Fringe 101

First of all, thank you everyone for reading this blog. July has been amazing in terms of statistics. Without giving exact numbers, my views are up more than 35% on June and visitors up more than 53% which is incredible. Even better, views and visitors are up 108% and 148% respectively on January. So thank you, and now you have to keep reading because I’ll be heartbroken if I can’t grow my statistics an eighth month in a row.

January - July 2017 views/visitors graph
Look what you amazing people have done to my statistics!

And now, it’s August, it’s Edinburgh so first up in a series of special Edinburgh posts is Fringe 101, or “how to Edinburgh”.

What is the Fringe?

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is a huge comedy festival. Well, strictly speaking it’s not just comedy – it’s theatre and dance and art and all things weird but the comedy part is the biggest part by far. It takes place in Edinburgh in August – in fact, many a comedian has lost the word August from their vocabulary altogether, replaced by the word Edinburgh, resulting in sentences like “I’m spending Edinburgh in London this year”.

How to get there

Edinburgh’s got quite a busy airport with flights from all over Europe and as far afield as Dubai and a few destinations on the east coast of the States. And of course, if you can’t get direct to Edinburgh, the UK’s big flight hub Heathrow’s sitting a couple of hundred miles south just waiting for you to change planes.

There’s also the train. I like the sleeper train overnight from Euston but you can get trains from all over the UK during the daytime as well (although with the state of the UK railway network, I make no promises for how many times you’ll have to change train).

And then there’s driving. I’ve never driven to Edinburgh. I’ve not noticed an abundance of city centre parking but I know plenty of people do drive up.

Where to stay

The key to the Fringe is to book your accommodation as early as humanly possible. Edinburgh has a lot of hotels, hostels and other assorted sleeping places but prices skyrocket in August, because the Art Festival, International Festival, Fringe, Tattoo and Book Festival are all happening at the same time. Two years ago I found a city centre cheap chain hotel for £200 and was so delighted I booked it without reading carefully… only to find that was £200 per night and subsequently was on the phone to the hotel at 11pm begging them to cancel because I simply do not have £1600.

Make much use of comparison websites, read the details and book immediately – if you hesitate, sleep on it, it’ll be gone in the morning.

A friend of mine swears by Airbnb and that works for a group. However, booking a double room for two adults is no problem but two single rooms for two adults like me and Tom who’d rather not share a bed, that’s more difficult.

Finally, there is a campsite in Edinburgh but it’s out by the airport so it’s not that handy for getting home late at night.

How to find out what’s going on

Many ways. There’s and the matching app – you can book tickets through them and they’ll stick them all on your calendar to help you keep track. The app is particularly good because it’ll give you a chronological list of what’s on per day so you can see what you can fit in between things you’ve already booked.

When you get there, there’s a big heavy free brochure you can pick up all over the city. It’s got everything in it – names, dates, times, locations. But because it’s so big and comprehensive, it’s not actually that useful. I mostly pick it up for the venue map – there’s an unbelievable number of venues all over the city and I don’t know how you’re supposed to figure out where they are without the map.

As for finding things I want to go to, mostly I get that from the various chalkboards up outside venues. There’s regular shows that happen at the same time every day but there’s also one-off shows and regular shows with different guests – in 2015 I spotted Get Your Own Back Live, which wasn’t really resonating with the current generation of children but suddenly became very popular when it swapped the parents for comedians – popular with people my age, that is, who watched it when they were children, who spotted the boards up advertising it the day before it happened.

You can’t walk up the Royal Mile without picking up your body weight in flyers and leaflets. You’ll often get people advertising while you’re standing in a queue waiting to go into a show you’ve already booked. And of course, you’ll see people talking on Twitter. Keep an eye on Twitter, that’s a goldmine for shows you haven’t seen advertised elsewhere.

Where to pick up tickets

There are self-service machines all over Edinburgh. Put your card in and it’ll recognise everything you’ve booked on it and print out all the tickets at once. The biggest and busiest print centre is underneath the Fringe Box Office on the Royal Mile but most venues have a few machines hiding nearby and those are usually a lot quieter. You can book on the app as you stand outside a venue staring at a board with something that’s caught your eye, step round the corner and print out a physical ticket there and then. Different venues use different card for their tickets – generally they’re yellow but Assembly George Square has red and white ones, the Gilded Balloon has white ones and I’m pretty sure I’ve had pink ones from somewhere. They’re all the the same tickets and all valid in all venues but sometimes they look different.

What time do I have to be there?

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a show with assigned seating. The earlier you get in the queue, the better choice of seats you’ll have. As for the free unticketed shows, you’ll need to be there nice and early – well, for the popular ones. Ed Gamble was free two years ago and I just didn’t get there in time to be able to get in.

I’m a firm believer in taking a book to while away those queues – and the queues at the ticket printing machines sometimes too. I inherited a Kindle; I find it handy because it fits easily in a small bag and there are always more books on it.

What else is there to do in Edinburgh?

The obvious – to me – is to climb Arthur’s Seat. It’s pretty steep but it’s not too high and it’s quite doable in a couple of hours. Dynamic Earth, a sort of geology museum/theme park, is good fun for an hour or two. Get a day ticket for the hop-on tourist buses and get to see the city. Go for a swim at the Royal Commonwealth Pool, which has a spectacular view of Arthur’s Seat. Sample the local whisky or go to Mary’s Milk Bar. Edinburgh has an abundance of great food and drink, although good luck finding somewhere that’s not packed to the rafters at this time of year.

How do you survive this chaos?

Eat real food at least once a day. I have a kitchen in my delightful halls and I didn’t bother using it to have breakfast once last time I was there. I will this year. (Also go to Shakespeare for Breakfast: Shakespeare done comedically with free coffee and croissants. Highly recommended. Also Dickens for Dinner – same deal but with Dickens and soup late afternoon) Sleep. If you stay out late – and you will – stay in a little bit later the next morning. Don’t get drunk every night. Take a step away from the Fringe and do something, anything, else for a couple of hours.

What do you recommend to see?

I don’t particularly like recommending – people like different things and what you like I might hate and vice versa. But I do stand by my recommendations of Nick Doody and Shakespeare for Breakfast. I add to that Jay Foreman, Andrew Maxwell, Jigsaw, Giraffe, Lucy Porter, Austentatious, Mae Martin, Laura Lexx and please do pick a show with multiple people in it, especially if you haven’t heard of half of them – Comedy in the Dark was quite good fun, with its novelty of the lights being turned off so you couldn’t see what was going on on the stage.

What’s this weird money?

Scotland has its own banknotes and occasionally you might get given one in your change. They’re cold hard spending paper throughout the UK but here’s where it gets complicated. Although they’re real and spendable throughout the UK, they’re not legal tender, not even in Scotland. They’re what’s called promissory notes, which is something I’ve never come across outside a fantasy novel. As far as I understand, it means that for every Scottish note, there has to be an equivalent universal real legal tender note hidden in the vaults. I don’t even begin to understand but they are real and they are worth real money and you can spend them anywhere. However south of Carlisle, very few people in shops will recognise them and you may have a hard time spending them. You’re best getting rid of them while you’re still in Scotland. Resort to desperate measures like spending a £20 on a Freddo. Repeat to get rid of the ensuing £10 and £5 you get in change.