December 27th – The Festival of Winter’s Beginning

In terms of astronomical science, winter started six days ago, on the 21st of December, but for many Buentoillitants, that day is arbitrarily decided on via the wrong metrics. Many will call it winter when the first frost rolls over the countryside, others say winter is when all the leaves have fallen, or mulched, or simply when they’ve had enough of the cold and dark and wet. Yet there are more precise monthly measurements, outside of the position of the earth relative to the sun, one of which occurs today: the freezing-over of the Simmansville Fountain.

Of course, there are some winters when it is mild enough that the Fountain never freezes over, or when it freezes extremely early or late, and in these situations it is up to the individual as to whether they believe the freezing still represents the winter’s beginning, or whether they then defer to other metrics. However, given the weather forecast and the fact that the Fountain began to freeze last night, these are not decisions that will have to be made this year, as the freezing should be fairly close to the astronomical measurement.

The reason that one fountain decides for many the coming of this particular season is mostly down to the author Gerveera Sacks, specifically their book The Breath of Father Winter, a seminal novel that was particularly popular between the 1870s and the turn of the century. It remains a classic to this day, and is often read or invoked whenever the weather becomes frosty. Skilfully weaving the story of a young boy growing up around various traditional myths about winter, the book has embedded itself in the popular consciousness. The first sentence of the book is: ‘You know it’s winter when the Simmansville Fountain freezes over.’

The fountain itself, where plenty of folk will gather today, is impressive even when unfrozen, but today its four great jets of water become icicled arches, dripping and forming additional icicles. The effect is greatly helped by the lights that make the ice crystals sparkle beautifully, and by the various Buentoillitants skating beneath the arches, assuming that the pool underneath has frozen over too. The central column, out of which the fifth and largest water jet normally flows directly upwards, is generally completely obscured by layer-upon-layer of icy fingers reaching toward the heavens and then, at their peak, spreading out like a palm tree.

Ice skating is not the only wintry delight on offer at the Simmansville Fountain today; around and about there are Buentoillitants engaging in other activities mentioned in The Breath of Father Winter, a book that so joyously describes Buentoille in the winter that it actually came to reform what Buentoillitants expect from the season. Hot chestnut sellers, meat rotisseries and doughnut purveyors line the square where the Fountain is located, and if there is no snow naturally, man-made snow will be laid on the ground and over the roofs of all the buildings nearby.

As the main character of The Breath (Rufus) works for some time as a shoeshine boy, there will be plenty of young men and women around dressed in an antiquated fashion, offering this service (children are kindly discouraged from offering their labour as shoe-shiners or in any other profession), and various stalls will offer variations of the hand-knitted hat and scarf that the character is given as a gift from a kindly old lady. In the windows of the shops, models of red-breasted robins perch on snow-laden branches. Old, thin men will traditionally go about selling sprigs of holly or mistletoe, although they do not expect anyone to buy any – this is an act of sinister pantomime on their part.

When night falls, traditional gas lamps are wheeled out to replace their modern electrical equivalents, and braziers are lit around the fountain (far away enough that it doesn’t melt!). The activities enjoyed today will go on for as long as the fountain is continuously frozen. This could be all winter, as on some particularly harsh years it has been, although given the weather forecast it will probably be until some time after the start of the new year.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Depths of Siram Sirim; a Festival of Ambient Music
  • The Questioning of the Second Elder Festival
  • Listen to the Ground Day

December 28th – The Festival of Waving to the Eternal Scroller

Apparently it’s going to snow again today, which could be excellent news for one particular group, besides of course the Children’s Union. It all depends on what time it snows at; if it snows in the morning and then is cold and clear all day, conditions will be perfect for The Cult of the Eternal Scroller. If it snows heavily at and in the run-up to 3:42pm then it couldn’t get much worse. Early indications are for the former option, and the Magnificent Skywatcher has publicly announced that the Cult is ‘confident’ that today will be the day they see the Eternal Scroller once again, and more importantly that it will see them.

Whilst the Cult’s faithful might be confident, other Buentoillitants show less enthusiasm for the word of the Magnificent Skywatcher (currently Sami Sarageesi), given past failures. Troccham Bradley is one such vocal critic of the Cult, and in particular of the leadership’s claims that they can predict the arrival of the Scroller: ‘whether or not they realise it themselves, the Skywatchers are stringing along the Cult for fools; this “method” that they laud is nothing more than empty mathematics. It doesn’t matter how complex or beautiful your equation is, if you are basing the arrival of a holy flying being that was probably only sighted once on the movement of unrelated things like birds and the winds, you are never going to get an accurate prediction.’

Bradley is, for obvious reasons, a controversial figure within the Cult, but also the more scientifically-minded elements of the community that sprung up around that first sighting in 1951. Folk like Bradley are often dismissed by the older members of this community because they are the second generation, people who never saw the Scroller for themselves. Whilst he has since tried to distance himself from it, there is no denying that Bradley grew up in a family of Cult members, and many think that this has biased him one way or the other. Bradley has never denied that something was seen by various Buentoillitants, but when successive Skywatchers failed to predict the re-emergence of the phenomenon, he grew suspicious of their continued belief in their interpretation of the sighting. Bradley’s insistence on describing the being as ‘flying’ rather than ‘scrolling’ being is one example of his departure from Cult orthodoxy.

As it came so early in the morning, not many Buentoillitants saw the dark shape that passed over the City on a clear south-east-to-north-west axis. Most people were still in bed, and even some who weren’t simply didn’t look up, or only saw it for the briefest of moments before it was occluded by the skyline and mistook it for a strange bird. Of those who did see it, a few thousand perhaps, only about five hundred joined the Cult when it was begun by Belwrath Heali later that month. They were drawn in by the woman’s charisma, certainly, but also because she offered some explanation for what they’d seen: according to Heali, the flying being was not flying at all. It was staying perfectly still, and the world was scrolling before its gaze eternally. Technically we are all sideways, the world a great earthen scroll being ‘read’ by this being. Of those five hundred, only thirty eight currently remain; the others have died or left for similar reasons to Bradley.

This reduction in membership certainly makes today’s festival tricker, and more scaled-back in ambition. In the fields outside the City to the south, were the land is flat and high, they will scrape back the snow in intricate patterns to form images that will be ‘read’ by the Eternal Scroller. If there is no snow, rocks will be laid out, crops kicked down, or the topsoil will be cut back, depending on the time of year. Snow is certainly the easiest to work with, assuming the conditions are in the Cult’s favour, and therefore more elaborate designs are possible, even with the limited membership.

The pattern changes each year, with different intersecting circles and lines attempting to catch the attention of the Scroller by depicting the surrounding lands, or star charts, or simply an image of unnatural abstract beauty. The centre of the design, however, always remains the same: it shows the Scroller itself, a half-human, half-cross form, with no discernable head and enormous, thick arms, spread out to the sides, ending not in hands but an abrupt rounded end. The feet point out to the sides, like a child’s painting, and are almost like tiny copies of the arms at the being’s base. The (perhaps vain) hope of the Cultists today is that the Scroller will once again pass over, like a reader turning back to find a quote they remembered, and they will see that something has changed, and not like normal because here, staring back, is an image of itself, and around it, little people waving.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Dulcet Tones
  • The Dragging of the Emperor Festival

December 29th – The Festival of the Amnesiac Wreck

Apparently the lighthouse keeper didn’t spot the vessel until it was on the rocks, a fact that is less surprising than it sounds, given how rough the waters were that night, and how black the ocean was under the new moon. She raised the alarm pretty quickly when she did spot it, but by that time most of the crew were already dead. A gang of strong Buentoillitants ran down the coastline with ropes searching for survivors and pulling any they found to safety. Only five of them survived, all men in their late twenties. The rest were dashed on the rocks.

Seafaring has never been a safe practise, but back in the fourteenth century when life jackets weren’t invented, when lighthouses used braziers, when sea charts were inaccurate and navigational equipment was poor, it was particularly dangerous. There were plenty of nautical accidents in and around Buentoille that century, as many as fifty a year, so what made this wrecking, which is remembered today, quite so deserving of memorial? Well, it is less about the scale of the tragedy, the numbers who died, but about the legacy that it left behind; mostly it will be the descendants of those five survivors who gather to remember today.

By now there are thousands of living descendants of the survivors who can trace their lineage back that far. Whilst not all these Buentoillitants are interested or able to come to today’s festival, a good thousand-or-so will likely arrive at Sickle Rock Point today, where the wrecking originally took place. It is a tradition passed down through various families, so there are various ways of marking respect for the dead, and of expressing to the universe their thanks for those who survived. Some families release fish into the waters there, to swim free like the souls of those who perished. Many bring storm lanterns like those used in the rescue and hang them from the rusted metal hooks that were hammered into the rocks for that purpose long ago. Some write messages for the dead and fold the paper into boats that they float out into the frigid waters.

Yet the reason that so many people retain records of their relation to the five is because, at the time, they were essentially celebrities; people were fascinated by them. They weren’t Buentoillitants, nor were they obviously from any of the other Seven Cities, or for that matter any place known to Buentoille. And each survivor, too, had no idea of where they had come from, or where they were going when they hit the Point. They didn’t even know their own names, it was as if the water they fell into had washed all memory from their minds. Yet they could speak, although it was with strange, thick accents, and later two of them realised that they were excellent coopers, though they had no memory of learning those skills. The only thing that they remembered was a fragment of song, perhaps the song they were singing before they hit the rocks.

It wasn’t a song that any Buentoillitant had heard before, although it had similarities to many known sea-shanties. Tonight, at 7pm, the time that their unmarked vessel was thought to have been wrecked, their descendants will sing it all together, their voices swelling, roaring over the ocean and the wind, a declaration of survival. They sing:

Haul away, haul away,

Haul away in the morning,

Before the sun rises, the rising run,

Haul away in the morning!

Bury me at sea, my laddies, bury me at sea,

Haul away in the morning,

Where the darkness grows thick,

Away from the rising sun, from the morning.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Left Brood

December 30th – The Annual Broadcast of Soal Williams’ Final Hurrah

If it were the summer this evening, one of those nights where everyone has their windows open and you can smell their cooking, where a warm breeze flaps the washing lines and folk chat to their neighbours in the tenement building across the street as if there weren’t a twenty foot drop between them, if it were one of those nights then you’d hear the same radio show coming from every window. You’d be able to walk down any road and miss less than a few seconds. In reality the windows will all be closed, and likely all that you’d hear is the cold, howling wind. It’s better to do the same as everyone else: sit inside by the fire with your own radio.

The show is called Soal Williams’ Final Hurrah, and it always starts with the same solo song, a fifty seven year old recording of Williams himself playing the guitar and singing pensively. Williams stopped hosting the show in 1993 when he died, but they kept it named after him anyway, it wouldn’t seem right to change it. The song now serves as a kind of theme tune, announcing the show’s beginning. The main content of the show varies year to year, but in general the format moves between summaries of the year’s events with plenty of guest speakers and live musical segments from different bands and musicians.

The programme, which goes on for several hours as the night progresses, eschews the grating pluckiness and hollow enthusiasm typically found in radio hosts; whenever Williams was actually enthusiastic about something it was easy to tell, and he spoke with such genuine interest that it tended to infect everyone who listened in. Often, after Williams invited the practitioner of a previously little-known art form on the show, such as he did with hair braiders in 1982 or shell painters in 1979, you could be sure that plenty of folks would shortly be looking for shells on the beach or walking about with intricate topknots. Authors and musicians have risen from utter obscurity on the back of the Final Hurrah.

It is often easier to describe Williams by what he was not, rather than what he was. He was not your typical showman, shouting ‘take it away’ to the band, nor was he interested in talking over his guests. He spoke softly, not loudly, and he was not afraid of silence; the Final Hurrah takes things at its own pace, calmly leaving pauses, and even inserting whole sections where Williams just went out and recorded crows in a field, or the sound of the underground on a quiet day. It’s this sort of thing that seems to have made the show stand out from your average talkshow, and even now Williams has gone, his successors, Werner Sallewith and Doste Inge, have managed to maintain its particular feel. It expects an absurd level of patience, but oddly enough it gets it; people are more than happy to have an excuse to sit and do nothing, to curl up on the sofa with a loved one or stretch out on the carpet next to the cat after a whole year of activity. Not that the year is quite over yet.

When he first aired the show on his own station, Williams thought that today was the last day of the year. He’d spent a long time away from the City trying to ‘become an artist’ in the woods, and it seems that he lost track of time. That first airing had no guests, no summaries of the year, just a quick ‘talkshow’ part where Williams talked about a book he’d read a few times out in the woods, a few minutes of his ambient recordings, and the ‘theme song’. He began by saying ‘I’ve been in the woods for over a year but I’m back now and this is all I have for my trouble, and then launched into the song. Some people say they find it melancholy, others that it is warm and cosy, like a hand held beneath a duvet on a cold night. At the end of that first show, Williams, who had clearly been drinking, trailed off a little, and then, quite abruptly as if it had just occurred to him, said ‘It’s midnight. We should all go outside and listen to the new year bells.’ On the recording you can hear him put down his headphones, and then the door goes, and then five minutes of silence elapse, and the door goes again, and as he is fumbling for the off button you can just hear Williams mumbling the word ‘idiot’ under his breath.

‘I had a much better year, back in the City, around other people,’ said Williams, on the show, which was yet to be titled or really gather any notice, ‘rather than out there on my own. I didn’t think I’d do this again, but here we are. I know it’s not new year’s eve but I figured I might as well make a tradition of it. Hi Polly, hi Wistow, I hope you’re both listening like I asked. I guess I’ll get started.’ It would be three years before the show was picked up by the BBS, before he had many guests and managed to really get stuck in, but unknown to Williams he was already getting new listeners. His new friend Polly was herself friends with a local priest, and she made sure that this priest tuned in. ‘I did this last year and it’s stupid, but I’m going to do it again, if you don’t mind,’ said Williams, at the show’s end, in the moments running up to midnight. The next words he said in an exaggerated voice, mocking his former self, ‘we should all go outside and listen to the new year bells.’

Again, you hear the headphones, and the door, and there are a few moments of silence and then, a little muffled through the window, you can hear a sound now familiar to this penultimate day: the sound of church bells ringing enthusiastically. After a short time the door opens again, and it’s hard to tell if Williams is laughing or crying.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Capped Cap
  • The Festival of Perishing the Piskies
  • Telehailers Are Here Festival

December 31st – The Year’s End Exhibition

For a long time, today was a day of celebration in Buentoille, a day when fireworks would be lit and alcohol passed around bars and pubs. To some extent it still is, but increasingly these celebrations are migrating to the Buentoilliçan Lunar New Year, out of respect to the City’s Catrosondian population, whose homeland and many of their friends and relatives sunk beneath the Inner Ocean during the new year celebrations of 2001/2002. Understandably, revellers tend to feel somewhat guilty about their excesses tonight, and in the east Lunar New Year has always been the primary celebration anyway, so whilst there will be a few fireworks here and there, today has become more a day of reflection, of looking back on the year and making plans for the new one.

There are various instruments of this reflection, from television and radio broadcasts which, like yesterday’s festival, seek to round up various aspects of the year, and families and other groupings will often come together for a four-course meal; each course representing a different quarter of the year; where speeches are made and toasts drunk. There are also artistic works, such as the tapestry made by the Baker Street Weavers, which has a small segment added to it each year, summarising the past twelve months.

Yet it is not just Buentoillitants who place such significance on this day, which if you think about it is merely a random moment in the earth’s unending cycle around the sun; the Pohlatiné also seem to mark the passing of the year, in their own way; they have an exhibition. At one time, in all the frenetic activity of the celebrations, the exhibition went almost unnoticed, yet in the last few years it has started to gather attention, not for the quality of the artworks shown, or because it is particularly spectacular or powerful, but because of how strange it is for the Pohlatiné to hold any kind of public event. They are usually very reclusive.

Not that there will be a great deal of them at the exhibition; they don’t appear very interested, and it seems that it is primarily there for the benefit of others, which makes its low-key nature all the stranger. The exhibition takes place in a small space down a dead-end backstreet just off of Dagett Road, and you can’t even see the sign from the road. You have to round the corner before you see the small illuminated sign that says, simply, ‘Exhibition’ at the top of a metal staircase. Inside there are usually about fifteen to twenty paintings, hung on whitewashed brick walls. There are no plaques or signs, no information about the artists, not even their names or those of the artworks; they are presented entirely without comment, either written or from the taciturn Pohlatiné at the desk by the entry, where there are various leaflets advertising other, better known, upcoming Buentoilliçan exhibitions, a coffee machine and a small space heater.

The exhibition is only there today, a full twenty four hours with the doors opening and closing at midnight. At the exhibition’s end, the paintings are swiftly bundled up and taken away to the Pohlatiné embassy, where, as far as anyone knows they do not line the walls but instead are presumably placed into storage. Yet its where they come from that is more interesting: another building not far away, this one with bricked-up windows and a tall, razor-wire topped fence around it: the Buentoille Power House, where the City’s source of electrical power, known as The Generator, is housed. Unlike the overground substations scattered around the City with their gizmos, their wires, transformers and electrical hum, the Power House is a fairly reserved affair no larger than a small family home. It sits aloof from the surrounding buildings, a gravel yard around it with thick black metal pipes thrusting up from the ground and plunging back down again, like thick regular ribs. On the fence there are many signs in yellow and black, reading ‘DANGER – HIGH VOLTAGE’ and ‘KEEP OUT – EXTREME ELECTRICAL ACTIVITY PRESENT’.

Whilst the Public Works Committee is technically in charge of the Power House, and indeed all of Buentoille’s major infrastructure, the Generator is, in reality, maintained by the Pohlatiné, who have the necessary expertise and willingness to keep things running smoothly. Apparently it requires daily fine-tuning which baffles most Buentoillitant engineers, and for which they seem to have a natural aptitude. As such, it’s not particularly surprising to see them entering or exiting the Power House (although apparently they usually use the underground route), but to see them coming out in pairs carrying large paintings is somewhat unusual. Seeing as, at the exhibition’s end, they take blank canvasses back in, it is presumed that the paintings are produced by Pohlatiné workers between making their adjustments to the Generator, although inspectors and engineers from Public Works say that they have never seen the Pohlatiné actually paint on these canvasses. ‘They keep them in one of the side rooms in the dark, I nearly put my foot through one of the damn things!’ reads one report from a safety inspector.

The paintings all tend to be fairly similar, depicting pastoral scenes, images of rural idylls in sunny valleys, of little hunting cabins in deep pine forest where the air is somehow green, of solitary boathouses by the sea. Each year these settings change slightly but retain the same themes; the village in the distance might have a different church spire, or the golden wheat field might actually be barley, but it still has essentially the same composition. The paint is always oils, and despite the fact that these paintings are all produced only in a year, their glossy surface is cracked as if with age – this, presumably is a deliberate affectation developed by the artist or artists. Somewhere in every painting is a single person. They might not be immediately apparent, but they are always there, a different person for each painting, staring directly at the viewer. They might be sat cross-legged in the wheat field, or leaning out the cabin window, or stepping out from behind a tree, or sat on the boathouse jetty with a fishing rod, but in every painting they look directly at you, with a sort of lost expression. None of them look happy.

It’s difficult to say why the Pohlatiné hold the exhibition today. Is it the summation of their artistic work for the year, or simply a kind of offering like the windchimes that they give to the Office of External Affairs for Buentoilliçan-Pohlatiné Friendship Day; perhaps the exhibition is their idea of what Buentoillitants would like to look at, at the year’s end. If this is their intention they seem to have missed the mark somewhat; if anything these images are unsettling to most Buentoillitants. The lone figures, in particular, are creepy to the average viewer, but for some they are downright distressing: in the past seven years there have been two instances where an exhibition attendee has recognised the person in the painting. One of those people was Bertha Deren, who said to Strange Buentoillitant Magazine in 2015, ‘It looked just like him, but not quite. As if they had only seen him in a mirror from a long way away. I don’t know, maybe I’m just going a bit mad, I’ve been seeing him everywhere since he went missing in April.’

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Big Yearly Roundup
  • All Kisses to the Lord Festival
  • A Long Silence Day

February 29th – The Festival of Rapid and Competitive Construction

In the Catathon district, houses are often built tall and thin to elevate their occupants above the smokers’ yards; in winter the smoke often mingles with the weather and produces a thick smog that lines the streets, so most residential homes resemble towers or square chimney stacks. In modern times the smoking (of fish, meat, vegetables, mushrooms, barley for beer, tea, cheese and every other food or drink you can imagine) is restricted to three days a week, after many years of bargaining between the cooperatives who run the yards, the unions and the Municipal authorities, but on smoking days most travel in the district is via several wooden walkways suspended between these tower-like homes.

In order to route these walkways effectively and ensure their upkeep and safety, the district has very tight building regulations. Not only must each home have a small public balcony which the walkways are suspended between, the overall height of the building is restricted to ensure the walkways do not slope too steeply. This last measure was also successfully lobbied for by the Chastise Church, who wanted to ensure that their local church remained the tallest building in the district. Except in one notable case, the regulations have been very effective, and the tops of the district’s buildings undulate gently with the curves of the land beneath.

This ‘one notable case’ is the subject of today’s festival. Given that, unlike most Buentoilliçan celebrations, it only happens every four years, there will be quite the crowd gathered on the wooden walkways and streets, which ought to be smog-free today. Instead of working in the smokers’ yards, the workers will take the opportunity to sell their smoked goods on small carts in the street, by weaving their way through the crowds with baskets full of food, or by using their home’s balcony as a makeshift shop front. Given that the two buildings involved in the festivities are by far the tallest for several miles around spectators have a good view from across the district, although binoculars are advised to get a clearer view of proceedings.

The history of the festival is, as with many Buentoilliçan cultural institutions, down to the twin forces of interpersonal rivalry and inefficient bureaucracy. Laws have always varied across the City from district to district, and although some standardisation has taken effect since the Revolution, there are still holdovers, pockets of antiquity in the legal system. One of these has to do with the way that leap years are considered in the complex historical intersection between the rules of the City and the rules of the Chastise Church. Because of their association in the folk consciousness with the Grenin Waurst, leap years are not recognised by the Church. The Church does not simply skip onward to the first of March, as this would cause no end of problems in the long run. Instead, the day is declared ‘void’ by the Hierarchs; as far as the Church is concerned it never existed and never will.

For someone with a very particular legalistic mind, someone like Ricca Velone, this ‘void’ day presented an excellent opportunity. In 1936 the enterprising tax lawyer noticed a potential loophole in her district’s building height regulations, and set about building a simple vertical extension to her home on the leap day. Unsurprisingly, this rather upset her neighbours and the authorities, who collectively took her to the small claims court, arguing that the extension should be demolished immediately. However, it seemed that Velone’s defence was essentially watertight: she argued that as the height regulation was lobbied for by the Church, it should be considered a ‘Church By-Law’ in accordance with the Religious Seperation Act of 1916, and as such the Church should be responsible for its enforcement, not the municipal authorities. ‘I realised it then, as we were leaving the courthouse’ said Sidre Green, Velone’s nearest neighbour and the person responsible for organising the coalition of interests arrayed against her objectionable extension. ‘The others were saying, “never mind, we’ll petition the Church instead,” but I knew we’d lost, the Church wouldn’t listen.’ According to Church law, the extension didn’t exist because the day in which it was built didn’t exist either. To accept that it did to solve a minor property dispute would be exceedingly embarrassing and set a precedent they didn’t wish to follow.

Whilst quick to neighbourly anger, Green wasn’t one to act rashly. She considered hiring some local workers to perform a clandestine deconstruction of the extension, but didn’t want to give the lawyer an excuse to use the law against her. Instead, she wrote to Velone to ask her to take it down, now that the point was proven; this was partly what annoyed Green the most; the extension had no function but the testing of some dry academic thesis. It was just a wooden box constructed atop Velone’s house. The other thing about it that annoyed Green wasn’t that it spoiled her view, or overshadowed her (which it did not, as Velone was keen to point out in her reply), but because it displayed a sort of selfish exceptionalism which she found infuriating.

When it became clear that persuasion wouldn’t work (the extension was a symbol of pride, a spoil of war for the lawyer now), Green hatched another plan; she decided to emulate her neighbour when the next leap year finally came around, building a larger wooden extension on the roof of her own house, one which she had time to plan out and ensure it blocked the light in Velone’s home for as long as possible. From that point onwards, the gloves were off.

You wouldn’t expect to see such a large crowd turn out for what is, in essence, a construction site, but there are several reasons for the huge gathering today. Firstly, are the buildings themselves, which have become like industrial trees, great sheds of wood and corrugated iron sprouting off in all directions from tiny bases. Originally, the main aspect of competition between the two women and later their families was height: they tried to build quicker and higher than each other each day, nailing huge supportive struts onto the outside of their homes at haphazard angles and piling up floor upon floor, far beyond the boundaries of reasonable safety. It’s not clear what prompted the change in tack, but in 1964 the buildings began to grow extra limbs, to sprout outwards as well as up. Nowadays they are curled up around each other, wound together like a box of snakes where the snakes are made out of oak beams and metal sheeting. The builders, all younger family members of the original warring women, will make the buildings seem to dance across the course of the day, as they adjust their extension plans to respond to their rivals. The edificial limbs which bust forth from the tiny foundations weave around and sometimes even encircle one another in a snapshot-battle for dominance.

The second draw factor for the crowd, and perhaps the most important factor at keeping people hanging around in the cold all day watching a building site, is the acrobatics of the families of builders, who do their best to put on a good show. They stride around the precarious outside of the conjoined buildings, wielding welders and tossing tools to each other, sometimes pirouetting on their safety harnesses, sometimes taking those harnesses off altogether in death-defying stunts. Samozar Velone is well known for his graceful leaps between gaps in the buildings, and Untold Green gathers huge cheers when she hangs upside-down and walks the structure’s many undersides as is often necessary to complete her work. Some commentators in the local newspapers think that it reflects badly upon the City that there are great cheers of excitement when someone falls off and injures themselves (thankfully nobody has yet died), but as Tommy Dreitch from The Smokers’ Torch glibly replied, ‘who amongst us can say that they have watched a horse race and not secretly wished for one of the jockeys to be thrown off their mount?’

The acrobatic displays are of course a later addition to the festival, begun when Ricca Velone applied for festival status so they could continue building after responsibility for the height regulations were officially handed over from the Church to the district authorities in 1970. There is a dancelike quality to the acrobatics, and there are some who suspect that they are choreographed between the rivalrous families. These same sceptics will tell you of how there is actually no longer any rivalry, but a strong friendship between the intertwined houses and their large families who regularly pass each other in their mingled hallways. Like many of the hastily-constructed limbs of the houses, the families are said to lean on each other, to catch their rivals when they collapse or fall.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Grenin Waurst’s Day
  • The Feast of February
  • The Festival of Hidden Love