Fat ladies and Fringe activities

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The Independent Online
I'm sorry to mention the Edinburgh Fringe again, but when you're here, the real world does seem a long way away. Even when you are in the real Edinburgh, life takes on a sort of Fringe overtone.

For instance, I was pedalling through the Grass Market the other day when I noticed a wonderful-looking cook-book shop, and I remembered that when I was last living in Notting Hill there had been a wonderful-looking cook-book shop in Blenheim Crescent run by a larger-than-life woman called Clarissa Dixon-Wright. The reason I remembered it so well was that it was right opposite the Travel Bookshop, where my daughter, Sophie, worked for a long while. I also remembered that the last time I met Jenifer Paterson, the affably eccentric cook who rides round London on a motor bike, she had said that Clarissa Dixon-Wright had transplanted to Edinburgh. So I got off my bike and went in and there, sure enough, was Clarissa Dixon- Wright who greeted me with chortles and cries of welcome, to the extent that she agreed to put up a poster for our show, The Death of Tchaikovsky - a Sherlock Holmes Mystery. That this was not just a gesture was proved a moment later when two men came in asking if they could put up their posters for their show.

"Let's see them," said Clarissa.

They showed her two quite decent posters for a WB Yeats play evening.

"No, don't like it," she said, and they retired, looking most unoffended.

"You don't take many posters, then?" I asked.

"My dear, if I put up every poster I was offered, I wouldn't have a shop," she said firmly.

"By the way," I said," do you remember Sophie from the Travel Bookshop?"

"Yes, indeed!" she said. "We were great chums. I wonder how she is."

"She's having a baby in December."

"How wonderful! But how do you know?"

"She's my daughter."

"Good heavens! How wonderful! I had no idea! ... Gosh, you look bronzed, dear!"

This, not to me, but to the window cleaner who had just appeared and was carefully cleaning round the few posters that had been allowed to go up. He did indeed look as brown as a coffee bean. "Aye, well, I've been off for two weeks working as a ski instructor."

"Abroad?" I said.

"No, here in Edinburgh."

"They've got one of the world's best dry-ski slopes here," said Clarissa.

"Have they really?" said another customer, who had been listening to all this. "Gosh, I've been looking for somewhere to do some summer skiing. Tell me more ..."

A moment later he and the window cleaner had retired to a corner to swap each other's intimate details, while Clarissa had proudly produced a TV publicity card headlined "BIGGER THAN KEITH FLOYD!"

"Has Jenifer told you that we are making a TV cookery programme together?" she said. "It's going to be called Two Fat Ladies. It's coming out this autumn. We've had terrific fun shooting it. We've been going round on a motor bike and side-car together. So far it hasn't buckled under the strain."

It is true that neither Clarissa nor Jenifer is exactly a waif. That is why the programme is called Two Fat Ladies. That is also why the publicity on the card read: "Bigger than Rick Stein! Bigger than Keith Floyd! Even bigger than Delia!" No danger of being sued under the Trades Description Act there.

Now, the whole point of that little four-part conversation is that although the Fringe was nowhere really mentioned, it was a very Fringe conversation, because it is at the Edinburgh Fringe that you keep bumping into the most unlikely people and things and not being surprised by it at all. And where else would you meet a window cleaner who also taught skiing? But he is not the only man here with dual jobs.

A few days later I was in perhaps the nicest shop in Edinburgh, the Gramophone Emporium in St Stephen's Street, a treasure house of old 78s and LPS, which is run by a young man called Neil with an encyclopaedic knowledge of jazz records. As it opens only one and a half days a week, I asked him curiously what he did the rest of the week. "Oh, I work part-time at Aztec, the Latin-American shop in Victoria Street," he said, "and I also teach Gaelic at a music school called St Mary's."

I challenge anyone to come up with a wilder threesome of jobs. Outside Fringe time, anyway.