On the fiddle

Jiggy was only ever known as Jiggy. Obviously I cannot vouch for the fact that he was never, in his youth, known as ‘Young Jiggy’ because that is well before my time. But in his old age he was never ‘Old Jiggy’, there was no other Jiggy.

Now Jiggy played the fiddle. Admittedly the only difference between his fiddle and a violin was that the bridge was flatter than you’d expect. The big difference is the nature of the music.

Now Jiggy never claimed to write music. As a youth, he’d arrived in Port Naain from Partann with his fiddle and a head full of folk tunes. Over the years he’d collected more folk tunes and between ourselves, I think that when he wrote them down, he wrote what they ought to be, not what a lot of very amateur musicians had in point of fact being playing. I suspect he rescued a lot of fine tunes from degenerating into something banal.

Initially he’d been popular at dances. He could play jigs all night and would move among the dancers, still playing and his feet would follow the rhythms of the dance. But there is only so long anybody can keep up that sort of pace, and as dancers sat down to refresh themselves he would play other tunes. He had a way with love songs and laments that could bring tears to the eyes.

Various young ladies would ask him to play whilst they sang. Now that was a true partnership. The presence of Jiggy on the fiddle guaranteed the quality of the performance, and a pretty young woman with a beautiful voice complemented his music perfectly. Finally he married one of the young woman and for forty years they worked together. Death tore her away from him and for a while he worked alone. But girls young enough to be his granddaughters would ask him to play for them and sometimes he would agree.

But it wasn’t just audiences who appreciated Jiggy. Stop to consider the humble barrel organ. Port Naain has a number of individuals who make a living with their barrel organ. To be fair I can think of nothing better to accompany drunken singing. But they cannot just keep playing the same tune, day after day. Or rather, whilst some of them do, they really shouldn’t.

Now there are craftsmen in Port Naain who can make barrel organs. They rarely do, there are other and more profitable outlets for their skill. Not only that but have you seen the cost of a new barrel organ, exquisitely appointed with rosethin, slivers of semi-precious stone and veneers made from rare and exotic woods? Only the wealthy can afford one. A lady will purchase one and will acquire a few drums of music. She will play them from time to time when in sentimental mood and the maid will keep it polished to perfection. But on her deathbed she realises that her children will just dispose of what they refer to as, ‘Mother’s mechanical monstrosity.’ So she will write a message to the Guild of Barrel Organ Makers and Allied Trades. They will send a young person who is starting down the road as an organ grinder and he will collect the barrel organ, pay the owner what he can afford (in all candour a pittance) and they are set up in their trade. It is traditional for them to play the organ outside the house as the previous owner lies dying.

But I’ve mentioned the Guild. A fascinating organisation. Tylar Bream explained to me how it works. Organ grinders are members. Some of those who build barrel organs are members. But the vast majority of the members are those who make and refurbish the drums. Almost without exception these are middle-aged and elderly men who have jobs, careers, and an adequate income. No-one ever made a living from producing the drums. The time consuming task of gluing the music to the drum, and then tapping the nails into place so the music will play needs to be done by somebody who works slowly and methodically. Yet the Guild will ‘sell’ the drum on an organ grinder for a vintenar, and buy it back from them for half that when it needs refurbishing.

The lengthy explanation is needed. You now realise that whilst the tunes Jiggy penned were remarkably popular with organ grinders, I doubt he ever gained a dreg from sales. Still the organ grinders would always salute him as he passed. Indeed I’ve known him stop, pull out his fiddle and as the organ grinder turned the handle, Jiggy would play a duet with the drum.

Then there was Magister Ardran. He was both an immensely skilled craftsman as well as being something of a demonologist. He made his own barrel organ. Then always paid the Guild extra to have a drum which had never been used before. What made his barrel organ different was his had small figurines which danced on a mirror set on the top of the organ’s case. He would play it and gather a crowd. Children were always encouraged to stand at the front where they could see. Indeed the more rapt the attention of the audience, the more exquisite would be the dancing of the figurines. I once saw Ardran play for three small children who were utterly enchanted by it all. At the end, the figurines lined up and bowed to the children before making their way back to their box.

I remember talking to another mage about this. Apparently Ardran’s barrel organ somehow condensed innocent pleasure from the atmosphere when it was played. For a demonologist, innocent pleasure is a heady draught to tempt a demon with. After all, it is something a demon cannot get by threats, temptation or pleading. Like grace it can only be freely given.

Apparently wise demons will shun it. They will flee from the person who has it on them, because if they but taste it they risk becoming addicted to it. Indeed I remember hearing a tale of a demon who did become addicted and eventually traded his immortality for a soul and the chance to live as a mortal. Being a demon he inevitably cheated, in that he is reputed to have become a mage as well as a mortal. His power as a mage potentially meant that he could live to an immense age. Or perhaps whoever he signed his compact with cheated him? After all, the ability to appreciate innocent pleasure often marches in lockstep with a turning away from what many consider the trappings of success.

But still, Magister Ardran also used Jiggy’s music to his own advantage. Yet he never really dealt directly with Jiggy. So whilst I remember his enthusiastically recommending Jiggy to others, I don’t suppose he was a source of wealth to the old fiddler. Demonologists rarely rub shoulders with the socially adept and successful.

Finally there was Tilborn Faffnick. He was a ‘great composer.’ You may have heard his work played. I caught his ‘Partannia’ when I was in Oiphallarian. It was the success of the season at the Opera House. He had orchestrated a number of Jiggy’s pieces and had strung them together with an unconvincing plot and some reasonable arias. If I remember correctly, Jiggy had spent several evenings copying out music for him. As it is, Jiggy’s name wasn’t anywhere on the programme, and I doubt the old man got a dreg for his work.

Jiggy died in harness as it were. He played at an entertainment I was also performing at. After his playing he went to the kitchen and sat down next to the fire because he said he was feeling his age. He drank half a mug of beer and ate a slice of meat pie. He congratulated the cook on the quality of her cooking. She turned to thank him, realised he wasn’t listening to her and discovered he was dead.

We carried his body, shoulder high, to the corpse boat. We were accompanied by an organ grinder with a portable organ who played a selection of his songs. I helped clear his rooms. Yass Tileforth sold the old man’s few sticks of furniture. I sent the money (about twenty vintenars, barely a week’s pay) plus his fiddle, to Jiggy’s sister in Partann. That sounds more prosaic than it need to be. I first had to find a condottieri company heading in that direction, and then find a man-at-arms who would deliver the parcel. I often wonder what the old lady thought when a troop of horse clattered up to her front door. No doubt the neighbours peered from behind their curtains. I just wish I could have heard the tittle-tattle. At the end of the campaigning season, as the armies returned to their winter quarters, I got a letter back thanking me. Apparently she has a granddaughter interested in the fiddle, so hopefully it’ll be in good hands.

As an aside, when Tilborn Faffnick died not long ago, there was such a battle over his estate between his wife, his ex-wife, and his mistress that his body lay for a week on the dining room table before anybody remembered to dispose of it properly. The last time I heard, his estate had been divided equitably between three lawyers.


My good friend Jim Webster has produced another collection of his tales involving all sorts of bucolic triviality. Humour him and buy a copy lest he sulk and sob into my wine.

For this collection of stories, Sal, my ever faithful Border Collie, is joined by Terry Wogan, Janis Joplin and numerous dairy cows. Meet pheasants, Herdwicks, Border Collies, and the occasional pink teddy bear. Welcome to the world of administrative overload and political incomprehension. All human life, (or at least all that hasn’t already fled screaming for sanctuary) is here

18 thoughts on “On the fiddle

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