Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Journey to the Fringe

On Saturday morning I opened the back door and saw one sandal sitting on its side in the middle of the courtyard (I had put the pair of them outside to air out over night). I was momentarily mystified, 'Why would a burglar only steal one shoe?' but then I remembered the fox that Chrissy and Piet had said sometimes visits the garden at night (when I heard this I was quite excited as I've never seen a fox before). Seeing as the one shoe in view was intact, I figured the fox must have just played around with them and the other would be somewhere in the garden similarly intact. I began a methodical comb of the small garden and saw the bottom of the shoe under a bush, I climbed into the bush only to find the fox had (very neatly, really) eaten the entire top of the shoe, including the buckle. I didn't even think about taking a photo at 7.15am, I just threw them in the bin. Surprisingly, I was more annoyed that I still hadn't actually seen a fox even though one had mauled my shoe.

I wish I could say that threw my whole morning but really it only wasted about 15 minutes and it's my own fault that I came to be rushing to catch my 11am train to Edinburgh. By 9am I was all packed, dressed, and ready to go, so I went down to Sainsbury's to get some thank you things to leave for Chrissy and Piet (they had gone camping for the weekend the day before). I had breakfast, checked my emails, and just before 10am went to close up my bag and leave. I realise now I had probably under-calculated how much time I needed to get to King's Cross anyway, but it didn't help that I went to attach my small backpack to the neatly packed big pack and it wouldn't happen. This resulted in a frantic rearranging and repacking of both bags and having to carry some presents in a separate shopping bag. That's right. Presents were my downfall.

Anyway, it was 10.15am by the time I got to the tube station down the road, bearing in mind I can only walk so fast carrying my pack, and of course, I had just missed the tube I needed. So I had to wait 7 minutes. This doesn't sound a long time but when tubes usually come every 4 or so minutes it seemed like a cruel trick. I then agonised through the four stops before King's Cross and when I finally go there tried to hurry to the overground part of the station but of course being Saturday morning it was packed, so moving fast wasn't really possible. Because I'd booked online, I had a booking reference but I still needed to go to the ticket counter to get my actual ticket. Naturally, the line was long when I got there and I had only fifteen minutes to go before the train left. Finally I was at the front and the ticket man was extremely efficient so I rushed to platform five (which was thankfully very close to the ticket office) and made it onto the train with just under five minutes to spare. When I sat down I felt like I'd just competed in the Olympic train marathon, but it was also quite satisfying, having been sure approximately 20 minutes earlier that I wouldn't make it (because I knew both the station and the ticket office would be packed), to have beaten the odds. I won't be making a habit of it though.

The train ride from London to Edinburgh was great. Some lovely scenery along the coast, lots of purple heather, and it was a bit of a shock to start seeing decent sized hills again. We went through a town called Dunbar which was cool because my great grandfather on my Mum's side had Dunbar in his name. I had a little sleep, listened to music, read my book, and the four and a half hours passed relatively quickly. I had been booked to stay at a hostel for the week (sharing a room with three others) but two weeks ago I got an email from a Scottish woman I worked with at PHARMAC for three months about five years ago. She had seen on Facebook that I was in the UK and said, 'You should come to Edinburgh, I have a spare room you're welcome to stay in.' I replied that I was indeed coming to Edinburgh and had booked a hostel. Being the lovely person that she is, Lisa told me to cancel the hostel if I hadn't already paid for it (which I hadn't) and come stay with her and her partner.

Lisa met me at the train and we walked to her house only fifteen minutes away from the station (my shoulders held up relatively well considering I was carrying a small house on my back) in the New Town. As we walked along one of the main streets she said, 'And there's the castle.' And so it was, on a giant rock right in the middle of everything. Much less castle-like than I expected, but much more central than I expected as well. It was really strange to be in a hilly city again after the flatness of London. It's amazing how quickly you get used to things.

She and Luke live on the top floor of an old apartment building (so I also had to climb four flights of stairs with the small house on my back), and their apartment is really nice (that's their front door from the stairs, the person who lives next door is into pot plants in a big way). Very light and airy with polished wooden floors. I have a whole room with a double futon bed and cute wee fireplace to myself. So much nicer than sharing bunk beds with strangers.

After sorting myself out, I went to meet Ed in town, at the Sir Walter Scott memorial which has a giant spire. There seem to be a lot of giant spires in the city. Lisa said it was the nicest day they'd had in ages so I needed to make the most of it while it lasted. I wondered why she was so eager to get rid of me, but when the clouds rolled in and the wind came up less than an hour after I'd left the house, I realised she'd had good reason. The weather does not last long in Edinburgh. Luckily I had had the foresight to take my merino top with me because it got pretty icy pretty quickly. Ed said no matter what the weather is like when you leave the house, you have to always take an umbrella and another layer or two.

We walked up into the Old Town, where the streets were packed with people. The Royal Mile, the Fringe hub, was shoulder to shoulder full, and crowds were already surging towards the castle for that evening's performance of the Tattoo. We managed to find a Middle Eastern restaurant that wasn't full (probably because they don't have a liquor license we realised after we'd sat down) and had dinner. When we emerged back into the street, we saw it had been raining. It rains at least once a day here. Someone handed us a flyer for a free (of course, nothing's free, they always ask for a donation at the end) comedy show just along the road and it sounded promising so we went in. I already write enough to complete a small novella so I'll try not to detail every show I go to. For 'No Less of a Man' all I will say is, it got off to a promising start but despite prefacing the show with, 'I was brought up surrounded by females', there ended up being a lot of stereotypical jokes about women. The funniest part was actually the drunk Scottish man in the audience who had some gems of unintentional wit. At one point he was talking to his friend and the comedian (who was Canadian) said, 'Hey, what are you guys talking about? You know you're not exactly whispering', and this deep Scottish voice replied, 'Dove for men.'

Ed then led us to one of the squares which have venues all around and inside them as well as beer gardens. On the way we got given a flyer by an Australian comedian who recognised we were New Zealanders. We had a bit of a chat to him and after we'd had a drink, we decided to go to his show that night. 'The New John Conway Experience' was definitely an experience. It was in the Billiard Room at The Assembly which is the old student union building of the university. I was almost asleep on my feet by the time we took our seats at 12.15am but I was well awake by the end. Flashing lights, random music (if he felt like his comedy was floundering he would push the 'emergency' button, a song would come on, and he would start dancing - not particularly well), a lot of interacting with the audience, and a lot of drinking from various cans and bottles. The few actual jokes he had written weren't that bad, but a lot of his set revolved around him talking to people in the audience and going off on tangents 'It's like Fruche...do you guys know what Fruche is or is it an Australian thing? Fruche is like the number one liquid in the world. What do you reckon the top ten liquids are? Let's list them...what about number seven? The sea? I like that. Eight? Blood? No.' He got more and more manic as the show went on and it ended with him inviting various people he'd talked to during the show up on stage where he made them run on the spot to music while green lights flashed. Again one of the best parts of the show was an audience member; at the very start of the show John Conway said, 'How are you guys all doing tonight? There are heaps more people here than I expected. Awesome. Hey man, how are you?' and this guy in the front row replied, 'I'm only here because there was nothing else starting sooner. So you'd be better to just crack on.' John Conway's response to this, after some initial incredulity and the audience member going on to say, 'I'm not trying to be funny, you should actually just get on with the show', was to start the whole show again from his entrance in which he announced himself and danced enthusiastically to German techno music.

After the show, I went home. It had been a very strange and slightly disheartening start to my Fringe experience.

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