There’s a bit of a different feel to the Showcase this week. I first found Jim’s writing a while ago and was immediately entranced (I think that’s a suitable word) by his style and the depth of his imagination.
I’m delighted to welcome him to the Showcase, instead of the usual post, Jim has provided me with a short story, which I hope you will enjoy.
Wheels within wheels
If ever a man was an innovator, it was Stillitoe Cloudwiller. Others would have been happy to bask in the relative success of the aquatic tripod. After all, whilst this was limited to one prototype, it did at least work, came in under budget, and he managed to sell it and recover his investment. Many, more prestigious projects, have not managed to achieve even this.
But Stillitoe was an argumentative man prone to making wild claims. Just as the aquatic tripod had been developed because of an argument with the ferry company, the Commendable Monocycle came into being when he had an argument with a pair of sedan chair bearers. He swore that not only would he never hire them again, he’d give people a method of travelling swiftly and in comfort that put them out of business. In reality such a method already exists, the horse is reliable and the whole field of carriages, governess carts and tack has been thoroughly explored over millennia.
Unwilling to tread the well worn path of equine exploitation, Stillitoe set his mind to the consideration of some other method of achieving his objective. His chance came when he visited the house of a friend who was in the kitchen, tinkering with the turnspit over the great hearth. It seems that his friend had devised a system whereby a dog would run round in a wheel, which would turn the spit. This he demonstrated to Stillitoe, only to have the mechanism break in some manner, so that the wheel came loose and the dog propelled it enthusiastically around the kitchen.
This was all the inspiration a man of Stillitoe’s calibre needed. This was his mode of travel that would render the sedan chair obsolete. Still it needed work and he pondered long and hard. He decided that the person travelling really needed to be seated, and that steering is easier if the wheel is narrow. Eventually, after a lot of thought and discussion with friends, he had his artisans build his Commendable Monocycle. In this the rider sat inside the contraption on an inner frame. Pedalling caused the outer wheel to rotate, and steering involved moving two handles that could cause one side or the other of the outer wheel to twist appropriately.
The contraption was built and Stillitoe was the first to ride it. Whatever one says about him, he has never been afraid to test his own devices. He tried it on the Ropewalk early one morning and soon was bowled along at a most impressive speed, swerving to avoid drays loading and unloading.
He decided to throw caution to the winds and that afternoon, when he had to attend a meeting in the Merchants quarter, he would travel there on his monocycle. Unfortunately the Ropewalk was far busier than it had been earlier in the day. Still he was also more experienced in manoeuvring his vehicle and he managed to pass the length of the street without accident.
Unfortunately what he hadn’t considered when designing the monocycle was that streets are often liberally spread with the dung of horses and other animals. This was picked up by the wheel and spread about liberally. It normally fell of those behind him, but occasionally if forced to go more slowly because of the press of folk, it would fall down upon him as he pedalled. As an aside, this is why he added the ‘roof’.
The next problem he had to face was that the road climbed uphill to the part of the merchant quarter he wanted to visit. Undeterred he stood up on his pedals and gave it his all. He went up the hill faster than a sedan chair, and did indeed arrive at his meeting on time. The effect was rather spoiled because he was red-faced and covered in horse dung.
In spite of this he persevered. The monocycle had performed well. He realised that with practice an accomplished rider could tackle any incline and with the internal roof to shelter him, the rider need not fear rain or random showers of horse dung.
He had his artisans start to manufacture the Commendable Monocycle for purchase by the general public. To be fair the price was too high for the ordinary working man, but it did appeal to those young men and women who wished to travel to their offices at neck-break speed. He must have sold a score of them, and then he found another market.
A lady enquired about purchasing one. She merely wished to ride around Dilbrook to visit her friends. The area was level, the roads good, and not only that, a host of dutiful gardeners would come running out to collect the horse dung before the horse had even finished depositing it. She just wanted her machine making a little wider. This would make it easier for her to ride in a long dress. To Stillitoe this was merely an engineering detail. He soon complied with her request and must have sold another score or more to ladies who were still young at heart and who felt that the exercise was to their benefit.
Society had taken his monocycle to its heart. Alas there were fears it would lead to improper behaviour. What if young men and young women took advantage of their newfound freedom to sneak off and meet each other? Stillitoe was soon to find an answer to that. He joined to monocycles with a common axle so the young couple were able to cycle sitting side by side on a bicycle.
Obvious they couldn’t attempt any familiarities through the revolving wheels. Still some tutted at the liberties that could be taken, so in a moment of genius he fitted a third, smaller wheel at the rear and a chaperone could sit on this. This tricycle had the advantage that the chaperone could see what was going on but not necessarily hear everything that was said.
It was some years later, when the Scar laid siege to Oiphallarian, (A campaign described in maudlin detail by Jim Webster in his book ‘The flames of the city’) that Stillitoe thought to put his monocycle to some martial purpose. He first approached the various Condotteri captains offering to raise for them troops of monocycle riders who would ride through the ranks of their enemies with scythe blades mounted on the axles. It was pointed out, perhaps more gently than he deserved, that the Scar are nomad horse archers who ride fast and hardy ponies. It was unlikely they could be caught by even the most enthusiastic monocycle rider.
Stillitoe then contemplated modifying his bicycle but realised that this was still not much faster than the monocycle. He then took another tack, taking his tricycle and having a scattergun mounted between the front two wheels.
The gun would be fired by the person sitting on the third wheel. This looked promising but his first attempt to build something ran into the problem that the tricycle as initially designed wasn’t really strong enough to cope with the weight of a light cannon or even the recoil.
Still he called in friends and they sat up late one night, designing, calculating, redesigning and recalculating, until by the early hours of the next morning, fortified by a respectable quantity of ale, they had produced a design for a tricycle that they felt could deliver. Admittedly it needed three steam engines, one on each wheel, had a howdah in the middle which was big enough to mount anything the heart desired, and needed a crew of at least a dozen, six of whom were stokers. It was noon the next day when Stillitoe left his bed and returned to his library to start calculating how much his war tricycle would cost. He had just finished the process when he received news that the Scar had been defeated by conventional means.
Still, Stillitoe felt it his duty to let people know what was available.
Admittedly for the cost of building one war tricycle, it should be possible to raise and equip a thousand men-at-arms and pay them for a full campaigning season. But still, Stillitoe Cloudwiller is not a man to let petty details stand in the way of progress.
About Jim Webster
Rumour has it that Jim Webster is more probably sixty-something rather than fifty-something, his tastes in music are eclectic, and his dress sense is rarely discussed in polite society. In spite of this, he has a wife and three daughters.
He has managed to make a living from a mixture of farming, consultancy, and freelance writing.
He lives in South Cumbria not far from the Irish Sea, with the Lake District hills as his northern horizon. At the moment he is writing fantasy which is on the cusp of becoming steampunk. He has a number of protagonists (to call them heroes is to play fast and loose with the term) who live in an area called ‘The Land of the Three Seas.’
This world is chronicled in four novels (available in paperback) and nineteen novellas.
His Amazon author page is at
but the books are on BookBub as well
There are two blogs, https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/ where my out of control character, Tallis Steelyard, poet and raconteur tells tales drawn from a long life. (You’ve just read one of them here.)
The other blog https://jandbvwebster.wordpress.com/ is largely taken up with me talking about life in agriculture, occasionally mentioning books, and sometimes ranting about the inanities of modern life.
If you enjoy ‘detective’ stories, or mysteries, then you might well enjoy those novellas with the title ‘The Port Naain Intelligencer’. They’re a collection, not a series, so like the Sherlock Holmes stories you can read them in any order. But ‘Flotsam or Jetsam’ was first written.
The Tallis Steelyard stories all have his name in the title. He insists.
Those that are collections of his anecdotes have ‘and other stories’ at the end of the title. Otherwise, like ‘Tallis Steelyard, Six men in a boat’ they’re just one story. That might be as good a place as any to start with Tallis.
The first collection of his stories is “Tallis Steelyard, shower me with gold and other stories.”
This contains stories such as ‘One truly exceptional bowel movement’, ‘The dark arts of a poet’, ‘Card play’ and many more.
My thanks to this weeks guest for a great post. I hope you all enjoyed it.
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Have a good week,