

Interview: Liam Geraghty

Cross Keys Shopping Centre, Queen Street, Salisbury, UK