This is the story of Kenneth Brill, a naive boy and equally naive young man, growing up on a farm outside London. His theatrical father is a figure of extremes: he has lost a fortune by investing in prosthetic limbs for a war that happened too late, has killed his dwarfish music hall partner in a knife throwing incident (unfortunately he discovered that he had a skull with the strength of an eggshell only after a dart had penetrated it). He has made his fortune by controlling the manure supply for the market gardens outside London, but by the beginning of the book he has seen the confiscation of his land by the government in order to allow the wartime expansion of Heathrow airport. Kenneth is an unremarkable schoolboy but he had one remarkable talent, his ability to draw. Through this he is thrown into Bohemian 30s London. This talent also leads him to become part of the allied camouflage group in North Africa, tricking the Germans through elaborate concealment. Alongside this he is introduced to sex (via life drawing classes in Soho brothels) and his own fumblings with his future wife April.