One wintry afternoon a lodger named Wilson arrives at 38, Trebisall Avenue, filled with hope. As he crosses the threshold of Mrs Pollard's house, with its "aura of impending stew" he becomes a new man. This is a tactic he has tried before, just as he has tried many jobs before, from cook to seismographer's assistant. But alas, each time he was sacked because it was not his vocation. And so he has moved on, from town to town, from landlady to landlady: from Mrs McManus of Barnstaple, to Mrs McManus of Newport (I.O.W). Now, under the motherly eye of Mrs Pollard, he attempts a number of new vocations including those of poet and postman. Strange things befall him in the process: he is even tried and convicted for scandalous offences of which he has no recollection. But his progress continues, out through the end of this book, in search of a panacea for all mankind.