2017 is my third Fringe, although I did make two trips up there in 2013 – one scheduled and one spontaneous when FOMA got the better of me. Actually, I’d only been half-thinking about going this year (I was only working two days a week after two months of unemployment) but then in the pub at Christmas, Tom expressed a desire to go and so I went.
I flew up from Southampton at the crack of dawn – by the time I’d checked in, gone through security and had breakfast in the departure area, I had just two and half hours left to kill and I really shouldn’t have got up quite so early. I was in Edinburgh just after ten in the morning, in the city centre before eleven and went to drop off my bag in the hostel where I stayed two years ago. The hostel is student halls the rest of the year and work was being done on the place. Reception was now in a different building across the road but apparently I wasn’t staying there. Having lugged a ridiculously heavy bag (how I got away with it as hand luggage, I don’t know) across Edinburgh, I now had to walk another five or ten minutes down Cowgate to their other hostel with the thing, where I deposited it at reception and set out into the city unencumbered.
I had a few hours to wait until Tom arrived so I picked up my tickets and a brochure, spent a while in the Cowshed watching a musician called Liam, spent a while reading in Princes Street Gardens and then in Waverley Station while waiting for Tom’s delayed train to arrive. We checked in, I changed out of my beautiful but agonising trainers and we went out for food.
A plate of penne a la chef and garlic bread later, we picked up Tom’s tickets and headed up the Royal Mile. It was a bit like walking with a hyperactive toddler – “what’s that?” “can we look at this?” “let’s stop here” all the way up. I’ve got a bit into the habit of striding up the Royal Mile as if I’ve got somewhere urgent to be and I don’t tend to stop to watch the colour and the chaos going on around me, so that’s not altogether a bad thing.
We stopped again by the Royal Scottish Academy to sample cider and watch a busker. We were both heading for the far end of Princes Street for our first shows of the Fringe – well, Tom was. I was heading for the EICC and via Princes Street wouldn’t have been my first choice of directions but I was still playing tour guide. At ten to eight I left Tom there and scurried off to the Barnardo’s Big Comedy Benefit, which was entirely people I wanted to see and was delighted to see, so that was a good start. It finished at half past ten and Tom’s second show finished at half past eleven, so I crossed town back to the Gilded Balloon in a leisurely fashion to meet him – with some difficulty, since I’m not in the habit of checking my phone.
That evening we found “our bar”, Holyrood 9A on the junction of Holyrood Street, the Pleasance and Cowgate, if you care to make a visit and because it was our first night of the Fringe and we wanted to celebrate, we stayed there until it closed.
And then I discovered the drawback of the hostel, reasonably-priced and reasonably-located as it is. Each block is connected to the central courtyard by a metal gangway or a set of stairs and the noise of wheeled suitcases over those gangways has to be heard to be believed. I’m not exaggerating when I say the first time I heard it, I thought a bomb had gone off. And people arrive and leave with their suitcases all night long. And if that wasn’t bad enough, every door in the building slams. More than once I got out of bed and yelled at the window and I got about an hour’s sleep the entire six days.
The next morning, a late start would have been nice but I hauled myself out of bed at nine o’clock to get across to C Theatre for Shakespeare for Breakfast, without actually having had any breakfast or even anything to drink, as I didn’t have anything in the room to eat or drink. Fortunately, half the fun of Shakespeare for Breakfast is that they provide breakfast – or at least, they provide a semi-edible croissant and tea, coffee and orange juice. I go to this show every year and I’ve learned to take jam, borrowed from breakfast at the airport the day before. This year it was Mac- Gary, set in an allotment society (this is a thing they do – I’ve seen Taming of the Shrew with the Middletons and Hamlet as a pretentious drama student) and afterwards I went straight to the shop for provisions.
I met up with Tom and we went off for a bit more tour-guiding around Edinburgh. I showed him the Underbelly, my favourite venue, and we found something to watch in there in the middle of the afternoon, a one-women theatre show called Quarter Life Crisis. As we came out of there, Tom remembered it was someone’s birthday the next day so we ran straight for a bar with wifi so he could send a Moonpig card – and also sample the strongest whisky they had while he was doing it.
We split off again after that – we both had shows in the afternoon and evening. Mine were Tiff Stevenson, Ed Byrne and Andrew Maxwell and sitting in the same room two hours in a row for the latter two, I learned that the George Square Theatre has the most comfortable seats in the entire Fringe.
Another evening, another bar. This time, “our bar” was packed and we went a-wandering, ending up at Usher’s, which is also the Counting House. It was a bit noisy for my taste but there was a table and drinks and live music and I don’t remember how late we left but I’m pretty sure that was the night we stopped at the end of the road for pizza before bed.
Saturday morning. Was that the day it rained? No, Saturday was the day we went to see Janey Godley and Ashley Storrie’s live podcast. We had brunch at the Black Cat on the way, went to the podcast, went down the Royal Mile to the Wyrd Shop, where I bought a new chain for my dragon – I mean, it’s a necklace that used to be an earring and I’ve not yet found a chain that doesn’t turn brown or green within a few months. We popped into the Cocktail Festival to have a look around and came back later to get food there, when it wasn’t quite so soon after brunch. It did rain – we looked at every pub and café on the way down the road, knowing that we’d have to leap into one of them to take shelter from the oncoming storm very soon but we managed to get back to our rooms without getting wet. Just a short break to charge phones and grab waterproofs, that sort of thing.
Saturday evening I went to see Nick Doody, as much a Fringe tradition as Shakespeare for Breakfast, and then ran up the road to BBC Presents. It didn’t start for another hour but apparently you need to be there an hour in advance to get your ticket validated, which meant I then had the best part of an hour to sit and kill with a book instead of walking up nice and slowly from the Liquid Rooms. Edinburgh gets cold in the evenings and I’d have liked to go back to my room for another layer. I probably had time but it might have been a bit of a push, so I didn’t. I just sat on the floor with the first of the Vorkosigan Saga.
I’ve seen these Live from the Fringe things on the BBC before but I’ve never been to one. Never realised they were a thing you could go to and I know I won’t be appearing on TV in the audience because the women next to me assumed I was waiting for someone and left the seat next to me empty. It was good – only two comedians on a bill of nine that I’d heard of, and all over in an hour which was an absolute triumph of efficiency. I look forward to seeing it – or bits of it – on iPlayer at some point in the next month or so.
I met up with Tom again afterwards and we went to “our bar” again. Until one o’clock in the morning.
And that was the first three days. Part two coming this time next week.