Sometimes I find that I am called upon to write cautionary tales, so that those who wish to follow in my footsteps and make a living in the arts avoid some of the many traps and pitfalls that await them. But in this case I feel that I am telling a tale which might signpost your route to prosperity, nay, even to respectability.
I want to bring to your attention the career of Wilfred Mettan. Obviously with a name like that, given to him by a mother who had read far too many wild romances during her confinement, he was destined for greatness, and so it transpired.
I am never quite sure how he drifted into chiropody, but obviously he did, and for many years he was a fixture on the side of the Ropewalk. There he would sit, under his little awning. His client would sit in a chair opposite, remove his or her footwear and Wilfred would set to work. He would treat anybody for twenty four dregs a foot, and he was so well thought of there was often a queue. As time went on he married, and first his wife, and then his oldest daughter, would work along side him as a nurse, bringing warm water and soap to wash the feet and soften the corns.
Now twenty four dregs a foot doesn’t seem a lot, but it was steady, a lot of people left tips and the family flourished. His wife became a greengrocer, turning the ground floor of their house into a shop, and the other children helped her at this.
Now things might well have continued in this vein; a cosy parable of modest prosperity as a result of hard work and thrift. But there is one thing that you may not know, having never met Wilfred, in that he was a remarkably convincing individual. Indeed whilst tackling a tricky set of feet he would discuss a client’s footwear, diet, posture, and recommend changes. One chap in the queue watched with amusement the lectures that accompanied the treatment of those ahead of him, so when he took the chair himself he commented, “You’re pretty convincing Wilfred.”
Wilfred paused briefly as if assessing the statement. “I suppose I am.”
“Talk anybody into doing anything.”
In the queue a silence had fallen as everybody stopped their own gossiping to listen to the conversation.
Wilfred said, “Well, yes, but to be honest, only if it was to do with Chiropody.”
Someone in the queue commented, “Well he convinced Widow Bathta to sit there in her drawers getting her feet done.”
Wilfred sounded hurt, “I wanted to show her how her feet and legs were when she was at rest, so she’d stop sitting in such strange positions.”
“I bet you could get a lady to sit in the nude to get her feet done.”
Immediately another voice in the queue countered with, “One vintenar says he cannot.”
The queue immediately became a growing knot of disputing individuals all wanting to get their bet in, either for or against the proposition. Finally it was agreed, in the next three months Wilfred would be able to convince a lady to strip naked to have her feet done, but not necessarily in the street.
Now Wilfred was rather flattered by the way his customers had lauded his powers of persuasion and he decided that he would give the challenge a fair trial. Now it so happened that one day a week he and his daughter used to walk across to the Merchant Quarter and there they would visit customers in their own homes. The charge was higher but obvious the customers in question were not willing to queue on the Ropewalk.
So in discussion with his daughter they decided to canvass work in Dilbrook and Three Mills where he was not yet know. But rather than just calling himself Wilfred Mettan, his business card announced him as ‘The Renown Savant, Master Mettan, Podiatrist and master of wellbeing and longitudinal studies.’ Whilst I wouldn’t say that the invitations flooded in, there was a definite trickle.
At the first appointment, Wilfred, or rather Master Mettan, would have his nurse remove the footwear his client was wearing, whilst he asked questions on diet and general health and looked not merely at the lady’s footwear (because his clients were inevitably ladies) but also her hosiery and even her wardrobe generally. He would explain to his client that the feet were the seat of spirituality, and that running through them were esoteric meridians which connected the feet to all the major organs in the body, thus working on the feet would enhance the patients wholeness, mindfulness and wellbeing.
He would then make his diagnosis and an appointment for the next treatment. The diagnosis would include a dish that the patient must eat every morning for breakfast. Here he was inspired by his lady wife who had inadvertently acquired an inordinately large quantity of prunes for a very low price. These prunes were mixed about half and half with bran. They were rendered more palatable by having a slurry of finely chopped over-rip figs poured over them. Each evening Wilfred’s oldest son would prepare a bowl full of this delicacy for every client, and each morning he would deliver today’s bowl, and collect yesterday’s empty bowl.
Wilfred would also discuss with the lady in question her favourite scents, and would insist that before the appointment, the lady had a long hot bath. His daughter would arrive at the client’s abode over an hour before her father, check the temperature of the bath water, arrange crystals in significant patterns around the path, stir in the appropriate scented oils, light the scented candles and then allow the lady to luxuriate for a full hour without being disturbed (save by somebody topping the bath up with hot water).
Immediately after the ablutions, with the lady decently wrapped in a bathrobe, Wilfred would be ushered into the bathroom or the lady’s dressing room where he would perform his chiropractic magic, all the while asking probing questions about her health and welfare. By the end of the session the lady would have received good advice about exercise, dress and diet. Given the combined effects of the laxatives, a relaxing hot bath and having one’s feet properly dealt with, ladies would take this advice seriously. Hence by the fourth visit, when Master Mettan suggested that the lady sit naked, within the circle of significant crystals and candles while he treated her feet, few raised any objections.
Now all this takes time, and Wilfred had agonised over how much to charge. Finally, in consultation with his lady wife, they settled on four alars a month, which covered the cost of the breakfasts and his visit.
Back on the Ropewalk, Wilfred was still doing three or four days a week, keeping in touch with his other clients and finally, he announced, quietly and without ceremony that he had indeed managed to convince not one but any number of ladies to sit naked to have their feet done. Word circulated and bets were paid off.
Wilfred was then left in something of a quandary. He had confirmed that he could do it, and indeed it proved suitably lucrative. But frankly it was boring and he missed the banter and gossip he got on the Ropewalk. So after a family conference it was decided that he would return full time to his chair and awning on the Ropewalk. His youngest daughter would assist him as nurse, and learn the trade; whilst the oldest daughter would continue the private visits, taking on her youngest brother as her assistant and apprentice.
The number of private visits gradually increased, with his daughter introducing such innovations as having the client move through a series of strange postures firstly in a very hot room, then in a colder room in total darkness, before relaxing for an hour in the bath. She also brought in ‘whole body shaving’ or at least shaving everything below the neck. All these rituals were now performed with the client orientated in directions of undisclosed hermetic significance.
Wilfred plied his trade on the Ropewalk until the day he died, although in the last few years of his life he travelled by carriage from the fine new family home in Dilbrook that his daughter had purchased.
Should you wish to continue with the whole Tallis Steelyard Experience then you might like to read
Tallis Steelyard, a harsh winter and other stories.
As a reviewer wrote, “This is a collection of stories about Tallis which go to show that it’s not all drinking afternoon tea or partaking of soirees for a jobbing poet. We discover some of his early life, some of the society feuds he became entangle with, and the story of how he met his wife and acquired the boat on which they live. Great little tales!”