The Staymaker’s revenge.

As a jobbing poet it should be obvious to everybody that I have to remain within nodding distance of fashion. Obviously, save for the workings of blind chance, I am never going to be a leader of fashion. But still I have to give the impression that I am aware of the current trends. Indeed my patrons expect me to pay lip service to its dictates.

In all candour this can be a burden. It weighed more heavily on my shoulders when I was younger. Now if people make cutting comments as to the old fashioned nature of my dress, I merely sigh and comment that I have a beautiful wife whose needs are greater than mine. This always wins a sympathetic smile from the gentlemen and general approval from the ladies.

In reality it is nonsense, if Shena was dependent on my earnings for her clothes she would spend far too much time barefoot in her shift for comfort.   

It is fortunate that fashion is cyclical in that I can normally rely on a patron turning a discriminating eye on her husband’s wardrobe. This done I can rely on her casting out garments with plenty of wear but are so ‘last year’. There again, let us be fair to all concerned, given the gentle nature of my patrons and the stubbornness of their husbands, garments are normally a generation out of date before they can be persuaded to part with them.

Thus the outfit is passed to me and can either be ‘refreshed’ or allowed to hang a few years more before it once more takes its place at the cutting edge of style. But there is one fashion whose return I confess to dreading. I remember it well and it was perhaps lucky that I was young and single when it infected society the first time. The worst part was the britches. These were worn long and tight and came up past the navel. Even a starveling who hadn’t eaten for a fortnight would appear to have a pot belly!

This was emphasised by the jacket which was cut high. It had large lapels which effectively meant the top button was on the same level as ones nipples, and a bottom button barely two fingers lower. One wore a waistcoat which must not, under any circumstances protrude over the britches. There was not even a cummerbund or a belt! Just to rub in how ridiculous the fashion was, the britches were always pale colours, the nearer to white the better, whilst the hat had been designed specifically to be an object of derision. The one thing it did well was provide a large target for small boys to hit with a handy stone or worse.

At the time I confess that I was puzzled as to how such a sartorial abomination, so unflattering to the vast majority of those expected to wear it, had come to pass. It was the old Miser Mumster who put his finger on it. I well remember his wise words.

“If you want to know who committed a crime, follow the money.”

Once you adopt that perspective the answer was obvious, it was the staymakers, the manufactures of corsets. With one move of delicious subtlety they had almost doubled their market. Even young men of excellent physique were forced by the nature of the trousers to wear one!

To be fair, the corsets themselves may have saved the life of more than one potential poet. I remember Lancet Foredecks getting into an argument in the street with some lout who mocked his hat. In the altercation which followed, Lancet was struck firmly in the stomach. Obviously the corset provided some protection, but he was incensed by such a low punch and proceeded to thrash his assailant severely. It was only later that evening as he undressed for bed that he realised how lucky he had been. A piece of broken knife blade, hitherto trapped in his corset, fell to the floor as he removed his britches.

But what to do about it? These fashions can last for years, indeed we could be stuck with it for decades. There were entire industries with a vested interest in this one continuing. Not merely the staymakers, but the laundries had never had things so good. Given the nature of the streets of Port Naain, even if you travelled everywhere by sedan chair, your britches would be soiled beyond wearing in a couple of days. Hat makers were also enthusiastic for the style, as they were constantly selling hats to men who’d lost theirs or who had abandoned it in the gutter. It was Lancet who pointed out that, unless something were done, we could be wearing the same style when we were old men of forty. Which frankly didn’t bide thinking about. By that time we would be so constrained by our corsets as to have forgotten what a good dinner was like.

After a long discussion we came up with a plan. Looking back I don’t know if the idea was mine, or Lancet’s, or whether it arose spontaneously from one of the several bottles of wine that went into the planning phase. But it was a beautifully simple idea. All you needed was a sensible jacket. And of course every gentleman in Port Naain had one. Nothing fancy, just a simple, double breasted jacket which fell down to below a gentleman’s hips and fastened up the front with three of four buttons.

At a packed meeting at the Misanthropes we got the other poets on side. Given that we were young men, short of cash and naturally tending towards the lean and hungry look, no one could accuse us of being fat bellied men trying to hide our paunch.

So on the same evening, we all went about our business sporting the new fashion. All we changed was the jacket. (Frankly I doubt most of us could afford to change more) It went well. Men who saw us realised that liberation was at hand. The following evening more men could be seen sporting the ‘new’ look. Given that all you needed was a jacket you already had, becoming a leader in the new style was as easy as reaching into your wardrobe.

When word got out, whilst there were threats made by the hirelings of staymakers, they were more than countered by the genuine kindness and gratitude we met from so many other, decent men. More than once I was called across to a table at an event and a gentleman would hand me a glass of wine and demand that the company join him in a toast to the man who singlehandedly crushed a tyranny and allowed him once more to enjoy his meals.

Still, looking back, I do miss the cane. It was the one part of the outfit that had any utility. I broke mine over the shoulders of a staymaker who was attempting to whip up a mob against me.


There is more to life in Port Naain than the ability to dress well.


As a reviewer commented, “

Tallis Steelyard: A Guide for Writers, and Other Stories by Jim Webster is as advertised, a collection of stories with different themes. I will look at only a few of the twenty-six tales. The School for Assassins under the title Tidying Up Loose Ends is remarkable in its tone. In some areas of Tallis Steelyard World, purposeful and planned killing is accepted; it is the casual acceptance portrayed in the story that I find worthy of attention. There are several sections on writing (per the title). Tallis will comment on the associated functions of publishing and promotion. If you are a writer, an avid reader, a reviewer, a publisher, or a person who attends events for the free food and drink, these sections are not to be missed. Readers may find themselves portrayed in one of the groups. The section on writers who write about writing for fun, profit, and financial independence will stick in my mind for a long time. Webster uses humor rather than a direct assault on the commission of scams by charlatans. I believe the author is holding back on “saying what he really thinks.”

The unsurpassed beauty of Tallis Steelyard creations is the elegant language used with precision to separate the occasional absurd from the daily mundane then remixing to produce entertaining stories. I like to select favorite quotes because there is no better way to illustrate what I find to be a unique writing style. This five-star collection reminds me of a quote from a film (possibly paraphrased). “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never quite know what you are going to get.” (Attributed to F. Gump). Readers will find literary candy of many varieties in this “guide.”

The importance of getting home under your own steam ***** Readers might guess by this story’s title that there is alcohol involved. True, but it was Bongo’s birthday. The passing of years brought Bongo to maudlin reflection on a boring life. Tallis and company decided that if Bongo could be transported home on a palanquin carried by a score of naked harlots, at least the birthday party would be a point of interest in Bongo’s otherwise humdrum life.

I will point out one feature of why Tallis Steelyard stories are great. Look at the word “naked;” it is OK to free associate. Then “By the time the wine was finished I was somehow surrounded by nearly three dozen young women dressed much as nature had intended.” (Kindle location 53). Further interesting imagery comes to mind. The narrator is not vulgar or offensive and does not employ “shock” terminology to describe weird situations. Bongo’s wife was not offended; readers should follow her example.

Not perhaps the best location ***** Sneal, a wandering merchant spent a day traveling on his way home through the unfamiliar countryside in the hope of discovering new markets for his goods. He ended the first day by spending the night at an inn located in a tree. After traveling the next day, the same thing happened. Same inn, same customers, same barmaid. The third day was a repeat of the earlier two. Finally, he arrived home. How did this happen? Cue the scary music. What happened when he recounted his adventure to Tallis?

The frantic scribblings of a novelist ***** This chapter is the first of several observations related to the lives of a novelist or a poet. Tallis offers contrasts as he pities the unfortunate novelist. Poets are superior in their social lives and sufficiency of income. Tallis said so. This section and the following five sections explore the world of writing. Quotes that stick in my mind follow.

There in Black and White ***** One of my pet peeves is discovering that after I download a Kindle book, 20% of it is devoted to promotion. Tallis points this out with “There is a feeling amongst publishers that the reader doesn’t really want the book they’ve purchased, but instead in point of fact wishes to peruse an assortment of other books that the publisher has available. Pictures of these and even sample chapters can in extreme cases double the size of the book.” (Kindle location 181).

Learning from others ***** Writing books from the comfort of home while in any state of dress and personal hygiene imaginable can bring instant and immense wealth. All one must do is follow the advice of proven authors. Tallis looks at the advisors as “a community of writers writing books about how to sell books that were bought largely by people who were interested in writing books about selling books.” (Kindle location 244).

Nobody does it like that anymore ***** Tallis does not dismiss time tested good advice. Departing from tongue-in-cheek humor, Tallis notes, “Writing is just another craft like joinery or metalwork, the more you do it, the better you get.” (Kindle location 271).

The uncompromising principles of the successful writer ***** Tallis consults a printer to find out the kind of literature that sells best. “This is what feeds the press Tallis my boy, cheap stories of forbidden vampire love, or demon love, or love with a score of fantastical, imaginary, or hopefully extinct creatures. (Kindle location 331).

A distinct shortage of assets ***** Many authors assure readers that reviews are vital to an author’s success. How can an author get reviews quickly? Tallis would “ instruct (the printer’s) domestic staff and secretary to write glowing reviews of his work under false names” (Kindle location 401).

Subsequent stories address other topics as Tallis leaves the subject of writing out of fear of appearing maudlin. Any would-be writers should continue reading the rest of this collection to pull themselves out of any depression caused by an examination of prospects for fame and riches in their chosen profession.

At the end of this Tallis Steelyard set of musings, I am left with only one question not addressed in this examination of the world of writers. Why does an author choose to sell a novel for USD 1.26?”

10 thoughts on “The Staymaker’s revenge.

  1. Well, that gives me an idea to make my fortune! I shall travel to Port Naiin with a supply of cheap Dunlop wellington boots, assorted navy shorts, and cheap zip-up fleeces. As I promenade around the more fashionable parts of town, I am sure the men there will soon be desperate to adopt my ‘Beetley Style’. Then I will have cornered the market!
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

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