Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Edinburgh Adventures

I was writing an update about my weekend in Edinburgh and thought it might be of some interest to people here.

On Saturday evening we had Alexander McCall Smith at the Book Festival. For years his events have always sold out extra quickly and I only achieved gaining tickets this year by sitting in work and hitting refresh constantly on the screen. Anyhoo, I got them and it was a rather interesting talk. He seems such an ordinary man and then casually drops into the conversation "I was visiting a baboon colony in Botswana" and so on. I wonder if his books are getting intentionally nastier. His new series, Corduroy Mansions sounds rather spiteful and a million worlds away from the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. He did spend some time on 44 Scotland Street which is such a lovely series. Bertie, the poor put upon 6 year old, is obviously a favourite. However, in the Q&A session, I was slightly displeased at someone's attempts to have their girlfriend feature in a future 44 Scotland Street episode as the "mad cat lady who lives across from the Cumberland Bar".

A quick note about the hostel we were staying in. I had never stayed in a hostel before and wasn't sure what to expect. Caledonian Backpackers came slightly recommended by a fellow Bookcrosser, partly for it's proximity to the Book Festival venue and (as I later found out) to the Royal Mile. Unfortunately the sound proofing was awful. We were staying in a large dorm (of 20 beds) and the guests were rather courteous. But staying somewhere near Princess Street with no double glazing was a disaster. I think I only got 4 hours sleep the first night. Luckily, I got moved after the first night into a Female only dorm towards the back of the hostel which was a bit quieter.

On a sidenote, I'd consider staying in a hostel again. And both my companion and I agreed that if we were travelling alone a hostel is a good place to check in and interact with other people.

Anyway, on Sunday morning, we went to see Anthony Sher who, as well as being a fantastic actor from what I've been told, has written a great many books. He's a fascinating man, what with being South African, gay and a secular Jew. Although the interviewer did bring his cocaine addiction out from the left field. Companion went all fanboy over Mr Sher, bless him, and got his books signed by him after the talk. If I didn't already have lots of books in the flat I would consider picking one up.

After the talk it was a wander up to the Royal Mile and the Fringe Box Office for me to purchase tickets. After looking through the program I had decided to spend my vouchers on seeing Adam Hills, Princess Cabaret and Hitler Alone. In the queue we were accosted by Iszi Lawrence who was doing a free comedy show in an hour at a nearby venue.

All in all I was rather chuffed with my Fringe highlights. Adam Hills is hilarious and had a BSL interpretor who really interacted with the show. I know now the BSL sign for clitoris and a sign unique to Australian sign language (for "Fuck you! Fuck the lot of youse!" Am very surprised this is not in Scottish sign language). His show was a wonderful mix of comedy and tragedy. His message about inflating people was truly poignant and the launch of balloons after his act brought a small tear to my eye.

Princess Cabaret was rather interesting. It was a mix of songs and sketches centring on the Disney princesses. I never thought of Jasmine from Aladdin being a Middle East Peace negotiator or Sleeping Beauty waking up to the horror of STDs and 'darkies' wandering the streets. Favourite moment: the song about an enraged Tinkerbell finding Peter Pan in bed with Wendy and trashing his cave. Really enjoyed it.

What a contrast with my final 'paid' show which was Hitler Alone. It was in a small, claustrophobic venue, probably sat around 20 people. It was held at a language institute and was the only performance I was offered a cup of tea or coffee for. Paul Webster, playing the 'villain' himself was very, very good and had done his research. On the flyer for the show, he explained he was born in 1939 and had childhood memories of playing in bombed out buildings. And of a Jewish refugee teacher savagely beating a fellow schoolpupil for drawing a swastika on a jotter. The danger of these performances is that they can make you feel 'sorry' for this broken and defeated man (the play was set in the final hour in the Bunker in which it was reported Hitler disappeared to a room, ranting and raving). The sorrow of which he spoke about his mother and loss of friends was heart breaking. However, all empathy was wiped away when Webster completed his performance by falling to the floor, ranting, raving and spitting about the evil of Jews .

Finally, Iszi Lawrence was a bit of a mixed bag. Not bad for a free performance (her story about causing her flatmate's cat to vomit upon the sight of her naked body was predictable but still hilarious) but it did flag a bit towards the end. She may need to spruce up her routine to last an hour, normally the time for a headliner at the Stand. Plus my enjoyment wasn't helped by having had two pints and desperately needing a wee.

Oh and my last event at the Book Festival. Melvin Burgess was my idol when I was a teenager. He was giving a discussion panel with Anne Fine and Rachel Ward on the topic of 'Compelling Novels, Vulnerable Children'. Considering his books deal with drug addiction, underage sex and extreme violence, I'm not surprised. The discussion was interesting but it was full of bloody social workers simpering about how they interacted with children.

Anyhoo, there was a signing after the discussion group and I raced to buy his new novel to get it signed. The following conversation ensured (warning: major fan girl moments):

Melvin: Hi there, what's your name?
Laura (me): Laura.
Melvin: (begins writing on the front page of the book)
Laura: You know, the only book my mum has ever tried to prevent me reading was The Baby and Fly Pie.
M: (amused) I've never heard that said before! A lot of people do complain about the ending because it's so negative.
Laura: It was the bit when he realises his sister's a prostitute. So I had a massive tantrum until she gave me it back.
M: Well it wasn't promoting it as a career choice! You had a tantrum, eh?
Laura: Yes, I was 12 years old and a rather spoilt only child. I think she was more concerned about me because I wanted to be a writer.
M: Have you got anywhere with that?
L: Hmmm it's been on hold but I'm getting back on track again.
M: Keep writing.
L: (cue gush of crap) I don't expect you to remember this but I sent you one of my short stories years ago and you sent me back a letter saying 'Keep Writing'. And I've always keep that in my head.
M: (looks up, a bit puzzled).
L: Thank you again. I really appreciated it. (grabs book and runs away).

And you know what he had written in my inscription? "Hope your mum doesn't stop you reading this!"

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