What on earth do you do with industrious incompetents who expect your gratitude even as they spread chaos and destruction in their wake? Here at the Shrine of Aea in Her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm, we have been lucky. We were discussing our good fortune over a late night glass and came to the conclusion that you need constant vigilance. It’s when you’re busy, or take your eye of the situation, that the incompetents slip in and take root. Maljie was suitably cutting in her remarks, pointing out that if incompetents thrive, it’s a sign that management has been inept. I confess I rather agree with her.
If you’re careful and keep on top of things, the incompetents will still slip in but they can be properly supervised and managed. You can put them to work at tasks they can cope with and at the same time supervise them closely. Hence we find with our mendicants that we have some who are mendicants for good reason. Nobody in their right mind would employ them. But working with us, given a small stiff brush and put to work on cleaning the fine detail of the Sinecurists’ Stair, they can do a simple task perfectly well.
With the mendicants, matters are comparatively simple. For an older person to end up as a mendicant, they have obviously failed at something. They have reached a position where they can no longer delude themselves they are successful and that things are ticking along nicely for them. Admittedly we have some who have fallen so low that they feel that by reaching the high estate of a mendicant they are on their way back to respectability, most have in some way fallen. So they are open to the idea that in the future they’ve got to do things differently. So with care and a mixture of gentleness and firmness, you can help them build the foundations of a new life.
The problem with some enthusiastic incompetents is that they think of themselves as having lived successful lives. They claim to look back on long and honour filled careers and will point to past glories that are, in all candour, invisible to we lesser persons. Indeed they may even lecture you about how they, as prosperous and successful persons, are ideally placed to guide you and should be allowed to dictate policy. This may indeed be part of the human condition. People do tend to see themselves in a positive light. I suppose that it might even be healthy. Endlessly considering yourself a failure cannot be good for you. But there is a world of difference between seeing yourself in a positive light, and allowing yourself to be dazzled by your own delusions.
I suppose I ought to give examples, but there are so many. I know ‘great writers’ who will lecture others, teaching them ‘how to write.’ Yet they have only produced one modestly successful piece, perhaps forty years previously, and have ever since styled themselves ‘writers’ on the strength of that ephemeral work.
Then I knew a lady who always considered herself a most accomplished gardener. But when you looked at her garden, the vast majority of it was taken up with gravel paths, fountains and a miscellany of statuary. Somebody once described it to me as ‘a sculpture park.’ There was a little grass, severely trimmed, and three or four bushes which were constantly being pruned back to within an inch of their lives. It was rumoured that she had acquired a conventional but pretty garden when she purchased the house. Yet such was her malign influence on all living things (her husband had long since perished from a complex mixture of stomach complaints), that any plants she had gained with the house had long since perished and the bushes were the last survivors. Even they were clinging pathetically to life and hoping against hope that they might be ignored and thus had a chance to thrive.
But these are as nothing to Fillius Blin. He had been a modestly successful member of the artisan class, mainly because he seemingly had some skill when it came to certain specialist woodworking techniques. Thus those who made wagons and drays were happy to pay him handsomely to perform his particular minor magics at their service. Mind you, his employers were wise and restricted his influence within their businesses entirely to specialist carpentry. When he proffered his advice with regard to building techniques, the pedigree of racehorses, or the principles of jurisprudence, they would nod sagely, thank him, and ignore his advice. So they remained successful men of business, and at the same time, whilst not rising through society with any particular speed, Fillius Blin did achieve a modest prosperity and purchased the house he and his family dwelt in. As old age crept upon him he spent less time working and more time giving others the benefit of his vast wisdom.
It was perhaps unfortunate that he wandered into the small shrine of Aea in the Sump. For those who don’t know Port Naain, the Sump is the lowest area of the city and the inhabitants tend to picturesque poverty. At the time, the small shrine of Aea was perhaps the most solidly constructed building in the area. It hasn’t the funds to maintain an incumbent but instead was managed by a somewhat ad hoc committee of local people. Obviously those committee members who chanced to visit the shrine were so unworldly as to believe Fillius Blin’s claims of universal competence and listened with awe to his tales of his achievements. Either that or they lacked the self-confidence to call his bluff and tell him to go forth and bother somebody else.
But still, the shrine had a number of bench seats which had seen better days, and Fillius Blin, as a carpenter, quite happily repaired them. A while later he assisted in rehanging the front door. Finally, and perhaps fatally, he was allowed to replace the threshold of the front door without adult supervision. From that point on, he and bunch of acquaintances took over the maintenance of the building without bothering the Order with details.
It was when he noticed the small puddle of water in the middle of the floor that things started to go badly wrong. Apparently when the ladies of the church scrubbed the floor, there was always a small puddle left in the very middle of the floor. It was obvious that the floor didn’t drain. Now this wasn’t a new problem, apparently it had always done this, and the lady doing the cleaning would simply mop up the water and wring her mop out, outside the shrine. But there was something about this that irritated Fillius Blin intensely. “Why,” he asked himself, “had the builders not merely fitted a drain?”
He worked from the basic presumption that they were not competent and it was up to him to correct their errors. So he examined the floor carefully and discovered, to his surprise, that it was workman’s stone or concrete. It had been poured in one piece. Indeed more than that, it had been poured so that the bottom course of the walls were not stone blocks as he had initially thought, but were workman’s’ stone of one piece with the floor. There was no wonder that the shrine didn’t drain, it was as if the builders had cast a concrete bath with no plug hole and had then built the shrine on top of it.
Blin discussed the matter with such of the denizens of the area who shared his interest in the matter and it was agreed that they would fit a drain. The general feeling was ‘How difficult could it be to do?’ Thus and so, armed with heavy hammers, bars and wedges, they would break through the floor at the centre, put a drain in, and then make good the concrete around their new drain.
The first problem they came across was the very excellence of the workman’s stone. The second problem was that not only was it excellent, it was thick. In retrospect this was entirely sensible, it was acting as the foundation for the entire shrine.
But still, undeterred by this, they pressed on. Because of the thickness of the concrete they were forced to break up a larger area than they had originally intended. They eventually ended up shattering perhaps the entire centre section of the floor, so that they could lever pieces out and break through it. This was in their eyes a minor problem, but one that could be solved by ‘making good’ after the drain was fitted.
It was as they levered out the last piece and broke through that they discovered their third problem. As the last shattered lump of workman’s stone came out, it was followed by a flow of thick, brown, stinking, water. They retreated before it, frantically trying to block its progress, but it spread inexorably until it had filled the entire shrine. Finally the flow stopped, the situation had stabilised with the shrine a foot deep in ordure.
After all, this is the Sump, and the area gained its name for good reason. When they had built the shrine, the builders had looked at the problems neighbouring buildings suffered with what was euphemistically called ‘rising damp’ and had solved the problem. Effectively the shrine was a boat of workman’s stone floating on a very thick soup of filth.
To be fair, Fillius Blin didn’t panic. He and his gallant assistants spread rushes on the floor. He claimed that this would give a shrine a bucolic air, and was warmer to the feet than workman’s stone. Eventually when the floor was well over a foot deep in well-trodden rushes, the dirty water was no longer visible. Unfortunately the rushes did little to camouflage the smell, and as they started to rot, they added to the general ambiance an odour entirely of their own.
It was at this point that somebody, in desperation, contacted the Order of Aea in All Her Aspects. A competent builder was despatched. He took one look at the situation, prodded about with a borrowed muck fork and summoned an architect. The architect arrived accompanied by burly men and several drays. Rotting and stinking rushes were hauled out and despatched to a distant cousin on the northern edge of the city who had a market garden and would cheerfully compost the material. As his workmen frantically tried to keep back the incoming tide, the architect ascertained the true damage to the floor. It would have to be entirely broken out and re-laid. He submitted plans for the work and suggested that it might be possible to keep the shrine free of ingress, if they laid bitumen impregnated sailcloth down first before pouring workman’s stone, and sealed the join between old and new concrete carefully. He also mentioned that it would have to be done during a dry summer.
Alas the following summer was ridiculously wet and eventually it was discovered that the shrine was in point of fact sinking deeper into the mire. Sadly the decision had to be taken, it would be impossible to salvage the shrine. It was sinking more quickly than people could raise money. The Order sold off the site and the shrine was levelled and a new floor of workman’s stone laid on top of the rubble.
And Fillius Blin? Well here things grew complicated. The Order of Aea in All Her Aspects, discovering that no permission had been sought or given for the works, looked to recoup the costs from him. He fled. His family claimed never to have seen him for years, and finally Maljie tracked him down. She discovered that he was hiding above a false ceiling in the family home. Through intermediaries she arranged for him to be offered the job as a mud watcher on the upper estuary. These posts, funded in a mean spirited manner, under an ancient sinecure, tend to be reserved for those who have fled the city under a cloud and dare not return. The mud watcher gets a hut, which frankly is little more than a shack, and every week or so a passing boat will drop off another week’s rations. Given the level of remuneration and the quantity and quality of supplies provided, the assumption appears to be that the mud watcher will eke out their diet by foraging locally on the mud. I have been told that in summer the situation would be pleasant, save for the endless biting insects. In summer it is apparently vital to salvage and store as much driftwood as possible. In winter, provided you have been diligent in coating the outside of your shack with a suitably thick layer of mud, and have stored enough driftwood for your fire, life is apparently still possible.
Should you wish to learn more about life of Tallis Steelyard
As a reviewer commented, “What’s a poet to do when one of his lady patrons is being blackmailed and his own life may be at risk due to his actions in defending another from attack some time in the past.
How are both these events connected?
Well – read this tale and find out – trust me, it’ll be time well spent.”