Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse

I climbed up on the platform and looked out across the concert-room at all the people. I put on my funny face and began on the pub turn.

‘Ah’m readin’. Ah am. Ah’m readin’. It’s Billy Liar (1959) by Keith Waterhouse.’

There was some sniggering from the audience.

‘It’s a great book. About a young lad, Billy, from t’ Yorkshire town of Stradhoughton. He’s a nice lad, only he’s got one big fault. He’s a daydreamer. He’ll dream about owt if it helps him escape his life in Stradhoughton. He’s courtin’ not one but three lasses, and none of ‘em Wakefield lasses either. He works in a funeral directors’, but he’s just about thraiped wi’ t’ whole thing.’

I remembered too late that ‘thraiped’ was a made-up word.

‘Ah mean he thinks it’s neither muckling nor mickling,’ I said in my panic. ‘So he’s made up an imaginary country called Ambrosia, to get away from people in t’ town and his naggin’ parents. In t’ book he’s faced wi’ t’ dilemma of whether or not to go away to London. A dilemma that’s reet like goin’ from bein’ a big fish int small pond to a small fish int big pond.’

Some women in the corner laughed occasionally, but no-one really cared about the act. They were beginning to turn round to talk to each other and light cigarettes.

‘So o’ course he’s more scared and nervous than he’ll admit. He looks down on t’ townfolk of Stradhoughton, but still thi can’t help rootin’ for him, because he’s vulnerable. He’s like Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, only from Yorkshire. And it’s a funny book, it is. Tha’ Billy’s a reet one wi’ his Ambrosian Repeater gun, which he turns on anyone who gets t’ better o’ him.’

I jumped down from the platform to a faint trickle of applause, spraying them with the Ambrosian Repeater gun as I did so.


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