Too hot for Bedouins to handle

EDINBURGH FESTIVAL 97: DIARY
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The Independent Culture
The first thing I noticed about Edinburgh this year, as I stepped out of the train station into the streets, was how subdued it seemed. Gone were the skanky, effervescent uni-students, hawking their leaflets. Gone were the stilt-men, guitar-bashers, mudmen, troglodyte dance troupes and other peripheral Fringe street detritus. Gone was the Scott Memorial, the Castle, Arthur's Seat. I looked down at the banks of the lazy Tyne, and realised I'd gotten off at Newcastle.

I cajoled a lift from a donkey wagon and driver and we took the old coal route from Newcastle to Edinburgh via Jedburgh. The Cheviot Hills are gorgeous this time of year, covered in brilliant displays of poverty, listlessness and bad TV reception. Jedburgh is near where the river Tweed meets up with the Corduroy and Velour rivers and life is hard there because the rivers clash so badly.

We pulled into Nazareth feeling about half-past dead. I said to someone, "Mister, can you find me a place to lay my head?" but in truth I was just retreading the lyrics to an old song by The Band, so we pushed on for Edinburgh.

We reached it late that night and I don't really need to describe the streets to you (see paragraph one).

Edinburgh is a city full of mirth. Edinburgh is a city full of mayhem. Edinburgh is a city full of every comedian on earth. They throw up on you at 3am.

Edinburgh is a city that sings - of ceilidhs and bagpipes and beer. Edinburgh lets England pull its strings - but it won't by this time next year!

At present Edinburgh is in a trenchant frame of mind. The three-week festival is its superficial "party" face, but underneath something seismic is taking place. Edinburgh has more control over the governing of its festival than of its own affairs. This is changing. Scotland will soon be its own landlord, if you will. Which only makes sense.

Personally, I look at the whole deal this way. Scotland and England are like two sides of a semi-detached house (with Wales in the basement, screaming "More heat!"). They are neighbours. They have to get on. Both secretly think the other is having a better time. England has more parties but they usually end at 11pm. Scotland's parties are fewer but go on all night. Also the liquor is better. There. That explains it, and feel free to call me anytime you need an incredibly complex intra- national problem reduced to a cartoon explanation.

My show is called Louisiana Hayride and is performed in a room so hot Bedouins are walking out midway through. I come on-stage every night and, within five minutes, I'm sweating like a one-legged man in an arse-kicking contest. Why people pay to see a civilised man perspire to the point of losing his ocular fluid is beyond me but, God bless 'em, they do. It's why I love Edinburgh. It keeps you humble.

Rich Hall's `Louisiana Hayride' is at the Gilded Balloon (venue 38), 233 Cowgate, to 30 Aug (exc 24). Booking: 0131-226 2151

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