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ISSUE 01.2017



read it, you'll need it

featuring Ji m Webster

The spice of life One of many stories from

One of the joys of travel is the variety one experiences. One day teaching a small child how to sing opera, the next found me cowering under a tree to avoid the worst of a downpour. Eventually when the rain slacked from torrential to steady, I ventured back onto the trail. I came upon an elderly gentleman who was also sheltering from the rain. I hailed him. “Greeting sir, is this the road to Woodpin?” “It is, although why a body would be after travelling there is beyond me.” I was a little concerned about this. “What’s wrong with Woodpin?” “A town inhabited by folk who’re little better than brigands. At the moment order is maintained by two termagants who uphold order by the sheer force of their wills.” “I shall be wary. How can these two ladies best be avoided?” “Each runs an inn at opposite ends of the village. Each insists their inn is the better one, but frankly as they’re sisters and were taught to cook and brew by the same mother, there’s little to choose between them. Still compare which ever inn you stay in favourably against that of her sister and you’ll doubtless survive well enough.” I shook my head sadly. “You paint a sad picture for a travelling poet.” He looked me up and down. “You’re a well enough built young fellow, help me carry this firewood home and we’ll see whether my lady wife has some bread and cheese for you.” It seemed a fair enough offer so I shouldered a bundle of firewood and the pair of us stepped out into the road. We’d barely an hour’s walk before we halted at a little cottage. It was just outside the gate of the cottage that I noticed a Devil’s Pomatum bush. I pointed it out to my companion

but he had never heard of it. Once in the house, as we were seated drinking coffee, he asked his lady wife about the bush. She, a woman as venerable as himself, admitted to ignorance. So I asked for a small glass, half filled it with fish oil. This I took it outside and picked a couple of ripe fruit. With my knife I chopped the fruit, using a piece of flat stone as my chopping board. Then with the knife blade I crushed the chopped fruit as much as I could and then scraped the remains into the glass. I stirred it vigorously before taking it back inside. My hosts sniffed tentatively at the glass before backing away hastily from it but I reassured them that it was perfectly palatable. I placed it on a


BOOX shelf with a saucer over it for safety’s sake. My hostess was preparing a thick vegetable broth for our dinner so as a demonstration I stuck my knife blade into the glass. Withdrawing the blade I allowed as much of the Devil’s Pomatum to run off as would. When there was not visible liquid on the blade, I stirred the broth with the knife. It was with some trepidation that my hosts tasted their portions of broth but both agreed that the hint of spice gave their lunch a zest it otherwise lacked. Before I left I begged an old glass jar with a stopper into which my host poured a generous measure of his fish oil. At the Devil’s Pomatum bush I picked the rest of the ripe fruits, a score or more, ground them up as best I could and scraped them into the jar. I then tied the stopper securely on. It struck me that if the spice was a novelty in Woodpin it might win me a bed for a night from one of the formidable lady innkeepers. When you arrive at Woodpin from the east the first building you come to is the Woodpin Salutation Hotel. The village then straggles over three or four miles of road and the last building to the west is the Woodpin Grandiloquent Hotel. There are perhaps three or four hundred inhabitants, but the village is so spread out that there are quite large fields and farms in the midst of the houses. But still the village has a strong sense of corporate identity and all the inhabitants are united in the assertion that they all live in Woodpin. As for them being bandits, I’d concede that they might be a trifle rough and uncultured. Indeed if you passed through displaying ostentatious signs of wealth without simultaneously displaying martial prowess, they might well succumb to the temptation to rob you. But still, the same could be said of many places. I approached the Woodpin Salutation Hotel. This was apparently the establishment of the younger sister. She was perhaps more emollient than her older sister, so when I addressed myself to her


she seemed disposed to be reasonable. “Madame, I am a travelling poet. For a meal from the common pot and a glass of ale I’ll entertain your customers for the evening. For a second glass of ale I’ll add a spice to your common pot which will bring them back for more.” She looked at me with a degree of suspicion. “You’ll help in the kitchen, then you’ll get a meal, we’ll try the spice, and if the customers like it, they’ll buy you ale. Then if the company wishes, you can entertain them.” These aren’t the worst terms I’ve been offered so I bowed low and asked her to command me. I spent the next hour chopping vegetables and meat and dropping them into the great pot that was to feed any who wished to eat. When she asked about the spice I took out my glass jar, stuck my knife into the liquid and from the knife blade allowed two drops to fall into the pot. The quantity seemed to surprise her but still she didn’t complain. When we carried the pot through to serve there were over a score of people present; our hostess explained about the spice and the entertainment, we filled up a bowl for everybody and people started to eat. There was some good­natured banter, one or two felt I might have overdone the spice slightly, others felt a little more wouldn’t have hurt but the general consensus was that my efforts had been a success. Two of the chaps volunteered to buy me a glass of ale and so I sat back and told them the tale of Forfulum the Buffoon and the maid making cheese. There are scores of these tales. Any example of peculation or stupidity among those who think to rule Port Naain can be tweaked slightly and ascribed to Forfulum. One of my favourite tales is Forfulum and the clothes mangle, which commemorates the ill­timed death of one of the Sinecurists of Port Naain in an unfortunate if unlikely domestic accident. Still it was an excellent evening and my hostess forgot herself sufficiently to bring me a third glass




of ale and promised me a decent breakfast next morning. Next day I made my way slowly through Woodpin, passing the time of day with new acquaintances and it was nearly noon by the time I arrived at the Woodpin Grandiloquent Hotel. Word of my achievements the previous evening had obviously gone ahead of me because the elder sister was waiting outside in case I should slip past without visiting her establishment. “You, poet fellow, are you intending to stay here?” I bowed low. “I was indeed, but being a working poet I cannot afford to pay.” “Make us a stew, entertain us, and if it goes well there’ll be a couple of glasses of ale in it for you.” I bowed again and allowed her to lead me to the kitchen. As I was preparing the repast I asked, “I could do with making a decent start tomorrow, would it be possible for me just to take some bread and cheese with me rather than waiting for breakfast?” “If the evening is a success.” With that I had to be content. Carefully I made the stew exactly the same as I had the previous evening, adding the same amount of Devil’s Pomatum. My hostess sneered a little at what she saw as my niggardliness. With the stew ready she sent me out to the common room to put bowls out. I’d just finished when she staggered through carrying the great pot. She set it down on the table. “I’ll serve poet. You go into the kitchen and fetch the ale jug.” Leaving her ladling stew into the bowls of her eager patrons I made my way into the kitchen. I picked up the ale jug and was about to fill it when I noticed on the slopstone my glass jar. It was empty. Indeed it wasn’t merely empty, it had been rinsed out. I made my way to the kitchen door, I might be able to stop people eating, but as I opened the door I heard her roar, “What do you mean it’s too hot?” There was muttering from her somewhat cowed

customers. I peered round the door; she had thrust a large spoon into a bowl. “I’ll show you, now we’re all going to eat a spoonful at the same time. Are you ready?” With this she ate a large spoonful of the stew. Silently I closed the door and wedged it shut with a chair. My kitchen porter overall I’d left over a chair in the other room. I felt going in there to collect it was not perhaps the wisest of moves. Behind the back door there hung a dark woollen cloak which I slung about my shoulders. I also took the wicker fishing creel hanging under it and into the creel I placed a loaf, a large meat pie and a bottle of wine. My hasty preparations complete I left without a sound by the back door. At this point it seems pertinent to mention that the story of Tallis’s escapades continues on other blogs. They will be reblogged in what may one day be accepted by biographers as the chronologically correct order on his own blog. Thus and so you can easily follow his gripping adventures. Also, as an aside, the reason for this whole performance, (aside for being ‘Art’ with a capital ‘A’) is that another volume of his anecdotes has been published. Containing some work that has never appeared on the blog, this is ;­ *** Tallis Steelyard. The Monster of Bell­Wether Gardens and other stories.­Monster­ Bell­Wether­Gardens­stories­ ebook/dp/B075DG5JJ6/­Monster­ Bell­Wether­Gardens­stories­ ebook/dp/B075DG5JJ6/

n e e d fu l t o k n o w

written by

Jim Webster


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