It has to be said that education within the city of Port Naain is sporadic. Most people acquire some, but often we find out the hard way. One soon learns that there are certain people one does not offend, and certain back streets one does not linger in. Sometimes education includes literacy and numeracy, but these are gifts it often bestows on those who have learned the more dangerous lessons first.
Indeed within the city there isn’t really the concept of being a ‘teacher’ as a trade. The children of the wealthy will have a governess who does, as part of her role, teach them to read and write. The children of those less well heeled might aspire to attend a dame school or similar where a lady who has some education will attempt to share it with those whose parents can afford the small fee. But nobody ever trains to be a teacher. As Calina Salin said, “We all teach and we’re all pupils.” Admittedly she was talking about dance but I have no doubts but that she has captured the essence of the situation.
But some do end up teaching. Primrose Uppercroft is one who springs to mind. Her parents ran a second hand clothes emporium and Primrose had learned both to read and write and also to keep accounts. She’d also learned to play Keeps and a number of other card games. She married young, to Sidle Uppercroft, who was a prestidigitator and professional gambler. Initially Primrose would spend her time working in bars with him, sometimes making up the numbers at the table, sometimes just covering his back. In those days she tended to carry a large handbag. This did cause comment at the time, but once she pulled from it a loaded and cocked crossbow, people accepted it as just the sort of thing a professional lady needed to have.
Then there were the children, and to be fair, Port Naain is the sort of place where people don’t take too much notice of a lady breast-feeding at the gaming table. Provided of course she keeps her cards on the table. Primrose never abused this, and although one card cheat got slapped round the face with a dirty nappy, the general consensus was that he had it coming.
As her children grew older, the question of their education arose. Primrose decided to educate them herself. This she did both at home and at work, and it was considered normal to see her two children colouring in pictures and writing stories about their day. All whilst sitting at the bar table next to the one their mother was working at.
Now this did cause comment. A number of regulars at the bar asked if she’d educate their children. Indeed the landlady would send her three to join the class. Soon the table accommodated a number of little pupils and during the day, regulars at the bar learned to moderate their language.
Lessons were simple. Once reading and writing had been mastered, pupils were taught card games and how to do your accounts. Then they learned simple trade skills, brewing, cooking, and dealing off the bottom of a deck, all the skills that a young person venturing out into a harsh cruel world needs to know.
Finally some of the regulars would teach classes as well. Mad Jez would come in with a length of timber and let the children attack it with his battle axe. To watch them grasping it with both hands in an attempt to swing whilst he explained to them how to angle the stroke and put weight of their hips and shoulders behind the blow, would bring a tear to many an eye.
Some lessons were provided almost by accident. Few of them will have forgotten the time Primrose laid out somebody who made inappropriate comments with a single handed backhand strike with a stool.
All in all it was a useful and well rounded education. I well remember one graduate of the school, then in her late teens. She stared down a knife wielding thief who was trying to rob her bar with the words, “Forget it, I was taught knife work by Mad Jez.”
The thief was so shocked he never noticed one of the customers creep up behind him with the chair. Three minutes later we’d stripped him of everything he possessed and had thrown him naked outside into the gutter to come round in the rain.
Yes, we’re always learning life’s lessons; some just take longer to learn them than others.
Should you wish to expand your education, may I recommend
As the reviewer commented, “The tale starts with a description of squid autopsy procedures.
Then, we find out how Benor learns the skill of deep sea diving, and running a bookshop.
The story soon develops into a ‘Benor needs to find and rescue a friend’ theme.
Luckily, Kara Halon (who works for The Purveyors of Magic) is on hand and joins him for a swim with a difference.