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Tag Archives: Book Tour
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.
Danny the Dog is a prolific writer. He’s written articles for bloggers around the world and has his own very popular blog where he dispenses his wisdom on a monthly basis. He’s humorous, clever, charming, delightful, and sometimes irascible. Or, as he would phrase it, “I’m a purveyor of wit, wisdom, and words.”
In My Name Is Danny, Danny writes about his real-life adventures living on a boat in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with his human, Andrew. He tells of their trials and tribulations … and the love they have for one another.
The Picture of Unter Judd
Madam Jeen Snellflort’s gentlemen adventurers set themselves high standards. They understood that any wandering thug with a big stick could steal something. For them, the mark of a gentleman adventurer was that nobody could pin the crime on them. One of them, Bagwis, decided he would raise his game and would try to steal the picture of Unter Judd, the first chair of the Council of Sinecurists, without anybody realising the painting had gone.
The painting hang hung on the back wall of the Grand Sinecurists Dining Room. Indeed old Unter Judd had, metaphorically at least, stared down upon the acquisition of Lady Edan’s fan. Given that in his time Unter had been a pirate and condottieri it is even possible he approved of the whole episode.
Bagwis always posed as an artist. Although not really burly enough to be a sculptor, he was a prepossessing young man, tall with broad shoulders. At this time he had a neatly trimmed moustache; substantial enough to look like it was an intentional feature, but thankfully not so long that he was tempted to twirl the ends. He also sported a short cloak which barely covered the buttocks, and was given to flamboyant gestures with it. Hence nobody turned a hair when he attended the annual dinner of the ‘School of Althius,’ a painters’ dining club. The dinner was held in the Council of Sinecurists’ dining room. Whilst Bagwis was there he took the opportunity to study the picture. It had obviously been in place for several centuries, with age it had grown dark and really needed cleaning. He examined the frame
and took surreptitious measurements of the size of the whole thing.
For the next three weeks he haunted the junk shops of the city. He browsed the yards of those who do house clearances; he even examined the cheap prints they put up on the walls of a certain class of drinking establishment. Finally he found what he was after. He acquired, for dregs, a battered canvas in a very similar frame to that in the dining room. He also picked up one of the cheap colourised prints of the painting which had been strangely popular a generation or two before. He put the print into its ‘new’ frame and tenderly touched up the colours. His intent was to try and give the picture the freshness it might have had the day it was first painted.
Then with everything prepared he made his move. Walking with the casual assurance of a man who knows he has every right to be there, he returned to the Sinecurists’ dining room. Over his most workaday clothes he wore the long floppy tunic beloved of artists, sign-writers and those who sweep bird droppings from high ledges to sell to market gardeners. He entered the dining room pushing a handcart and set up a screen around the painting.
To be fair, the staff reacted promptly. He had barely got the screen up
before guards appeared. When the guards asked what he was doing, he merely took a cloth, dipped it in an appropriate solution, and gently rubbed the edge of the frame. Ten centuries of accumulated grime slowly fell away.
He turned to them. “I’ve been hired to clean it. It’s a delicate job and I
put the screens up to stop people stopping and staring and bothering me.”
The guards nodded wisely. Before one of them thought to ask whether he’d got
any written authority to be there, he asked,
“Could one of you chaps sit outside the screen and keep people away? I’ve even got a bottle of beer somewhere here.”
That has to be the guards’ dream. Oh to be legitimately paid to spend your working hours sitting in comfort, glaring at people to keep them away, and occasionally taking a mouthful of decent ale. It beats pacing darkened hallways on your own in the dark. So one of the guards sat happily with his back to the screen and glared at people, whilst our Bagwis silently unscrewed the original picture off the wall. Equally silently he replaced it with his new version, making sure that he even used the same screw holes. He then slipped the suddenly surplus painting into the false bottom of his handcart. Finally, to pad the time out and make it look as if he was working, he took his cloth and solvent and with immense care, cleaned the wooden panel the painting was fastened to. Finally, because he didn’t want people to feel he was rushing the job, he read quietly for a while before packing everything away.
As he took down the screens the guard stood up looked carefully at the
painting. “It’s come up nice.”
“Yes, it’s not difficult if you’re careful.”
It was some months later than somebody raised the issue of the painting. One of the Sinecurists who had some paintings he wanted cleaning remembered the excellent job somebody had done on old Unter Judd. So he dropped into the office of the Council Treasurer and asked who had done the work. The Treasurer promised to get back to him with a name.
He investigated and couldn’t find a copy of the bill they’d paid. He went through the year’s accounts and realised that even if they had been sent a bill which they’d subsequently lost, they’d never paid it.
At this point he went to check the picture. The work had obviously been done. Indeed he was impressed with the way that whoever had done it had done the panel as well, rather than merely restricting their work to the picture.
The Treasurer was now in something of a quandary. Obviously the work had been done, but there was no evidence the Council had asked for it to be done, and what is more there was no evidence that the bill had been paid. He thought briefly and decided to do nothing. If somebody came forward asking where their money had got to, he could be vaguely apologetic, see their paperwork and pay them if convinced. Up until that point he’d do nothing because there wasn’t really anything useful he could think of doing. Over the coming months a couple of people did comment to him in passing that the
painting did seem bright. He merely nodded sagely and explained that
apparently this was appropriate for the period.
By this time Madam Jeen Snellflort had not merely disposed of the painting to the agreed buyer, she’d collected the money and had added one of the better boarding houses on Ropewalk to the sanatorium’s growing property portfolio.
Rather than his usual collection of anecdotes, this time Tallis presents us with one gripping adventure. A tale of adventure, duplicity and gentility.
Why does an otherwise respectable lady have a pair of sedan chair bearers hidden in her spare bedroom? Why was the middle aged usurer brandishing an axe? Can a gangster’s moll be accepted into polite society? Answer these questions and more as Tallis Steelyard ventures unwillingly into the seedy world of respectable ladies who love of sedan chair racing.