Edinburgh Festival 1994: The show starts here: Nice city, but who are all these strange people coming to stay? John Shuttleworth offers his personal guide to the festival

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The Independent Culture
SOME SAY Edinburgh is not a good place for the elderly and infirm as it's so hilly, and only fit young people should attempt to climb its cobbled inclines. This theory does not apply during the festival, as all the old people visiting are super-fit, with large bumbags, rosy cheeks and Tyrolean hats - with or without a feather. The youngsters - and by that I generally mean alternative comedians - are all chain-smoking drunkards on poor diets, who experience breathing difficulties as they move between the city's dingy venues.

Although no spring chicken myself, I'm not troubled by Edinburgh's challenging terrain, hailing as I do from Sheffield, South Yorkshire. We're surrounded by hills there, which makes us inward-looking and contemplative. Did you know that? Oh yes. Unfortunately, in Edinburgh the hills are all over the place, so people don't know which way to look. This must explain why many of the locals appear perpetually boss-eyed.

There's one hill I will be avoiding at this year's festival, and that's Harry Hill. There's something unsavoury about a young man wearing National Health spectacles and a jacket purchased from Sue Ryder's charity shop getting up to tell funny stories. Mr Buxted - he's another offender, and with a bad posture to boot. Now that Alan Parker - he's an urban warrior, you know - he takes his glasses off, which is much braver, and dons a studded leather jacket which shocks initially, but after a while is most pleasing to the eye.

I'm hoping to bump into outrageously blue comedienne Jenny Eclair, as she still hasn't apologised for dropping cigarette ash into one of my trouser turn-ups two years ago. That was the year I was nominated for the prestigious Perrier Award, but I didn't win because the judges discovered I prefer Buxton Spring Water. That was dreadfully frustrating, but I had no option. You see, I know Buxton and its inhabitants, including Ray Moffat who runs a sportswear shop.

Keep an eye out for young Phil Kaye. On stage he's as busy as a bee, and considerably funnier. When it comes to playing off an audience he has the homing instincts of an ant, and I suspect he has a few of those creatures in his underpants, as he's never still for an instant. Only when backstage does he sit down, and then his knees keep knocking together at a great rate - like a cricket. (I think it's high time Phil decided which insect he wants to be like, don't you, ladies and gentlemen?)

I like Boothby Graffoe because he's always immaculately turned out in white T-shirt, jeans and pumps. His amusing one-liners - delivered in a strong baritone voice with a hint of vibrato - keep the rowdy punters in check down at the Gilded Balloon's notorious 'Late and Live'. Not that you'll ever see me there. By that time I'm always tucked up in bed listening to the festival's own radio station, Festival FM. I tune in for the weekend weather forecast, but for some reason I never hear it. Just rap music and daft lads on flamenco guitars. The breakfast show's more entertaining. A couple of years ago it was brilliantly hosted by a loony called Johnny Meres and that chubby lass Jo Brand. Mind you, there's more to her than meets the eye - if that's possible] No, seriously, I was sitting in a cafe last year having a full English breakfast - I don't like the Scottish ones, they're too mealy - when who should I spy at the next table but Jo herself. Now on the telly she comes over as dead brassy, obsessed with cakes and other assorted fancies, but she wasn't like that at all. She was sitting quiet as a church mouse with her head in her hands, sipping one of those coffees that are extremely poor value - you know, in a tiny cup with no milk. She didn't even have a round of toast to nibble on, so I felt sorry for her and offered her a bit of my egg. Well, she made a horrible groaning noise and waved me away disdainfully, as if to say, 'No thank you.' Why didn't you just say, 'No thank you,' Jo? It would have been a lot simpler, and a good deal politer.

I must warn you, it's not easy keeping occupied during the festival - unless you like weird plays and face painting, not to mention blue humour. Even the fabulous pipers with their hilarious knockabout routines are getting thin on the ground. I'd recommend a couple of wool shops on the Royal Mile - I've whiled away many an afternoon there examining car rugs and checking sweater prices. Dixons is a must - they've a fine array of Yamaha keyboards and an impressive selection of audio leads - though they won't let you take them out of the packaging before purchase, which is crazy, as I like to examine each terminal; you know, to see if it's the right one for me.

I can't let you go without recommending a visit to Ali's Cave: ruled notepads only 16p, dusters an incredible 11p. Handy 'travelman' kits retail at pounds 1.50 - including collapsible toothbrush. Ooh, that reminds me. I haven't sorted out my sleeping arrangements. Yes, I think I'll be lying down - but where? I was hoping to park on the outskirts in a camper van belonging to my wife Mary's friend, Doreen Melody. A chrome ladder gives direct access to the roof, so I'd have had a good view of the Festival Fireworks. Unfortunately, Doreen's just quit the Armed Forces after being medically downgraded, which has made her a bit grumpy, so I don't think she'll lend it me. Not to worry. Perhaps I should ask that posh bloke who runs the Pleasance if I can shelter under the brim of his enormous Panama hat. Tee hee, now there's an idea]

I'm sorry, I'm starting to act the fool now, aren't I? I think it's because I'm hungry. Of course, there's only one thing worse than being with a fool, and that's fooling with a bee]

Thankfully, the opportunity doesn't arise in Edinburgh because, to my knowledge, there are no bees. Could it possibly be too windy for them? Well, yes, I suppose it could. Edinburgh is unpleasantly windy at times. Personally I believe it's the hills. Bees don't like hills, you see.

John Shuttleworth is appearing at the Pleasance, 031-556 6550, Sat-28 Aug, 5.20pm.

(Photographs omitted)

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