At the end of two weeks of holidaying – one with my daughter and one with the whole family – I had one day to myself. One whole day to do whatever I wanted. Freedom, here I come.
My To-Do List included my one and only visit to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Since moving to the Kingdom my trips to the culture circus that is the Fringe have been few and far between and this year was no different. A lack of annual leave, coupled with budgetary constraints meant that Monday 9 August would be my only diarised date for the Fringe in Scotland’s capital. The lucky recipient would be Andrew Collins and his show Secret Dancing and Other Urban Survival Techniques at Bannerman’s. It was also just within my budget. It was free.
I dropped off my daughter at Kids Club and then it was ‘me’ time. Job one was to contact John Lewis in Edinburgh with a view to arranging delivery of a competition prize I’d recently won. We enjoy entering competitions and prize draws as a family and were lucky enough to win a £2500 Spring Home Makeover. Thankfully it didn’t involve Nick Knowles trawling through our house. We’d won £500 worth of products from each of five shops. Rather inconveniently the prizes related to a competition on the Trafford Centre website. That’s right, in Manchester.
We tried to work out if we could use the prizes without actually going to Manchester, which somewhat defeated the point of the competition, certainly from the view of the Trafford Centre, but we’d have no choice. One of the shops, Dwell, specialising in home furnishings, has a branch in Glasgow so we could use the vouchers there but the Selfridges prize related to a particular brand of bed linen that had to be picked up in Manchester. Home Sense is the sister store to TK Maxx but doesn’t have any branches in Scotland. The nearest branch is the Newcastle branch, which doesn’t open until September. Natuzzi does have a store in Glasgow too but that part of the prize relates to a specific type of table and we have to choose which one in person. The John Lewis part of the package is a 26” TV and a Blu-Ray player. The TV is smaller than the one we have but we don’t have a Blu-Ray player. As it can play DVDs as well as Blu-Ray, we’ll replace the DVD player we already have, which had also been a competition prize. We would have to take a trip down South, probably accompanied by some large empty suitcases with which to fill with booty.
Originally I had contacted John Lewis in Manchester and they were happy for the TV and Blu-Ray player to be collected from or delivered by the Edinburgh branch. Result. Unfortunately, in the two weeks I’d been on holiday – home and down south – nothing had arrived. The morning phone calls to both the Edinburgh (via a call centre in Hamilton, which explained all the Lanarkshire accents I encountered!) and Manchester branches had sent me on a wild goose chase and I gave up. I knew if I were going to Edinburgh I would have to leave plenty of time to find a parking space so I headed off sharp-ish.
There’s an area very close to where I work which has a large number of free parking spaces – very much a rarity in and around Edinburgh – but, as you can imagine, these fill up rather quickly with local residents and commuting workers, including me. When I’m at work I’m parked by 6.30 am. By 7.30 you’ll be very lucky to get a space. It was either park here or pay upwards of £7 in the centre for a couple of hours. I resolved that if I got a free spot I would put £5 into the bucket of the performer I was going to see. If I had to fork out for parking, he would lose out. A harsh reality.
After a brief visit to the local Waitrose to get some cash for the inevitable parking costs. I vowed to make one more circuit before heading uptown. Bingo! Result! Ker-ching! A space! Woo-hoo. Any anxieties immediately drained from me. I’d have a 35-minute walk uptown (and uphill) but I didn’t care. I reassured myself that it was good exercise.
As I walked through Stockbridge I spotted a vagrant looking through a bag of shoes. Without looking up from his hopeful rummaging he held up a black shoe in my direction and enquired if I had another one like this. I didn’t check my pockets because I was pretty sure I didn’t have one in that size and colour. “Sorry pal”.
I hadn’t wasted that much time finding a parking spot so I had some time to kill and, almost inevitably, I ended up in FOPP. Now I could’ve spent a small fortune of CDs I thought I “needed” but sensibly I left empty-handed.
When I left Edinburgh six years ago I had fallen out of love with the place. A lot of anti-social behaviour and the area we lived in had turned into Little Beirut. We loved our flat but the area was hell and only exasperated my depression and we left for Fife. But wandering through the city I recalled why I originally loved the place. I was soaking up the atmosphere of the festival and even the unsightly Tramworks couldn’t take away from the splendour and history of my surroundings. Hopefully it would soon be restored to its former glory although it’ll be a close run thing as to whether the long-running Tramworks will be completed before Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia.
I hurried past the kilted piper on Waverley Bridge, surrounded by tourists wanting photos taken with the man in plaid strangling a cat, heading towards Cockburn Street. I popped into Avalanche for old time’s sake – I was carrying one of their record bags after all – but couldn’t find anything I wanted so headed to The Baked Potato Shop for lunch. It had been a regular Saturday lunchtime haunt once upon a time and I wondered if it had changed. It had. It was still the size of a BMW glove compartment but the very limited seating had been removed and replaced with an unsightly pile of flattened boxes and rubbish. Shame. Never mind a couple of their vegetarian sausage rolls would be just the job.
“Sorry, the guy who does them is off today”. What? While I was impressed that this seemed to indicate they were actually homemade and not a processed product I was not happy. (And if they’re not handmade and out of a packet, can no-one else operate the microwave?) How can they let Sausage Roll Man have a day off during the Fringe? It’s commercial suicide. I left disappointed.
I had to settle for second best and while avoiding leafletters and crowds on the Royal Mile I headed for Greggs. I would rather have given my money to the more independent retailer but I was left with no choice. As it turned out I did enjoy the sausage rolls and they served their purpose but it just wasn’t the same. Edinburgh, you’ve changed.
After brushing aside another vagrant who wanted £1 – uptown prices – I headed down to Bannerman’s. My regular of choice back in the day was The Green Tree, which sat along the Cowgate from Bannerman’s. I preferred “The Tree” but Bannerman’s made do when necessary.
I was the first person there. I’d heard (from Andrew) that the first few shows had been very busy – they’d turned some people away – so I made sure I wouldn’t miss out. I took some snapshots of the pub and the advertised attractions (you can see one above and both on Andrew Collins’ blog) and engaged in some serious people watching, while breathing in the sounds and smells of the Fringe. A group of girls asked me for directions to Chambers Street and I pointed them in the direction of a Close that only a ‘local’ would know, one which would lead them quickly to their destination. It was my good deed for the day.
The doors to the pub opened briefly as a cleaner hoovered up. I asked him where the queue should start – I worry about this sort of thing – but it became apparent that he didn’t speak English. Just as I spotted Robin Ince hotfooting it to The Pleasance (I presume) a girl who I recognised turned up to help me form the queue. I’d seen Tamsyn’s picture on Andrew’s blog. She’d help put on one of Andrew’s warm-up shows in their hometown of Northampton. Bedecked in a beret and stripy jumper (from Asda’s new Richard Herring range?) she chatted with me amiably about all manners of things Collins, Fringe and Edinburgh.
The queue quickly formed round the corner – we’d started a trend. It was going to be another sell-out (as much a free show can be a sell-out) and I was glad of my military-enforced punctuality. Indeed Andrew commented on it as he arrived.
Normally at gigs I’m wary of my height and try to sit to the side so as to limit the view I block. Today I didn’t care and we sat in the front row.
After some old school dance tunes the show started. Almost immediately Andrew was off stage with the microphone and planting it in my direction. Who was I, where was I from and, more importantly, where I was going? So began our journey from A to B.
I won’t the spoil the show but it’s a very enjoyable one with tales of why he should never have moved to Reigate, how to walk with pigeons, three things he wants to do with birds before he dies and a demonstration in the art of secret dancing, which also involves some audience participation. And, of course, much, much more. Indeed, I grabbed my bag (an important prop) and hopped on stage. I tried to resist but I knew I would succumb. The lure of the bright lights and a packed house was too much. Also, no one else was moving. As soon I went up a couple joined me.
Afterwards we shared a Magners (other ciders are available but not nearly as fashionable or tasty) and chatted with Tamsyn, Jim Bob from Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine (yes, that Jim Bob) and a girl whose name I didn’t catch. Andrew even suggested that the subject of the book I’m struggling to write would make a good one-man show! It was him who planted the seed about writing the book in the first place. It’s all his fault!
I envy Andrew Collins and his lifestyle and the freedoms that brings. But he’s talented and works hard and deserves all his successes. He also gives a lot back to the kids and for that alone you should support him and his wonderful show.
We said our farewells and headed off into an almost imminent downpour. Sod the walking I’m getting the bus back to the car. I hopped on a 37 (more local knowledge) and pondered on what Andrew had suggested as sodden passengers came and went. It preyed on my mind all the way home.
My To Do list had included phoning and arranging collection of yet another competition prize – you’ve got to be in it to win it – but I’d been too busy schmoozing so mentally moved it to the To Do Tomorrow/Pending tray. Instead I concentrated my efforts on a more immediate project.
By the time I got home I had just 45 minutes to build a Playmobil Circus before I had to collect the girls. I had promised it would be ready by the time my daughter got home and ready it was. But only just.
She loved it so much that she played with it from the moment she got home. Indeed we had to cajole her to open her remaining birthday presents first before she continued with “playing at circuses”. When she opened the parcel revealing a Playmobil Ambulance, she excitedly suggested that one of the acrobats could have an accident! The next step was to collect all the people from all her other Playmobil sets and seat them around the Big Top, although she wasn’t happy that the show wasn’t a sell-out. Bless.
By the time the birthday girl retired for the night, she was exhausted. So was I. It’d been a long fortnight off and as much as I enjoyed the time off I was glad to be getting back to enforced normality of a daily routine, albeit one I’d rather not have to go through. Who would? The Monday to Friday 7 to 3 is killing me although in the current climate it’s one I might not have much longer but that’s another story.
I have learned one thing today and it’s a very valuable lesson. Secret Dancing in a Vauxhall Astra on the M90 isn’t a good idea. Take my word for it.