You know it is time to worry about the state of the world when somebody assures you, with considerable vehemence that, “Your trouble, Tallis Steelyard, is that you are not in touch with the Modern Woman.”
Had it been a lady who had been leaning over me in the saloon bar of the Vagabond’s Purse I might have taken it more seriously. But it was a young and somewhat effete young man who was prodding me in the chest and telling me what I did and did not know.
Still it is always wise to ponder whether one is getting a little out of touch. I disregarded his ranting and started to think. In the course of a reasonably long and modestly recompensed career I have had dealings with many of the fairer sex. I have walked and talked with shop girls, Dowagers, women cleaning fish at the market, whores, courtesans, women who keep alehouses and women who spend too much time lying dead drunk on the floors of alehouses. I have spent time in the company of respectable married ladies with any number of children, and equally respectable ladies who have none.
Indeed I have known and liked women for whom the term ‘a certain age’ might have been minted, but equally I’ve engaged in courteous banter with ladies who will never see eighty again as well as maidens who ache to be sixteen and sophisticated.
The voice broke into my thoughts, with all the tact of a bailiff. “Admit it man, you’ve grown smug and complacent.”
“Smug?” That genuinely shocked me. I confess that each morning when I wake up and discover that I am still alive I feel a brief frisson of gratitude. I have known too many people who one morning never managed to achieve this.
“You’ve grown fat and idle, buoyed up by too much easy success!”
At this point I began to wonder if we had a case of mistaken identity. Perhaps there was another Tallis Steelyard out there? One who was obviously achieving far greater success that I was by all accounts. Indeed, was it possible that this other Tallis Steelyard had come up with a system whereby he could gain the credit for my successes whilst at the same time letting his failures stand to my account? Certainly it would make sense of the notes presented by some of my more assiduous creditors.
But the ranter had not finished, “Steelyard, you’re a pustulent boil on the tender buttocks of modern literature.”
I was sure I’d heard that line before; I might even have used it. Still I was growing irritated and contrived to clumsily knock the table. A half empty flagon, standing too close to the edge of the table, toppled and poured thin ale down the front of my interlocutor’s cream coloured breeches. He was shocked into silence at the unmitigated calamity that had befallen him and fled. Wimp! At his age I’d once had a bucket of ale poured over me and merely stood in my drawers and undershirt to deliver the rest of my poem!
But still as I returned home to the barge his remarks returned to me. Especially his comment about the ‘Modern Woman.’ So much so that when I got there to find Shena lighting the stove I asked, “Shena my dear, am I in touch with the ‘Modern Woman.’
She looked up from the kindling and said, “I damned well hope not.”
So there you have it. One of the advantages of marriage is that a fellow can rely upon his lady wife to keep him properly grounded. Indeed it was Shena who pointed out to me that instead of wasting time in introspection I really ought to get on with promoting my latest work.
Thus and so, please purchase ‘Tallis Steelyard, Shower me with Gold and other stories.’ Shena would approve.