Obviously, because we’re not savages, we celebrate the solstice. Our main festival in Port Naain is actually the Autumn Equinox, or Tide Watch. Nine years out of ten we have gales and driving rain and folk gather together to drink, eat, and tell long stories, recite poems and give each other gifts. The date was chosen centuries ago because the weather at that time of year is fit for nothing else.
The Solstice is different, it’s a civic festival. It marks the day Sinecurists take up their sinecure and hand the money over. It can be an awfully expensive time for the rich and powerful and somewhere along the line it was decided that the city, or rather the citizens, ought to show their appreciation. So on the day of the solstice everybody gives presents to those in authority over them.
In a family situation this means children give presents to their parents. Husbands and wives traditionally give each other presents, if only because it saves argument. In the workplace workers will give presents to the foreman or owner, men at arms give presents to the Condottieri who pays them and even the criminal classes give presents to the racketeers and extortioners who dominate their working life.
These presents aren’t extravagant. Some of the shore-combers will give Shena a present. Often it’s just a small bundle of driftwood. But it’ll have been allowed to dry out and has been cut to length so it’ll fit on the stove. I present a present to all my patrons, but in my case it’s a poem, written especially with them in mind. I’ll write it on a nice piece of paper I’ve been saving, and I’ll use good ink and take time getting the calligraphy just right.
Mutt always gives Shena something, perhaps a piece of nice fabric she could make a headscarf out of for winter on the Old Esplanade. He doesn’t get me anything, but there again he doesn’t expect me to give him anything. I find this assumption that I’m his equal comforting at times.
Then there’s the eating and drinking part of it. This works from the bottom up. The various temples and similar foundations will organise food for those who’ve fallen on hard times. For the rest of us there isn’t a formal feast, it’s just as you drop your gifts off with people, it’s traditional for them to offer you a drink and perhaps a bite to eat.
Now for most people it’s a pleasant enough way to spend a day. Normally people just go to work, and about noon the boss wanders in and they give him their presents. Then he invites them into a room where there’s a bit of a spread and a few drinks. So they drink a toast to his health, he toasts them all back and after a pleasant lunch which lasts until evening, everybody wanders home. Often in a slightly unsteady manner.
Now imagine my plight. I’ll leave the barge about two hours before noon. There are various tradesmen and other establishments I’ve done work for, so I present my poem to them. They insist I read it aloud; everybody applauds and have a glass of something thrust upon me. So I toast my host and then the company present and escape to the next venue.
About noon I try and catch Silac Gicken at Gicken’s Printers. Not only do I genuinely like him and his wife, but he lays on a good spread. So there I’ll have a beer to drink his health with and a couple of good slices of meat pie to soak up the drink that’s to come. From there I plunge into the maelstrom. If things are going well I can fit in anywhere up to a dozen of my less regular patrons before the major evening ‘at-homes’ start. If I’m lucky this will be a mere dozen small glasses of wine and an occasional sugary confectionary. If, on the other hand, one of my patrons is feeling adventurous, I might be asked to try three different wines, because they value my opinion. Then, on one cold night, one of them handed me a shot of Urlan plum brandy to drink, ‘to keep me warm on the road.’
By now people are beginning to gather at the homes of those around whom society tends to revolve. Thus in each salon I can find perhaps a score of people whom I know well. Of course every one of them will thrust a glass into my hand and demand the chance to drink a toast with me. How could I refuse? By now I am trying such desperate expedients as diluting my wine with water, or in extreme circumstances, pouring out the wine and replacing it entirely with water.
It has to be admitted that last night was a tough one. Still, I got all my gifts delivered and everybody was very nice about them. Unfortunately at the last venue I was greeted by what appeared to be the entire membership of the Port Naain Young Ladies Terpsichorean Society. [Those who have forgotten about these delightful gentlewomen might wish to refresh themselves by reading https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/2016/10/06/the-importance-of-getting-home-under-your-own-steam/ at some point]
Each demanded that I drink her health, giving me a big kiss and a full glass. This may have been the last straw. I confess to remembering little else until I awoke in my own bed. Apparently Shena, knowing the risks I faced, had sent Mutt to collect me with his handcart.
I had intended to write this piece so I could wish you solstice greetings before the event, but somehow the day just disappeared. Still I raise a mug of strong coffee in your general direction and belatedly wish you a happy solstice.
As the weather is, as usual, inclement, I recommend a good fire, a glass of something, and something to nibble, all to accompany a good book.
As one reviewer commented
“I find there’s nothing better on a cold wet day, than to sit indoors, near a warm fire/radiator, with a hot coffee, some biscuits/cake and one of Jim Webster’s books. So that’s what I’ve done today, with this particular book.
The various threads in the stories are always neatly tied up and the endings invariably satisfactory.”