Four days at the Edinburgh Fringe: Part one

It never matters where my final destination in the capital city is, every time I arrive in Edinburgh Waverley railway station I have to exit by the steps onto Princes Street so that I can see the Scott Monument, which is not only one of my favourite landmarks anywhere but is also, as far as I am concerned, the best monument dedicated to Sir Walter Scott.

During the month of August in particular, when Edinburgh is host to one of the world’s largest arts festivals, I am almost immediately filled with a tremendous sense of regret over my decision to take the long and unnecessary detour by the Royal Mile, rather than walking out onto Market Street where my hostel accommodation is located directly across the road from the station.  This was the case yesterday, when I found myself trapped behind an endless stream of slow walking pedestrians – the sort of people whose pace would make a tortoise retreat into its shell out of shame – who inexplicably stop to a standstill on the middle of bridges or suddenly change direction to walk straight across your path. My internal monologue was seething, and I couldn’t be sure if I was more annoyed with them or with myself.

The journey from Glasgow into Edinburgh had already soured my mood when the elderly man sitting opposite me and to my left had fallen asleep practically as soon as the train had left Queen Street.  This was a particularly large man and he had the appearance of a novelty-sized helium balloon from a children’s birthday party which had been caught up in a strong breeze and carried onto the seat opposite me on the train, having deflated just enough air so that it had flopped neatly into the seat.  He was asleep the entire way across the country, and when the train was approaching Haymarket station and he had still not stirred, not even for the ticket inspector, I was becoming anxious that it would be my responsibility to waken him.

I was beginning to visualise how I would attract this much older and much larger man’s attention without startling him so much as to cause a cardiac event.  Would a gentle hand on his shoulder be enough to do the job when there was so much of him? What if it wasn’t and I went on to strike him so hard that he awoke in a furious mood and I had an angry mob of commuters baying for my blood, accusing me of assaulting a pensioner and a war veteran?  Then I thought about what I might say to this man if I was able to waken him and he was sitting there in his seat looking up at me, dazed and confused and sleepy. I have always wanted to use the phrase “it’s the end of the line” but have never had reason to do so, because there are so few instances where it can be applied without sounding silly.  This was the perfect scenario to use that line, though, and I suddenly found myself feeling excited and hoping – almost willing – that the pensioner would stay asleep just a little while longer so that I could tap him on his shoulder. “We’ve reached the end of the line, bud.”

As I continued to daydream, a passing stranger reached down, having noticed the trouble that this man had gotten himself into, and he placed his hand on his shoulder.  “This is the last stop,” the good Samaritan informed the elderly man as he awoke, and his delivery wasn’t nearly as cool as I had imagined mine would be. I gathered up my belongings and sighed, feeling a mixture of disappointment and relief that at least I had not caused a heart attack.

After checking into my hostel accommodation I enjoyed a pint of lager at the Jinglin’ Geordie bar, which is approximately halfway up or down Fleshmarket Close, depending on which way a person is travelling.  For my first beer of the Fringe I considered the price of £5 a little steep, although not quite as steep as the steps seemed after drinking the pint.

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The top deck of a green bus, which was parked on Potterrow Underpass, was the venue for the first show I attended.  Chris Betts Vs The Audience had received a four-star review on The List website and the premise was a fun one where the comedian would argue against anything the audience said.  During this show the audience were tasked with debating in favour of legalising public urination and later Chris Betts would argue for the poaching of elephants, while a couple of ‘quickfire rounds’ took place between.  It was interesting to see the lengths people would go to in order to win an argument.

Much of the evening was spent in the Brass Monkey bar, which was close by, and the pints of Innis & Gunn were a slightly more agreeable price of £4.50.  The bar had the atmosphere of being in a persons living room, with its velvet-like red lampshades and the cast of photographs on the walls and the selection of board games which were available to play.  The white trimmings around the edges of the ceiling reminded me of the living room I grew up in and I enjoyed my time there. On the door leading to the bathroom were the symbols for both male and female sexes and inside there were two cubicles and a short urinal, which was enclosed behind white gates, similar to the saloon doors you would see in a western movie.  I had forgotten about this setup when I used the toilet for the second time and exited the urinal into the common handwash area whilst still fumbling with the zip on my jeans. I was momentarily surprised and felt like a very mild sex offender when I encountered a slightly older woman who was standing at the sink. Then I remembered that this was Edinburgh and that things are different on the east coast and I reminded myself that in future I should probably fasten my zip as soon as my penis is safely away.

At the bar in The Advocate I found myself in conversation with a woman who was waiting to order some drinks for her group.  She had pleasing facial features – it was symmetrical, with two eyes, a nose and a mouth, just the way I like a face – though she had a very strong Edinburgh dialect which jarred a little with my senses.  I tried to use alcohol to dull this but it was proving difficult. The woman spoke of her love of the city during the festival, which is in contrast to most locals who tend to despair during the month of August.  “Other people,” she said, “charge £1500 a week to rent their flat but I only ask for half of that.”  The word only hung in the air and she said it like she was doing somebody a favour with some grandiose act of charity, like she was welcoming the homeless into the warmth of her living room or saving the whales.  She threw a shot of tequila down her throat and introduced herself before leaving with a handful of drinks to convene with the rest of her group outside and I thought about everything that had happened.

Not so far away at The Bunker in Espionage, I went to see Cosmic Comedy, which was a show produced by a group from Berlin and featured four comedians performing around ten minutes of standup material each.  Three of the acts ranged from mediocre to terrible and there were no fewer than two jokes about the German invasion of Poland, which happened nigh upon eighty years ago. The fourth act, who was on third, was Josie Parkinson, whose blog (‘Making Of’ ) I have recently started reading and who was the reason I had decided to attend the show.  She was comfortably the most assured of the performers and I found myself laughing at her Tinder experiences and supermarket tantrums. I had been considering attempting to talk to Josie after the show finished, to tell her that I had enjoyed her performance and that I admire her writing. For a brief moment I found myself within speaking distance of her and I considered how weird it might seem for someone to mention such a thing as a blog in public, and the guy she was with was much bigger than I am, so I decided against it and continued walking.

Outside the venue, I was accosted by a girl who was handing out fliers for a show across the street, as almost everyone seems to be doing in Edinburgh.  She was wearing a sheepskin coat which looked very warm and I felt compelled to compliment her on her fashion and to ask her why she was wearing such a coat in August, which is still meteorological summer at least.  She smiled – perhaps out of enjoyment of my compliment, perhaps out of awkwardness – and told me that she has a cold and has been working outdoors for around twelve hours every day. I again made reference to her sheepskin coat and queried whether she felt others would follow her sartorial lead.  This seemed like a good point to leave.

I saw another four-act comedy show which featured a Russian and an Icelandic comedian, amongst others, at Banshee Labyrinth after the midnight hour and I returned to my room at the hostel happily drunk and satisfied with my first day at the Fringe.  I undressed and crawled into my single bed, which was closer to the floor than any bed I have ever slept in, and I fell asleep immediately.  Some hours later, at 6:56am, I was awoken by a housekeeper who had entered my room.  She apologised from her vantage point in the doorway when she saw me semi-naked amongst my sheets, and for some reason I also felt the need to say sorry.  The housekeeper closed the door again and it occurred to me how it really doesn’t take very much to wake a person up.