Edinburgh, from A to Z

Can you tell a deep-fried Mars bar from a critic? No? Then you're not yet ready for the Fringe. Comedian Dave Gorman has some tips
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A is for Ale. But then B is for Beer, C is for Cider, D is for Drambuie and E is for Elderberry wine ... so let's settle for A is for Alcohol, most performers' festival-fuel of choice. Last year I made plans for healthy living. They dissolved half-way through the first week. However, I did discover a 100 per cent guaranteed hangover cure called September.

B is for Bank Holiday Weekend. Traditionally the busiest three days of the festival as culture-hungry English people invade. Be warned, though: it is only a bank holiday south of the border so, Scottish traffic wardens are their ever-vigilant selves. With it being an English bank holiday and not a Scottish bank holiday, I can't help wondering what happens if you work in the Stockport branch of the Bank of Scotland?

C is for Critics. Most performers don't have a kind word to say for the critics. I have heard many of the top names in comedy describe the most prominent of critics variously as "f**kwits", "arseh*les" and "****s". Personally, I don't subscribe to this view. Certainly not before the festival. On the contrary, I believe that the comedy critic of the Independent on Sunday is a sensitive writer who has a fine way with words. In fact, he could be the finest critic of his generation. A critical genius in the making. Must read. Five stars.

D is for DT's. See A.

E is for Ellipsis. Known to most people simply as "dot dot dot", an ellipsis is the punctuation you use when you want to cut out a bit of unnecessary text. Or to put it another way, an ellipsis is the punctuation you use when you want to cut out a bit of ... text. Beware notices that contain too many ellipses. "Inspired ... talented ... a must-see show ... His Holiness The Pope", might well have started life as "Inspired by my arse. The cast is far from talented. If this is a must-see show I'm His Holiness The Pope - Aberdeen Evening Express".

F is for Fireworks night. It is a truly spectacular event and, for many people, the highlight of the whole three- week shebang. I once went to see a show, but the cast had gone to watch the fireworks and hadn't bothered coming back.

G is for Greyfriars' Bobby. The story of this Scotty dog is a remarkable tale of loyalty and bereavement. When Bobby's owner passed away, this ever-loyal canine parked itself on his master's grave. To commemorate this act of loyalty a statue has been erected on the corner of Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge. When the pubs close you can treat yourself to a view of men urinating on a dog's legs for a change.

H is for Hard Sell. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world with 9,644 performers putting on 1,278 shows in 187 venues. In three-and-a-half weeks there will be more than 14,000 performances and competing companies have no choice but to go for the hard sell. The streets can become heavily congested with people trying to give each other leaflets - often leading to frustration. Last year, I was stuck in traffic for so long on Princes Street that a policeman came up and gave me a ticket. To see a play he was in.

I is for Irony. See J.

J is for Jugglers. They brighten up the place with their enormous jesters' caps. If you ask me, there just aren't enough of them. I can see no reason why there shouldn't be two on every street corner.

K is for Knox. Councillor Moira Knox, Edinburgh's self-styled Mary Whitehouse. Every year she will find a show offensive and call for it to be banned. The show will then sell out on the tidal wave of publicity she creates, leading some to believe that she is actually on the payroll of a shrewd marketing man. I'm sure some performers, with an eye on ticket sales, deliberately try to wind her up. I'm calling next year's show: "Moira Knox Must Die".

L is for Lodgings. When the festi- val kicks off many locals go on holiday and rent their houses to visitors at extortionate rates. Five years ago, friends of mine had the misfortune to stay in what must be the ugliest abode Edinburgh has to offer. Outside there was stone cladding. Inside there was an unsubtle blend of flock wallpaper and Artex. It turned out that the owner was blind and they were living in a braille house. Thoughtful to the end, they did their graffiti in papier mache.

M is for Mars Bars. Scottish chip- pies are famous for deep-frying everything, from pizzas to Mars bars. But don't complain. The Scottish are hard. And so are their arteries.

N is for Notes. Scottish pound notes can be very confusing for the English visitor. Many's the time I've put my hand in my pocket, felt the rustle of a couple of notes and been reassured by the prospect of at least a couple of fivers. Only to feel a fool when I'm standing at the bar with a round of drinks and two quid.

O is for Opportunism. Every per former should be prepared to take any opportunity to publicise his or her show. For example, Dave Gorman is appearing at the Pleasance every night at 9.15. That sort of thing.

P is for Prizes. There are awards available in most categories of performance. The most prestigious award for comedy is still the Perrier but each year new awards spring up. By the millennium every single comedian will be able to boast: "award-winning".

Q is for Queues. Audiences con- fronted with so much choice will often be led by the crowd, the "If all those people want to see it, maybe I should see it too" effect. Some acts make the audience wait deliberately as a human advert.

R is for Red Eyes. See D.

S is for Schmoozing. The TV industry swarms into town on the look-out for new talent. If you engage performers in conversation you will notice that they never make eye contact. They are far too busy looking over your shoulder in case "the-man-from-Tyne-Tees-who's-looking-for-a-new-face-to-present-a-seven- minute-slot-about-line- dancing"comes into the room.

T is for Tattoo. The Edinburgh Tattoo takes place in the grounds of the castle. A spectacular military pageant with marching bands and more besides. I've heard that there is a tattoo held on Fantasy Island, but apparently, it is much smaller and less impressive.

U is for Unknown. Every year an unknown performer makes it big, and no doubt many that have the potential don't. When you're in Edinburgh make sure you see at least one unknown. They might turn out to be the next big thing and provide you with many hours of smugness.

V is for Venues. For the festival everything becomes a venue. Churches, community centres and even Masonic lodges transform themselves into fringe theatres. For comedy fans there are three main venues: the Assembly Rooms, the Gilded Balloon and the Pleasance. But there are gems to be found elsewhere.

W is for Wasted. See R.

X is for Xylidine. A mixture of six isometric amines derived from xylene and used in dyes. Formula (CH3)2C6H3NH2. This doesn't have a lot to do with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe but might come in handy if you're playing Scrabble.

Y is for Yanks. American tourists are in abundance and manage to show the locals a thing or two about tartan. A Scotsman might be forgiven for thinking that tartan is a proud symbol of his national heritage, but Americans have invented whole new patterns using day-glo colours and then used them to make trousers.

Z is for Zeitgeist. The spirit of the times. What art should reflect. For example, the zeitgeist currently dictates that it is unfashionable to use words of German origin.

Dave Gorman: Pleasance (0131 556 6550), Wed to 26 Aug (not 12 & 26 Aug).