Losing my Fringe Virginity

One of many excuses I have for my lax blogging of recent (sorry) is that I have been spending time with a rather gorgeous, funny and sexy woman whose constant smiley face has caused me to forget large portions of my life in the pursuit of fun times together. Consequently my bloggage went down the pan a bit.

However, for various reasons, we have a quiet patch coming up until Christmas, where we will be jetting off round the other side of the world. No, not Japan this time (although I hope to persuade her at some point of it's merits), but somewhere hotter and more exotic. I'll say more nearer the time.
So, we have just got back from a week in Scotland - our first major time off together, seeing whether we gel, or whether we drove each other nuts. We chose this week to take in the sights and sounds of the fantastic Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We were both fringe virgins, (which was appropriate since Virgin were covering the place with blanket sponsorship) and so was a completely new experience for the both of us. We watched a few plays, went to some music gigs, but mostly it was the comedy that took up our days. Just about everyone you could think of was there, and that only made up a fraction of the acts.

In the evenings we retired to our little pod in the cheekily-titled Adventure in the Meadow campsite, a place full of teetering wooden tents and outside washing facilities. It looked half complete and some people's pods were down a track in a mud pit, but we got lucky with ours as it was right next to the main house and largely on the level, so it was for the most part pretty reasonable, and their breakfasts were big enough to be able to hold down a medium sized carnivore. A quick jaunt to the nearby park and ride, and we could saunter in on Edinburgh's excellent bus system for midday.

Some Highlights

Our choices of acts were almost universally brilliant. After missing the delights of sound machine Michael Winslow (Police Academy), we started with the unusual but excellent poet and comedian Tim Key, who in amongst recitals of his usual brand of existential humour, dunked his head and more in the foamy bath he had placed on the stage in front of us.

The pin in the catalogue choice Laundry Boy turned out to be another highlight. It was a really well performed play about a lonely man who grew up leaving his childhood dreams behind and blaming his father, while forming intimate relations with a vacuum cleaner. All the actors were excellent and didn't put a foot wrong in their performance.

David Sedaris, for anyone who has heard him on Radio 4 was hilarious; building up the humour - a mix of gentle and quietly anarchic - in stages until the audience was completely helpless. At the end, I got a booked signed by him and had a quick chat! It was worth the queue.

Mr. Darwins Tree was a fine play that we caught on it's last day. Performed entirely by Andrew Harrison, he charted with passion the life of the man and his work, bringing over just a little of the personal struggles he faced along the way.

Sarah Millican and Andy Parsons were both headline acts at the assembly halls and managed to pack the place out both times. They were as funny as ever (at one point I had actually become unable to laugh any more), although SM had toned things down since I managed to see her earlier in the year which may have been for the best. Dave Gorman narrowly beat them both though, packing out the university with his powerpoint presentation, a much welcome return to his roots. I can't walk past an advert for a phone without scrutinising it now.

There was also Lights, Camera, Walkies - a pretty good play about a movie where the main part is a dog - without any dogs present. Many characters played by just three actors who all earned their pay. Elsa Jean McTaggart was our only music act, and though she had a strong but velvety singing voice and could set the strings of her violin and guitar alight with her playing, the small audience she attracted in the mid afternoon didn't do her justice.

Tim Vine chatted with members of the audience who were unlucky enough to be picked and had a guest spot by Brian May, and Henning Wehn managed to make a mockery out of our view that the Germans have no sense of humour. Robin Ince had a gig in the Free Fringe section which was brilliant value. Not only did we get the Ince, but several other fringe acts, including Dave Gorman, came on and did a bit of stand-up too. (at the end, I also asked about Nerdstock since it was missing last year - and it's back on!). Finally, the Free Fringe also turned up Fraser Millwards, who played a copper, a relationship counsellor and a coach driver - the latter bundling the audience outside to the coach that had been 'stolen' - and nearly getting himself hilariously knocked down (in an unscripted way) while running off in all directions looking for it.

Finally - also in the Free Fringe - The Gherkin Fantasies were a pair of comedians who we went in to see on a whim and they turned out to be refreshingly Yorkshire, which obviously scored points with us - although they were also very funny in their own right too, playing a pair of middle-aged male butchers, among other creations. I'd put a safe bet on that they will be on the telly in a couple of years.

There was really only one rubbish one, and that we had managed to go into thinking it was something else. The Culture Bucket quartet reviewed other shows on a daily basis, and I'm guessing that it changed daily, so they had little time to practice or even make their show - but it was a pretty dire thing to watch even so. We stayed to the end but scrambled for the door as soon as we could.


After staying an extra day to catch some additional acts, we headed out into the Scottish Highlands. Our time was a little constrained, but we managed to head up to Loch Lomond

(a beautiful place where we were attacked for our sandwiches as we sat on the beach by an overly-confident swan family) before ending up at a pleasant little B+B in Arrochar, located snugly in a valley at the tip of Loch Long in the shadow of it's own set of alps.
On the next day we drove a little down the length of the Loch, before ending up at Benmore; one of the four Edinburgh Botanical Gardens.

Out here we would have expected it to be dead, but a coachload of passengers got in front of us in the queue to get in. Inside is a mixture of nicely kept mansion gardens, with hillside pathways and a wilder flora. The view from the platform at the top is beautiful and as quiet as you could ever experience.

We took the ferry at Hunters Quay back to the mainland and headed home just as the heavens had opened and the rain was falling harder than I'd ever seen it.

We both loved our first Fringe, and it definitely wont be the last. We are already planning on how to fit it in next year!

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