It was, I am assured, a disaster. Several people have insisted on it. The problem lies in the nature of the disaster. In the eyes of some people, the disaster is that the kitchen was drenched in brown foam. Yet to other people the disaster is the waste of so much good cider…
But there again, it may be that you are one of the few who hasn’t heard the tale and you are now wondering what I’m burbling about. Already some of you will be muttering to your loved ones, ‘Steelyard’s lost the plot. I knew it was only a matter of time.’ So perhaps I ought to tell you the story. But which version?
I confess I heard the story three times. The first variant was from Maljie. Her version can be paraphrased as, ‘I was about to open a bottle of Laxey’s cider and it exploded, covering the entire kitchen with foam, and giving our white ceiling such a fascinating brown patina.’
Then I heard the Laxey self-defence account. ‘What do people expect if they leave a third of a bottle of real cider in a warm room for days before thinking to do something with it?’
Then I heard the mendicants telling the tale. This was a combination of the other two, but started with, ‘And would you believe what those two managed to do!’
But the nature of this story is that it brings out other, similar stories. The world is apparently a dangerous place where death as a result of an exploding wine bottle is a constant dread. Certainly everybody has their tale. It must be noted that these tales tend to be amusing rather than gory, if only because they’re told by people who left the room just before the bottle exploded. But I have to admit that it is impossible not to be impressed by the power of the exploding bottle.
I have two ways of ensuring my safety. Firstly I do not make my own wine. Admittedly some in Port Naain do. Real fruit can be difficult to get in the quantity needed, but there are any number of ‘enthusiasts’ who will buy mixed warehouse spoilage and ferment that. In their case it’s normally followed by distillation. Here they may be wise. Admittedly they have to go through the dangers of fermentation, but then by distilling their ‘wine’ and storing the almost pure spirit, they vastly reduce the dangers of explosion. Admittedly it is perhaps unwise to store near a naked flame but that is something more easily avoided that random explosions.
My second technique that I pass on to you for your own wellbeing, is to always finish the bottle. It is entirely possible that half a bottle might start fermenting again with potentially catastrophic results.
Now thanks to Maljie’s ceiling mishap, tales of wine, beer, and lethally exploding bottles were told with great gusto. Nothing wrong with this, it is both cathartic for the person telling the tale, and provides a salutary warning for those listening. But one has to ensure that the wrong people are not listening.
It appears that these tales fell directly upon the ears of our mendicants. Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If anybody could be said to benefit from a salutary warning, it must surely be the mendicants. But circumstances conspired, as they often do, to render the warning less of a caution and more as a guide to action.
It was perhaps unfortunate that the mendicants were discussing the topic of exploding bottles at a time when Flogger Noggan had made certain suggestions to some of the younger mendicants. Had these comments been reported to the temple wardens then matters would have been ‘taken in hand’. But we do try to encourage the young in self-reliance and in this matter it seems some of the older mendicants felt that they ought to deal with it without troubling us. After all, as they doubtless reasoned, ‘The authorities are busy people, working long hours and struggling to keep everything running smoothly. The last thing they need is to be distracted from their great work by our minor problems. It’s almost our duty to deal with them ourselves without bothering them with details.’
Given that this has been temple warden policy when dealing with our administrative superiors in the rest of the order, I can quite understand how the mendicants have come to embrace it.
The mendicants came up with a plan. To be fair it was bold and imaginative. They decided to produce a large quantity of wine. This would be fermented in large, but carefully weakened, bottles. Somebody went to the trouble of using a glaziers cutting tool to score the bottles!
Phase two of the plan was to keep the room warm, and then have one or two of the younger mendicants lure Flogger Noggan to the room. The mendicants would escape leaving Noggan to face the exploding wine bottles on his own. From the mendicants’ point of view this was an excellent plan. Noggan’s sad demise would have been an unfortunate accident, and his unexplained presence where he had no right to be would probably discourage those in high places from investigating too seriously.
I suspect that even as you read my description of the plan you were beginning to enumerate the flaws. These are numerous. But still the mendicants went to work with a will, the wine was soon fermenting in a warm room. It did so in bottles that had been scored so that when they exploded they would do so in a cloud of small sharp pieces. I think it was at that point that somebody asked, “So when do we entice Noggan?”
Alas, but nobody appears to know just when a wine bottle is due to explode. The mendicants were left with the problem that they had a room full of bottles that were getting closer and closer to the point of exploding and nobody was sure when they would detonate or even if they would. It was then that second thoughts were had. At this point they picked a young mendicant who could not possibly be implicated and had them tell Laxey what was going on.
Laxey, unsure of the gravity of the problem (after all it might just have been the exaggerated fears of a small child) entered the room, took one look at the bottles and left, locking the door behind him.
We then had an informal temple warden’s meeting. These differ from the formal ones in that nobody takes notes and they never happened. We took the old sail that the deacon had stashed away because ‘it’ll always come in’ and folded it so that when held in front of us there would be several layers of canvas between us and the bottles. The idea was that the sail could be laid over the bottles, thus rendering them temporarily less lethal.
We gathered at the door and raised our shield. Then on our hands and knees, with the thick canvas both in front of us and covering our backs, we crawled towards the wine bottles. This we felt was the safest way of proceeding as the feeling was that the explosion would largely pass over us.
Personally I feel that it would probably have worked perfectly well if we’d noticed the chair. As it is, as we blundered about, protected by our canvas canopy, one of us knocked the chair.
I heard somebody, I assume Maljie, mutter something curt and scatological and then there was the sound of falling furniture hitting glass. Under the canvas, I fell prone. The noise of repeated explosions was deafening, but worse if anything were the almost overwhelming fumes of execrable but terminally potent wine. Eventually there was silence, punctuated by the occasional chink as a piece of glass fell to the floor. By unspoken agreement we stood up, as the floor was now awash with wine and shattered glass. As we peered over our canvas we could see that all the bottles had exploded.
Laxey summed it up. “Right, I think we can call it a success. The problem has been safely resolved. I suggest that we get the little beggars in here sharpish to clean up.”
The deacon shook his head sadly. “I don’t know what the incumbent is going to say.”
Maljie said briskly, “She is a busy person, working long hours and struggling to keep everything running smoothly. The last thing she needs is to be distracted from her great work by our minor problems. It’s almost our duty to deal with them ourselves without bothering her with details.
Our blog tour has, like all good things, come to an end. I suppose that could could hang round watching me sweep up the broken glass and trying to get the stains out of the furniture.
But we’ve done our bit to promote
We’ve had two reviews as well!
I know Tallis Steelyard mainly from the innumerable short stories about the man. He’s a poet and entertainer in Port Nain, and the short stories largely consist of humorous anecdotes, told by the man himself. As I understand, this is his first novel-length work.
Over the last few years, I’ve made a habit of keeping a collection of Tallis Steelyard short stories on my kindle, to read as a palate cleanser between other books. Something to take the edge of a book hangover.
If you’re familiar with Jeeves & Wooster, by P.G. Wodehouse, this is very similar, but in a fantasy setting – although, admittedly, the fantastic aspect takes something of a background role. Tallis Steelyard is mainly about the characters and the antics they get up to. On Amazon, the book is in the Steampunk Fiction category, and perhaps that’s more accurate.
There’s no magic or dragons, but there is a somewhat daring escape from a dungeon. There’s a lot of plotting and intriguing, and there’s the inevitable victory of wit over brawn.
It’s dry, eloquent, and really rather British, if I do say so myself, what with me not actually being British and all – although, the book isn’t set in Britain, or anywhere in the real world at all.
In this way, it’s different to pretty much all other fantasy I’ve read in recent years. It’s funny, but not overbearingly so. It’s interesting, rather than exciting, and most conflicts are resolved through deliberation rather than fisticuffs – most.
What I’ll whine about:
Some of the terminology, especially with respect to the various ranks within the religious organisations, went above my head. Not to the point where I didn’t understand what was going on, but enough to notice.
What I’ll gush about:
Most of all, this is refreshingly different to everything else I’ve read lately. The voice is reminiscent of an older style of storytelling. A little more distant than what’s common these days, and with breaks in the fourth wall that don’t feel out of place.
This is a great book to pick up if you need a break from reading too much of anything, but still want to read something.
If you’re curious about the style, but not sure a full novel is for you, pick up one of the many short story collections.”
“Maljie and Tallis start by taking action to protect their incumbent from being involuntarily removed from her post in order to serve the ambitions of Battass Droom. They then have to go on to protect each other from being elected Patriarch, which is, by definition, a job best done by somebody who does NOT want the appointment.
The efforts to achieve their aims become steadily more and more tortuous, including an attempt to delay a key meeting by employing such diverse methods as elaborate food poisoning and a trebuchet with an unusual payload, a race against time involving a one way balloon ride and having, temporarily, two Patriarchs (or are they non-Patriarchs?) with too much time on their hands.
Along the way, Jim takes delight in lampooning bureaucracy and its devotees, with some jaw-dropping moments that challenge the way things work. What would be non sequiturs anywhere else are hilariously believable in Port Naain and make you consider “real life” in a new light.
Do NOT read this book anywhere that full volume belly laughs are not socially acceptable.”