Sandi the Broom is a sweeper. According to Mutt, who I suspect may be
considered definitive in these matters, she was the first. As far as I can
make out, she abandoned what had been her home and at the age of about six
or seven took to the streets to fend for herself. At some point, she acquired
a broom. Whether she brought it to the streets with her or picked it up
there, nobody has been able to tell me. Also, within a week or two of
arriving on the street, she found a bucket as well.
Her method of working is simple. She will start at one end of a street and
just sweep it clean until she arrives at the other end. Horse muck and
similar goes into the bucket. Small coins and other potentially valuable
items are tucked into pockets secreted about her clothing.
Obviously, you need to choose your streets. Ropewalk would be perfect were it
not for the fact that it’s too busy to even consider. (Although she does
occasionally contemplate sweeping it late at night. Only her well-developed
sense of self-preservation has prevented her.) Equally obvious was the fact
that there was no point just going back to the start and beginning again.
She developed a ’round’. Six streets which she would sweep, one a day. The
sixth and last street brought her back to the start again. This allowed
debris to accumulate, thus meaning it was worth sweeping again.
Another issue was the nature of the street. You didn’t want something too
busy or it gets dangerous. Similarly, quiet streets never accumulate much.
The perfect street is busy at times, has at least some houses with gardens,
and is a comparatively prosperous area. After all, you didn’t want a street
inhabited by dwellers who would happily crawl the length of it on their
hands and knees looking for a ten dreg piece they thought they’d dropped.
After a few weeks on the streets, she started to build up a network of
customers. Certain houses contained a keep gardener who was happy to buy her
bucket of horse muck and miscellaneous sweepings for the compost heap.
Similarly whilst coins are of universal utility, other things that she finds
can be cashed in if you know your markets. On one occasion it was obvious
that she was following an absconding troubadour, doubtless fleeing an
outraged husband. She found two guitar plectrums, three spare strings, one
gent’s shoe, and perhaps a vintenar in miscellaneous copper coins.
Knowing your customers is important in this trade. The perfect house to sell
your bucket of assorted sweepings is one where the gentleman of the house is
a keep gardener. As you knock confidently at the side door you can be sure
that the maid will sigh, roll her eyes in good-natured exasperation, and
summon her master. He will beam with pleasure, tell the cook to give you a
new loaf, split, and plastered with butter. He will personally cut a good
chunk from the cheese which sits on the table in the dining room. There’s
even the hope of an apple from the maid.
If your customer is just the gardener, then he’ll doubtless be pleased, but
he lacks authority with the cook. Thus when he comes out of the house to pay
you, he’ll rather shiftily hand you the loaf from the bottom of the bread
bin, no butter, and the last of the cheese before the mouse-traps claim it.
Then when it comes to selling what you’ve found, shoes are easy. Several of
the rag shops take them. They don’t pay a lot, twenty-five dregs at most.
But then, from their point of view, it’s a speculative investment. One-legged
purchasers aren’t common. There’s a chance that you’ll get a mate to the one
you’ve bought, at which point you’re in the money. It’s even possible for
the owner to appear and to buy it back. But in this latter case, they never
pay well, and only with considerably chuntering and moaning. As the owner of
one of these emporia commented to me, “There are times I do wonder why I
bother. The trade isn’t worth the candle.”
Otherwise, for Sandi the Broom it was a case to knowing your market. One
second-hand shop gave her a good blouse that almost fitted her in return for
the plectrums and guitar strings. In other cases, she has received a reward
for finding a glass eye whilst a gold tooth is a genuine treasure to be
secreted away as a reserve.
On top of all this, she is also a ‘watcher.’ That’s how I came across her.
She will keep an eye out for things and pass the news on to Mutt. Obviously,
the streets she cleans have their own watchers, small children innocently
playing, or sitting silently under the eaves. But from Mutt’s point of view,
these are a nuisance. They work of other, doubtless competing, aspiring
crime lords. Sandi covers more ground, but in less detail than these other
watchers, but still, any information she sells him enables him to keep an
eye on the area.
Mutt once asked me to pass on a message to her and to buy her a meat pie as
part of her wages. (Marvel at the confidence he reposes in me!) As she
devoured the pie we discussed work and life on the streets. She does have
ambitions. One possible way forward is to go into service with one of the
houses on ‘her’ streets. She has kept her eyes and ears open and there are
houses she would work in. She makes a point of treating housekeepers and
butlers like the aristocracy they are should she meet them in the street,
and even downstairs maids will get a polite little curtsy from her.
Her confident expectation is that in the next year or so she will be offered
a place as, ‘the girl as does’ in one of her chosen houses. This will
guarantee her a bed, a roof that doesn’t leak, and regular meals. Ensconced
in such unaccustomed luxury she pointed out that if she couldn’t progress to
be a housekeeper in her own right, it would be her fault.
On the other hand, I could detect signs that part of her would regret
abandoning her own business and the independent life. As she said, if she
found a few more gold teeth she might set up a stall of her own, and
perhaps, if Lady Luck smiled on her, open a second-hand emporium in an empty
shop. As she said, she knows Mutt, he owes her, and with his street children
behind her, she could soon stock it.
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.