It’s only been more than a week since I got back but I’m going to finish this!
I planned to start Wednesday with a lunchtime Free Fringe show but it turns out that even free shows can sell out and so I missed out on Ed Gamble and also found myself with an unexpectedly free day. I ambled up and down the Royal Mile, bought a nice fleece tartan blanket for use on the train on the way home (the train is freezing!) and eventually found myself back at the Underbelly Med Quad in time to see Laura Lexx’s show. A large part of it revolved around whether or not her boyfriend was going to propose to her and a handful of us had been spoiled for the ending by the girl in charge of the queue outside who told us Laura is really nice, she’s married to one of the guys from the Noise Next Door, so that gave it away before I even knew it was going to be a question.
Next was a slow amble down the road to Just the Tonic at the Community Project, a five minute walk if you walk really slowly, where I sat outside and read Wallander for an hour before I went into Comedy in the Dark. It’s basically your typical “four comedians do twenty minutes each, one you’ve seen before and three you haven’t” except that they turn the lights off and you can’t see a thing. This particular one was hosted by Joel Dommett (one I’ve seen before, at Altitude), with Amy Howerska, Stephen Carlin and Paul Sinha (him off The Chase) and the darkness… was a novelty. I don’t know how much it actually added, other than the reveal that Lauren Black, owner of a huge voice, turned out to not look at all like his voice and also turned out to be sitting right behind me, rather than at the back of the room.
I finished the day with Daniel Sloss, right out at the EICC, which was my closest venue when I was staying at the Premier Inn in 2013 but is now quite the trek. Google Maps says it’s about a twenty minute walk – which is actually only about as far as the Assembly Rooms but I stopped for food along the way and then I stopped to look at the castle glowing in the sky on the way back, before they turned out the bright red lights and the castle just vanished into thin air.
I had to be out of my room quite early on Thursday, so I packed, left my luggage at reception for the day and went off down to Holyrood for the purposes of climbing Arthur’s Seat. The weather had no idea what it was doing – it got damp, it got hot and sticky, it got cold, it got windy and it changed every couple of minutes, which meant I was constantly taking layers off and putting them back on again. I took the summit path which is pretty direct and took about three quarters of an hour. The internet had said an hour to two hours, depending on how slow you are and as I was pretty slow, I was expecting it to take two hours. As I started the first real climb, the sun came out and it went really hot but when I got up to the little plateau right below the summit where the easy path joins from Dunsapie Loch (it can’t be that easy if you’ve got to walk fully half the circumference of Holyrood Park before you even start climbing) it got a bit wet and a lot windy. So I thought. I scrambled up to the top – the path sort of runs out there and you just pick a line to the summit and go for it. As for climbing up onto the rocky top, there’s no path of any kind. I picked the north side of it to scramble up in winds that were by now ferocious – so ferocious that when you lift a foot to move it, the wind buffets you and you put it down in the wrong place, resulting in the most awkward stumbling scramble ever. At the very top, it was so windy that you couldn’t even sit down without tipping over. I queued for my chance to climb up to the trig point and I took a few selfies there, since I didn’t have anyone down at the main summit to do it for me. Having climbed up, I didn’t want to go down immediately but it was very windy. I took photos in all directions and as I was about to descend, a man came up with some bagpipes, so I paused to watch that. For five minutes, it was entertaining to listen to the bagpipes being played at the summit of Arthur’s Seat and then I started to feel like I just wanted him to shut up and put them away.
When I got back down to civilisation, I thought I’d go and have a cup of hot chocolate at the bookshop and I went via the Mound, for some reason. As I walked along Princes Street, it occurred to me that the road was very quiet, just as I noticed the signs blocking it off. “Well, that’ll be a Festival thing”, I thought. The signs were Police Accident ones but I didn’t think anything of that. They’d just found some road closure signs. I couldn’t find the bookshop. I’d gone too far so I turned back and walked in the other direction. But before I found it, I stumbled upon a huge crowd being held behind blue police tape and looking through the crowd, I could see police cars and ambulances and blue flashing lights. Oh. An accident after all, and I’d come up on the wrong side of it and not noticed it. I crossed the road. Couldn’t get through there either. Couldn’t get through via the gardens. I had to cross the valley and go via the other side and as I approached Waverley Bridge, I began to see the scale of what was going on. Six fire engines, a fire brigade lorry, a fire brigade ladder lorry, an ambulance, half a dozen police cars and hundreds of people staring at the Scott Monument and taking photos. I got out my camera and used the zoom as a telescope to see what was going on. I could see someone in a yellow police vest up there and some people with ropes and helmets, some kind of mountain rescue. And by now I could hear mutterings that there was someone trying to jump off it but I couldn’t see a thing. I left the chaos and went into the tourist information to see if there were any Arthur’s Seat badges for my blanket in there and then ambled off to the Royal Mile to see what was going on.
I sat down behind the Tron to watch a street show – a man juggling a chainsaw and then riding a ten foot unicycle, during which I got stung by a wasp. It was crawling around on my knee and I didn’t notice, so I must have moved and accidentally annoyed it. It didn’t fly away. It kept crawling around on my knee so I sent it flying with a swipe of my sunglasses and when the show was finished, I limped off to get some magic to make it stop hurting.
I stumbled upon the City Cafe, the venue for my last show of the day, which it turned out I’d walked past at least every day for the last week. It’s another free venue, so I went in and sat down and watched the Clean (As Possible) Comedy Show, in which four comedians tried to keep it family-friendly – with more success than they did at Hyde Park a while ago.
After that, I thought I’d kill a bit more time so I jumped on a bus and went out to Ocean Terminal. I saw Britannia but she wasn’t nearly as interesting as the tall ship parked next door, with the biggest flag I’ve ever seen attached to her stern – a bit flag almost as tall as the masts. I took the bus back, through the city and out the other side, then decided to turn back as it was raining quite heavily.
I went and sat in the City Cafe again and watched Seizure Kaiser not doing the advertised show. I was expecting Supervillain, a tale of wearing capes etc and instead I got Gutless, a tale of “everyone’s got cancer and I’m going to be a bit too graphic”. But Mae Martin, my last show, was on straight after so I stayed put when everyone left, only for Mae herself to approach me and tell me she needed to empty the room and I needed to join the queue but if I wanted to sit there, she’d put a reserved sign on my seat so I could come straight back to it. We had to queue right down the stairs in the semi-darkness and the heat for ages but when I finally got back, she had indeed reserved my seat, which was just as well because Mae has been on TV once or twice and is far and away the most popular act at the City Cafe and the place was packed, and justifiably so.
After that, it was a bit of a dash back to the station. Well, I supposed it wasn’t really. The train didn’t go until 11.40 and we were allowed on at 11 and I wanted to be there at 11 to get settled and comfortable for the night and decide who I was going to hate all night (the people behind me who had the single seat and one of the double seat and argued in matching Margo Leadbetter voices about who had to sit next to a stranger, and the people who’d brought two small girls into the sleeper seats, especially the mum, who wouldn’t sit still, kept deliberately waking them up and tried to squish into the seats with them – those seats are already not that comfortable to sleep in, especially not when you’re trying to squish three people into two seats, despite having your own seat with the fourth member of your party). For some reason, I just couldn’t get comfortable enough to fall asleep. We sailed through Carstairs, paused on the far side and then went back in. We stopped at Carlisle, Preston and Watford Junction. You can get on and off at Watford but I don’t understand why Carlisle and Carstairs are on the timetable because you can’t get on or off there. You can’t get on or off at Preston either but at least they don’t put that on the timetable.
London crept up quite unexpectedly. One minute we were at Watford Junction and the next minute I could see the Post Office Tower. Blanket got hastily put away, boots shoved on and the next minute we were gliding into Euston. It had crept up so unexpectedly that half the people on the train were still asleep. They weren’t when we arrived in Edinburgh – the sun had been up and bright by Carstairs and people were awake and giggling half an hour before we got in. Maybe they’d all had too much comedy in Edinburgh and were too tired to notice the sun as they arrived in London.
I got across to Waterloo in record time (no tube strikes after all!) and back to Winchester by just after 9.30. Just in time to get home, get my Guide uniform on and go out to Wellies and Wristbands….
Monday: a slowish start because I needed to be just down the road at the monolith of comedy a couple of streets away (I’ve found a shortcut and halved the walk to the Gilded Balloon) that is the Gilded Balloon and George Square – they’re actually completely separate sets of venues but as they’re only really separated by a road crossing between them, I regard them as one big area. However, having found that shortcut, I then spent half an hour wandering up and down various roads nearby desperately searching for somewhere that sold bread. I’d found little bitesize bits of cheese but getting the bread to go with it proved difficult.
So, show one – in the Big Purple Cow, which has moved because there are building works where it should be – was Austentatious, an improved Austen novel, which meant you didn’t have to know the first thing about Pride & Prejudice, which is good because I don’t. But I’ve been reading Thursday Next recently and it pops up occasionally in there and as I was in a Thursdayish mood I thought I’d go. I’m glad I did, it was funny.
Show two – just a couple of hundred yards away from my front door in the Underbelly on Cowgate – a lovely sort of vertical labyrinth that looks like it may once have been prison cells and smells of wet rock. The internet won’t tell me what it used to be. Anyway, it makes a useful shortcut between the upper and lower streets and I went to see Giraffe – “give us a cheer if you’ve seen us before!” well, I was the only one. I like a bit of sketch comedy every now and then, especially in a room shaped like a train tunnel that smells like a forgotten cave.
Third up was Fred MacAulay at the Assembly Rooms but some idiot went into a shop, spotted some chocolate milk, thought “ooh, I fancy that” and then drank too much of it and consequently had to go home and lie on her bed whimpering for a bit.
At half past nine I went to see Aisling Bea. I was feeling a bit better – better enough to go out but bit like someone very heavy had sat on me. Everywhere in the Gilded Balloon is hot, so Aisling had made/had had made lots of paper plates with “YOU’RE HOT. I’M A FAN” written on them and then, because apparently she’s a maniac, as we all came in and took out seats, she was dancing t the front in a full morphsuit over her normal clothes. I’d have died of heat exhaustion long before the last person came in and then she fumbled her way over, more or less completely blind in the thing, felt her way to the front row and then shoved a piece of card and a microphone at me. I panicked and shoved it at the person next to me – fortunately not quite witnessed by Aisling herself – and let her do the whole “welcome to the stage” bit.
And then you’ll never guess who I met at the bottom of the stairs when I came out of the show.
Tuesday morning was my earliest yet. I had Shakespeare for Breakfast and when I left the building, it struck me that there were a lot of people standing around outside reception – more than are usually smoking out there and most of them weren’t smoking. I caught the word “fire” a few times and when I went out through the gate, there were three or four firemen and a fire engine with its lights on. I don’t know what had happened but as I walked up the road, watching constantly over my shoulder, people started to go back into the building opposite mine, so I don’t think it was anything major.
Shakespeare for Breakfast this year was Hamlet. I don’t know much about Hamlet – I’ve picked up a little bit from… you’ll never guess what – Thursday Next again – and I know a teeny-tiny bit because it seeps out into life – “alas poor Yorick” although I don’t know who Yorick is and “the play’s the thing” – but they don’t exactly stick to the script (they don’t stick to it at all!) and they throw in jokes and quotes and some I definitely recognised from other plays and other places so I really don’t know which ones are actually from Hamlet but assuming they stuck even slightly loosely to the plot, I now have the vaguest idea what happens. And they also provide croissants and tea/coffee/juice, so you can get fed and entertained.
Next job was to find an optician. An arm fell off my sunglasses on Monday. People are always telling me that the screw is coming out and I either tighten it up with my fingernail or I ignore it because it doesn’t actually fall out. Well, it fell out! I thought I was going to have to retrace my steps all the way back to the Big Purple Cow before it dawned on me that the missing arm might still be in my hair and it was but on Tuesday I had to go and find an optician to reattach it, because the sun is really out here and my retinas are getting destroyed every time I leave the building. The nice lady in the optician put in a new screw and tightened the other one and cleaned them with something that smelled of strawberries but it won’t be permanent because she thinks the thread inside the arm is gone – I’m inclined to agree, given how often the screw slides out. I’ll have to keep a closer eye on it in future.
Next was The Noise Next Door. I genuinely had no idea what to expect. I knew the name but I knew nothing about them and I wasn’t entirely expecting improv. The singing was a little less of a surprise. I enjoyed them, it’s always nice to go and see something new and enjoy it.
It wasn’t worth going home since the next show was in the same building three-quarters of an hour later (I have timed it; from the gate of my building to the gate of the Gilded Balloon is five minutes and two seconds, but it’s still not worth it). The next show was Get Your Own Back Live. Dave Benson Phillips has been doing this show for about the last three weeks – having appealed for any kids at the Fringe to get their own back on adults and only had responses from adults, he’s been doing an adults-only version on stage. But today was a special edition and he was very excited. On the Blue Team was captain Stephen K Amos and Will Seaward. On the Yellow Team was captain Ed Byrne and Patrick Monahan. Ed himself told me he was doing this and asked if I remembered it, so it would be rude not to go – and also, I was hoping to see him gunged, in which I was not disappointed. Dave was clearly not expecting anarchy, disobedience and misbehaviour on the parts of four comedians, all competitive and all apparently reluctant to be gunged (and Stephen forgetting very regularly “it’s a family show!” and using words Dave’s five-year-old son in the audience shouldn’t know yet). Cheating happened, trashtalk happened, fights broke out regularly, cold beans were eaten (I hated that bit), balloon animals were made very badly and then Ed and Pat were stripped of their shoes and socks, put in the chamber and thoroughly gunged. And had to stay there while the audience made their way out, because they were dripping and their feet were covered in gunge that they couldn’t track all over the stage. Photos were taken with soggy gunged comedians (not by me, but I did watch. The whole thing was hilarious.
The final show of the day was a second attempt at Fred MacAulay, a much more successful attempt and I’m very pleased that I didn’t just write him off. Fred of “boo!” fame lived up to the boo, delighted to shock and disappoint septuagenarians fans from the radio.
Tomorrow I have a lunchtime show and on Thursday, if the weather’s ok, I really should climb Arthur’s Seat. If I put it here, I kind of have to do it.
I started Saturday by trekking all the way up to Princes Street to poke around the shop, had a late breakfast of croissant with jam (in a little jar; I have taken the leftovers home to have with the croissant that will be provided at Shakespeare for Breakfast on Tuesday), apple juice & hot chocolate in Waterstones, in front of a massive window that overlooks Princes Street and the gardens. Then I went outside, got on a bus and went off to its mystery destination, which turned out to be the seaside to the east of Edinburgh. I didn’t go all the way to the end of the line – I got off at a suitable bit of beach, enjoyed the spectacle of what looked suspiciously like a perfect cone-shaped volcano in the east, played with the waves, was surprised by how clean the water is and how many blue mussels there were and then, eventually, went back because it was getting on for comedy time.
- Tiff Stevenson, in a nice cool room with a sparkly chandelier
- Adam Hills, who had a massive queue going all over the hill
- Nick Doody, in a fairly warm cellar
- Massaoke, a big late-night mass karaoke event
It was raining when I came out of Nick Doody’s show and as I walked home down the hill behind the Tron, I heard a man slip on the wet cobbles and shout to no one in particular in a Scottish accent “Oooh! I don’t want to die!” which was almost as hilarious as anything I’d heard in the last couple of days.
Massaoke was fun but too noisy for my taste and too late, because it started at half past midnight and finished at 3 (I didn’t stay until the end) and also, it was pouring with rain – really, really heavy rain – as I was walking down to the Gilded Balloon. In all the kerfaffigans when my clothes went missing on Thursday, I managed to forget to pack my waterproof trousers but it was ok! Long before I reached Greyfriars, my trousers were so wet I didn’t care about it any more. They were stuck to my legs and they couldn’t get any worse. There are building works where the Udderbelly should be and a footpath around the edges – a footpath that was totally flooded. Fortunately, I arrived a bit early and the queue was inside (although no one knew where, so everyone just stood around in bars and corridors and on stairs and waited to be told to go in) and I lurked and dried off and wondered if I looked like someone who worked there because I got asked questions and directions every five minutes, and I also spotted Jarred Christmas, Al Murray and Jay Foreman. The Gilded Balloon is clearly the place for comedian spotting.
The rain had stopped by the time I left, replaced by a really thick yellow fog. At least, I don’t know if it was really yellow or if it was just the lights around the Gilded Balloon that made it look yellow.
On Sunday I got up a bit late, went outside to get some food, discovered that it was painfully hot and sunny, ate food and then went to the pool.
I have many opinions on the pool. It’s a bit too cold. It’s inside. There are no hot tubs or hot pots or bubble baths or slides or anything. There’s a fifty metre pool divided into two pools by what I presume is a removable pontoon. There’s a not-quite-warm-enough baby pool that’s almost as big as a standard pool, if not quite as deep. There are diving boards – big diving boards and a big five-metre deep diving pool. But the actual swimming pools were interesting because someone stomped on the bottom of the shallower lane pool and it sounded hollow. So I investigated and I’m 99% sure that the bottom is removable to make it deeper. Maybe even frighteningly deeper. Some Icelandic lane pools are four or five metres deep at the deep end. I went in the baby pool, leaned against the wall and felt the pool breathing, so I investigated underneath. Another false floor and this one you can push out by nearly half a centimetre. You just stand there with your back against the wall and your feet or knees on the floor and you can feel the floor moving around.
I came back from my nice swim (I did swim! I didn’t just investigate the floors!), had some more food, read, had a nap and then went out for my quietest day, just the two shows
- Craig Campbell, who I want to adopt
- Andrew Maxwell, who I also want to adopt
I only had 45 minutes between those two and they were at opposite ends of the city – well, opposite ends of the bubble that contains 95% of the Fringe shows. I was a bit concerned about making it in time but Craig finished earlier than expected and then – because I had a bus day ticket – I caught the 3 from Princes Street across North and South Bridges to Nicolson Square, which is less than five minutes from Teviot Row, which is just to the north of Andrew’s theatre, so I actually had 35-40 minuets to kill chatting to two ladies in the Gilded Garden – they’re seeing opera and spoken word and “heavy plays” and a bit of comedy and asked things like “and what sort of show is that?” when they asked what I’d seen and enjoyed. “Well…. it’s stand-up comedy. Pretty much everything I’m seeing is stand-up comedy.”
When they say “the Caledonian Sleeper is as romantic as ever!”, clearly they weren’t sleeping in the seats.
Oh, they’re not so bad. They’re nice and big, they’re laid out 2+1 which means I could pick a 1 seat and not have anyone next to me but when you come down to it, you’re trying to sleep in a seat for seven hours and that’s not very comfortable. I’m pretty sure I twisted some internal organs into the wrong place overnight. We stopped at Preston and Carlisle – don’t know why because you can’t get on there and I’m pretty sure you can’t get off either. I do understand why we stopped at Carstairs – in order to separate our sixteen-car train so half could go off to Edinburgh and the other half to Glasgow. By Carstairs, it was about 6.30am, the sun was up, people were awake and they were giggly, as if they were at a sleepover, instead of having spent a good chunk of the night awake and all of it curled up in a chair.
Edinburgh was not as quiet as I expected at 7.30 in the morning although I was later to learn that by August standards, it was very quiet indeed. By mid-afternoon, it’s extremely difficult just to move. But all that was a long way off.
I had breakfast of toast and apple juice and then went off to my flat – and when I say “flat”, I mean “student room”, which wasn’t available until 3pm but they did let me leave my luggage there. I ambled around a bit, went up under the castle, went to the Fringe shop and collected my tickets, eventually – the machine having malfunctioned and thus convinced itself it had printed tickets it had not. It took four people to sort that one out. But once that was done, I was essentially just killing time. I’d deliberately not planned much on the Friday to give myself time to recover from a night on the train and all that ended up meaning was that I was at a loose end and homeless. Somehow I stumbled across the Hop On Hop Off tour buses and that seemed as good a plan as any – get taken on a tour around Edinburgh, with a seat, kill some time. I did the full circle and then started it again until we got to Holyrood and Arthur’s Seat because sitting down there is a place called Dynamic Earth. I don’t want to call it a museum but I can’t think of any better word right now – it’s a series of interactive exhibitions on subjects close to my heart such as earthquakes, volcanoes, glaciers and tectonic plates. First exhibit is a room full of Scottish scientists discussing the various roles they played in our current understanding of the Earth, one a hologram, four others moving portraits – all surprisingly lifelike, actually. Then you go in a time machine to watch the creation of the universe and then in the earthquakes and volcanoes room and so on. They did have a few problems – their iceberg has melted, leaving nothing but a wood and mesh frame, and no surprise really, given that the room it lives in is about room temperature. The 4D flight is currently 2D because of systems failure when the plane crashed, so you don’t get the 3D glasses or most of the special effects, except the snowstorm. That still worked. It finished up with a show in the showdome – where it’s all projected onto a domed ceiling and that’s pretty impressive.
Even better, when I came out starving hungry because it was gone two o’clock and I’d last eaten at eight in the morning, I found that in their cafe you could make up a lunchbox, with apple juice and cheese rolls and so on. It didn’t say anywhere that it was for children so I went ahead and did it before taking the bus back to Waverley Bridge.
My room… is on the basic side and it has a fluorescent bulb so weedy I have to put the lamp on until I’ve been in the room for at least an hour. Flat 3 is split across two separate corridors and it turns out (on Saturday afternoon) that the kitchen is in the other corridor. I’ll investigate further in the morning because I’ve just eaten and I have no need to use the kitchen right now, or later on this evening.
First up was Jody Kamali, in the Clover room in the Med Quad – these are all run by the Underbelly and so everything is cow-themed. I’m not sure what to make of the show – teeny tiny room, audience of 19 of which at least three were children and I spent the first half an hour wishing I could escape without looking so conspicuous. But then people start to relax and get into it and you know it’s silly but you stop hating it and start going along with the silliness.
Second show – and last of the night – was Ed Byrne in an oven at the top of the tower at the Gilded Balloon. Not the sort of heat that grows over the course of the show – the sort of heat that hits you as you walk through the door and makes the entire audience fall asleep ten minutes from the end.
And that was it for Thursday and Friday. Having got to the Gilded Balloon via the Pleasance, I found the more direct route back with no problem, fell onto my bed- the train already seemed weeks ago rather than merely last night – and discovered that, student-style, it’s rock hard. Fortunately, that’s how I like my bed and I would have been very comfortable if not for the roaring all night from next door – air conditioning, I assume. If you’re not listening to it, it fades to a background whisper but the moment you notice it’s there, it becomes deafening.