People don’t realise what gifts they have, or what skills they possess. Sometimes they have the ability to do all sorts of things yet they never do them.
Obviously I am a person with many capabilities, able to turn my hand to a wide variety of work, a sonnet here, a bawdy ballad there, a saga or a dirge as the situation demands. But this is not the limit of my talents.
An example of how a poet’s talents are almost infinitely flexible could be when I was pressed into helping Uncle Jonkon. He’s the brother of Shena’s father, the nearest thing their family has to a person who is respectably successful. Contemplating the rest of the family, one can see that the respectable have found success elusive, whilst those who experience some transient flickers of success do so from beyond the bounds of respectability.
Uncle Jonkon is a dairyman. There aren’t many in Port Naain, perhaps a score. They keep a handful of horrocks which they may graze on small patches of wasteland on the edge of town, or who more commonly live their entire lives within confines of the dairyman’s yard and are fed hay and other foodstuffs imported into the city.
The dairyman makes his (or her) living by selling milk which might be expensive, but is guaranteed to be fresh. I’ve known diligent kitchen maids who worked in respectable houses in Dilbrook who would stand and watch the animal being milked into their jug. They would then pay for the milk and leave.
But Uncle Jonkon had another string to his bow. It is all well and good to have your cow horrocks milking well. But nature being what it is, at some point the cow will have to become pregnant again otherwise she will cease to milk. So Uncle Jonkon had perhaps the only bull horrocks in the city.
For a number of years, at the appropriate times, he would lead his bull across the bridge and along Three Mills Prospect to meet a potential lady love. Matters would be suitably concluded and he would lead his bull back.
Now people took to complaining about this. A bull can stand taller at the shoulder than a man and might weigh as much as an Urlan Destrier. Also it was discovered that ladies of delicate sensitivities found the aura of rampant masculinity somewhat disturbing. So the system was changed and the horrocks cow was led to the bull.
This was not without problems, the bull, bored by his confinement and missing his regular perambulations, took to occasionally bellowing. His roars could be heard echoing across the city on still nights. So it was decreed by the authorities that the bull be provided with a shed designed so that his bellowing was at least muffled. Indeed the authorities, normally so casual when it comes to regulation, specified that the walls of the shed, or at least their lower courses, should be ‘workman’s stone’ (sometimes called concrete) poured in one piece for greater strength.
Unfortunately Uncle Jonkon started building his shed before the specifications were finally laid down. I would hold that this showed a remarkable enthusiasm to fall in with the wishes of the municipality. Others might argue that he hoped to get away with building the bulls accommodation ‘on the cheap.’ But whichever was the truth; the bull moved into his accommodation and appeared to be perfectly happy with it.
All was going well until it was announced that the municipality would send an inspector to view the building and make sure it met the specifications. Uncle Jonkon was worried by this. His walls were not workman’s stone but wattle and daub. Considerably cheaper, but not perhaps what the municipality had had in mind.
He appeared at the barge at his wit’s end, hoping Shena would have a solution to his problem. I was present so we both listened to his story, and then accompanied him back to his yard to see the problem in the flesh. The bull had a pen made of heavy timbers driven deep into the ground, and within this pen was the shed. I looked between the timbers at the shed. “Jonkon, can you take the bull out of his pen for a while.”
“Certainly. But how will that help?”
I gestured at the yard. “Well it’ll look better if we clean it out before it is inspected tomorrow.”
Uncle Jonkon could see the truth in this so he went in, harnessed the bull (known as ‘Old Blue’) and led him out of the pen. I pointed out to Shena that as it was winter, the bull was subsisting on a diet which seemed to be mainly straw, some poor hay, and grain. I’m not sure what effect this had on his bowels, but the dung that was spread liberally about his pen was of a similar colour to cement and many of the more common varieties of concrete. So whilst she cleaned away that part of the dung which was mixed with straw, I took the other, less fibrous matter, and with a trowel, proceeded to spread a decent layer on the outside wall of the shed.
It’s not the easiest of jobs, but I managed. After an afternoon’s careful work a casual observer would be willing to swear that the walls of the shed were good workman’s stone. At least up to waist height.
The bull slept outside in the yard that night, tied well away from his shed. This ensured that my rendering had a chance to dry. Next morning, almost at first light, I returned with a trowel and smoothed a little more of the dung into any cracks that had appeared as the first application dried.
Finally as the officer of the municipality appeared in view, ‘Old Blue’ was allowed back into his pen and the gate was shut. The inspector was admitted, took one look at the bull, and proclaimed himself entirely happy to inspect the shed from the outside of the pen. This he did. Not only did he speak favourably of the shed itself, he commented that it was good to see the place kept to clean and tidy. He presented Uncle Jonkon with an appropriately signed form saying everything had been demonstrated to his entire satisfaction and left.
In turn Uncle Jonkon turned to me and began to talk of his appreciation. I silenced him with a simple dismissive hand gesture.
“Say no more about it Uncle. I would be a poor apology for a poet if I could not camouflage something with bull shit.”
At this point it would be remiss of me not to mention other areas in which I, as a poet, can be flexible. After many years being forced to rub shoulders which lesser literary lights, I have finally succumbed to the demands that as well as poetry, I produce prose.
So a number of these stories have been collected and bound together to form a slim book called, “Tallis Steelyard. Shower me with gold, and other stories.” Some of the stories are of course are from this blog, some others have appeared elsewhere in the blogs of those who have been my patrons over the years. Some of the stories may never have seen the light of day previously.
Not only that but they have all been subject to the harsh scrutiny of an editor, the redoubtable Mike Rose-Steel, who has, perhaps unwisely, insisted that in certain places I allow the truth more room to run free.
This work, a slim volume of almost infinite delight, is now available for purchase. Hasten if you will to