Littoral Celebrations

Obviously as the dwellers in a coastal city, indeed a city which is a major port, we are cognisant of the perils of the sea, but also of the advantages that come to us by trade. Thus for many years there has been an annual day to celebrate the sea. But let us not beat about the bush, the sea doesn’t care one jot what Port Naain thinks about it. We can celebrate it in verse, in song, or even sacrifice virgins to it, and it will not thank us.

This has led many to suggest that instead of a ‘Sea Festival’ we ought to have a ‘Seafarers’ Festival’. This has always struck me as entirely reasonable. After all, the seafarers are going to appreciate the effort a sight more than the sea ever does. Needless to say there are those who disagree with me.

One of the leading lights of the Sea Festival was Slaton Feltbuckle. He was a strange combination, on one hand, somehow naïve, (the charming naivety which seems to assume it understands how the world really works) on the other hand, deeply duplicitous and conniving. I think he felt that seafarers were somehow grubby and disreputable (which is a not unreasonable assumption) and felt that they would lower the high moral tone of the sea festival. Again, this is hard to argue against. But the main question I would ask, what is the point of having a high moral tone in a sea festival? The sea is utterly without morals. It is a force of nature, beyond our censure or praise.

Still Feltbuckle had somehow won control of the Sea Festival. He was the sort of person who thrives on committees. He was regarded as a jovial and clubbable sort of chap by persons who regarded themselves as jovial and clubbable but never appeared to notice how he would bully those who asked difficult questions during committee meetings.

If he could have made the festival ethereal, I have no doubt he would have done so. Certainly he drew on the most elevated of the arts. Music would be written for it. This would be played once and then it was forgotten until being rediscovered later by a new generation, who would also play it once and forget it. If the music was to have words, they would be in an antique dialect, perhaps one favoured by court poets from Partann a thousand years ago.
Similarly he would have poetry. In all candour I find it difficult to view this with disfavour. But frankly his choice of poets left much to be desired, and the work they produced was tepid stuff. Now I know what you’re thinking. “Tallis is jealous. Tallis feels that it should have been his work that was featured. Tallis wanted the sponsors’ silver to pour into his own pockets.”

Honesty compels me to admit that there may be an element of this. But in my own defence, whilst there were sponsors and they were even portrayed as generous, nobody seems to have much idea where the money in point of fact went. Accounts were produced and were even lodged with the Council of Sinecurists, but nobody ever made head nor tail of them. Over a ten year period, Slaton Feltbuckle can be shown to have spent more money than he received in donations (even including his own donation, coyly added separately to keep it discrete from the money he received from lesser donors without his sensitivities), but he achieved this without any embarrassing creditors demanding their money. I do rather envy him this gift. Then there were the poets he picked. Almost by definition, they were not real poets as they never even asked for money (or something to cover expenses) and the work they produced was bland, flavourless, and insipid. It was all eminently forgettable. Indeed whilst some did claim to be published poets on the strength of their work for the Sea Festival, none made that claim in the presence of a real poet. Indeed they never mixed with real poets. Perhaps like seafarers we poets are somehow grubby and disreputable?

Perhaps it was Lancet Foredeck’s idea that subverted this high ideal, perhaps it just emerged, full grown, from the assembled denizens of the Misanthropes? Certainly I seem to remember a discussion, fuelled by a glass or two of mediocre red wine.

But by the end of the night there was a plan, and it was a plan that demanded a certain subtlety. There was no point in somebody as common as Lancet or I approaching Slaton Feltbuckle. We would have been politely patronised, and totally ignored. It needed somebody with more clout. We quietly approached Sarl Onwater.

He had gained the Sinecure supporting the literary arts. Those of my generation will remember what a difference he made. He just announced that he would commission two pieces of art a week, paying one alar in cash to the artist, in advance. Given that an alar is a week’s wages for a working man, this wasn’t lucrative, but he made sure that it was spread out across the entire spectrum, poetry, essayists, novelists, even literary criticism (although that did cause some moaning.) This meant that many a struggling man or woman of letters managed to feed the family for another fortnight. Not only that but he has a strong sense of natural justice, and also rather enjoyed pricking the bubbles of pomposity that enable so many in our city to rise about their fellows.

Sarl, as a leading sinecurist, had the authority to summon Slaton Feltbuckle to a meeting, and he had the wealth which ensured Feltbuckle would attend and listen. So Sarl called for a meeting, and as Feltbuckle fawned upon him, he suggested some improvements to the sea festival. He pointed out that in some of our finest art, the sea has regularly been personified as a maiden of uncertain temperament. Indeed there are records that in some of the oldest festivals, senior sinecurists, in their finery, would pay court to this maiden. This represented, apparently, the city wooing the sea on which our wealth depends.

Immediately Feltbuckle could see a profitable subtext. Those sinecurists chosen to appear would undoubtedly be generous sponsors of the festival. He agreed enthusiastically, and Sarl promised to put matters in hand. What he really did was that he handed the project over to Lancet. I was relegated to organising a simultaneous Seafarers’ Festival.

This wasn’t difficult. The Sea Festival is timed to coincide with the autumn equinox. This happens to be the time when most ships tie up to avoid the autumn gales. There would be no shortage of seafarers in the city. I then went round all the bars, inns and alehouses in Port Naain (how I suffer for the greater good) and got them to organise their own competitions. Frankly I didn’t really mind what the competition was but the various tapsters and others tried to give them a nautical flavour.

Thus one would have a competition for the best dancer of sailors’ dances. Another had a frame put up and it would be who could climb the rope fastest. Other folk came forward with prizes for the Inn with the best ale, or the worst ale, or the prettiest barmaid, or the most forbidding bouncer. Obviously the ladies organised a sedan chair race (because they will do that at the slightest excuse) and manufactories and other institutions put forward tug-of-war teams. There was even competitive temple dancing.

At the same time Lancet was preparing ‘the sea’. He had done his research and everything he suggested was supported by some of the city’s finest artists, many respectably dead for centuries. Thus and so, his maiden, initially diaphanously dressed, but eventually nude due to budgetary constraints, rode in a four wheeled chariot which would be pushed by scantily clad female revellers and drawn with flower draped cords by equally scantily clad males who whilst technically cherubs, were all tall, broad shouldered, and capable of drawing, escorting and if need be, protecting, the ladies in the party.

This equipage was assembled under cover, in absolute silence, in a marque Feltbuckle had had erected. In the presence of Feltbuckle’s handpicked guests, chosen from people he wanted to impress or to whom he wished to return a favour, a musician played their composition and a poet recited their mediocre offering. Then the order was given by Feltbuckle for the sea to come forth to be met by a group of sinecurists (carefully handpicked by Sarl) who would woo her.

The sea, as is only appropriate, burst forth without restraint, and the handpicked sinecurists applauded and started to join in the revels. The assemblage, acknowledging the stunned silence of Feltbuckle’s guests with dancing and lewd sotto voce comments, passed down into the city where the revels grew even livelier. Finally, at dawn, they led a stream of revellers to the Shrine of Aea in Her Aspect as the Personification of Chastity where the oldest captain currently docked in Port Naain, ceremoniously pledged his troth to a surprisingly demure sea, who awarded him with a kiss on the cheek before being collected by her real husband.  

Nobody is entirely sure what happened to Feltbuckle but he did cut his ties with the festival.


Should you wish to know more of life in Port Naain

As a reviewer commented, “What starts off looking like a theft at sea, followed by a several findings in the mud when the tide is out, soon morphs into an intriguing tale where Benor, Tallis, Shena, Mutt, and a plethora of other folks, get involved in dealing with dark deeds in Port Naain.”

25 thoughts on “Littoral Celebrations

  1. We have no sea in Beetley, but we do have a nearby river. I was attracted by this.
    ‘his maiden, initially diaphanously dressed, but eventually nude due to budgetary constraints, rode in a four wheeled chariot which would be pushed by scantily clad female revellers ‘.
    However, when I suggested such a river festival to Beetley Parish Council, they dismissed my idea out of hand. How dare they!
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Always remember that English is three languages wearing a trench coat and suddenly it makes sense 🙂
        It might be harder from French and German speakers to learn because they’ll keep seeing words they recognise but they’re produced differently and do different jobs 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for that, all the best to you and yours. We’re on the Atlantic coast, we don’t have snow every year 🙂
      Indeed we don’t get ‘frost days’ every year either. (A frost day is when it stays below freezing all day)

      Liked by 1 person

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