Modesty forbids me from entitling an article, ‘Why on earth do I need to
hire Tallis Steelyard to run my evening!’ There again, I barely need to, I
am far more likely to be contacted by somebody desperate for me to enliven
what would otherwise be a long and tedious evening than I am to be harangued
as a waste of money.
But it was listening to Maljie and several other ladies discussing these
matters that provoked me to write. Here in Port Naain, there are any number
of groups who meet for various purposes. We have everything, we have
philosophical and debating societies, groups who meet to chat together as
they knit, political clubs dedicated to the overthrow of civilisation as we
know it, we even have literary and poetry societies. Frankly, I wouldn’t rate
any group more highly than any other. They meet a need. People can talk, get
things off their chests, keep abreast with what is going on and return home
feeling that they have had a pleasant enough evening. Frankly what more can
you ask? Perhaps the best carrot cake I have eaten was at a meeting of a
political club I was asked to address (I can no longer remember why) and the
shrewdest questions were asked by a group of ladies who never dropped a
stitch as they listened to me squirm as I tried to answer.
Given the number of groups that there are, Aea alone knows what possessed a
very previous incumbent to from a ladies social circle for the Shine of Aea
in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm. I suppose it
served two purposes. One was that it built a sense of community amongst
those worshipping or otherwise linked to the shrine. Secondly, I suppose he
hoped it would keep them out of trouble. At least whilst the ladies were
attending the social circle meetings they weren’t out drinking and fighting.
The problem is that these societies need people who will drive them. People
who will do the basic work that is necessary. In the case of the social
circle, it wasn’t as if there was any problem booking rooms, they always met
in the shrine. Similarly, they had their regular evening so they didn’t have
to tell people when to come to the meeting, everybody knew already. Yet the
most important job, the most difficult one, was to find some form of
There is a list. It isn’t long, it isn’t official, but everybody who gets
the job as secretary of one of these societies soon manages to get their own
copy. It consists of the names of the people who are worth inviting to
speak. If your group meets monthly, allowing for two meetings without
speakers when you ‘entertain yourselves,’ that still means you need ten
speakers a year. Also, you don’t want speakers coming back too often, so the
list really needs fifty names. Frankly, you’d be lucky if your list had a
score of speakers on it.
So secretaries improvise. They ask the friends of friends to speak. They
listen to gossip and if somebody is mentioned as being comparatively
interesting, they will hastily book them. Soon desperation sets in. Elderly
clerics are dragooned into telling their tales of ministry in the wilder or
more distant climes. Various performing artists will be summoned, not to
perform (because they charge for that) but to talk about being a performer.
Now I have no doubt that you might be an excellent musician, but it doesn’t
mean you can talk wittily and entertainingly about it. Indeed the social
circle once invited a mime to talk about their art. Frankly, it would have
gone better if they had given the talk in mime but instead, in a dull
monosyllabic drone, they showed by their talk exactly why they get their
mouth shut whilst working.
Then you have the old stalwart, arts and crafts. Few painters can pain
quickly enough and well enough to hold an audience, but there are other more
esoteric crafts. I have known people who created mosaics from the glass you
get from broken wine bottles. Obviously, there is black, green, amber and
some rare cobalt blue as well as the more usual transparent. Each piece is
cut to shape with a special bladed hammer that reminds me of nothing as much
as a toffee hammer. The piece is then filed perfectly to shape. One couple
had a mosaic in their hallway, the centrepiece of the room. It looked
absolutely stunning but it had taken fifteen years to create. I can think of
few things more boring that having them take over an hour to explain how
they did it.
Mind you, Maljie claimed that she had a speaker who could beat them for
tedium. This lady came to discuss making bead bracelets. The talk consisted
of watching her slide one bead at a time on a piece of thread, whilst she
told you what colour the bead was. It may have been that the sequence of
colours had some ritual significance because when the ladies were allowed to
try doing their own, Maljie was most sternly talked to for altering the
Which brings us to the most important part of these associations, the
comradeship, the meeting and greeting, the chatting together. Whether the
group gathers to share herbal infusions and coffee along with some nice
cakes or to drink pleasant wine along with some spicy nibbles, doesn’t
matter. It is the time spent chatting, relaxing in decent company. For some
ladies, it might be the only chance they get to unburden themselves to
another sympathetic lady. If you accomplish nothing else, make sure that the
event includes plenty of time for this sort of thing.
Yet you’ll find groups where members do not linger. Once the speaker has
spoken, many of the members flee. I have pondered this phenomena. Setting
aside the most unlikely option, that they attend the meeting purely because
they are utterly fascinated by the speakers (given the very diverse nature
of the speakers I cannot imagine anybody being interested in them all) then
all I can think is that they regard the event as ‘somewhere I have to be
seen’. Some of these meetings as so dull I would only attend them if I
desperately needed an alibi. I could have serious concerns about both the
social life and social priorities of the person who felt that it was
necessary to be ‘seen’ at those meetings.
But sometimes the speaker can rescue matters and help build the community.
Maljie mentioned the occasion when there was a talk about knitting. During
the talk, the oil in the lantern ran out and light was provided,
inadequately, by a couple of candles. Somewhere in the gloom was a speaker
who was discussing ‘competitive knitting.’ Apparently, this is remarkably
popular in some circles and is taken inexplicably seriously. Horrendous
crimes can be committed as those at the leading edge of this particular
fancy cut corners or cheat to achieve award-winning results. Apparently, the
concubines of Partannese bandit lords have been known to cease their
poisonings long enough to write strong letters complaining that mixing
alternate bands of knitting fool, faggoting and tricot is not merely poor
taste but is absolutely unethical.
During this talk, Maljie was awakened from slumber by a voice whispering,
“Maljie, are you awake.”
“No. Let’s go down the street to the nearest public house and get a drink.”
Legend is silent as to whether anybody remained to propose a vote of thanks
to the speaker, who droned on as her audience stealthily left. Still, I am
assured it was a truly splendid night in the four ale bar and everybody
agreed that this is what being a ladies social circle was all about.
And now a brief note from Jim Webster. It’s really just to inform you that
I’ve just published a full Tallis Steelyard novel. Yes, the rumours are true.
Tallis Steelyard, the man who considered jotting down a couple of anecdotes
to be ridiculously hard work, and considered the novella form to be the very
pinnacle of literary labour, has been cozened into producing a novel.
It is, ‘Tallis Steelyard. A Fear of Heights.’
In this novel, recounted by Tallis Steelyard in his own inimitable manner,
we discover what happens when the hierarchy plots to take control of the
Shrine to Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm.
Will the incumbent be exiled to a minor fane in the far north? Will Tallis
end up having to do a proper job? Does ordination and elevation beckon for
This story includes the Idiosyncratic Diaconate, night soil carts,
Partannese bandit chieftains, a stylite, a large dog and some over-spiced
food. On top of this, we have not one but two Autocephalous Patriarchs and a
theologically sanctioned beggar.
Available both for kindle and in Paperback.