Oh the joy of the literary festival. Frankly I avoid them like the plague. They tend to involve patrons who should know better demanding that ‘their’ poet entertain their friends in a wet tent. Not only that but everybody is so cold and damp that they stare blankly at you, clasping their wine glass to their bosom in a death grip. It can be so bad that even the wine’s been diluted by the endless rain. In spite of this I still found myself performing at the Candleman’s Cove festival of all the arts.
Candleman’s Cove itself doesn’t have a lot to recommend it. It’s situated on the mouth of a small river, has a range of picturesque ruins (pictured), and an only marginally squalid fishing village (which never appears in art). Along the coast there are some pleasant villas and scattered about the countryside some rather pleasant estates. For Partann it is comparatively civilised, and many well connected people from the city will spend part of the summer there. It has been said that during this period the area is full of local pirates frantically trying to look like respectable clerks, and Port Naain actuaries and usurers swaggering about dressed as pirates.
The festival was a crafty plan dreamed up by Candleman’s Guild of Licensed and Unlicensed Victuallers. The hope was that the festival would extend the ‘season’ thus increasing profits for their members. They had been remarkably cunning in their preparations. They had done their research and knew just who from Port Naain had a reputation as a patron of the arts. These individuals were approached and flattered unmercifully until they agreed to stand as patrons of the festival.
At this point the sundry victuallers stood back and just let the festival happen. The various patrons cajoled, enticed or merely blackmailed sundry friends, acquaintances and boon companions into attending the festival, promising them a veritable feast of culture. At the same time the patrons seduced a wide assortment of artists into attending, pointing out that everybody who was anybody would be present. In my case three ladies insisted that they would be devastated if I didn’t attend.
So putting aside my fears I gallantly ventured south of the river and into Partann. To be honest the festival was not a success. In my own case, the three ladies who claimed my attendance was obligatory to their happiness didn’t appear. In the case of one, this was due to the arrival of a grandchild. Grandchildren for the poet are normally a joy. The patron is as a rule beside themselves with joy and will lap up any ode or dedicatory poem and pour out good silver with a generous hand to the poet who gets in first. Thus I who have done well out of grandchildren over the years can hardly complain if one lets me down.
The other two patrons had less excuse. One used her attendance at a festival her husband was far too wise to attend to spend time with her lover. To the best of my knowledge if she saw anything at all of the festival, it was only such events as were visible from his villa five miles up the coast.
The third threw herself into the event. On the first day she attended everything, mocked the rain and those who kept out of it. She gloried in wading through the mud to grace with her presence events and dined with gusto from all the small catering stalls scattered around the event. The fact that she spent the rest of the festival confined to her hotel room, rotten with cold and racked with stomach cramps and diahorrea struck many of us as poetic justice.
As a poet I was included in the literary section. This was a large marquee, luxuriously appointed with a grass floor, a battered table for each of us, and no chairs. It was also next to, and downhill of, the overthrowing cess pit. Thus on the first day we were forced to dig a ditch along the back of our tent to collect the overthrow. From the ditch it trickled down the slope and pooled under the duckboards put down for the benefit of those queuing to hear the musicians.
Our recompense was supposed to be through the sale of our assorted books or poetry collections. Plus of course, the invaluable ‘exposure.’ We would attract new patrons who had been impressed by our wit and erudition. On the first day our marquee was visited by four people. One was from the caterers, who announced that we were entitled to purchase food at the same price as those attending the festival, but we were asked not to eat with the other guests but to carry our food back and eat it in this marquee. That night we discovered we were also supposed to sleep in our damp tent. This we did, lying on the tables to keep off the ground. Before that we’d huddled together and warmed ourselves around a fire built from the organisers’ publicity material and two tables that had been abandoned when the writers who had booked them discovered the conditions they had to work in.
Next morning, suspecting that our tent would remain as staunchly unvisited as it had the previous day, I ventured out into the rain and mud. Firstly I went to see the art exhibition. Apparently because of the valuable nature of the works displayed this was hung in a dockside warehouse. Whilst it smelled a little of fish it was dry and comparatively warm. As I browsed the paintings displayed I realised that there were virtually no artists there. Each was represented by an apprentice. The artist only graced the festival on a particular day when they were feted by the organisers and mingled with their admirers.
Smarting a little from this I made my way to see how the musicians were faring. There were no performances until afternoon so I found them all breakfasting in the downstairs common room of a somewhat scruffy inn. They were moaning that the organisers expected them to sleep on sawdust stuffed mattresses on the common room floor. But to compensate for this, they did at least provide breakfast. I sympathised with them and sat down to join them. A percussionist I was seated next to glanced at my plate, heaped with fried bread, three different sorts of sausage, bacon, black pudding, white pudding and two fried eggs. His plate was piled even higher than mine, and it was his second helping.
He was disposed to be friendly. “Not a bad festival this, the pay isn’t anything to brag about, but they’re feeding us well.”
“Pay?” I wondered if I’d heard him properly.
“Yes, we got paid for the full four days before we ever left Port Naain.”
I pondered this briefly. “They paid all of you in advance?”
“Of course. What sort of idiot would turn up on the off-chance?”
I finished my breakfast in meditative silence. I squelched my way back to the literary tent in a somewhat sombre mood. By the time I got there all the other writers and poets were huddled around the fire again. I noted dispassionately that it was my table they were burning, perhaps assuming I’d finished with it. This decided me.
I squeezed in next to Calina Salin. At the time she was a lady writer, turning out three-volume diatribes which reviewed well and sold badly. If it hadn’t been for her dancing, she would have starved.
“Calina, how much have you earned so far at this festival.”
She didn’t actually snarl at me. “Nothing.”
“And the much vaunted exposure?”
She spat into the fire. “I’d get more and better exposure dancing on tables in the Sattir’s Drop.”
“I was thinking of going home.”
She looked around at the huddled writers around us. “I’ve know Tallis for most of my life and this is the first sensible thing he’s said. Who else is coming home?”
I could see hope creep timidly into their faces. They glanced shyly at each other as if Calina and I were offering them some fabulous gift.
I made a brusque gesture of dismissal. “Details; come, pack up your few pitiful belongings and let us leave.”
With that I strode out of the marquee, Calina half a pace behind me. We looked round and she gestured at a horse drawn dray that had just arrived behind the main catering tent. “We need transport.”
“You’re right.” Formally I offered her my arm. “Come let us investigate.”
She curtseyed elegantly, “Why thank-you kind sir.”
We led our straggling procession of damp literati towards the wagon. I flicked open the canvas tilt at the back. “Obviously they’re selling more wine that they expected.”
Calina joined me in silent appreciation of the massed crates stacked under the canvas. “I think this is the transport we need.” She turned to the awaiting scribbles. “Climb aboard quietly, Tallis and I will deal with any paperwork.” “We will?”
“Yes.” She smiled at me, it was the sort of smile you see on the face of a usurer who realises he has the chance to foreclose on the property and cast the widow and orphans out into the snow.
We made our way to the front of the wagon. The driver had got down to find out where the wine had to be unloaded. His mate was still slouched on the bench seat.
Calina reached up to him, “Give me your hand please friend.”
Somewhat bemused by the request the man held out his hand. Calina took it gently in both hers, and then suddenly whipped round, pulling him off the wagon and into the mud. He appeared to have struck his head on her knee as he fell.
“Tallis be so good as to drive please.”
I climbed up onto the seat and released the brake. As I took up the reins, Calina joined me. Before she had a chance to sit down, the driver appeared. “What the forty seven hells is you playing at?”
Calina put a finger to her lips. “Quietly, don’t wake the baby.”
“Baby?” He was as confused as I was.
She struck him on the side of the head with the handle of her Umbrella. He dropped into the mud on top of his mate. Calina sat down and turned to me. “Sleeping like babies, the pair of them.”
I flicked the reins and the horses started forward. We were soon moving at a respectable trot. It struck me that it was my duty as a responsible citizen to get Calina out of here before she started to enjoy herself too much.
Oh yes, Jim Webster has been moaning at me again. Apparently I’ve neglected to mention that he has a collection of anecdotes out.
Do me a favour, buy a copy and stop him endlessly whining at me please.