The prickings of conscience

One of the advantages of a life of penury is that your conscience is unlikely to complain when you finally manage to put food on the table. A conscience that finally has its mouth full is strangely muted. Thus my conscience is remarkably flexible in certain areas.

There was the case of the missing brisket. I was walking through Schooner’s View square and turned down Butchers’ Walk. Several butchers have their stalls there and I was immediately drawn to the commotion coming from one of them. Two women, housekeepers by their dress, where both tugging on the same horrocks brisket. As I approached it appeared that they had both spotted this truly excellent joint at the same time and had both made a grab for it.

The butcher was remonstrating with them but to no avail. So I adopted my most magisterial demeanour and asked what the problem was.

Without letting go of the joint they both started talking at once. I raised a hand to silence them.

“The solution is obvious. If you both pay the butcher half of the value of the joint. Then the pair of you can race around Schooner’s View square and the first back here wins the joint. The Butcher’s boy here,” I tapped the youth on the shoulder, “will accompany you to ensure fair play.”
The butcher was vocal in his enthusiasm for my scheme which would at the very least ensure he was paid for the joint, and had space in front of his stall for other customers. The two women glared at each other, muttering unladylike comments under their breath and gave me the brisket. Then without waiting for me to start the race, they both set off at a fair pace, each hoping to gain an advantage on the other.

As I watched them disappear into the crowded street, followed by the boy, I nodded to the butcher and then as he turned to serve another customer, I faded quietly into the crowd and carried my booty home in triumph to Shena. We rarely eat good horrocks, and a full joint is a treasure. If I remember correctly we cooked it slowly with a salt crust. It was delicious.

As you can imagine, my conscience, replete at last, managed no more comment than a gentle and politely stifled burp.

There have been other cases where my conscience has been forced to re-evaluate matters prior to bothering me with trivia. There was the interesting matter of the Fat Bobban’s riot. Fat Bobban was one of those people who are great in their own imagining. He had a habit of posing as somebody who had achieved great things in the past and was now resting from his labours. Yet for some reason he had latched onto the problems faced by shore combers. To be fair everybody knows the problems that shore combers face. It is hard, poorly recompensed work. The shore comber is out on the sands of the estuary in all weather.

So one day, as the tide drove the shore combers off the sands, Fat Bobban appeared and started haranguing them. Now to be fair, there isn’t much else to do, and so folk stopped to listen to him. It didn’t take him long to get into full flow, raking up all sorts of minor problems and grievances from the past, whilst ignoring totally those currently causing concern that might even be remedied.

I noticed a magistrate (it would be unkind to name her,) watching the scene, obviously she was wary Bobban might stir up a riot.

Now I noticed that Bobban was leaning on the rail that stops people falling off the upper esplanade into the water. Except that at this point the rail had long disappeared. Some claim it had rusted clean away. I would have accepted this point had I not seen an identical length of metal piping serving as a downspout at the building locally known as Tiffan’s Pile. (It’s a popular lodging house for shore combers)
Still whatever had happened to the metal rail, somebody had through to replace it. They had found a length of rope and had tied that tightly across the gap. They had been wise in their choice of rope. Had they just used a new piece it would have disappeared the very day they tied it there. But instead the rope they used was a composite affair, perhaps a dozen different lengths, a mixture of rope, rags, and string, all tied together. Each piece was more worn and frayed than the last. Frankly I would not rely on it to serve any useful purpose. Indeed it wasn’t even worth stealing for the fire as every time I had tested it, it was damp from the splashing it got at high tide. But at least by its presence it did delineate the boundary between safety and deep water.

I watched Fat Bobban’s performance and frankly I grew immensely irritated. I like shore combers, they lack airs and graces, and they’re no more honest or dishonest than anybody else. But they have a courage I admire, they face a tough world, but without flinching. They look at the worst that nature can throw at them, pick up their mud flange and pattie turner, and trudge back out onto the sands.

And this pompous, self-regarding, individual was telling them what to do!
I confess that I may have lost my temper. But still I said nothing. I merely cut the rope and held it tight until the fool put some weight on it, at which point I let go and he fell off the Upper Esplanade into the waters below.

But I wasn’t there, I have a written note from a magistrate specifically stating this. My conscience is clear.


So if you fancy reading more about Tallis try ‘Tallis Steelyard. A Fear of Heights.’ Available from amazon on this link ‘

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As a reviewer commented, “When I pick up a Tallis Steelyard book I know I am going to have the most enjoyable of rides start to finish. There will be social comment and cynicism, there will be intriguing concepts and fascinating settings, there will be battles of wit and cunning plans, but two things above all will stand out – the incredibly interesting characters and the wonderful moments of both subtle and laugh-out-loud humour.
The author has an eye for personality quirks and the humorous possibilities in just about every occasion, and seldom leaves either unexploited to the full.
This book was, however, something I embarked upon with a little more trepidation that usual when approaching a Tallis Steelyard book, because unlike the collections of vividly imagined and portrayed cameos which I have come to know and love, this is an entire novel.
Yes, there are still those wonderful cameos, but there is also a rare opportunity to follow Tallis through an unwitting adventure, all thanks to the indomitable Maljie of course. The way Jim Webster writes, I was sitting in the hot air balloon along with them.
If you enjoy Tallis Steelyard in shorts, you will enjoy as much in long form. If you have yet to make his acquaintance, then dive right in and do so, but hang onto your hat it’ll be a very wild ride!”

11 thoughts on “The prickings of conscience

      1. Because of the way I write I can imagine that for somebody who isn’t a native English speaker, there is a tendency to go relatively slowly, but I think as you get used to me, things will speed up 🙂


  1. I fear our local butcher in Dereham Town has been reading this.
    He wanted me to do a 100 yards sprint in under 14 seconds to qualify to be able to buy a bulk pack of venison sausages. As you might imagine, I replied concerning my age and physical condition, then informed him I would be buying my venison sausages from Mr J. Sainsbury instead.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They set high standards in Dereham, lesser municipalities seem happy to allow those who can barely drag themselves out of their basket chair to purchase provisions. I can only imagine that this policy works wonders with regard keeping the populace hale and hearty, or at least ensuring that those who aren’t shop elsewhere 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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