To be entirely honest, there aren’t many people who participate in today’s festival any more. It’s deemed to be a bit old hat by the younger generations, and seems somewhat rude, cruel even to a lot of people. The dwindling number who do participate point out that their actions aren’t intended to be cruel, but are instead a form of collective memory, a way of building their identities. As Simmonde Owenii said in 2011, ‘it’s another way of saying: I was there, I grew up when you did, we experienced the same things! It’s a kind of in-joke.’ Perhaps this is the real reason behind the waning number of participants, though some critics say simply that it is inane, a banality not worth remembering or celebrating.
In defence against claims of cruelty, there is no reason to believe that Loane Allendis, the Buentoilliçan Broadcasting Service (BBS) news presenter around whom the festival is based, thought it was at all hurtful. Each time she commented upon it in interviews about her long and distinguished career, Allendis seemed only to find it funny, if a little tiresome toward the end of her life, reacting with characteristic good grace and poise. There was no suggestion otherwise from her friends and family after she died that this was not the case; when her husband Terrance was questioned about whether it privately affected her he simply said, ‘Loane was a woman for whom the truth was sacred. She couldn’t lie even if she’d wanted to.’
Allendis, who covered the morning television shift on BBS1 (the primary official Buentoilliçan televisual channel) from 1953 to 1987, was a striking woman with a professional-yet-warm manner and an excellent, somewhat avant-garde, fashion sense. She was the woman who made jumpsuits popular again, and who was famous for the graphic designs, often involving eyes and ears, that she hand stitched into her dresses and shirts. Allendis was a pioneer, and usually, in the weeks following a new ‘look’ that she sported, you would see plenty of other Buentoillitants attempting to emulate her. When, however, she stepped out on-screen on October the 23rd 1978 wearing two very odd shoes, it was obvious something wasn’t quite right.
Quite why they didn’t pan the camera up slightly for the three hour shift Allendis worked that morning was the question on most folk’s lips. Some people thought it was on purpose, that it was some new fashion she’d developed, others recognised that it it was a mistake, or thought that she was cynically testing the extent of her power in the fashion world; surely if she could get people to walk around with one platform shoe and one flat shoe, she was capable of almost anything. Later, Allendis admitted that it had been an accident in the changing rooms. ‘My daughter got engaged the previous night, and we’d stayed up too late celebrating,’ she revealed to the Buentoillitant Gossip in November, ‘I was very tired and I didn’t notice until the camera was on me.’
Almost all the folks shambling around today with severely mismatched shoes (some prefer a less intrusive approach of using two shoes that are on the same basic level) were those who watched Allendis that morning. Some were big fans of the presenter, and found the mix-up a heart-warming moment that made her seem all the more human and approachable, or commended her ability to keep calm despite the interruption, which was even pointedly stared at by one of her guests. The most common reaction was, of course, laughter.
Terwenne Vent, a veteran of the festival which spontaneously appeared the following year, remembered being in stitches in front of the TV: ‘The longer it went on, the funnier it got. She just pointedly refused to acknowledge the issue, that was what got me. It’s not like anyone would have minded if she’s just taken them off, but she kept them on and even had the bravery to cross her legs when sitting on the sofa, drawing attention to them further! I remember there was one of the guests, a Litanchan I think, who kept staring at them and then looking guiltily up again. His mouth was opening and closing like a fish. I couldn’t breathe.
Whilst there won’t be a tremendous amount of folks out there today with odd shoes, they certainly won’t be easily missed. There is no official congregation point for this festival, no march or bonfire, but those involved might stay on the train for an extra stop on their way home from work, hoping to bump into a fellow odd-shoe-wearer. When they meet they nod and smile in recognition. If they’re sitting next to each other, they might even trade stories about themselves, what they were up to in 1978.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Festival of Walker’s Pride
- Saint Ephram’s Day
- The Falsetto Festival