August 20th – The Dudlam Street Attic Festival

Children love to go places they shouldn’t. There’s a reason they have to make the public service announcements about power lines and electricity substations so damn scary. But sometimes this urge to explore, to find little dens and places of their own, to journey into forbidden places, can have unexpected and joyful consequences. When Saen Mackyovitch was a little girl she was always told she wasn’t allowed in the attic. But that didn’t stop her teetering on a stack of books with a curved stick she found in the garden, trying to hook it on to the ladder latch. She’d seen her mother do the same thing a dozen times, just without the books and the stick.

She asked if she could go up there first, of course, but the answer was always no, so she had to take matters into her own hands. They told her it was dark up there, so she took a torch. They said it was dusty so she tied a handkerchief around her nose. They told her if she stepped outside the boards she would fall through the roof, so she practised balancing on a log out in the garden. In her backpack she had snacks and water for days. She changed the torch for a head-torch because it was too heavy and she needed to balance. She took one of her mother’s sharpest knitting needles for self defence, just in case her parents weren’t lying about the giant rats (they were). She waited until they had a garden party and were sure to be outside for a few hours. She made her stack of books.

When you can’t go somewhere as a child you start imagining what is so exciting there, and children’s imaginations are fertile ground for any seeds. Saen wasn’t exactly sure what she was going to find, but she was pretty sure it was going to involve treasure, or magic portals, or many tiny people in a tiny little town they’d built in and around the boxes her parents had put up there; she could hear them scampering about sometimes (don’t worry, it was little mice not giant rats, they really were lying about that). There were no tiny people, but there certainly was adventure to be found.

At first the attic seemed to just be an attic. The dust they hadn’t lied about; it fell slowly through Saen’s torch beam, like dirty snow. It was already very exciting. She made sure to walk slowly along the beams and boards, but it wasn’t nearly as difficult as she had imagined; the log was much more slippery, for starters. She explored for a little while, poking around in the boxes of old papers and baby clothes her parents had put up there. She turned off her torch at one point, to make it scarier and more exciting. Tiny points of light were dotted here and there where the roof tiles didn’t quite meet. But then there was another point of light, coming from the wall. She walked over (turning her light on briefly to find her way) and close up she saw it was a crack in the woodwork that separated the house from the next on her terraced street. She pushed it, and there was a little ‘clink’ and the hidden door opened.

Behind the door was an artist’s studio, but the artist wasn’t in. Next door had a window in their roof, so there was plenty of light here. She walked amongst the easels and the canvasses and paints like an explorer in uncharted lands, marvelling at these ordinary items as if she had never seen the like. Before long she recognised where she was; in Ignatius’ house; this was his mother’s studio, they’d had the builders in about it last year. She carefully crept downstairs and knocked on Ignatius’ bedroom door. He was grounded because he had drawn on their newly whitewashed wall in crayon, and couldn’t go to her parent’s garden party. She knocked in the code they used when talking through the wall so he knew it was her.

It turned out that Ignatius’ house had a little door, too, and the next and next; 18 houses on the Dudlam street in all, connected in their attics with little hidden wooden doors next to the brick chimney breasts. They crept through these attics, knitting needles in hand, whenever they could get away with it. They headed up through Ignatius’ house because it was easier and you didn’t have to make piles of books to get up there. Before long they had some of the other children in the street in on it too, they had dens and hideouts and little stores of treasure. Each attic was a world unto itself, with different flooring and hazards, different loot to be gained. It was excellent fun.

The woman who designed the houses on the street probably had something to do with these little attic doors, invisible to the functional, bromidic sight of most adults. They weren’t on the plans, but later on in her old age the architect wrote a number of children’s books called ‘The Tunnel People,’ and the tiny portals seem like something straight out of their pages. She died long before they were found, but Saen and Ignatius, now both in their forties, are pretty sure she would have loved that they’d brought them so much joy and mischief.

Today, the anniversary of the first foray into that dusty world, there will be another party, but this time not in the gardens. Ignatius and Saen went away for some time in their twenties but when they turned thirty they decided to settle down together back where it had all began. This time they’ve asked the neighbours if it’s okay, inviting them along to their own homes to a space transformed. The boxes of nicknacks and mementoes are tables, the drinks brought up the stairs from Ignatius’s house. They still fit through the doors, though now on hands and knees, brushing away cobwebs and dust. Each room is laid out and decorated differently, according to the realms they invented there as children; this one is the witch’s house, this is the one where the hermit ascended to heaven, here are the houses of the tiny people, cut into the sides of boxes. There are still no giant rats, thankfully.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Fastest Copier Competition
  • The Festival of Ugly Typography
  • The Braising Festival