If the Edinburgh festival is nerve-racking for performers, trying being the parent of one. Laugh dementedly – then a stiff drink
? We are in Edinburgh for the festival, which is as exciting and buzzy as ever, though as always people on the fringe are complaining. Too many acts – hundreds and hundreds – chasing too few visitors. Prices soaring everywhere, hotels rates ridiculous and, in a recession, who can afford to come? The average attendance at any fringe event, they will tell you, is just seven – but they say that every year. It may well be true every year. I’ve been to shows in which I was a third of the audience.
We’re here to support our daughter Amy, who is working to be a professional comedian. Her act is based on a character she’s invented called Pattie Brewster, a dysfunctional young woman desperate to make friends. (“In our yearbook I was voted least funny pupil. And I was home-schooled.”) It’s at 8pm, almost every night, Banshee Labyrinth, Niddry Street – free.
When we tell people our daughter is a comedian, they all say: “How brave!” Yes, she is, as brave as her parents. You cannot imagine the experience of seeing your little girl stand up in front of a few dozen strangers and be funny. Your stomach heaves with nerve-shredding anxiety. You’re walking a tightrope between elation and despair. You can laugh dementedly at everything, but what would you do if she got a mean and nasty heckle? Shrink into your seat like a salted slug? Or march over, announce “That’s my daughter you’re dissing, you bastard!” and belt him one? Or, worse, what if the whole audience sits in a morose silence?
But thank god, there was no need to fret. After a dodgy start two weeks ago, with a sprinkling of drunks and non-English speaking persons, place was standing room only when we went and they got the jokes. Huge relief for her and for us – until the next night, which could be awful. Either way, very large post-show drinks are required.
? She also has a bit part with a well-established comedian, Simon Munnery, who does a very funny turn running a “conceptual” restaurant with no food, just surreal jokes, and only eight audience members a show. He’s got a gag confusing Vidal and Siegfried Sassoon (“how can you tell people to take two bottles into the shower when men are dying out there?”)
So we got to thinking about triple names, such as Gore Vidal Sassoon, the sardonic poet whose hairstyling innovations set the tone for a lost generation. Or John Irving Berlin, the philosopher who first smuggled Doctor Zhivago into the UK, and whose darkly comic novels and fabulous songs will live in our hearts forever. And Debbie Harry Potter, the inspirational king who used the power of necromancy and electro-pop to defeat the French at Harfleur.
? We’re here with Martin Randall Travel, a company that runs tours for people who want to do more than sit on the beach. Every night we’ve been to concerts at the real festival, which has for years been buried by the fringe, like a mouse under nutty slack. The concerts have been stunning, including a choral production of Tristan und Isolde, which lasted five hours – for Wagner a light interlude, a tea break. One of our party comes from Glasgow. I asked him why Glaswegians can’t stand the people of Edinburgh. The gist of his reply was that they are far too up themselves. At one concert our guide had turned her phone to silent, but the tiny red message light was winking. Afterwards an Edinbourgeois came over and said: “Your red light completely ruined the concert for me,” leaving her speechless.
? Once again I was struck by the confidence of the city. Those of us who support Scottish independence might fear the wrong result in 2014, but there’s no doubt that Edinburgh is ready – it feels like a capital, with a panache provided by the Scottish Enlightenment that has never quite left the place and has even survived the debacle of the new tram system. (This could cost £1bn, enough for two days’ Olympics.)
The two sides are squabbling about the lessons of the Games. Either they show that Scotland has all the talent and willpower it needs. Or that real, world-beating success can only be won as part of the UK. As our train pulled out of Waverley station, I felt sorry for the poor sods who live here and have two more years of these circular, self-defeating arguments.
? I didn’t go to the book festival, following the miserable, stingy way they charged £78 for my wife to share our hotel room last year. But a Labour-supporting friend texted from there: “Just seen a sign, ‘Paddy Ashdown Sold Out’. Too right!”
? Even the weather has been good. One day it didn’t rain at all. (How do carwash businesses here survive?) The food is fine and not expensive. One caff we saw had banners advertising deep-fried Mars bars, but it was closed, so we couldn’t tell if this was ironic. The dish I least wanted to try was “fried battered haggis balls with a whisky sauce dip”. (As Marilyn Monroe allegedly asked Arthur Miller: “Isn’t there any other part of the matzo you can eat?”)
Our trip includes very nice grub, though I wasn’t so keen on a French wine we were served: Baron de Badassière, who I saw as the toughest cross-dressing convict in a Texan jail.
? I see “Sir” Richard Branson wants an apology from the prime minister for losing his rail franchise. I think he has a point. But first we need an apology from him, for overpacked trains with too few standard-class seats, eye-watering fares, his enormous profits, and some over-zealous inspectors who demand £131 from grannies who have got on the wrong train by accident. And what happened to those at-seat massages or in-train films we were promised? Colourful jumpers and a beard are no excuse at all.