Less than 24 hours after returning from Edinburgh, having slowly started to reacquaint myself with books, baths and broccoli, and already the intensity of the last three weeks is starting to fade. This always happens. It’s as if you step off the train at King’s Cross and a switch is flipped. The colours dim. The song ends.
Most Scottish people, quite understandably, get irked if you use ‘Edinburgh’ as shorthand for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – it’s home to half a million people after all and the fringe is like a kind of fever that grips the city every August, mulching its streets with flyers, inflating its bar prices and filling its cafes with wan young people in face-paint picking sadly at their cheese scones.
But for those of us who return year after year after year, Edinburgh and the fringe co-exist in inextricable ways. I’ve forged friendships in this city; I’ve made a career here. I’ve become emotionally entangled with Edinburgh’s topography. Its streets, its steps, its mounds and its closes are stained with stories, and with each passing year a new layer of memory forms until it starts to resemble one of those fancy Hungarian cakes: the city as palimpsest.
There’s something simultaneously comforting and disorientating about this process, a feeling heightened by the way the fringe stretches time and unplugs body clocks.
This year was my tenth fringe and, in the first few days, that sense of disorientation was off the scale. In a strange process of self-ghosting, I felt as if I kept glimpsing past versions of myself negotiating the hills and cobbles in a variety of unsuitable shoes, scything across the meadows, flopping into one of the curiously uncomfortable sofas in Brooks Bar.
A decade of fringes and I’ve still never climbed up Arthur’s seat (and until they put a nice bar at the top, I probably never will), never been to Mosque Kitchen, never bought a raincoat.
But I have played vomit hopscotch up Cowgate to see some of my favourite poets play the midnight slot at the Banshee Labyrinth. I’ve been caught umbrella-less in a rainstorm of biblical proportions in George Square Gardens and been forced to shelter there until we’d drunk enough wine to immunise us to the inevitable drenching. I’ve shared a lift with a posse of hungover zombies. Got so much glitter on me during Brigitte Aphrodite’s My Beautiful Black Dog that I shone for days afterwards. Been electrocuted by a Romanian theatre company in the basement of the French Institute (yes, really), Scurried out of the Forest Fringe in its second year because I felt I wasn’t in any way smart enough or cool enough to hang out there. Fell hard for Ross Sutherland’s Standby for Tape Back-up at a later iteration of Forest Fringe, both it and I having aged and changed. Marvelled at the sound design for Milly Thomas’ Dust before realising with alarm that the source of that ominous rumbling noise was part of the ceiling starting to come away. Yelled expletives at the top of my lungs at the behest of Jess Thom as part of her performance of Not I. Eaten many, many cinnamon buns at Peter’s Yard. Had multiple encounters with Lucy McCormick’s vagina. Gawped at Wanderbaum’s hay bale-humping and ketchupy excess. Watched Nigel Barrett delight and terrify a crowd of drunk students in C. Thrown away a pair of shoes that pretty much disintegrated after one particularly wet year. Visited the Book Festival and found myself so overcome by a combination of tiredness and the sweet proximity of so many lovely, lovely books that I actually had to sit down on the floor for a while, slowly sipping a coffee in a state of sleepy-wakefulness,
I have written and written and written, often long into the night.
This year, inevitably, generated new memories, new threads in the tapestry, new layers in the cake: from the gorgeous/awful image that ends Breach Theatre’s It’s True, It’s True, It’s True; to participating in a magic trick in Simon Evans and David Aula’s The Extinction Event (though I’ve seen a lot of magic shows over the years, this was the first time I’ve ever been part of one); to being pick-pocketed by circus performer Jess Love during Notorious Strumpet and Dangerous Girl; to being hugged by the lovely, lovely Julie Hesmondhalgh; to feeling all of my ten years of fringe-ing concertina alarmingly during Cora Bissett’s excellent show about her teenage encounter with the music industry, What Girls Are Made Of, a piece I found impossible to watch without reflecting on my own creativity and age; to standing in the street and looking up in that golden half hour when the sun glints off the Edinburgh stone, ambering the rooftops and gilding chimneys, and feeling my heart fill.