The problem with the Edinburgh Festival is sheer, overwhelming choice. The official Festival is rich enough, but add the Fringe and a paralysis of indecision can set in.
So how does one ensure that one's precious festival hours are put to good use? A few self-imposed rules can help.
Trust the official programme – you will rarely see or hear anything you will regret choosing. However, there is a qualification to that with drama. Check the language in which the play is being presented. Three hours of drama in Polish or Chinese can be testing, if you do not speak Polish or Chinese.
As far as the Fringe is concerned, listen to personal recommendations, but only from people aged over 22. There are plenty of good student productions, but a lot that are not the best use of time. Pay attention to what The Scotsman and other newspapers (eg The Independent) have to say. If they have a star system, decide the number of stars you think is a basic requirement. Remember the Book Festival, too – the biggest and probably one of the very best in the world. It succeeds in being intimate in tone, in spite of the range of its offerings. The fact that this great event remains in Charlotte Square, a blessed space, is important.
Alexander McCall Smith's Must-See Events
We bought tickets for the opening and closing concerts of the International Festival. I particularly look forward to the final concert in which we shall hear a spectacular programme of Walton's Balshazzar's Feast, along with Morton Feldman's Coptic Light and Ives' The Unanswered Question. Impressive music on which to end.
Alexander McCall Smith, Edinburgh Book Festival, Charlotte Square Gardens (edbookfest.co.uk) 14 to 16 August; 'Sunshine on Scotland Street' (£16.99hbk, Polygon) is published this month
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