It is a question I encourage my patrons to ask themselves. Oh I’m not promoting boundless extravagance. Obviously liberality is to be encouraged when it comes to paying poets but, for example, I wouldn’t push anybody into having the fountain in their garden run with wine. There are limits to good taste, and frankly the wine is never of the finest. Also who wants to imbibe wine that swirls around the comatose body of a guest or servant who has passed out through drink?
There are areas where one can sensibly economise. If you do insist of having free drink all round the house and garden, at least have somebody on the gates! Yes I know that the local children will be able to sneak through the fences carrying cans and jars but still, having the gates watched does stop their parents from entering bringing empty barrels on a dog cart.
Indeed if you want to give folk the impression that you are entertaining in a liberal and open-handed manner, there are areas where good taste not merely allows you to make savings, but positively encourages it.
Take musicians for example. How many do you really need? I know some have hired troops of them and had them scattered throughout the house and grounds, making the evening hideous with their banshee wailings and discordant harmonies. If you feel you really must have musicians, then I would suggest a very small and select group. Have them picked not for any notional artistic excellence but for sobriety. By the end of the evening the sober ones will still be playing recognisable tunes.
Then there is the matter of drink. At any of these affairs you can end up with a group of bored husbands who are present purely because nobody could think of a legitimate reason for not inviting them. Add to that the professional topers who will treat your ‘at home’ as just another watering hole, and these people can make a serious assault on your wine cellar.
Find a male family member with even the slightest interest in ales and provide him with a few small barrels of a number of different beers. Good heavy ales are best, ales with real authority. Have him serve other men these ales in large tankards and have him ask for their opinions on the various brews. It is best if he can do this with some display of sincerity and it might even be worth while having somebody taking notes so that those partaking feel that their opinions are genuinely sought. So long as each tankard holds about the same amount as a wine bottle and you have half a dozen different barrels, this should keep this group economically amused for the entire evening. Indeed it is my experience that many of them will spread excellent reports of the affair and will regal other hosts and hostesses with tales of your wisdom and the excellence of the parties you throw.
Food is one of the areas where I wouldn’t stint. Still it is possible to economise by ensuring that the gentlemen are served simple dishes, rich in meat, and without too much garnish. Before now I’ve managed to get all the gentlemen sitting together drinking heavy ale and eating meat sandwiches with a choice of pickles. This is virtually the height of domestic economy. A few decent meat pies never go amiss either. Remember these are men who will be forced to eat vegetables and such folderol on a regular basis at home. Given that these men are largely accidental guests, who have been invited not for their own merits but because they happen to be married to somebody whose presence is important, pander to them and they will stay quiet, happy, and out of everybody’s way.
But, under no circumstances let your desire to economise lead you into embracing fashions or fads popular amongst the thrifty. I point to the sad case of Thirlburt Donne. He was a musician and by all accounts an accomplished one. Unfortunately he worked badly with other musicians. As far as I could tell, Thirlburt, who was a delightful chap, genuinely charming, just disliked musicians. Now I suppose you could say that his attitude was entirely understandable. Yet because he was a musician it made earning a living difficult.
I digress at this point. Poets do not have to work together. If we dislike each other, we can avoid each other. Sculptors and painters are much the same. Novelists, who apparently dislike everybody, can hide in garrets and still do whatever it is they do. But musicians and actors generally have to work with other musicians and actors. Most camouflage loathing under a veil of false conviviality and affability. Thus we see actors kissing each other as they meet and calling each other darling, whilst simultaneously hugging each other to check they are not wearing armour under their clothes that would protect them from being stabbed in the back.
Thirlburt couldn’t do that, so he decided he would personally provide the full orchestra. Thus he would strap various instruments to his person and as he walked he could play them. It was an approach which brought problems. It meant that his attempts to play soft, sentimental, ballads were somewhat spoiled by inadvertent percussion at inappropriate places. Similarly his mournful dirges were enlivened unintentionally by sporadic tinkling and honking.
On the other hand, when he played a stirring marching tune, it was stirring indeed. Alas but by the nature of the way he performed he would often end the piece out of earshot of those who had heard the beginning.
Matters were coming to a sorry pass when he caught the eye of a huckster selling patent medicines. He would pay Thirlburt to play his way around the city, bearing a banner advising whichever product the huckster wished to offload on that particular day.
Others spotted the opportunity and Thirlburt found himself much sought after. Pie shops, undertakers, false teeth makers and even bordellos would hire him by the hour, attach their banner to him and send him off to spread the word.
It was all going so well, but inevitably others got in on the act. The streets of Port Naain were rendered hideous by the noise these performers were making. It got so that a financially embarrassed poet could earn a reasonable living just standing at one end of a street and refusing these folk admittance.
When the end came, it was swift. The Sinecurists passed a resolution and that very day one of the Condottieri in the city was hired to have his men sweep the city and to drive before them these ‘one man bands’. They were herded onto the Roskadil ferry and on the south side of the estuary the horsemen drove them south. In the distance one could hear the discordant clanks and tuneless squeals, fading slowly.
The horsemen rode back to the ferry, their job done. Legend insists that the ‘musicians’ continued their inharmonious way south, ending up as the treasured performers of some barbarous Partannese chieftain. I would beg to differ. I saw Thirlburt Donne only the other day, carrying carcasses from a cart and into a butcher’s shop.
Also recommended for music lovers!
As a reviewer commented “If you wonder what comprises the life of a jobbing poet in the town of Port Naain, this little collection of stories will give you some idea. Tallis has a finger in many a pie, arranging soirees for ladies, helping to write and distribute literary journals (and their rivals!). He assists in redistributing the town’s abundance of food and arranges for a man to experience a haunting when he’s accepted the challenge to stay overnight in a disused tower. And that’s just some of it!
Reading these stories of Jim Webster’s is like putting on your slippers and picking up a cuppa. Comfortable, and they make you smile.”