I’ve mentioned before that the ‘Society of Minor Poets’ try to provide free meals for the young, the old and the indigent. It’s not just the feeding people that is important, it’s a chance for them to sit somewhere warm. It gives them a place where they can just talk and even, occasionally, be entertained. To be honest the feeding can be a little basic. We often offer what is known as our ‘all day breakfast.’ By that we mean there is a cauldron of porridge constantly cooking. On the days the racing stables send us the grain they have no intention of feeding to expensive horses, they will often send us some molasses as well, which adds savour.
Given that we are the Society of Minor Poets, it would be a sad affair if we couldn’t provide some entertainment. Yes, I confess, we will often try our verses out on a captive audience. It’s not that they’re too polite to criticise us, it’s more that their mouths are too gummed up with thick porridge and molasses, so that they would struggle to say anything anyway.
But we do try to offer a wider variety of entertainment. Many of us can sing, after a fashion, and some can do conjuring tricks, whilst it’s a poor do if you cannot keep people entertained with a few humorous anecdotes. We have a rota, so that all of us will take the stage from time to time.
We also have other entertainments. Raffles are popular, on the grounds that you can play for very small stakes. People will donate prizes, a bottle of wine, a loaf of fresh bread, a cake, or even a small joint of meat. We’ll just charge a couple of dregs a ticket, and our guests seem to enjoy the excitement of their wager. We also do a free raffle, everybody gets a
ticket. It means that nobody misses out.
As for our guests, we get all sorts. We’ve had workmen come in, they were on a building job nearby and they got their lunch with us. To be fair to them, they made a reasonable donation, and they were new faces with new stories to
tell which made them popular. Then we get the children. We get all ages, some so young they come in clutching the hand of a sibling. Others are older and insist on paying. Not with money, but they’ll appear carrying some vegetables, some fruit; or in one never to be forgotten instance, a horse carcass which took a score of them to drag. We never did find out how they acquired it, we were too busy cutting it up and cooking it to ask.
The elderly are perhaps more vulnerable. Some are widows, they’ll often take a turn cooking, and frankly I suspect they come more for the company than the food. Then we get the widowers who never learned to cook and come because there is only so much bread and cheese a man can eat. After that point he’s willing to talk to anybody or listen to any amount of inane chatter to get a decent meal. One old gentleman commented to me that it was either come to us or find a widow to marry, and frankly at his time of life, he preferred coming to us.
Then there are those who struggle to cope. Faldo arrives, scooting along on a trolley he maintains himself. His legs have never worked, and he sits with us, talks, eats, and all the while he will be carving toys from off-cuts of timber people fetch him. People buy them from him, I know many a child who plays out their daydreams with a couple of his men-at-arms, and a doll who has become a princess for the day. We once sent him to Lord Cartin’s. We hired a sedan chair, and he showed them his figures and explained he wanted to understand the armour better. He spent hours with them, looking at how plates slid over each other as the man moved and came back inspired; and with an order for a score of his figures.
And there are some who will never cope with our world. There is Jili. She sits, beaming her welcoming smile at all who come in. Older women keep an eye on her, making sure that her innocent acceptance of everybody who is nice to her doesn’t lead her into waters too deep for her loving heart.
And then there is old Hosaf. It has to be said that, if he had ever had any money, Hosaf would have been a miser. I cannot think of anybody who could do it better, indeed I don’t think any of us have ever seen him part with as much as a dreg. I have heard ladies talking about him, there was apparently once a wife, and gossip assumes he ate her to save in vittles, or at least sold her at auction. Given his attitude to the world in general it’s a story you can believe. There again one very old lady once told me about him, his young bride, and the summer sickness that carried of both bride and babe in arms.
So Hosaf sits and eats and gurns. Indeed he has been known to complain about the food with his mouth full; still masticating the last spoonful of porridge as he queues up for a second bowl. He also lends money. His isn’t the world of the complicated financial instrument. He merely lends fifty dregs here, a hundred there. The sort of money that will allow somebody to buy some bread for the family. The loan goes down in his little book and he adds the interest daily until it is repaid.
I was once sitting opposite him, he sat on the next table. When the Fedalia went round with raffle tickets she offered him one.
He glared at her suspiciously, “Is this the free one?”
“No a ticket costs two dregs.”
“Be off with you then.”
Later, I was doing my stint at entertaining and I saw Fedalia go round again with a different lot of tickets. This time Hosaf took one so I assumed it was the free raffle. I finished my story to some laughs and a smattering of applause and made my way to the kitchen to help with washing the dishes.
When I arrived, Fedalia was putting a candle into the candle stick. “Can you light this candle for me please Tallis?”
I took a spill from the jar on the counter and carefully lit it from the stove. Then as I was lighting the candle I asked, “What do you need this for?” After all, I felt it was a fair question, it had barely turned noon and even in the kitchen everything was as well illuminated as you could hope for.
“A theological question for you first Tallis, are all hells hot?”
This threw me. Admittedly I have a cousin who is a very senior temple dancer, but I’ve never pretended to be a theologian. I frantically racked my brain for any hints my cousin Thela might have dropped into casual conversation.
“Well as far as I know they are.”
“I thought so.” She pulled a raffle ticket out of the pocket of her apron and held it in the flame from the candle. “So let’s just say that if Hosaf wins the free raffle, he can cross hell by skating across the ice to collect his prize.”
And now a brief note from Jim Webster. It’s really just to inform you that I’ve just published two more collections of stories.
The first, available on kindle, is ‘Tallis Steelyard, preparing the ground, and other stories.’
More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Meet a vengeful Lady Bountiful, an artist who smokes only the finest hallucinogenic lichens, and wonder at the audacity of the rogue who attempts to drown a poet! Indeed after reading this book you may never look at young boys and their dogs, onions, lumberjacks or usurers in quite the same way again.
A book that plumbs the depths of degradation, from murder to folk dancing, from the theft of pastry cooks to the playing of a bladder pipe in public.
The second, available on Kindle or as a paperback, is ‘Maljie. Just one thing after another.’
Once more Tallis Steelyard chronicles the life of Maljie, a lady of his acquaintance. Discover the wonders of the Hermeneutic Catherine Wheel, marvel at the use of eye-watering quantities of hot spices. We have bell ringers, pop-up book shops, exploding sedan chairs, jobbing builders, literary criticism, horse theft and a revolutionary mob. We also discover what happens when a maiden, riding a white palfrey led by a dwarf, appears on the scene.
Join Jim and Tallis on their travels through the blogosphere:
Friday 1st May: Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo
Saturday 2nd May: Willow Willers
Sunday 3rd May: Robbie Cheadle
Monday 4th May: Writers Co-op
Tuesday 5th May: Stevie Turner
Wednesday 6th May: Jane Jago
Thursday 7th May: Annette Rochelle Aben
Friday 8th May: Chris Graham
Saturday 9th May: Pete Johnson
Sunday 10th May: MT McGuire
Monday 11th May: Ritu Bhathal
Tuesday 12th May: Anita Dawes and Jaye Marie
Wednesday 13th May: Ken Gierke
Thursday 14th May: Suzanne Joshi
About the author
Someone once wrote this about him:
“Jim Webster is probably still fifty something, his tastes in music are eclectic, and his dress sense is rarely discussed in polite society. In spite of this he has a wife and three daughters.
He has managed to make a living from a mixture of agriculture, consultancy, and freelance writing. Previously he has restricted himself to writing about agricultural and rural issues but including enough Ancient Military history to maintain his own sanity. But seemingly he has felt it necessary to branch out into writing fantasy and Sci-Fi novels.”
Now with eight much acclaimed fantasy works and two Sci-Fi to his credit it seems he may be getting into the swing of things.
Find and follow Tallis (and Jim)
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