Due to the sloping floor, stay away from the Edinburgh Fridge! (Four years of festival accommodation)

I’ve been to the Edinburgh Fringe four times now. Each time was great and I’ve made a lot of friends. The first two times I went was merely to watch stuff, and the last two times was as a performer. The city and the whole event are maddeningly beautiful, insanely vibrant, the people are nice, the weather is mostly bearable. But the highlights each time for me have been the various places I’ve stayed. Year One. 

I went up with friends. There were six of us. We decided to flat share and we managed to find the most magnificent flat in a converted school down by the Water of Leith not far from the book festival site. We each had our own bedroom and the place had obviously just been converted into flats, the whole place felt new. Admittedly, it was a bit of a stroll to get to the old town.
But the most interesting thing about the place was the upstairs door. There were six bedrooms, one bathroom, but eight doors. One day I decided to see what was behind this door and I was intrigued to find a staircase going down. The staircase was carpeted and decorated and seemed to go on, down and down, twisting and turning throughout the bowels of the old school. Finally I came to the very last turn and the staircase just stopped. There was a wall. The staircase went absolutely nowhere.
Year Two

The second year was a cracker. I went up with the same people and again we hired a flat. This time it was in the new town area, a fantastic tenement building looking out over the street to a church.
For a start, again we all had a bedroom. Yet the place had seen better days. The floor in every room sloped down so that all the furniture was at an angle, and the fridge freezer looked like it might topple over at any moment. I was too afraid to use my wardrobe. It had a beautiful internal staircase which wound around the outside walls, the kind of staircase that one could easily make a good entrance on in an old black and white film. And most intriguingly of all, the seventy year old landlady turned up on the first day so that she could show us her wedding dress.
Which was somewhat bizarre. No towels, but we saw her wedding dress.
She warned us not to open the door upstairs at the back, and that it was off bounds. With that, she took her wedding dress and left us at it.
Naturally, the moment she had gone we opened the forbidden door only to discover that the room inside, which had once been another bedroom, had no roof. No ceiling, no roof. Just the leaden grey Edinburgh sky.
Year Three

Oh dear. My first visit to Edinburgh as a performer was with a colleague and we decided it would be much cheaper to camp. We found a lovely campsite at Morton Hall to the south of the city, about forty minutes by bus. Yet this was my first camping trip since 1984 when I was ten. 
We arrived at ten in the evening after a twelve hour train ride and then a fraught taxi, only to have to put up the tent. I remember feeling very miserable but willing to make light of the matter, only for me to accidentally break the zip of the tent once it was up. You can imagine how bad this made me feel. And then to be woken at two in the morning by the intense cold, a cold unlike any other I’ve ever experienced, all the time wondering if that room with the missing roof was still vacant.
When I told all my friends, they laughed heartily.
Year Four

And so to this year. Once again I decided to flat share, yet this time it was with a website who paired me with four other people in student accommodation. Thankfully, the building was brand new and right in the city centre on the Meadows, and everything was shiny and modern, clean, efficient. We had a room each as well as a lovely living room and kitchen which looked as if they were sets from Star Trek. 

  

Only . . . there was only me there. Or at least, that’s how it felt. I never saw another person, and if they had snuck in, then they were very quiet. I had six rooms all to myself, in the middle of Edinburgh, during festival season!
But were there other people? There were subtle clues. One day, I found a Sainsbury’s carrier bag in the fridge. And another day, a floater in the toilet. Neither of them were mine. Ostensibly, I was alone in my own flat.
Or was I the mystery one, who my flat mates never saw, and pondered over?
So yes, Edinburgh is a place full of memories for me, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what kind of accommodation I have next year! 

Advertisements

What did I learn from my two and a half days at the Edinburgh Fringe?

What did I learn from my two and half days at the Edinburgh Fringe?
Unlike my friend Mark, who’s bald, Edinburgh Festival has a humdinger of a fringe. Every year I go along and every year I’m astounded not only by the variety and the general craziness of the place, with every nook and cranny turned into a performance area, and every footpath filled with flyers, barkers, publicists, posters and people, but also by the intense hard work put in by those who have shows there.
I was in a show this week. It wasn’t my show. I was a guest in someone else’s, and that kind of meant that I didn’t have to do any flyering. The guilt I felt at not doing this seemingly simple chore was far outweighed by the relief that I didn’t have to spend all morning standing in the Royal Mile speaking to complete strangers, or leafleting similar shows, and talking, talking, talking about it.
You see, that seems to be the knack. If you can summerise your show in just three or four words, then you can save your breath and get everything out as the tourist walks straight past. ‘Its a show about a man who realizes halfway through his driving lesson that the whole world is counterfeit and that he is just a figment of the imagination of a dog owned by his brother in law’, won’t do. Better to say, ‘Imaginary dog show with fart jokes’.
I went along to a few shows and three in particular stood out, not only because of their subject matter, but also because of the work put into them to promote and engage with the audience. AJ McKenna’s Howl of the Bantee affected me deeply, it really is one of those shows which changes the way you think. Excellent performed, thought provoking, incredibly well-written, I could not fault it. The only problem seems to be that it has been put in a venue a little outside of the city centre in the new town area. The show is timely, honest, angry, looking at the media portrayal of transgender issues and the dangerous labeling of anti-trans thought as ‘banter’. You will learn something from this show.
The second show which affected me was Dominic Berry’s Up Your Game : The Downfall of a Noob. A comedy / music / poetry show about Dominic’s self realization through gaming and computer games, I was hooked throughout due to the humor, the energy, the storyline and the promise that Dominic might get his kit off. (Actually, I only discovered the nude part of the show afterwards, and it just happened to be the night I came that Dominic had decided to drop that element from his show). Funny, philosophical, wise and sexy, the show spoke to me and stayed in my head for days afterwards.
There are other good shows, too, of course, in the spoken word bracket. Rob Auton’s Water Show is a highly polished, funny, thoughtful piece, as you would expect from a performer for whom I have the most incredibly respect. Tina Sederholm’s show is mighty, thoughtful and incredibly well put together. I’m so totally in awe of her performance style and general oeuvre, and I’m glad that it was she who was crowned Swindon Poetry Slam Champion all those years ago beating me in the final! She oozes talent and class.
I came back too soon. I’m so glad that I went along. I really don’t think I could manage the whole three weeks, unless I were financially secure and had help from others. It’s this help which seems to be a part of the spoken word community at the fringe, with all the poets and performers seemingly sticking together and helping each other out. I spent a very fine afternoon in the bar with Matt Pernash, aka Monkey Poet, chatting and laughing, drinking and writing silly poems, drinking and listening to music, drinking and chatting about all kinds of stuff, and drinking. Indeed, the highlight of the fringe for me was persuading him to perform the outside of a crisp packet. Actually, he didn’t need much persuasion. I could have spent the day just listening to him talking about his poetry adventures!
So, what did I learn from the fringe? That it’s the hard working poets who seem to achieve the most success. Which, I suppose, is a way of telling myself that if I want to go next year, I’d better start working on it now! 

 

On the promise of anti-slams

I met Scott Tyrrell at the Womad Festival. He’s a poetry slam champion, but he’s also won an anti-slam. That is, the prize for the (purposefully) worst poem in a slam competition. Indeed, these are competitions where the poets compete to be as bad as possible.
I like the whole idea of this. An anti-slam is a chance, of course, to go over the top, and to employ all those devices which ordinarily result in cringing. I wondered also if there was a sense of the OTT in anti-slam poetry.
The idea of it perplexed me and I wondered if I could write a poem that was purposefully bad, an anti-slam poem, while still employing all the traits, mannerisms and stylings of regular performance poetry.
I’m not sure if I will ever get the chance to enter an anti-slam, but this is what I’ve come up with. It’s an ode to styrofoam extruded polystyrene.
It’s called ‘Poem’.

Poem
Packaging!

Cardboard!

Delivery note!

Box!

Polystyrene!
What are you going to do with all that

Packaging, that styrofoam extruded polystyrene?

Where are you going to put all that styrofoam extruded polystyrene?

This whole room now is filled with styrofoam extruded polystyrene.

We could fill up a bin bag with styrofoam extruded polystyrene,

And then the bin, but there’s so much styrofoam extruded polystyrene

That the bin will be filled with styrofoam extruded polystyrene.
I see you every day ensconced in your styrofoam extruded polystyrene.

With the sultry glare of a rather more sensible

Justin Bieber and the irritability of styrofoam extruded polystyrene.

You have the tenacity of a lion and the litheness

Of styrofoam extruded polystyrene,

The durability of styrofoam extruded polystyrene, the reflexes of a cat,

The longevity of styrofoam extruded polystyrene.

How you glide like a swan made from styrofoam extruded polystyrene,

With your dreams of kings and queens and styrofoam extruded polystyrene,

Knights of the round table, chivalry, jousting tournaments

And styrofoam extruded polystyrene,

Bounding like spacemen on the surface of a moon

Made from styrofoam extruded polystyrene,

How can I see you?

How can I see you?

How can I see you,

Amidst all that styrofoam extruded polystyrene?
Everywhere everywhere styrofoam extruded polystyrene!

To the left, styrofoam extruded polystyrene!

To the right, styrofoam extruded polystyrene!

Give me your hand darling

And I give you styrofoam extruded polystyrene!

What’s that on the ceiling?

Is it coving?

Is it a lampshade?

No, it’s styrofoam extruded polystyrene!

Corn flakes, Weetabix, Frosties, styrofoam extruded polystyrene!

Rain, rain, rain in the morning,

And in the afternoon it’s styrofoam extruded polystyrene!

Hanging in the doctor’s waiting room

With a cold with a chill with a runny nose

With a broken leg with a funny pain in the ear

Is it a fever, is it flu,

Is it an allergic reaction?

No, it’s styrofoam extruded polystyrene!
Stay calm big fella stay calm

The master of the hounds has a particularly

Malevolent stare

Cracking his whip and barking his orders

Taking out his shiny new pistol

And aiming it

Fetch me that blunderbuss big fella

Its wrapped in styrofoam extruded polystyrene!
Squeaky squeaky squeaky

Big white blocks rubbing together

Like Arctic sea ice

Crumbly crumbly see how they snow 

Caught on wind caught on eddies

Pooling in a mini vortex on the kitchen floor.

styrofoam extruded polystyrene.
(Use voice changer) 

Give me your styrofoam extruded polystyrene.

I want your styrofoam extruded polystyrene.

I’ll do anything for your styrofoam extruded polystyrene.

I can’t live without your styrofoam extruded polystyrene.

Dancing in the nightclub swirling gyrating

So sneaky sexual hearty pumping hear

The rhythm thump with styrofoam extruded polystyrene.
My heart is lonely.

The nights are long.

The world is dark.

Nobody hears my song.
 styrofoam extruded polystyrene 

 styrofoam extruded polystyrene 

 styrofoam extruded polystyrene 

 styrofoam extruded Polystyrene