June 7th – The Festival of Saint Orchal

‘There is a certain presence / a beatific communication / within the sounds of the train station.’ These are the words of Linen Eurgul, poet and dancer, and they were apparently the words which convinced James Careform, later known as Saint Orchal, to become a wheeltapper. Careform had spent most of his childhood in and around churchyards, his mother being a ward of the Chastise Church due to her poor health, and there had been exposed to the poetry of Eurgul, a local man who often performed his work at Church gatherings. Careform’s experiences as a wheeltapper led to their canonisation as Saint Orchal upon their death on the 7th of June 1887.

The patron saint of trains and railways, Orchal is often invoked as an additional safety measure by religious rail workers or passengers. Beside the driver’s seats of many Buentoilliçan trains can be found the symbol of Saint Orchal, the hammer and wheel, indicative of the way in which he found Attunement. According to the official story, after attending the sermon at which Eurgul performed their poem about train stations, ‘A Certain Presence,’ Orchal walked straight across to the Darrius Finachre Rail Yard, where they sat on a stack of unused timbers and listened carefully.

When Orchal was only six when he lost his sight after being struck across the head by a barrel which fell from the back of a cart. According to the doctors the trauma caused a severe and irreversible retinal detachment. As a result he had learned early on to appreciate sound more keenly, and had a well-developed sense of hearing. It was this that got him his job as a wheeltapper. As he sat there on the timbers he listened in to the soundscape surrounding him; the slow release of steam from the engines, the rumble of their furnaces, a quiet conversation between three workers, two women and a man, about their boss, someone hammering a rivet into place some way away, a seagull wheeling overhead.

Nobody seemed to mind him there; perhaps they hadn’t noticed. A train was coming, you could tell because the rails had begun to sing quietly. Eventually you could hear the chugging sounds of its engine as it approached, the squeal of its breaks, the hiss of steam as it stopped, something akin to the sound of someone relaxing suddenly, settling into a soft chair. There was the ‘ting ting ting’ of the hot metal engine starting to cool, as the wheeltapper started down the side of the newly arrived train, striking the wheels with his long hammer, a pause as he listened to the sound, and then the next strike. ‘Why did that last one sound different?’ asked Orchal.

‘It doesn’t,’ said the soon-to-be unemployed wheeltapper, who had obliviously moved on to the next wheel. Orchal begged to differ, explaining how there had been a small but clear difference to the ring of the wheel, a minor dullness that the others didn’t have. He didn’t realise at the time that this meant the wheel needed replacing, that this was exactly what the wheeltapper was supposed to be listening out for, or that one of the people listening to their conversation was the wheeltapper’s boss. He was offered the newly-opened up position there on the spot, at the age of fifteen, he had never worked before, but was delighted.

Orchal kept the job for the rest of his life, the whole time he was there thinking about Eurgul had said, listening out for some greater communication within the noises he heard around him, trying to sense the ‘presence’ the poet had identified. For most of his life, Orchal was unsuccessful in sensing anything greater, though he greatly enjoyed listening to the sounds around him, and spent many hours listening to the rattle of carriages, the heave-to of the engines. He would hum quietly in concordance with them. Then one day the B361 unexpectedly came into the station, a new purchase by Darrius Finachre from a rival train company.

Each wheel has a different sound. It mainly depends on the design of the wheel, and whether or not it has any cracks or imperfections which impede the ‘ring’ as they would with a bell. Yet there are other factors which change the shape slightly, and therefore the sound, such as how hot it is, how far it has travelled, whether it has got wet at any point in its journey. According to Church dogma, the masterful ears of Saint Orchal could even discern differences in tone from where it had been on its journey, the shape of its route, the sounds imparted onto it from the carriage above. When he struck the fifth left wheel of the B361 that day, he became Attuned; he suddenly understood the world, the connections therein, as never before. The feeling began to fade, so he struck the wheel again, and was once again Attuned, but less so; he no longer remembered as he did a moment before what it was that motivated his fellow workers, the granular details of their lives that he had never asked after.

By the fifth hammer blow it was gone; the tone had changed infinitesimally, but to such an extent that it no longer unlocked that secret place within his mind, no longer Attuned him to the reality of this strange world. Yet he had managed to hold on to something in that flood of information, a few scraps from the lives of others; he turned to his colleague, a man called Sitvus, and said, ‘make sure you tie the flowers to the door knocker, or the wind will blow them away, and she won’t believe you.’ Later, Sitvus claimed this random, unasked for piece of advice had kept his marriage together.

Orchal spent much of the rest of his life trying to emulate that tone, that one experience, yet never again did the B361 take that same route, have the same passengers talking of the same unknown things in the carriage above the fifth left wheel. Today this man is celebrated with a poetry reading in Trisaint Church, then a processional striking of small ritual wheels along the theorised route of the B361 on that fateful day. The procession actually takes place inside an old, renovated carriage, fitted to look as it would have in Orchal’s day, which is shunted down the tracks by a specially-scheduled service.

When the train reaches its destination, the Darrius Finachre Rail Yard (now known popularly as the Fine Acre Rail Yard), the acolytes will tie on blindfolds and walk around the carriage, striking the wheels and chanting hymnodically. Many non-religious folks join in the festival proceedings because they believe it will protect them from rail accidents.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Crustacean Harangueing
  • A Day to Climb the Ritual Tower of ERNATE
  • The Festival of [Editorial] Additions