The Edinburgh Festival: Fortysomething Fan Girl’s Guide to the Fringe

As we grow into Executive Youth some of the things that gave us pleasure as young people – Shakin’ Stevens, Vesta curry and pints of snakebite for example – lose their appeal. 

This is why the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is extra special. It is a feature of cultural life which doesn’t stop being huge fun.

Attendance at the Fringe was pretty much compulsory for students of all disciplines when I was an undergraduate.

There, one would get one’s introduction to styles of theatre hitherto unseen, largely featuring scripts translated from the original Czech and performed by thin men in black with over productive salivary glands.

There, one would watch comedians dismissed by one’s parents as ‘alternative,’ ’bloody Trots’, or just plain ‘crap.’  There too, one might experience one’s only sexual alliance with a redhead. Those recessive genes are prolific in Scotland.

Air BnB was an undreamed of concept in the ‘80s and ‘90s so one would simply snuggle down into a carpet off-cut in a flat rented to a friend of a friend, and ignore the fungus growing in the fertile, dark of the space behind the thing a telly might have sat on, had the Radio Rentals bill been paid.

Very often it would be daylight before one made it to the off-cut, and breakfast would be taken in the pub around 6pm.

From time to time, a friend, flatmate or troupe of contemporary dance practitioners of loose acquaintance would be performing and one’s enthusiastic presence would be required.  So began an education in the non-committal: “Yes, I mean, just… absolutely! You were quite definitely… there!”

The flyers which are so much a part of the festival would be harvested to form the basis of a feature wall back at one’s university digs. Blu-tacked to the wall in a patchwork, they were the sign of  cultural superiority, travel credentials and a great way to disguise the damp stains or wallpaper, whichever was the more offensive.

Now I’m older, the Fringe serves many other important functions. First, when I begin to feel worried about my performance in social gatherings, five days of Fringe shows help to clarify my feelings on the NHS, party-political infighting, TTIP and Brexit.

I have attended lectures on free speech, the impending antibiotic apocalypse and cybercrime and been tempted to take notes so I’d be able to bring out a knockout argument at the next PTA Cheese and Wine evening. 

So much of the news this year has been particularly grim. The comedy I’ve seen this month has served as a vaccination against horror.

Therapeutic comedy should be available on the NHS. It would certainly help financially if it were provided free at the point of need as the Fringe has become very costly. As a couple, you’re looking at an average £25 per hour spend, which, over five days would probably buy you a week on Necker.

Just as the cost has grown, so the festival itself has snowballed.  Every pub basement, every university cleaning cupboard has become a performance space.

It’s got to the point where, if you see two people talking to a vagrant in a shop doorway, you worry you’re missing a piece of interactive theatre on homelessness.

Some things haven’t changed. There are still the flyers. Only at my age now, I’m sufficiently confident to take them and, once out of sight of the youth distributing them, stuff them under the windscreen wiper of the nearest available parked car. 

Also unchanging is your outfit. It will always be jeans (the best brand you could afford back then, the most arse-flattering now) and plimsolls. 

I recommend Candice Cooper. They have a tiny wedge to relieve the pain of those ten miles a day you’ll walk (don’t forget the Fitbit!). And the goatskin they’re made from doesn’t let in any of the inevitable Edinburgh rain.

Finally, the rule to live by back then is the rule to live by now: avoid anything described as a ‘boisterous comedy’.

Trust me, the fringe will suit you.

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