Now the festival's over, the wild times begin

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The Independent Online
A night or two ago I was parking a car at 2am in Melville Street, which is a large Georgian street in Edinburgh's West End, and as I got out of the car I realised I was not alone. Standing in the middle of the otherwise empty wide street, not 200 yards from Princes Street, was a large fox. He looked at me. I looked at him. He realised that I did not look either particularly dangerous or good to eat, and went on investigating the flying bags of rubbish before disappearing into a basement area.

It was a sign, I think; a sign that the festival was coming to a close, and that the residents of Edinburgh were reclaiming their city. Maybe the fox had been out of Edinburgh during the festival, and had let his fox-hole to some tourist foxes at an exorbitant rate. But now it was time to come back. The end of the festival is like the end of summer and the start of autumn - all the signs are there, as the Fringe posters turn brown and flutter to the ground, and the critics and performers prepare to flock south for the winter.

The football season is already so advanced in Scotland that every professional footballer in the country has already been interviewed at least once by the papers - although none of them has said anything of interest except Gilles Rousset, Hearts' French goalkeeper, who intriguingly confessed that he never went to French restaurants in Edinburgh, only to Italian ones, thus further confirming my wife's feeling that Italian cooking is ousting French cuisine in quality and appeal.

Anyway, I am going to try to avoid football this season and find a new, alternative amusement. And if I do, I don't think it will be stand-up comedy. Exposure to the Edinburgh Fringe has more or less cured me of that. The accepted wisdom is that stand-up comedy is beginning to recede, but I am not sure that this is true. The reason there is so much stand- up comedy on the Fringe is not just that people like it but that it is cheap to put on, at least compared with revue or drama. One man, one mike, no set, one script and there you are.

What is encouraging is that this year there were shows emerging that were neither stand-up, nor sketch comedy, nor even drama, but somewhere in the middle. The two best shows I saw in Edinburgh this year (Let the Donkey Go and Fantastic Voyage) were both terrifically funny but they were both terrific pieces of theatre, which is something that stand-up comedy never is.

Let the Donkey Go was a wonderful three-man show, threaded (like a Marx Brothers film) on a loony spy story but whose funniest moments - a biscuit endurance act, a national anthem episode, a torture scene - were barely relevant to the plot.

Fantastic Voyage was reviewed by everyone as if it were a homage to old- fashioned film special effects, but this two-man show by Gavin Robertson and Andy Taylor was an extraordinary display of mime and comic skills which made the audience work hard and was twice as good for it.

Anyway, now Edinburgh is back to normal, with merely horrendous traffic and parking problems, instead of impossible ones, and no sign of the festival left behind. Or is there?

There was a time when people still did spontaneous things on the Fringe, and comedian Arthur Smith used to do conducted historical tours of Edinburgh starting at 2am. I came across him once in the wee small hours pointing through the windows of some big building and telling his entourage that this was Holyrood Palace, where Mary Queen of Scots lived with her paramour, Kenny Dalglish. Uproarious laughter. Well, it was 2am.

But one year he ended up challenging his followers to see how many of them could get on top of a bus shelter. I don't know how many made it, but I do know that the shelter collapsed.

I also know that this year Edinburgh bus shelters bore a notice saying: "Beware - the top of this bus shelter has been treated with anti-climb paint!"

Remember that next time someone tells you the Fringe has no lasting effect on Edinburgh.

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