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