The way in which Breiad Offat is remembered across Buentoille, if he is remembered at all, is as a bore. If you lived in Buentoille in the 1960 and 70s and you turned on your television late at night, you most likely would have seen him, droning on about some complex element of mathematics or physics that went well over the heads of most watching. He probably became most famous as an insult used amongst school children, his name becoming a byword for lessons that they loathed, or teachers who sent them to sleep (‘Mrs Pollock is so Offat’). This usage of the name persisted long after the man died, and indeed still does, although now it is falling out of use, in part thanks to the good work put in by today’s festival, which has been happening every year since 1998.
The issue that the festival’s organisers (the children, grandchildren and friends of Breiad Offat) have with the pejorative use of his name is that, in person, he was actually a very engaging and interesting man, nothing at all like the dry academic he appeared on television. Within his extended family he was known for his great sense of humour, his doting, kind nature towards everyone he knew and loved, and his great generosity of spirit. Offat was the kind of man who would always get you a birthday present, even if you’d never got one for him, and somehow you wouldn’t feel awkward about it. He made treehouses for his daughters, his marriage proposal to his wife was an intricately planned treasure hunt, when he told stories everyone went quiet to listen, even if they’d heard them before. He was the kind of irrepressible man who made life seem full of domestic magic.
Reconciling these two personalities might seem a difficult task; was he afraid of cameras? Did something about the physical proximity of this man change the way he came across? The answer lies in his job; for most of his life, Breiad Offat worked at Benetek University researching and teaching sleep science (where everyone taught by him naturally corroborates his fantastic personality and engaging presence). In the course of this employment, whilst he made some less obvious and more complex discoveries, Offat realised the true extent of damage that sleep deprivation has on the health and personality of a person, and the benefits that could be gained from regular, fulfilling sleep. Because of this, he always had a special sympathy for those who, unlike him, found it difficult to sleep, especially insomniacs. In 1962, when he was eighty seven (and still active as if he were forty) Offat decided he’d try to put his research to good use, and began recording his television show.
Called Offat’s Educational Oration, the programme was shown between 12am and 3am, and it mainly consisted of Offat reading from a mathematics textbook in the most boring way he could muster. The aim was, clearly, to send any watching insomniacs to sleep, but in order to achieve this, Offat realised that he had to avoid drawing any attention to this purpose, as thinking about sleep tends to make the sleep-deprived frustrated and perversely more awake. In the background of his speech, Offat included subtle synthesised tones that his research had found were conducive to sleep, and he kept his voice as soft and boring as possible without falling asleep himself (Offat recorded the episodes ahead of time so as not to disturb his own sleeping patterns). Offat even ensured that the colour scheme of the sparse set was tweaked to the most sleep-inducing shades.
After his death in 1980, as per his dying wishes, the Offat family chose to keep showing re-runs on television for many years, but when they received data showing that repeated exposure reduced the effectiveness of the programmes (and could even have the opposite effect), they decided to close the station down (in 1992). This was also no doubt in response to the fact that their family name had become an insult, and they wanted the great legacy of Offat to be remembered properly. Tonight, from 12 to 3am, the family will air a special show celebrating Offat’s life, with interviews from themselves and the students he taught over the years, as well as some of those who suffered from sleep deprivation who he helped. A physical gathering is also held in the studio where Offat recorded his shows, where many of the same people will come to eat, drink and tell stories of the man they all loved. This gathering, however, won’t be continuing quite so late: in accordance with the great man’s advice they’ll be in bed by 10pm.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Gathering of Silema
- The Festival of the Fastest Ungulate
- The Festival of Nascent Victory