It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I visit Edinburgh or how familiar I think I am with the city’s streets, I always manage to walk down the wrong cobbled alley or take some inexplicable misstep which has me up some steep incline far away from my intended destination. There is something about its quirky collaboration of old and new which leads to eternal confusion. That I am usually drunk in Edinburgh probably doesn’t do my internal satnav any favours.
In the August of 2014 I was making my third or fourth trip to the capital for the Fringe festival and I had set myself the target of Tweeting my review of each show I saw to #TimesReview with the aim of having one of them published in The Times newspaper. Each day they had a pullout section devoted to the festival, and within this there was a small column which was devoted to the Twitter reviews of Times readers. On my first night in Edinburgh I went to one of my favourite bars in the city, Banshee Labyrinth, where I saw Skeptics on the Fringe, which was a collection of shows on science, reasoning and critical thinking. On the night I attended the show addressed the topic of psychics and I found it interesting and amusing. I felt certain that my short review of the event would be printed in the following days’ paper, but it never was.
Skeptics on the Fringe – enlightening and funny. Tonight’s show was on psychics, which I could tell was going to be great
By 9.30 on that Friday evening I had enjoyed several beers and I was on my way to see Shit-Faced Shakespeare at Bristo Square. I had approximately half an hour – maybe even forty minutes to an hour – to find the venue and I was feeling confident as I left Banshee Labyrinth and set off along the Royal Mile with a glossy venue map for guidance. Some time had passed and after walking up and down a seemingly endless procession of paved hills I was beginning to realise that I had no idea where I was. Despite being able to find the venue on the map in my hand I could not adjust my bearings to figure out how to get from wherever I was standing to Bristo Square, and time was ticking.
I continued walking, one foot before the other in an aimless drunken haze, and my surroundings were becoming vaguely familiar. A spring returned to my step and I entered Princes Gardens, which I had convinced myself was on the right route and somewhat close to where I was wanting to go. In the dusky distance I could see a couple of men wearing fluorescent vests, which I recognised as being the international symbol of good sense and wisdom at any public gathering, and I felt hopeful as I approached them.
I walked up to the stewards and I asked them how I would get to Bristo Square, by this point feeling sure that they would tell me it wasn’t very far from where we were situated. They glanced at my glossy map, which I had thrust upon them to illustrate that I was lost, and then exchanged blank looks with one another.
“Ummm,” the steward hesitated. “I dinnae really ken…we’re from Fife.” His partner was no more reassuring. “I think it’s somewhere that way,” he said pointing in the direction from which I had just walked. My shoulders slumped and I was becoming increasingly concerned that I was going to miss Shit-Faced Shakespeare.
I thanked the stewards for what I’m sure they believed was helpful advice and I turned and walked that way. My steps had taken on a frantic gait and I was practically power walking up the cobbled hills I had minutes earlier walked down with careful caution. A booze and fear-induced sweat formed on my brow and I was becoming desperate as I once again reached the Royal Mile with the clock running against my favour. A young couple who were approximately my age were walking towards me and in my haste I put to the back of my mind all of the anxiety and self-consciousness I feel when talking to strangers and I stopped them in the street and asked how I would get to Bristo Square. The female of the couple spoke with a well-educated southern English accent and she told me that they were walking in that direction anyway and she invited me to follow them. A deep sense of relief washed over my sweaty forehead.
The three of us set off in a direction which was entirely different to the one I had been following and I found myself struck by the poise of the woman as we became engaged in conversation. She had the sort of blonde hair that resembled a healthy crop of golden wheat in a field, and she was at least as tall as I am, though when you are drunk and walking downhill these things are difficult to measure. She asked me what I was on my way to see at Bristo Square and I told her about the excellent review of Shit-Faced Shakespeare I had read in The Times two weeks earlier. The wheat haired female stranger had read the same article and agreed that the show was very good.
As our conversation developed it was revealed that she was not just some random and very kind stranger who I had accosted on the street, but that she was a performer in a show at the Fringe. She reached into her handbag and presented me with a leaflet which had an image of Alex Salmond and Vladimir Putin looking like pirates as she told me about News Revue and how it was a Guinness World Record holder for the longest running comedy stage show, how it was in its 35th year at the Edinburgh Festival and how it had helped to launch the career of Bill Bailey and many other comedians.
By this point I had become aware that the male half of the duo had been largely uninvolved in the conversation, and although I wasn’t particularly interested in hearing anything he had to say I was wondering if he was harbouring any resentment towards me for commandeering so much of his girlfriend’s time on our walk to Bristo Square. I thought about the nature of their relationship and whether a drunk Scotsman who makes a modest living working in a supermarket could win the affection of a striking woman from a man who was surely the director of her comedy show, or at the very least a set designer with skilled hands or a scriptwriter with a sharp wit. What kind of chance would I have?
We reached Bristo Square with some time to spare before the show was scheduled to start. It was a large and impressive area with all sorts of different things going on. The couple were going elsewhere and I expressed my gratitude to them for helping me out of my hopeless situation. I shook the wheat haired English woman’s hand, and recalling that she was also a reader of The Times newspaper I made one last attempt to win her favour. I had an opening in my schedule on Sunday evening and I vowed that I would go and see her perform in News Revue. As is typical of a man who is trying to impress a woman I went on to make a promise which by all measurable standards was unreasonable and unlikely to come to pass, but it sounded flattering and the words had fallen from my mouth in a drunken slur before I could contain them. I promised her that I would Tweet a review of the show and that it would be published in The Times.
On Monday morning I rushed to buy my copy of The Times and I went straight to the Edinburgh Festival pullout. I thumbed through the pages to the Twitter reviews and felt a flutter of excitement when I spotted my name at the head of the column. Something I had promised a woman – something drunken and ridiculous and implausible – had actually come true, and even though I had no way of knowing if she would ever read the twelve words I had written to win her heart I felt satisfied. Though a small part of me was wishing that the psychic joke had made it instead.