Money doesn’t earn itself! – Guest Post by Tallis Steelyard…

Taffetia Drane was a lady who believed that in a marriage, a wife should also bring in money to the family. Now it wasn’t as if the family faced penury. Garrat Drane’s salary as a lawyer’s clerk wasn’t extravagant, but like his fellow clerks, Garrat benefited from a certain unworldliness in his employers. After all, successful lawyers can command remarkably high fees. It was not unknown for them to bill a client more for lunch than they paid their clerk for the week. And anyway, the clerk’s time was always added to the bill, so there is an unspoken presumption amongst the upper echelons of the legal profession that clerks effectively cost you nothing. Indeed some legal practices have so forgotten the value of money, that they even pay the clerk as much as half of what they have charged the clerk’s time out to the client.

In spite of the families comparative prosperity Taffetia still felt she ought to contribute. She did have a number of difficulties to surmount. With a young and growing family, plus being pregnant repeatedly, she felt merely going out to work wasn’t the answer. She needed her own business. Then she had a moment of inspiration. She would become a ‘wailer’.

She rented a cheap room in a doss house, dressed herself and her children appropriately, schooled them to the correct demeanour and then let word circulate amongst a certainly level of society that a decent young woman had fallen upon hard times.

Now traditionally ‘wailers’ will weep copiously and bewail their fate, hence the name. But Taffetia bore it in stoical silence. She was also wise enough not to abandon the use of soap. This meant that those who took it upon themselves to minister to the poor and destitute would preferentially visit her rather than some other unfortunate who was less particular. She even took to hiring the bed out to some drunken sot who would sprawl, comatose, between the sheets, secure in the fact she would be watching over him. This individual would then be passed off as her husband, whose drinking was the obvious source of the family downfall.

All in all she quite liked the job. Admittedly there wasn’t a lot of money, but the groceries and suchlike came in very handy, and whilst they were between visiting donors, she had chance to school the children. Indeed, because they were busy working, her children weren’t out on the streets getting into trouble. All in all Taffetia felt that smug glow of satisfaction that comes from raising your children well and setting them a good example to follow.

Then one day another wailer commented that she thought Taffetia was a consummate actress. Now it must be understood that this lady sublet the room off Taffetia for the evenings, sometimes with the drunken sot thrown in. So from time to time she did get the chance to see Taffetia at work. Her comment, doubtless meant innocently enough, kept coming back to Taffetia.

Now it has to be admitted that as a girl she had been quite keen on acting, she’d even sung occasionally in a piping childish treble that only a grandmother can love. Still, in spite of her childhood experiences rather than because of them, eventually she joined the Ropewalk Light Operatic Society. This was mainly because the rehearsal nights fitted well with her
various other commitments.

Initially she was perfectly happy to be in the chorus. Indeed she preferred the back row of the chorus lest one of her donors saw her and recognised her. This gave her the unsought reputation as ‘a team player’ and ‘one who didn’t hog the limelight. Ironically her unwillingness to thrust herself forward was in itself a method of inadvertently drawing attention to herself amongst her peers.

It didn’t take long for the society’s director of music to spot that she had an excellent voice, slightly deeper than is usual for a woman of her age, and he determined to use this to the society’s advantage. They were planning a season of ‘The three apprentices’ and he offered Taffetia the role of the Witch. Initially she was very hesitant but eventually accepted, realising that the sheer amount of make-up the Witch wore would render her totally unrecognisable.

It was not a large part but she played it with verve and enthusiasm. Indeed her performance was mentioned in several of the reviews of the show. This convinced her to stay with her new hobby.  Not only did she enjoy performing, but it was obvious that she was rather good at it. Still, whilst she loved the stage it was merely a diversion, she had a business to run and responsibilities. So she continued to shun the fame that even an amateur career can bring you. She remained perfectly happy to play ‘character roles’, often the parts of ladies older than herself. The more make-up that had to be applied, the happier she was. Where others might scheme and connive to win for themselves the leading lady’s part, Taffetia stood to one side as a dutiful member of the society, happy to play the roles that she was given.

Thus it might long have continued had not The Stack needed a witch urgently.

The Stack is, arguably, the premier theatre in Port Naain. They put on a wide variety of performances and at that particular time they were putting on ‘The three apprentices’. Their witch fell ill and as they frantically looked for a replacement, somebody remembered that Taffetia had played the part well in an amateur production.

Because he needed a witch that evening, the director was so desperate he didn’t care where she’d played it so long as she was available. She was contacted and after a very brief hesitation agreed. She not merely played the part to the director’s entire satisfaction; she impressed him with her reticence and unwillingness to push herself forward. During that season he found her parts in a number of plays. These were the less well regarded roles that he would normally struggle to fill, mainly because many actresses regarded them as the kiss of death to their career.

Thus over the following year or so, Taffetia built up for herself quite a flourishing career. Certainly it paid better than Wailing.

For a while her eldest daughter, Meirdre, took on the role of wailer. She was good at sobbing ‘my father is a drunkard and my mother an actress,’ a gambit that was almost guaranteed to win sympathy, but she tired of the trade. She had other ambitions.Taffetia herself continued to take an entirely workmanlike attitude to her new profession, eschewed the glamour, the wild lifestyle, and the numerous temptations, and all in all proved herself a suitably dull wife for her equally dull husband.

And now the hard sell!

OK so perhaps the not so hard sell. It’s just that this is part of a blog tour which started across on Tallis’s blog

There we caught a brief glimpse of the life of Garrat Drane, husband of the delightful and self effacing Taffetia Drane. As the tour continues you’ll meet their various offspring, delightful people and pillars of the community. Or perhaps not.

But still now is your chance to meet them and inadvertently you may discover their importance to our hero, Tallis Steelyard.

But actually the purpose of this blog is to draw your attention to the fact that a new book has been published. ‘Tallis Steelyard: Six men in a boat.’



Rather than a collection of his anecdotes, this is indeed an ‘adventure’ as Tallis ventures forth from the city of Port Naain. 

Questions are asked that may be answered:

Why is Tallis ‘run out of town’ by hired ruffians?

Why does a very sensible young woman want his company when plunging into unknown danger?

Who or what was buried in the catacombs?

And why has there been so much interest in making sure they stay dead?

Also featuring flower arranging, life on the river, and a mule of notable erudition.

Treat yourself; you know you’re worth it!

Jim Webster


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