October 1st – The Festival of the Frozen Sip

When two of explorer-librarians (Gerrine Bessant and Turkmenster Vao) were looking to extend the Hidden Library in 1836, they came across a dessicated corpse in an antechamber of an old salt mine, kneeling and holding a wooden cup to its lips. The coroner was called, and the results of their investigation showed that the body had been mummified by the salty air, and that they had likely died of dehydration, too. This was not a recent death, however; the coroner estimated the time of death to be the early fourteenth century; so more extensive tests were not carried out. There is no mention in the report of the cup or any possible substances it contained; this is because the cup was taken by the librarians shortly before they viewed the body.

The Father’s Cup is an old and well-known tale in Buentoille, one which tells of a father and his three sons, one of whom is found dead. Both of the other two sons are suspected of the murder, but both deny it and blame the other. The father takes a cup, fills it with the blood of his dead son, and tells the other two sons that they must drink it, and that whoever was truly the murderer will fall dead. Both sons die when they drink, having both had a hand in the murder. Later, this vessel, which has been depicted in many different forms over the years, seemed to pop up in other stories, with the ability to divine the untrue heart (as it does in The Lady’s Suitors), or to make folk speak the truth (as in The Mandrake’s Daughter). It was this cup that the explorer-librarians thought they had found, and wanted to keep for themselves.

The cup, which is today held at the Museum of Traditional Antiquities, certainly does have a reddish-brown stain within, as if it had once held blood, so it is easy to see how the librarians jumped to that conclusion, given the circumstances of how it was found. They attempted to find a buyer for the piece, but had trouble convincing anyone it was genuine. Eventually, however, they agreed a hefty price with an industrialist, on the condition that they had the ‘blood residue’ tested and dated. When the results came back, it turned out that it was not blood at all, but some other red substance which, it was declared, was ‘unknown to science.’

The deal fell through, but the two librarians were now intrigued by this substance that lined the cup, thinking that perhaps this it instead could earn them some money. Apparently oblivious to the risks, Vao convinced Bessant to fill the cup with water, into which some of the residue became incorporated, and then drink it. The moment they did, they became frozen in place, and could not move for over an hour. It seemed that the substance (now called ‘Bessant’s folly’) was actually a powerful paralytic and anaesthetic, and that the corpse which once grasped the cup had, presumably, drunk so much of the stuff that they eventually died of an inability to water and feed themself.

It has never been determined quite how the substance was produced in the first place, but scientists have since managed to copy its chemical structure, synthesising large quantities for various medical applications; there are no known side-effects to Bessant’s folly, so it has been used to save many lives over the years. Today, in a small ceremony which acknowledges the foolish bravery of Bessant and the history of the chemical, medical practitioners will drink a precisely measured quantity of the paralytic whilst posing, forming a number of statues on the streets of Buentoille that will last for almost the entire day. Apparently it can be a difficult experience to be under the influence of Bessant’s folly for that long, but an exciting one too; users report strange out-of-body experiences whilst drugged. Visitors to the City are reminded under threat of prosecution not to prod, push over, or otherwise harass these living statues who stand in vigil today as thanks for one of the great scientific advances of the last century.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Goose’s Delight Festival
  • The Festival of Fairness in Distribution
  • Slider Day

October 2nd – The Festival of the Great Mistake

Nowadays the patent for the incandescent light bulb is publicly held, but for many years it was held by the Standwary family, making them incredibly rich in the process. It is for this reason that a common term for a light bulb in Buentoille is a standwary, as that name was emblazoned across their packaging for many years. Yet there was another family, another name which could well have covered this packaging, if it were not for a simple mistake: the Goldholders. Today, the anniversary of Excelsia Standwary’s filing of the patent, this other family will hold a small, faux-protest outside the old patent office.

Tresgothic Goldholder was, apparently, actually the first person to invent the electric lightbulb, but that he filed the patent six minutes after Standwary, and lost out on earning a fortune. There is no suggestion that either side copied the other; this was one of those rare moments of coincidence when the same thoughts seem to filter down to the same minds at once. They had never even met each other before the filing debacle, and didn’t know that they had competition, though they had both attended the play Inaga and the Godly Spear two months before, and had sat eight seats apart. Some commentators have suggested that it was this play which inspired them to invent the lightbulb, but it is far from clear, given the play’s distinct lack of anything resembling a lightbulb, how or why this would be the case.

The protest today lacks the bitterness and anger that it once had; the Goldholders have long lost the sense of rivalry and the sense that they were robbed of a better life, and are now actually fast friends with the Standwarys, since Betty Goldholder reached out to them in 1949. Previous to that point there had been many angry letters exchanged, as well as a few blows, and the Standwarys had been banned from the Goldholders’ chain of night clubs, known for their old-fashioned atmosphere imparted by the gas lighting they used (the Goldholders refused to buy lightbulbs for a long time, not wanting to increase the Standwary fortune), after a contingent of them came in, flaunting their cash and saying they were going to buy the place. The feud died down somewhat after 1875 when the patent expired, but for the next 74 years it merely simmered beneath the surface; each successive generation still harboured hate towards folks they’d never met.

And what were they all so bitter about? A briefcase left on a train. Tresgothic Goldholder had been on his way to the patent office to submit his patent two days before Standwary’s was accepted, and had put the briefcase containing it down on the seat next to him so he wouldn’t forget it. He then bumped into a friend, moved the briefcase beneath the seat so the friend could sit with him, and forgot to pick it up again when he reached his station. It took two days for lost property to locate the briefcase, but when they did all was well; it had not been unlocked or broken open by any curious train passenger. It was with a great sense of relief that Goldholder walked to the office, a feeling that didn’t last long.

The central argument that the Goldholders made clear at their yearly protests was that Tresgothic’s paperwork was dated before Standwary’s, and that he even had copies that he had mailed to himself that remained unopened, the postal time stamp clear and true. However, according to the patent office, none of these mattered, only the time of submission. Where once the signs and chants of the ‘protesting’ Goldholders would have once insulted both the patent office and the Standwarys, they are now used to educate the public about the lives of the ‘two inventors,’ and to attest to the power of reconciliation and friendship; nowadays the Standwarys stand shoulder to shoulder with those they once despised. Afterwards, all 78 family members will go out for dinner together, an additional tradition added on to this annual spectacle given new purpose.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Black Desires Festival
  • The Festival of Unreturned Books
  • The Festival of the Homely Hug

October 3rd – The Festival of the Mob’s Injustice

Nobody lives in the tower at Dolrich’s Crescent any longer, but for many years it was inhabited. Nowadays the place is open to the public as a tea house, and before that it was a pub but it lost its license after someone got too drunk and fell from the top. As towers go, the construction is fairly remarkable; its cylindrical shape is formed of many diamond shaped stained glass windows, interspaced with expertly sculpted stone, akin in shape to the wire netting you get on some bottles of wine. Considering that it was built in 1523, the tower is a marvel of engineering, especially when you account for the fact it was built by one man: Triglaw Dolrich.

Dolrich was what we might charitably call an eccentric, who dabbled in all sorts of sciences, including those arcane sciences concerned with the occult and infernal aspects of the world. Yet he was also a kind man, who made his living crafting intricate toys for the children of the middle and upper classes, who mostly kept to himself. He was interested in everything, though was prone to sudden changes of focus, so his tower home was littered with half-finished projects; with coils and sprockets, half read books left open and bowls of dark, reflective oil left to moulder. Walking past the tower at night, the stained glass panels (which once depicted an eclectic mix of saints, scientists, machines and occult procedure, and, despite the occasional replacement, mostly still do) would still be lit at unholy hours, and strange noises might emanate from within.

Given his eccentricities and foibles, it was hardly surprising that, when someone accused him of keeping children trapped at the top of the tower, many believed them. It seemed that Dolrich had gotten into a dispute with a local landowner, Maggie Hatterat, about the toy which he had made for her son’s birthday (a small mechanical horse) which had broken when said son threw it down the stairs in a tantrum. Hatterat seemed to believe that she was due some sort of compensation for the horse, which she deemed had broken too easily, a suggestion to which Dolrich merely laughed and shut the door in her face. Not being a woman known for her temperance, Hatterat decided to start spreading malicious rumours.

It’s not entirely clear whether Hatterat was pleased when the mob threw Dolrich off his own balcony to a messy death below, or whether things had got out of hand, and progressed further than she wanted. Whilst there was some consternation from local people about the lack of due process, the law of the time was pretty clear on what should happen to people to imprison or abuse children, and it wasn’t far off what they did to Dolrich. The fact that there were no imprisoned children found in the tower didn’t really seem to matter; he had clearly magicked them away somewhere, he certainly had the magical apparatus he needed for it, there for everyone to see. Generally, local opinion was that they’d saved themselves a lot of bother later; who knew what other evils this wizard could have done?

They had a conversation about whether they should burn down the tower and all the apparatus with it, but it was decided that the tower itself looked too pretty to be burned down, and they could simply remove all the implements and papers out into the crescent to burn anyway. Besides, they were already planning a festival to celebrate ridding themselves of the ‘evil wizard’ and they needed the tower for that. In this festival, The Festival of Wizard Riddance, a male effigy with a pumpkin for a head was thrown off the top of the tower each year, making a very satisfying splat beneath, and then a bonfire was held in the crescent, upon which the straw-filled body was burned.

It was only in 1873 that anyone realised that Dolrich had been framed, when Hatterat’s diary was unearthed and read by one of her descendants. Ashamed by the actions of her ancestor, Dorothy Hatterat-Quingle set about publicising the facts by word of mouth and in her book My Awful Great Great Great Grandmother. Central to her argument was that the festival should be cancelled, as it was essentially a celebration of murder (few even remembered, at this point, the origins of the festival), yet there was considerable backlash to this, as the festival had become ingrained into local culture and identity. Eventually, partly because of pressure from other parts of the City, a compromise was reached; instead of an effigy of Dolrich being thrown from the balcony, one symbolising Hatterat would be cast off instead, and there would be a prolonged speech before the throwing, whereby the true history was told and posthumous apologies were issued to Dolrich’s spirit. The Festival of the Mob’s Injustice, as it is now known, has continued this way ever since.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Going Home Early
  • Tractor Engine Maintenance Day
  • The Festival of Laughing and Spraying Tea

October 4th – The Festival of the Ladies Reunited

‘There are many lovely places to eat in this City,’ wrote Veriah Squall in her diary, on evening of the fourth of October 1922, ‘but none so lovely as the Hugmont Road Rail Station.’ She loved the station restaurant, called Cassey’s, which was located on a balcony, overlooking the hustle and bustle of folk getting on and off trains below. ‘They move so beautifully, the trains and people, almost like clockwork, which is probably why I like them. Each person seems unaware of the other parts in motion around them, looking only to perform their task of getting from a to b, but from up there, in the restaurant, they flow so beautifully.’

Squall had been to the restaurant many times before, but it was only on this day that she felt compelled to mention it in her diary, because it was only on this day that she met Anther Dornfel. ‘I was looking down at the crowds, as I do of a Wednesday morning, and one of them looked back up at me and we locked eyes for a duration that ought to have been uncomfortable. Yet for some reason it wasn’t, and then she was gone, slipped back into the crowd and I remembered only her eyes until some minutes later a voice piped up from beside me and she said, “that woman with the red backpack below; she’s going to visit her mother who eats nothing but her cookery and her bag is full of food.” I looked at her for a moment, the lady speaking not the one with the backpack, and I saw her eyes were the same, the same smile was in them, and I turned back and picked out a man from the crowd, who had a violin in its case, and said, “his wife just gave birth and he insisted on running home to get it, to play for her and the baby.” We spent all morning like that and I was two hours late for work.’

Work, for Squall, was repairing watches at a small dusty shop in Calewynch district. It was fine work, easy and dependable, but Squall had grown up helping her father make watches and clocks in Litancha, and simply repairing them felt like a step down for her. All the same, she had fallen into a style of life that was relaxing, that suited her, there was just always this nagging sense at the back of her head that she should be doing something more. Dornfel was a reporter, and seemed to have such a busy and dynamic life, jumping from here to there, travelling abroad for long stints, it was almost the opposite of how Squall’s life was going. After that first meeting she would get letters from the reporter here and there, but the ones she sent back took so long to get to Dornfel, what with all the lost forwarding addresses and re-routing. The only time they got to be together, as friends, was on the 4th of October each year, when Dornfel returned to the City for the AGM of the Buentoilliçan Foreign Report, an event she loathed but never missed.

Quite a few times, Squall tried to get out to see Dornfel, when she was closer to or within the City for a short time, but she never managed to catch her before she moved on to the next story. Sometimes she was frustrated with this state of affairs, annoyed that her friend could not or would not make time for her, but eventually she would accept it, understanding that for Dornfel work was the essence of life. If only this didn’t make her feel so bad about her own lack of ambition; she wanted to take a positive step, to make something new rather than merely repairing the old, but she knew not what and lacked motivation. Then, in 1935, the enormous wall clock at Cassey’s Restaurant broke and they asked her to repair it. ‘What if I made you a new one, instead?’ she said.

Today, The Ladies of Time Gone is a classic clock that serves as a tourist attraction and brings plenty of business into Cassey’s, which is still going strong, perhaps in part to the clock and today’s festival, where hundreds of friends who have not seen each other for a long time will meet up at the restaurant and share stories, or simply watch and comment on the people below, as Squall and Dornfel did for so many years together, before they died in 1978 and 1965 respectively. The festival is a good excuse, a non-awkward way to see those who you miss but find difficult to invite out. It built up by word of mouth over several years, largely thanks to the clock.

Squall had come to see the movements of her and Dornfel like clockwork. This was something that she tended to do with most of the world’s processes, but within their friendship she saw a process worthy of art, whereas normally this was not the case. The artwork she made to represent it, the clock, is visible both inside the Restaurant and outside on the wall, and it features two doors, out of which two ladies come and go in carousel motion, following tracks on a figure of eight. On each hour they swap places, one going inside, one going out, and they hit a bell as they pass by, yet they move by a fractionally different amount, so that, come this day of the year, they both meet, face to face, inside the restaurant. On every other day of the year they appear to be chasing each other, but never meeting.

Squall, who wasn’t one for secrecy of her feelings, made the clock’s meaning quite clear to the papers when they interviewed her upon its instalment in the wall of the station, and it was probably this that inspired others to start meeting their long-ignored friends there on this date. Squall and Dornfel continued to meet there every year until 1964. After that, Squall continued to come each year, and was not short of new friends to talk to, but she looked in, towards the restaurant, never again over the balcony to those unaware clockwork travellers below.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Truant Heroics
  • The Resting of the Weary Dog Festival
  • Small Franklyne’s Festival of Amusing Fruit

October 5th – The Night of the Harvest Moon

The night of the harvest moon has always been a significant point of the year for many groups, especially those in the eastern half of the City, where the lunar calendar is observed more closely. Unlike the lunar new year, the harvest moon is a night for work, rather than revelry; traditionally there would be additional harvest activities performed tonight, when the lack of mechanised harvesting tools drew the process out far longer and any additional light would be taken advantage of. The harvest moon is usually in September, too, rather than October; it falls on whichever full moon is closest to the autumnal equinox.

There are certain foods, such as pumpkins and corn which are yet to be harvested properly, but the majority of the Buentoilliçan harvest has always been of wheat and barley. Still, the farming cooperatives will set aside a small selection of crops to harvest tonight, as the light of the moon is said to impart a certain arcane quality to the harvest, especially the white cabbages which seem almost to glow under her gaze. The best way to eat these cabbages is raw, shredded thinly in a salad; they have an excellent crunch, as if the moonlight had made them swell as they were plucked from the ground.

The traditional association of work with tonight has survived long after those days when half the City would be involved in the harvest, and many folk will work from home, their curtains thrown wide open to catch the night rays. As a result there are many depictions in Buentoilliçan art of the harvest moon, and the magical effect it has on the land. The light of the harvest moon is usually strong enough to pierce any clouds that choose to spoil the event, albeit with an accompanying halo, which has also been the subject of many paintings, photographs and poetry. For those who are unable or who do not wish to work, it is traditional to go for a long night-time stroll, to enjoy the uncanny nature of a place they know well in the day, to experience the strangeness of the night brightly lit.

There are more specific beliefs and traditions that exist tonight; many folk will choose to pass through The Hollow Stone of Hollowstone square, looking for a subtly different alternate world on the other side, and some children will stay up, trying to glimpse the straw figures, which they made earlier in the year, dance in their secret nooks. Yet it is the many roving walkers out tonight, each nodding or waving to each other as they pass in the half-lit streets, who might unknowingly engage in the strangest aspect of the night of the harvest moon; a phenomenon known as the Opening of the Ways.

There are many explanations for this odd phenomenon, where the routes of the City seem misshapen, strangely shortened or distended, where paths don’t lead quite where they should, where a road that takes a minute in the day seems to take ten or twenty under the warping light of the moon. Perhaps it is just the unfamiliarity of the streets at night, the ability of the moonlight to obscure some details and make others more obvious, that makes folk get lost more easily tonight. Perhaps it is that they are tired, falling asleep as they walk that makes some roads seem longer or shorter. Perhaps folk just don’t know their neighbourhoods as well as they think they do, and the landmarks that they rely on aren’t immediately obvious at night. Yet if you ask them, most walkers will say there was something else beyond these easy explanations at work.

Stranger still, and disputed in terms of its authenticity, are the ‘portals’ that open up tonight, scattered here and there across the City. These seem to have been first introduced to the City by way of an article in The Weekly Buentoillitant, which featured eye-witness testimony from several people who had seen round windows, high up on buildings, through which the moonlight was somehow brightly shining down into the street. Where the light fell was apparently a ‘bright white pool of water,’ rather than the brickwork or pavement that should have existed there; one witness’ brother apparently stepped into this pool, and was never seen again. The article, which implied that this was no new phenomenon but something which happened regularly on this day, spawned many similar tales in the following years. About seven years after it was published, it was revealed to have been written as a publicity stunt for the band Naggmoth’s album, Moonpool, which was never released because one of the band members became very ill and subsequently died. Obviously this has done nothing to deter those who claim to have seen these ‘pools,’ and reports of them surface every year.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Lightening the Burden
  • The Hopeful Mackerel’s Last Supper
  • The Night of Unholy Reflection

October 6th – The Day of the Healthy Tree’s Haircut

Buentoille’s Municipal Health Service is the best in the known world, and has been for some time. It is a point of indefatigable price to Buentoillitants, which treats and prevents disease and injury in millions of people each year, whether they are from the City, or so-called ‘health tourists’ from the nearby cities like Litancha where healthcare is privatised and barbarically only offered to those with the means to pay at the point of use. The charges incurred by these individuals are invoiced straight to the Litanchan oligarchic government, in anonymised format because, as a result of these charges, the oligarchy has made it illegal for the Litanchan people to travel to Buentoille for healthcare reasons. This is not to say that Litancha has ever paid any of the charges, merely that it embarrasses them; they are currently in a vast amount of debt to Buentoille that they refuse to recognise.

All of this is to say that Buentoillitants prize healthcare above many other things in life, and that they regard it as a fundamental right which is extended to everyone. With this in mind, it is perhaps strange to the City’s visitors that superstition-oriented health rituals like the Healthy Tree still exist and continue to prosper in these medically advanced times. There have been many scientific studies on the Healthy Tree, and repeatedly there has been found no significant correlation or connection between the rituals that occur around it and the health of those who perform the rituals.

The Tree is a short, stout oak which seems to have grown out from between two large boulders, around which its ancient roots are wrapped, forcing them apart like Eurphim with the Doors of Heaven. It resides in a somewhat forgotten corner of the City, a copse in Iglow’s Garden district called ‘the forest’ because it is thought to be the remnant of some primordial woodland which once covered the entire Buentoille Bay area, but which is now reduced to a long strip, perhaps ten trees across at its widest, that divides a rail line and road for about two miles. The knobbly oak is found towards the centre of this space and can be found by following the fairly obvious dirt track that leads through the other trees towards it.

This oak, the ‘Healthy Tree’ was perhaps identified as such because of its Eurphimic efforts, its stoutness and seemingly hardy constitution in the face of the obvious adversity of growing between two large granite boulders. The ritual which surrounds it is fairly simple, and can be immediately guessed at by one glance at the tree; all through the year, Buentoilliants (both of the local and more distant varieties) will, whenever they feel under the weather, drape a lock of their hair around the tree’s branches, or add it to the matted mass that covers the trunk. This will supposedly confer some of the tree’s strength onto the hair’s owner. Quite why hair is associated with this particular tree, rather than handwritten notes, fabric or coins as with other trees, is unknown; perhaps whoever started the ritual had an issue with hair loss or excess growth?

Whatever the origin of the ritual, it has one major issue; it’s making the tree less healthy. Over the years the accumulated weight of the hair has dragged down the branches, which appears to be causing the tree significant distress. There are still rings in the thicker branches where the tree’s growth was inhibited by a knot of hair, so no knots are allowed, but nonetheless, left alone the weight of all the hair, especially when it rains, causes damage and stops new growth appearing. The solution is simple; one a year, today in fact, the district’s Public Works Maintenance Team will give the Healthy Tree a haircut, ensuring it remains healthy for another year.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Trite Observances
  • The List of Elder Branch Festival
  • The Trepanned Scholar’s Busy Day

October 7th – The Festival of Reading the Neglected

Whilst it might sound like something made up in recent times by the book industry to boost sales, The Festival of Reading the Neglected is actually very old. It was begun by the Society of Bibliomaniacs in 1611, after a violent argument broke out between the two leading lights of the Society, who had written extensively on what they called the ‘natural good’ of books. Sirte Arlem, the official Chair, and Duglant Treir, the General Secretary, had grown the membership of the Society extensively over the previous three years, from seven people to something approaching three hundred, by advancing their theories that books improved a person’s moral and intellectual capacity, as well as being a source of ‘unimpeded happiness;’ they did not disappear when consumed, and didn’t have the unwanted side effects of other aids to happiness like drugs, food or strong liquor.

Competition within the Society was strong, with members frequently boasting about the size of their personal libraries, or about the rareness of their recent acquisitions. In order to maintain their status as leaders, Arlem, Treir and the other members of the Committee found themselves aggressively purchasing books at an alarming rate, which was having a considerable negative effect on their bank balances. This competition brought out fractious differences in the theories of the leaders; whilst Arlem believed that the mere presence and appearance of books, the satisfaction gained by their accumulation, was enough to stimulate the ‘unimpeded happiness’ and moral benefits, Treir believed that you actually had to read the things, once you’d bought them.

This argument bubbled under the surface for some time, but with factions forming around each leader, tensions began to rise and communication between the leaders began to fail. Arlem frequently derided Treir because of the low value and seemingly pulpy nature of the books he purchased, whereas Treir portrayed Arlem as a vacuous woman, concerned only with the appearance of things, rather than their substance. Arlem could not understand why Treir kept all the dog-eared, spine-broken paperbacks he’d read, not spotting the pride and happiness that this physical record gave him. In return, Treir failed to recognise that the happiness Arlem gained from her books was not only found in the appearance of their well-ordered shelves, but also in the potential these shelves held; the knowledge that at any point she could find something excellent to read.

As is the way with these things, the argument that broke out at the AGM of the Society in 1611 between Arlem and Treir wasn’t really about books. Things had progressed beyond that point; they were both in large amounts of debt, and their partners had both left, having an affair with each other. The result of the fight, which involved many harsh words and a few thrown objects, led to two things: Arlem stepped down and Treir took their place as the Chair, immediately declaring a month long festival starting following day, where the members would all go home and actually read the books they’d bought, selling off anything they didn’t truly love. Whilst this dramatically changed the dynamic of the Society of Bibliomaniacs, making it a more sustainable institution that didn’t drive its leaders to bankruptcy, it didn’t save either leader from the Requisitioners later that year; both were faced with the humiliation of auctioning all their books off, a process which actually brought them closer together, rekindling a friendship that they had forgotten.

The festival has, in its modern incarnation, been reduced to a single day, and there is no requirement to sell off any books; today is simply a day when Buentoillitants all across the City will look at their bending bookshelves and pick out a long-neglected volume, spending the whole day reading. There has been an attempt to make things more social in recent years, with ‘read outs’ hosted by the Society of Bibliomaniacs, which is, miraculously, still existent. Yet for many, these are merely a distraction from their book; for many, today is an excuse be alone in quiet reflection.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Dennic Gunther Appreciation Day
  • The Clapping of the Door Festival
  • The Festival of Emollient Architecture

October 8th – The Festival of the Tesearm Steps Picnic

Next to the Tesearm steps there once stood a restaurant for about three hundred years. It was called The Distant Thunder, and was known throughout the City for its excellent, reasonably priced food; the various awards it won over the years never seemed to go to the heads of those who ran the place, it was not a ‘posh’ restaurant by any means. They also always seemed up to date with new fashions and developments with food, and whilst there were dishes to which they inevitably kept coming back, they didn’t become inflexible or stuck in their ways.

Amongst other things, The Distant Thunder has been credited with the introduction of salad to (western) Buentoillitants, and with the invention of the Tesearm Step Sandwich. This sandwich, filled with tomato, wilted spinach, artichoke hearts and olives, is usually served warm, inside a foil wrapper so that it can be consumed anywhere, and is still served at The Present Lightning, the spiritual successor to The Distant Thunder which was opened by the Thunder’s previous head chef, Angelique Mansim, three years after a monarchist bomb almost completely demolished the original establishment.

Quite why a restaurant was targetted is still something of a mystery, although most folk believe it was merely a numbers game; on any day of the week, at almost any time, the Distant Thunder would be certain to be filled to the brim with people, and the bombers were looking to cause as much widespread damage as possible; this was the late 20s when their attacks were becoming more generalised as they got more desperate. The place was usually so packed that the queue stretched well out into the street, and diners happily made use of the Tesearm steps to eat and socialise on, meaning that anyone trying to get through had quite the job on their hands.

It took some time before they opened up the new establishment, partly out of respect for the dead. There was some debate on whether simply replacing the old restaurant, nestled in amongst the steps, would show adequate respect for the dead and suffering, so in the end a small garden was decided upon. It is in this garden and on the steps that today many will turn out to honour that death and suffering, usually with food brought over from the Lightning. It began as a sign of resilience and resistance to the attempts by the monarchists to scare Buentoille’s population, as an alternative to rebuilding.

It’s not quite the same as it once would have been, with the waiters running up and down the steps, popping in and out of the three entrances from the restaurant which led out onto them. Yet there is a camaraderie here, and a sense of solidarity that seems most tangible, what with the steps becoming almost entirely packed with folk unwrapping tin foil packages, then taking a hearty bite.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Dreadful Hats
  • Mr Canon Ball Day
  • The Patter Festival

October 9th – The Festival of the Scratched Coffin

You’ve probably never heard of Karelan Johan, because Johan was a writer and conceptual artist who never got famous. Which isn’t to say that they weren’t successful. Johan was very successful, it’s just that their name is not normally attached to this success, which is clear in the hundreds of people who vicariously celebrate their work on this day every year.

It’s not that Johan was particularly forgetful as a person; they were a big figure in the art and transgender communities in their time, and were even tipped to be the next big thing their ‘Tattoo Portraits’. These were small, succinct descriptions of people which were written onto their hands and then photographed, an example of the Early Anti-Separatist art movement which proved popular in the 1930s. Yet Johan never really took off with any of this gallery work; this was popularity, not true fame.

Yet it was not these images that led to today’s festival, but instead a series of small fictions, made to seem like real accounts, real journals. These were released all over the City into second hand book stores, where they fitted in well with the other leather-bound, patinated tomes of indiscernible age. These ‘journals’ were produced entirely in secret, and were only found out later when, on their deathbed, Johan confided in a friend.

Every single one of these diaries and journals told, at their collective hearts, beneath layers of the mundane (‘Nantwither came over for dinner today and I stupidly served her boiled ham, oh I am such a fool,’ ‘lost my bike pump today, dad says he will look with me by the canal tomorrow’), the story of a ghost that haunted each and every one of the eighteen fictional journal-writers. Whilst only three of these journals have been discovered or survived bookshop culling, and therefore there is probably much missing from the full tale, the ghost appears to have the same characteristics in each appearance; it is a large, tall woman with long black hair and an enormous leather-and-fur coat. She always appears with the sound of scraping and scrabbling, and leaves rusted nails in her wake.

Out of these three journals, one made the biggest splash; the tale of Orpheus Drummond, a gravedigger at Our Lady of Flowing Halls’ Cemetery. Possibly the final instalment and the only journal where the superfluous disguise of mundane details is stripped back, Drummond’s diary has seemingly had most of its pages torn out, an act probably performed by the artist themselves, given the relative succinctness of the remaining passages. Folk thought that the tiny book, more of a leather-bound pamphlet really, was real, and that such a ghost really did exist, haunting the footsteps of a kindly gravedigger and grounds keeper, constantly dropping rusted nails over his tidy lawn. Before long, ghost hunters heard about the hoaxed book and came out in force, hoping to catch a glimpse of the enigmatic lady.

As it was probably the final text in the art piece, Drummond’s diary provided an explanation for the ghostly apparitions which had only confused the other two ‘witnesses.’ Apparently, she was a hunter who was buried alive beneath the cemetery of Our Lady, having been knocked unconscious by a deer. She awoke beneath six feet of soil and rock, but then died shortly afterwards, leaving scratches on the inside of the coffin lid. Such was the media frenzy around the prank, that several of the bodies in the cemetery were actually exhumed to ensure that they didn’t bear this telltale mark.

Apparently, whilst the ghost constantly followed Drummond around, leaving its nails, others could only hear it today, the anniversary of its burial, when it began once more to scratch and scrabble at the coffin lid. Today, those who still believe this strange tale despite the fact it was long ago disproved as fiction, will sit on the grass with an upturned glass in their hand, trying to listen carefully to the vibrations beneath, trying to make out the sound of nails (human, not rusted iron) on wood.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Desk Sleeping Festival
  • Yes No Maybe Festival
  • The Lack Festival

October 10th – The Festival of the Ussglander Arms

Symbols tend to have fixed meanings and associations; it’s part of what makes them a symbol and not simply an image or pictogram. There are many of these symbols all around the City; the little whirlpool for public toilets, the open book for a public library, the specific font type (Robeau’s Last Typeface – round and thick) which signifies official directional signage. There are also those symbols which are more esoteric; the stylised circular barrette of the General Union Council, the skull-like smile of the Onanic Fellowship, the three stacked loaves carved beneath the window of anywhere a baker lived in 1359, so that they might be knocked up at three in the morning to start work. Yet whilst these symbolic meanings might have changed over time, as with the ‘boxing hare’ which has come to symbolise the Warrens on the whole, but was once the symbol for one specific self-defence league, the Knuckles, there are few symbols like the Ussglander coat of arms; symbols which hold multiple contradictory, recognised meanings at once.

The coat of arms is, like many of the examples given above, spread across the City on the side of buildings, over doorways, on bridges, adorning picture frames in galleries and carved into the rafters of many a church. It depicts an eastern white wolf on all fours, wearing a dress. In some instances the dress is finely adorned with bright dots and delicate floral designs, in others it is plain and representative. Beneath the wolf are the numbers 10/10. In the basic sense, the symbol does have a single, undisputed meaning; it represents the Ussglander family; but if you look beyond that things start to get tricky.

All coats of arms have an innate meaning to them, something about the family that they wanted to convey through certain forms of loaded iconography; there is, for example, the symbol of the tree for venerable old age and wisdom, or the wine cup for generosity, or the squirrel for wealth. In other cases there are historical signifiers, like the right and left hands which signify upon which side the family fought in the 1287 Battle of the Bloodied Pancake. Yet when it comes to the wolf in a dress, there are no obvious comparisons (there are some vague associations between wolves and strength, but it is seldom seen in heraldry) or known historical events, so it is assumed that the image instead symbolises some family myth or significant event which happened to early members. Precisely what caused the symbol to be used is where interpretations vary, where a multiplicity of meaning spawns from.

The Ussglander family lived a long time ago, dying out in 1426, but whilst they lived they were perhaps the most influential non-monarchic family existent in Buentoille. The family business seems to have been centred in textile or clothes manufacturing, although by other accounts they made the largest proportion from rent; they owned huge amounts of land, and seemed intent upon building as much on that land as was possible. This is why their coat of arms is still visible throughout the City; they stamped it into whatever they made, and they were obsessed with building grand buildings everywhere. There are (possibly apocryphal) stories about the family living in poverty, despite having a large income, because they were investing so much in building. Unfortunately, as most of the family was illiterate, there is very little known about them beyond this predilection for construction.

The fact of the matter is that there is no real way of verifying any of the stories which are acted out today, in an odd attempt to give each one some sense of credibility. Thousands of folks claim to be descendants of the Ussglanders, who lost the name when their ancestors married into different families, and quite a few of them are probably right. There is a great range of stories which surround the clothed wolf, but they are mostly variations on three base stories (those which are acted out today, like a Catrosondian mystery play): The Child Stealer, The Woman Transformed, and The Bad Disguise.

In The Child Stealer ‘play’, folk will dress up as a pantomime wolf, with a person at the rear and front, wielding a great set of snapping jaws, which are articulated with both hands, like a very large pair of scissors. In this tale, the first of the Ussglanders is carried, as a baby, into the City from some unknown outer place in a picnic basket held in the jaws of the wolf. The basket has a top, which is held closed by a catch which the wolf cannot open. The wolf carries the child up a street full of washer women and is scared off by the child’s future adoptive mother, getting trapped in a dress on a low hanging line in the process. The image remained forever stuck in the mother’s mind, and she would often tell her child about it, who she named after the name on a locket it grasped in its tiny hands. In the ‘play’, the wolf runs through Castoff street, which is filled with hanging washing, and whoever can trap it in a blanket gets the contents of this year’s hamper (usually a sweet treat rather than a baby).

In The Woman Transformed, the family’s matriarch is given a glamour by a witch that, instead of making them young and beautiful as they’d intended, turns them to a wolf on the night of every full moon. As this ‘play’, women from Callow Hand House, which is adorned with the coat of arms, will dress up as wolves, usually just with masks, dresses and tails, and terrorise the local men, chasing them around the halls. Apparently the family built a circus around the wolf matriarch, and this proved very popular earning the family enough capital to start up their business.

In The Bad Disguise the wolf comes to the City, looking for mischief, dressed as a human to avoid suspicion. For many this works, and they do not see a wolf but a beautiful young woman who breaks many hearts, steals lots of money, and eats plenty of children when adults aren’t looking. Yet the nascent family do realise the disguise, and they strip the wolf, revealing it for what it is, then cast it out. They are celebrated for many days. This play is more traditional in its storytelling efforts, and there is little audience participation at the old dye works yard where it is held. The story is thought to be allegorical of the family unveiling some royal wrongdoing.

All three ‘plays’ are held today, on this, the tenth day of the tenth month, which is what people have always assumed the ‘10/10’ meant. It could, of course, have signified to contemporaries that the family were a good financial bet. Each local group that hosts the plays claims that theirs was set up by the family themselves long ago, in an attempt to make it seem more true and to discredit the others. Quite why anybody cares so much is a question that nobody seems to be able to answer.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Show us the Heart Festival
  • The Festival of Trumpet Malfeasance
  • The Attenuated Salt Crust Festival