Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since those dreadful land pirates, The Chronic Agronauts, utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and I’m always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!
Helping me this morning are two very special guests who have travelled all the way from the Lucerne Academy, Miss Lucy Etherington and her mechanical protégé Eve! Now do please have a seat here at the table ladies and I will put the kettle on. I hope your journey to our dimension was a good one and you had no trouble from land pirates or skyway men?
L: Thank you my dear and it’s a great delight to meet you in person, I must say. Stalwart work you are doing here for the dear young urchins.
There were a couple of, er, incidents in our journey, I must confess, but fortunately my companion Eve, being entirely mechanical, has the strength of several steam-powered elephants, so she was able to dispatch our would-be attackers very promptly. I suspect that our journey home will be far less eventful.
Oh dear I am sorry about that, thank the goddess that Eve was there to put them in their place! Now then, I see you have you brought some soup to share with the orphans?
L: My dear Eve made up a batch of her glorious lentil and mustard soup before we left the academy. It travels rather well, we find, but it’s very thick and, er, robust. You may want to water it down slightly before serving it. Eve, dear, perhaps you’d like to share your recipe…
E: I’d be delighted. You simply cook dried lentils in 4 times their volume of water, with a little salt for at least two hours. Add in any vegetables you have to hand (I used chopped carrot, celery and tomatoes, as I know children are sometimes put off by more exotic tastes), along with a few of tablespoons each of butter, genuine tomato ketchup and the finest mustard you can obtain. Then cook for another hour.
Oh how clever of you, Eve! Mmm, it smells delicious, I’m sure the little urchins will enjoy it immensely. Now while that is simmering away nicely, why don’t you tell us a little about your work at the Academy Miss Lucy?
L: Certainly. I was hired to teach deportment, geography and natural sciences. I must confess, I give little attention to deportment, other than to lead by example, but the other subjects have been tremendous fun. The board of governors was somewhat taken aback when I explained that I would need to take the girls on at least three major field trips a year. But how is one to learn geography other than by traversing the Amazonian jungle or the Russian Steppes? The young ladies have used their science lessons to create a veritable arsenal of ingenious defensive weapons – for use only in the direst emergency, naturally – and their latest group project has been the design and construction of a mechanical submersible vehicle, which will enable us to explore the depths of the ocean and observe the many wondrous beasts which inhabit it.
It must be marvellous to know that you are inspiring young ladies to become the inventors and explorers of the future! If only women were allowed to study here in Ire but sadly the towers of magic are only open to men.
L: That is indeed a great pity. Perhaps we could smuggle a few of the most daring young women back to Lucerne with us. I’m sure the Principal would never notice one or two extra girls at the Academy and our balloon’s gondola is very capacious…
Now that is an idea! But I am guessing you have not always worked at the academy, and surely Eve is not your only creation?
L: Ah no, I came to teaching quite late in life. Before that I worked with Herr Oskar Kopp as his laboratory assistant. He was the most brilliant man and gave me access to his facilities to enable me to develop my interest in automatons and other inventions. Once I noticed him packing a few of them into a valise, however, to take to a symposium where he was supposed to be presenting his own latest creations, I decided to look for a position elsewhere. I’ve brought you this photograph of my cabinet of curiosities, which contains a few of my gadgets and items I have obtained on my travels.
How marvellous! And Eve, do you help Lucy at the academy?
E: Most certainly I lend assistance where I can. Sadly, though, there is a strong bias against mechanical persons being employed there and the governors have refused to offer me a post as a full staff member on three occasions, despite my excellent abilities.
Oh dear, how disappointing for you! But I must say my dear, you seem to be a very accomplished and capable person, surely you do not intend to remain as merely a companion, what are your aspirations for the future?
E: Well, so long as I can remain properly lubricated, I have an almost infinite existence ahead of me. Certainly I will assist Lucy while she requires it, but I am convinced a time will come when the artificially intelligent are fully recognised and I will be able to take my rightful place amongst humans as an educator and innovator. I should also like to engage in space travel, since I do not need to breathe.
Splendid, I am sure it will not be long before those in power realise that automatons deserve the same rights and respect as other life forms. Ah, now the kettle is boiled, can I offer you both a hot beverage? Or perhaps some oil for Eve? What would you like and how do you take it?
E: I have been engineered to run entirely on clockwork, lubricated by camomile tea. So much more civilised than slurping oil. Thank you for the thought, though. It is also Lucy’s preferred beverage.
L: Indeed it is. We both take it, obviously, without milk or sugar. I enjoy a slice of lemon in mine, but not for Eve. The acid is corrosive, you see.
Oh yes, how lovely! Here you are, now do tell me, where can we read more about your adventures?
L: Ah, I’m so glad you asked, my dear. Our biographer and compiler, Jan Stone, is collecting information about ourselves, some of our pupils and various other acquaintances. These are stored in the BLOG section at a non-physical location known as www.steampunk-shrunk.com
And I hear that our dear friend Jan Stone has made some beautiful doll versions of you both – and many other steampunk adventurers as well, could you tell us a little more about those?
L: Indeed. Jan has long been a ‘snapper-up of unconsidered trifles’…
E: Lucy! That description is of a common cut-purse, from Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. I have it my memory files. Surely you are not implying that our friend is a thief?
L: Of course not, Eve, dear. I merely meant that – in true steampunk fashion – she acquires and makes use of all manner of items, in the most unlikely and ingenious fashion. Her little dolls begin as dreary, mass-produced porcelain figures and she transforms them with oddments of cloth, wire, jewellery and watch parts into uncanny likenesses of ourselves. The models of Eve and myself, and many others, can be found at her son Matt’s shop www.etsy.com/uk/shop/SteampunkDollsHouse . I gather she also sells some at craft and vintage fairs and shops near her home in Glastonbury, Somerset.
Wonderful! Well thank you so much for coming to help out in the soup kitchen today, my dears, it’s been wonderful to chat with you and I must say that soup smells delicious. I think it must be about ready and the little urchins have their rosy noses pushed up against the glass in anticipation so shall we start dishing it up?
L: I suspect their little noses will be even rosier soon; Eve used her very hottest mustard in this batch of soup.
We have thoroughly enjoyed our visit to your delightful kitchen. With Eve to protect me from any lingering land pirates, I hope to explore more of Lancaster’s charms before our hot air balloon leaves at twilight this evening.
E: Although you may find it hard to believe that an automaton can experience feelings, Mrs Baker, let me assure you that meeting you has been a great pleasure and I will permanently store fond recollections of our conversation in my memory banks.
My dear Eve, having spent so much time travelling with my automaton friend Junkie I am well aware that you have the same emotional spectrum as us humans and it has been a great pleasure to have you both here today. Do enjoy the city, but be wary of the lemonade pushers, and don’t wander into a tiffin den by mistake!
Thankyou all for joining us in the soup kitchen today, I hope you will come and join me again next week so until then,
Blessings n your brew my dears!