Whistlestop Edinburgh Festival

August 20 2018

The Edinburgh Festival (and particularly the Fringe) has always been on my list of things to do (no, I don’t believe in “bucket lists”, in much the same way as I don’t do “guilty pleasures”. I mean… “things to do before you die”? As opposed to all the exciting things you’d do afterwards, perhaps? Why not just say, “things I want to do but haven’t done yet”?). For a while, because of the shape of the academic year, August was never a good time to go away. There was way too much admin and planning around the clearing period to make it a serious proposition. But now, not so much.

So when my old mate, John, rang me and said, “How do you fancy a day up in Edinburgh? The train tickets are cheap as chips”, I thought, “Sod it. Why not?” So, off we popped on the 10am train from Monte Darlo up to Auld Reekie. It should have been 10am but we were delayed half an hour. No matter, it didn’t affect things all that much.

We didn’t really have a plan either. No strict itinerary, just a few loose ideas of what we fancied watching, and the Fringe Guide to see if we could fit them in.

We strolled out of Waverley station at aoround 12.30. While the weather had been a bit dreich in the North East when we left, ironically, it wasn’t like that at all in Scotland. The sun was shining, and it was pleasantly warm. T-shirt weather. Result.

Hello, Edinburgh!

We’d considered going to watch Austenacious, but the train getting in late had kind of spannered that idea, so we went to grab a quick bite of lunch and consider options. The only thing we’d really decided on was that we had to go and see Simon Munnery at The Stand. Even though I’ve wanted to see him for ages, that was tinged with a slight feeling of regret because he clashed with Andy Zaltzman, and Mitch Benn. But there you go, only one day; can’t see everything.

The first thing we thought of as a kind of aperitif was the One-Thirty Comedy Cabaret, in the New Town Theatre, a marvellous old building with an impressive domed roof, with a selection of acts from around the fringe. The show was compered by a US comic, Ramon Rivas. One of the acts, Stu Murphy, had cancelled, but we still got Ramon, plus the cabaret singer Jojo Bellini, and the New Zealander, James Nokise, who had the vibe of a Polynesian Jack Whitehall. Rivas is a laid-back, laconic guy, who tells stories of how, in his LA family, he’s the positive male model, even though he’s an underemployed stand-up stoner. I could certainly have listened to him for longer, even though he was filling as a result of Murphy’s non-appearance. I enjoyed Jojo, even though it’s not the kind of show I’d have gone to see otherwise. And I really liked Nokise, who talked about how it’s tough being in a gang in New Zealand, casual antipodean racism, and the pronunciation of the word, “Samoa” and how it’s gets him into no end of trouble at airport security. Certainly worth the hour, especially as we got in for three quid a pop!

On the way down to the next venue we took in a brief moment to look at Audrey, a mobile cinema. Actually, it’s the last mobile cinema of its type, built in the 1960s during the White Heat of Wilson’s technological revolution. It was designed to deliver training to the burgeoning population of engineers this new era would usher in. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out that way. After being left to rot at the end of its working life, it was found and restored, and is a rather lovely thing to be in.

After visiting Audrey, we wandered down to The Stand to take in the main target of the day: Simon Munnery. The great thing about being in The Stand was there was no barrier between us and Munnery at all, so it was a very immediate experience, and fantastic to see someone who’s such a master of his craft at such close quarters. The premise of the show, The Wreath, came from a joke that came to him at Sean Hughes’ funeral, “I went to a funeral the other day. Caught the wreath…”

Simon Munnery at The Stand

It’s a show packed with detail and a back story involving egg production and chess that is plausible enough to be true, but you’re never quite sure how much truth he’s telling you at any given moment. It’s full of silly visual jokes (his entrance is a peach), and seemingly careless, almost throwaway puns. This includes an interlude including the transcript of an online chess game with Boothby Graffoe, which rapidly descends into hilariously demented abuse. It’s very, very funny: there’s very little let up in the fusillade of gags he fires at you, and there are lots of hits.

After this we decide to just wander around the city and take in a bit of festival ambience. We’ve made up our minds we’ll only catch one more show, to avoid too much rushing about, before we have to hop on the last train back south. Off we wander up the Royal Mile, towards the Pleasance, taking in the atmosphere, street performers (including a stunningly good flamenco guitarist), and some wonderful architecture, such as St Giles ‘ Cathedral

Up in the Old Town

We make up our minds that we’ll finsh off with Justin Moorhouse’s Northern Joker at the Gilded Balloon Teviot at 7, before we wind our way back down to the station for the journey home. I’d fancied the idea of seeing Moorhouse for a while, partly because of his stint in Phoenix Nights, but also because he’s usually the highlight of the show when he does 5Live’s Fighting Talk on a Saturday morning.

Pleasance

This turned out to be a very good choice, because it’s a great show, which combines Moorhouse talking about his own working class background, with the uneasy feeling of watching his kids’ childhoods come to an end, almost before he’s realised. There’s no flashy staging, just Justin and a mic for an hour. He even manages to answer the question of how far he feels he can call himself northern when, let’s be brutally honest here, Stockport’s practically in the midlands 😉. There’s an artful change of gear to finish when he links the events of the last year or so in Manchester to the life lessons he says he’s tried to pass on to his kids, and you’re left with the lingering thought that a philosophy of “enjoy yourself, try your best, and be kind” isn’t such a bad one at all.

We wander back through the city, back to the train home (First Class, because we got a good deal on the tickets), just enjoying the vibe and picking out the little bits of history that surround us as we amble by. It was a great day, and one that makes me want to spend a bit more time there next time, becasue there will certainly be one.