September 18th – The Festival of Hat Casting

There is a café at the end of Mokkard street, where the road comes to an end with a small roundabout (the road is very thin, and beyond that roundabout on the left there is naught but a cliff edge, so it’s helpful for folk to be able to turn around at this point). It’s called The Sprightly Balloonist, and was little known in most of the City for a long time, despite the fact that is has some of the best Buentoilliçan views you are likely to find. You can see pretty much over the entire western half of the City, across to the Buentoille bay and the forests to the west, on a clear day. Ranaclois is in the other direction, unfortunately, so it’s spires are not visible, but they are actually marginally higher up than Guilgamot district where Mokkard street is located, so would probably block the rest of the view anyway.

The reason for the café’s relative obscurity is that it resides in what has always been a working class area of Buentoille. Besides locals and the occasional bohemian, few knew about this little hideaway, which serves tea and coffee, with flaky butter pastries and suncakes (a lemon juice and honey saturated sponge cake, usually speckled throughout with poppy seeds, contained within a very short, sweet, pastry casing) as its specialities. The benches outside are a now sure to be packed on any day that is clear and sunny, as, since the loosening of social attitudes precipitated by the Revolution, The Sprightly Balloonist has become rather famous. Today these benches will be even more packed than usual – today is the festival of Hat Casting.

A little way along the cliff and up some from the café is the Clifftop Secondary School. It’s been there since 1867, when philanthropist Gregor Cartpin decided that the children of Guilgamot district who lived near the Grand Boulevard which he often frequented deserved to be properly educated. For Cartpin, education also entailed a strong deference to and respect for authority, which he often observed was lacking in the children of the district when shopping on the Boulevard. In an attempt to fabricate this respect in the children, Cartpin instigated a system of tiered hats which would denote seniority, with each tier acting subserviently to their elders. First form students would wear something akin to a skull cap, second formers would have a very small square attached to the apex of this cap, and by seventh form this would have morphed into a full-sized mortarboard.

Often these kind of divide-and-rule tactics are effective, as they give certain benefits to those ‘on top’ and in turn lever their good will to keep the others in check. It’s easy to see a situation in which this system perpetuated itself, even beyond the Revolution, as younger students anticipated the power they would receive as they got older. Older students were allowed to skip to the front of queues, and were given privileges to leave the school grounds at lunch break. This was, however, not the case. For one thing, students found the hats odious to wear; they were always slipping off their heads and causing itches and scalp pains if they were too tight, which they had to be to stay on, and if they fell off you’d get in trouble. These issues only got worse as you went on, with the board unbalancing things further. The other reason was that many of these children had played in the streets before they had a school to go to, in groups that generally discriminated by location rather than age; there was a great solidarity between students in different forms, a factor unanticipated by Cartpin.

There were, of course, those who were more than happy to be given power over their less senior schoolmates, but these folk were kept from too much mischief by the already well established ‘gangs’ of children from different streets who looked out for each other. The seniority system was always fragile at best, and in 1869, only two years after the school opened, a number of mass protests and speeches held in the school’s public spaces, eventually led to the system’s abolition in all but name. These protests began on September the 16th, when students Umer Wellasi and Tyryan Calle took a chair each from a nearby classroom and sat down in the centre of the Forwyn Vestibule (named after Cartpin’s wife, Forwyn) at lunch time. Each time a student they knew passed them, they told them to get a chair and join in. By the end of lunch the vestibule was packed full of stoic seated students, chanting and refusing to move and return to class. Whilst this protest was eventually broken up by a team of more heavy-handed teachers, the unrest continued over the following days, culminating in the first Casting of the Hats.

Ringleaders were rounded up and suspended (although curiously the teachers failed to notice that Calle was actually one of the movement’s progenitors, and he continued agitating uninterrupted), but this did little to slow the protests. Eventually, however, the protestors realised that it was ultimately they who were responsible for upholding the ‘hat rule’ as the seniority system came to be known, and therefore they could bring it down by simply refusing to participate. This principle was agreed on by the protesters, who had assembled in that same vestibule on the morning of the eighteenth. They then elected a group of committed activists, five from each form, who would be responsible for ensuring inter-form cooperation and respect, and would ‘handle’ any students who tried to use the ‘hat rule’ to gain unfair advantage. The students also felt that there needed to be a final show of their strength; a final protest was planned.

Almost every student in the school followed Tyryan Calle out the school gates later that day, when he sent up the rallying cry. They poured down the hedgerowed ways, all the way along to Mokkard street, and right up to the cliff edge, which is far steeper and more impressive there than the slopes around the school. There they lined up on the cliff edge, along where the handrail and concrete blocks stopping cars careering off are nowadays, and counted down from five. On one, the children cast their hats over the edge, those more senior students projecting them to quite a distance as the board caught the air. The students behind them then stepped up and did the same, until pretty much all the school were rid of their hats. Those students too timid or lacking in solidarity who stayed back at the school, few as they were, hid their own hats pretty quickly the following day, when the rest of the students returned (they were all suspended so took the opportunity to have a day off but then came back the following day when it was clear there was nothing the school could do).

Today, the 238th anniversary of that momentous protest, the students will re-enact this moment of victory won by their predecessors. Today, as the hats are no longer made, they use cardboard replicas, made in art class. The school continued to claim that the hats were an ‘essential item of dress’ for thirty one years after, issuing them to all students new and old, but as these too were swiftly cast over the cliff on this day every year, and otherwise not worn at all, they then gave up. Today a large crowd of parents and bystanders alike will come to watch this scripted moment of dissent, now factored into the school year, as the ‘hats’ of all colours and designs tumble down to the houses below. The elected student body exists still, although nowadays their primary task is to help clean Mrs Rolandson’s roof, which resides directly below the cliff edge.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Screaming Mauve Murder
  • The Festival of Askance and Gifting
  • The Day of Ergonomic Realities