Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Notes from the Fringe: overlong and overdue, part 1

So a few weekends ago now, I was in Edinburgh during the Festival season.

I went to the ‘Burgh ostensibly to visit some delightful Cambridge friends in their new terrace house (home ownership among people younger than me really freaks me out), catch up with another Cambridge mate who’s doing some research up there and to have a discussion with an academic at Edinburgh Uni about my PhD research. I did, though, spend a good deal of time at the Festival.

Edinburgh’s a town of about half-a-million, which apparently more than doubles during the Festival season. It’s easy to believe: almost every down-town cash machine is perpetually out of service. At first I thought it was just bad luck or poor maintenance: then I realised they were all out of money. I had to ask for cash back when buying a sandwich in Marks and Spencers.

The Royal Mile becomes something like a crowd scene from a medieval movie. Hordes of people thronging below the castle while people in bizarre costume pass out flyers for their shows, and street performers increase congestion by simultaneously clearing an area and drawing a thick crowd. Madness best held at bay with an iPod.

When you can find some elbow-room and a beer, the people-watching is fabulous. Every third person is speaking a language other than English, or is carting props, costumes or fellow-performers to and from a show.

I had a number of Cambridge drama friends in shows, and have seldom been more glad to have politely refused to go to auditions. Most of ‘em didn’t look like they’d slept since arriving two weeks prior. “It’s so good to speak to someone who looks relaxed, alert and normal!” one all but yelled at me in a frenzy over coffee. (For the record, I was travel-stained and spaced out.)

It’s always potentially a bit embarrassing bumping into people who you didn’t know were in Edinburgh for a show.

“What are you doing in Edinburgh?” I asked one, meaning “what show”?

“Oh,” she replied in her light Edinburgh accent, smiling. “Waitressing. I’m just indigenous.”

Ground, swallow me now.

I also enjoyed an inadvertent return to childhood during my stay. I was informed on arrival that my host and her boyfriend in a fine bit of mutual consultation had double-booked the single bed in the spare room (which had belonged to my host as a child). I was welcome either to the futon in the lounge, or I could haul the component out from under the spare bed required to turn it into a bunk and share with the other guest “Ant”.

“Ant said he’s totally up for it,” I was told. So, never being one to act the killjoy I returned on my first night a little shy of 11 pm and started assembling a bunk. It swayed a little when I got in.

“Comfy?” asked my hosts.

“Fine,” I said, gently rocking our two-man berth, “I really like its slightly nautical air.”

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