The Festival and other Stories

We return to a culinary theme with this picture that our artist painted of Blinia Crole. The picture is from Blinia’s own collection and is displayed with grateful thanks to her. Andeal chose to paint her seated in her old home working as she always had.

Chicken Legs

Blinia drifted into being a cook, but was handicapped by lack of capital. Her family home was in the more run-down part of Ropewalk. Some would even write it off as being part of the Warrens. So to have anything to cook she was reduced to purchasing worn out domestic fowl sold for a pittance for their feathers. She would pluck the fowl, sort the feathers, wash them, dry them and then sell them on to those who would use them to stuff pillows with.

With regard to cooking the fowl she was lucky that her mother had taught her well. Once plucked she would keep the carcass covered and chilled in a meat-safe for as long as possible to allow the meat to relax, up to a week in winter. Then she would leave it for a day in brine, and after that she’d rinse it off, cover it with clean water and allow it to simmer for anything up to twenty-four hours. Finally she’d allow it to cool, remove the bones (because the meat just falls away from them if you’ve cooked it properly,) and then add vegetables and all the other necessary ingredients for a stew. This would be cooked until the vegetables were ready.

The advantage of this system was she didn’t need to advertise. The smell of cooking chicken hung around her house because there was always chicken cooking! Then each day, just before noon, a queue would form of people clutching their own bowls and spoons. For twenty dregs you got a good ladle full of her thick broth. The local baker sent his son round with a tray of bread rolls and for a few dregs more he would sell you bread to go with your meal.

So far so good, Blinia’s customers were loyal and as old Mister Mumster would have said, her business was ‘steady away’. But she was wise enough to sit back and look at how she might improve things. One issue was fishing out the bones. She decided that given the amount of meat that there was on the legs and wings, they were more effort than they were worth. Still, properly brought up, she was loathe to throw them away. So as an experiment, while the chickens were cooking she experimented, leaving the legs and wings to marinate in various sauces and then roasting them. Much to her surprise they were a great success, especially those with the sweet and bitter herbs. Men would buy a couple of them to put in a pocket to chew while they worked.

The problem is that there are only two legs and two wings to each carcass. It was nowhere near enough. So she experimented. She peeled the skin off the carcass, rolled it tightly and cut the roll into several pieces. These she fried, then marinated and roasted with the other chicken legs. Customers snapped them up and demanded more.

Finally in desperation she went down to a slaughterhouse and bought a full mott skin. This she cut up into pieces that were about the same size as a chicken leg, fried them and then added them to the marinade. Finally she managed to produce enough to satisfy demand.

Now let us be clear. There was no attempt at deception. Blinia was selling these to sober people in the middle of the day. This was not late night catering where you’re merely selling ‘food’ to drunks. People knew that Blinia’s chicken legs might contain no chicken. Indeed some preferred the mott hide ones because there was more chewing. Other aficionados claimed that the chicken skin ‘legs’ were a better bet, being slightly more crunchy. On the other hand there were still some who preferred the traditional leg on the grounds that they enjoyed sucking the last of the meat off the bone.

Her highest accolade came when the chief cook of the Flensers, peckish on his way home, purchased a ‘chicken leg’ to chew on. He returned next day and bought a dozen, praising her touch with spices. Indeed he became one of her regulars and eventually it dawned on Blinia that he was starting to court her. This came as a surprise, but he was merely the first of many. The baker’s son, whom now had to use a handcart to carry his trays of rolls, was also remarkably attentive. She had regarded him as friendly, even charming, but it seems that spotting a potential rival for her affections, he felt the need to step up to the mark.

Then there was her vegetable supplier. Because they were all served chopped up and cooked, she merely needed vegetables that tasted good, not that looked pretty. So her order a valuable one, every greengrocer knows that there’s excellent eating in vegetables that will never pass as pretty. Hence Sopwin, a purveyor of root vegetables and a man with a dry sense of humour, used to drop round every evening with anything that was beginning to look a little tired. She got a good price and enjoyed the banter they shared as she would mock his wilted parsnips and drooping carrots and he would praise them to the skies, claiming that merely dropping them into her broth would perk them up. Now it seemed that he too was trying to woo her.

Blinia, in desperation, turned to her friend and employee Nila. Nila was a smiling, thickset, buxom lady of middle years with a husband who worked on the wharves and a number of children who managed to amuse themselves during the day.

Blinia, catching Nila sitting eating her lunch, (inevitably a bowl of broth) sat down besides her.

“They’re all after me!”

Nila looked at her in surprise. “But I saw you pay for the fowl only yesterday.”

“Not creditors Nila, suitors. It’s getting ridiculous.”

“Well I know that cook seems sweet on you.”

“And then there’s the baker, and Sopwin the veg.”

“So what’s the problem, surely it’s better for a young woman like you to have too many suitors than too few?”

Blinia sounded almost desperate, “But all they’re interesting in is my cooking!”

Nila looked at her sternly. “What do you want them interested in? Your body?

Well in forty years your cooking will be better than it is now, the less said about the rest of you the better!

Blinia subsided briefly then asked, “So what do I do?”

“What the rest of us do, see who works the hardest, really puts the effort in. Then just wed the one you like best anyway.”


Tallis Steelyard and Jim Webster proudly present

Tallis Steelyard. The Festival, and other stories.

Available from

More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. In here Tallis touches upon child rearing, politics as a performance art, the joy of dance and the advantages that come with good manners. Discover why Madam Dolbart was forced to constantly hire new cooks, marvel at the downfall of Dash Blont, lecher, libertine, and philanderer . Whatever happens, do not pass through life without knowing of the advantages to be gained by an early morning pick-me-up of horse dung spread fine on toast. You too can be charming and elegant once you know how.

For a mere 99p all this and more can be yours.


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64 responses to “The Festival and other Stories

  1. Another lovely collection of amazing stories from our good friend Tallis, our guilty escape from the daily grind…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Chicken Legs – Tallis Steelyard

  3. shared it across on Tallis’s blog
    Which other writer provides advice for the young lady with too many suitors?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. You always come up with very original stories, Jim!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ironically I live less than twenty miles from Windermere 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Cool. Autocorrect always insists I go there instead of Windemere. 😜

        Liked by 2 people

      • The joy of being a writer is the realisation that there will be people out there for whom Windemere is more real than Windermere 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • Never really thought of that. Kind of a fun way to look at the whole fantasy genre too.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Port Naain is on the western edge of a perfectly respectable fantasy continent, which does have some magic and stuff.
        Even Port Naain has magic and stuff but the magic tends to be grubby and understated and the stuff tends to be people just trying to keep the show on the road rather than saving the world 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • A lot of fantasy seems to go that way. I went the opposite with big magic everywhere. It’s a constant in the life of everyone. I think part of that stems from wanting to make a world where casters aren’t seen as rare, but a legitimate career path.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m a great lover of Jack Vance as well as Tolkien so I like the magic heavy stuff, it’s just I like toying with the little guys trying to cope 🙂
        So with Tallis I almost do Fantasy comedy of manners (probably the sole writer of the genre, probably with good reason 😉 )
        With other stuff in the same background there are people who are more swashbuckling and when forced to can end up hitting folk with sharpened steel bars

        I have two blogs, the one with my name attached is mainly about me, rural Cumbria and sheep (because nobody wanted to read about me as the wonderful writer) whilst the other is Tallis Steelyard
        This is because Tallis has no shame and knows in his heart that everybody wants to read about him being a wonderful writer 😉


      • So, what’s fantasy comedy of manners? I’m definitely more of an action adventure fantasy writer. Seems to work best with my present tense writing style. I think a lot of people don’t realize how versatile the fantasy genre can be at times. You can use it as a foundation like any other genre and then add your own twist.

        Sheep are a big draw to blogs? That explains why so many people liked when I mentioned my gnome character’s reading sheep named Bessaria.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Fantasy can do anything
        But yes, I do try and get variety in my writing. Even with Tallis there are stories with a lovecraftian feel, there are more action adventures, (
        has a touch of both 🙂
        But comedy of manners is more an affectionate examination of the human foibles of people, the fine lady who cannot keep cooks because everybody steals them to get her pastry recipe, that sort of thing.
        But then I will also try and drop other stuff in, Tallis can get philosophical,
        or even rant about writing, publishing etc

        And according to the numbers of my followers, sheep probably are marginally popular than my fantasy 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I wish all my guests would participate like you are. you and Charles are having a great conversation, and I’m all for it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s fun, you keep a cool blog with a lot of decent people and a nice white wine cooling 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll fetch Tallis with me 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve actually never attempted anything Lovecraftian. Not a big horror fan, so I find it hard to write anything that’s terror-inducing. I try with an October story that I’ve been doing for the last few years, but I lack the confidence to do more than make it more than a blog event.

        I think I get the comedy of manners thing. The cook stealing does sound pretty funny without going crude, rude, and slapstick. Going philosophical at some points is enjoyable from the author perspective. It’s almost like the characters have let something build for so long that they have to get it out. Feels rather realistic.

        Liked by 1 person

      • terror inducing is tough. I go more for the frisson, the sudden realisation that behind the facade things are darker.
        But I see the blog as Tallis sitting in a quite bar with the reader, just telling stories. Sometimes he’s maudlin, sometimes he might even be a bit irritated by something. (Novelists irritate him for many reasons 🙂 )


      • I like building suspense. That’s always fun and I think it’s more effective than fear. You keep a reader engrossed with suspense while fear can make them run.

        Do you find the character blog (I assume that’s what it is) is more popular than the author one? I’ve been wondering if I should try to have my characters appear more often and talk than me speaking.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think it depends on your character. If you have a close mouthed and taciturn character then the blogs are going to be a bit like hard work for everybody 🙂
        Tallis works because he’s a poet and makes his living entertaining his patrons. He’s got an endless fund of stories, knows everybody and is letting off steam with friends. The problem with Tallis is shutting him up.

        On the other hand, because you’re telling stories, you can keep things in the first person. Tallis will sometimes apologise because he’s having to recount conversations held by people when he wasn’t there. But you can also toy with other types of story. You can offer up a romance, anything that your character might have come across.
        Get the right character and it can be fun
        More importantly you can build up plenty of stories and then start collecting them together and selling them in 30,000 word bundles for 99p on Amazon 😉


      • I have several characters who are fairly chatty and have big personalities. Some are rather dull, but not many. Honestly, I’m about to run out of character bios for my Thursday posts, so I’m trying to think of a way to keep it character-focused. Good idea about the short story collection.

        Liked by 1 person

      • you also get to play at various things. So this blog tour has been ‘Pictures from an Exhibition’ (based on Mussorgsky )
        So I looked at the original 11 pictures, one I kept as it was, but tried to chose others which captured the underlying theme of the originals AND fitted Port Naain.
        Obviously I’ve stretched things no end. Then I put an extra ‘picture’ in for the start, and a final picture in for a conclusion.
        Indeed the final picture only came to me in conversation once the blog tour had started!

        Also I realised how much work had gone into the tour (18,500 words) I decided to experiment and put it on Kindle with the pictures included.
        Actually it came out well and makes a fun collection of tales

        Other blog tours have had other themes, one was based on the idea of the Labours of Hercules, where a group of young men had to come up with cunning schemes to raise money for a mental hospital the young lady they all loved was trying to set up 🙂


      • I haven’t done a lot of blog tours lately. Might need to look into those ago. I like the Hercules money raising idea. Sounds really unique.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It really allows you to play, because I had each man steal a rare artifact for the lady of his life to sell on to collectors 🙂
        One of the bloggers posted a timetable so you can find the stories 🙂
        Again it started by accident. I invented the lady to match a picture I’d seen, and wrote a story to explain the picture. Everything sort of got out of control from then on 🙂
        She first appeared here


      • Thanks. Always fun when things roll out of control.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on Musings on Life & Experience and commented:
    Another witty and highly entertaining tale told by Tallis Steelyard and penned by Jim Webster for the Pictures from an Exhibition blog tour.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I might take a look, the book looks very interesting.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Ah, truer words of widsom were never spoken…”just wed the one you like best anyway.” This is a brilliant piece of writing. Jim Webster covered the art of entrepreneurship the tenderness of a young girl’s heart and the behavior of young men smitten. And, the paintings are beautiful. This is different from anything I’ve ever seen on your blog, Craig. Love it!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Bit of a surprise. Enjoyable surprise at that.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Pingback: Pictures from an Exhibition blog tour with Tallis Steelyard – Rich and poor | rivrvlogr

  10. Jim Webster, a writer of huge talent. Never fails to entertain.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. That was a delightful tale!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Pingback: Writing Links…4/16/18 – Where Genres Collide

  13. the last line made it wonderfully complete. a very entertaining story to read. i thoroughly enjoyed it. ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

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