Modesty forbids me from entitling an article, ‘Why on earth do I need to hire Tallis Steelyard to run my evening!’ There again, I barely need to, I am far more likely to be contacted by somebody desperate for me to enliven what would otherwise be a long and tedious evening than I am to be harangued as a waste of money.
But it was listening to Maljie and several other ladies discussing these matters that provoked me to write. Here in Port Naain there are any number of groups who meet for various purposes. We have everything, we have philosophical and debating societies, groups who meet to chat together as they knit, political clubs dedicated to the overthrow of civilisation as we know it, we even have literary and poetry societies. Frankly I wouldn’t rate any group more highly than any other. They meet a need. People can talk, get things off their chests, keep abreast with what is going on and return home feeling that they have had a pleasant enough evening. Frankly what more can you ask? Perhaps the best carrot cake I have eaten was at a meeting of a political club I was asked to address (I can no longer remember why) and the shrewdest questions were asked by a group of ladies who never dropped a stitch as they listened to me squirm as I tried to answer.
Given the number of groups that there are, Aea alone knows what possessed a very previous incumbent to form a ladies social circle for the Shine of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm. I suppose it served two purposes. One was that it built a sense of community amongst those worshipping or otherwise linked to the shrine. Secondly I suppose he hoped it would keep them out of trouble. At least whilst the ladies were attending the social circle meetings they weren’t out drinking and fighting.
The problem is that these societies need people who will drive them. People who will do the basic work that is necessary. In the case of the social circle, it wasn’t as if there was any problem booking rooms, they always met in the shrine. Similarly they had their regular evening so they didn’t have to tell people when to come to the meeting, everybody knew already. Yet the most important job, the most difficult one, was to find some form of interesting entertainment.
There is a list. It isn’t long, it isn’t official, but everybody who gets the job as secretary of one of these societies soon manages to get their own copy. It consists of the names of the people who are worth inviting to speak. If your group meets monthly, allowing for two meetings without speakers when you ‘entertain yourselves,’ that still means you need ten speakers a year. Also you don’t want speakers coming back too often, so the list really needs fifty names. Frankly you’d be lucky if your list had a score of speakers on it.
So secretaries improvise. They ask the friends of friends to speak. They listen to gossip and if somebody is mentioned as being comparatively interesting, they will hastily book them. Soon desperation sets in. Elderly clerics are dragooned into telling their tales of ministry in the wilder or more distant climes. Various performing artists will be summoned, not to perform (because they charge for that) but to talk about being a performer. Now I have no doubt that you might be an excellent musician, but it doesn’t mean you can talk wittily and entertainingly about it. Indeed the social circle once invited a mime to talk about their art. Frankly it would have gone better if they had given the talk in mime but instead, in a dull monosyllabic drone, they showed by their talk exactly why they get their mouth shut whilst working.
Then you have the old stalwart, arts and crafts. Few painters can pain quickly enough and well enough to hold an audience, but there are other more esoteric crafts. I have known people who created mosaics from the glass you get from broken wine bottles. Obviously there is black, green, amber and some rare cobalt blue as well as the more usual transparent. Each piece is cut to shape with a special bladed hammer that reminds me of nothing as much as a toffee hammer. The piece is then filed perfectly to shape. One couple had a mosaic in their hallway, the centrepiece of the room. It looked absolutely stunning but it had taken fifteen years to create. I can think of few things more boring that having them take over an hour to explain how they did it.
Mind you, Maljie claimed that she had a speaker who could beat them for tedium. This lady came to discuss making bead bracelets. The talk consisted of watching her slide one bead at a time on a piece of thread, whilst she told you what colour the bead was. It may have been that the sequence of colours had some ritual significance because when the ladies were allowed to try doing their own, Maljie was most sternly talked to for altering the sequence.
Which brings us to the most important part of these associations, the comradeship, the meeting and greeting, the chatting together. Whether the group gathers to share herbal infusions and coffee along with some nice cakes, or to drink pleasant wine along with some spicy nibbles, doesn’t matter. It is the time spent chatting, relaxing in decent company. For some ladies it might be the only chance they get to unburden themselves to another sympathetic lady. If you accomplish nothing else, make sure that the event includes plenty of time for this sort of thing.
Yet you’ll find groups where members do not linger. Once the speaker has spoken, many of the members flee. I have pondered this phenomena. Setting aside the most unlikely option, that they attend the meeting purely because they are utterly fascinated by the speakers (given the very diverse nature of the speakers I cannot imagine anybody being interested in them all) then all I can think is that they regard the event as ‘somewhere I have to be seen’. Some of these meetings as so dull I would only attend them if I desperately needed an alibi. I could have serious concerns about both the social life and social priorities of the person who felt that it was necessary to be ‘seen’ at those meetings.
But sometimes the speaker can rescue matters and help build the community. Maljie mentioned the occasion when there was a talk about knitting. During the talk the oil in the lantern ran out and light was provided, inadequately, by a couple of candles. Somewhere in the gloom was a speaker who was discussing ‘competitive knitting.’ Apparently this is remarkably popular in some circles, and is taken inexplicably seriously. Horrendous crimes can be committed as those at the leading edge of this particular fancy cut corners or cheat to achieve award-winning results. Apparently the concubines of Partannese bandit lords have been known to cease their poisonings long enough to write strong letters complaining that mixing alternate bands of knittingfool, faggoting and tricot is not merely poor taste but is absolutely unethical.
During this talk, Maljie was awakened from slumber by a voice whispering, “Maljie, are you awake.”
“No. Let’s go down the street to the nearest public house and get a drink.”
Legend is silent as to whether anybody remained to propose a vote of thanks to the speaker, who droned on as her audience stealthily left. Still, I am assured it was a truly splendid night in the four ale bar and everybody agreed that this is what being a ladies social circle was all about.
We’re still on the road, with the blog tour for ‘Tallis Steelyard. A Fear of Heights.’ https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08ZD5P5S8/
Today we’re with Annette across at https://annetterochelleaben.wordpress.com/2021/04/01/beads-and-no-socialising/
An interesting blog with plenty to see.
Annette is also a published author and poet