The witches of Edinburgh - Poles apart

When I first arrived in Edinburgh for the Festival, I overheard two people in the Assembly Rooms talking. One said something rather cynical or pretentious, and the other one said, "I think we're having one of those Fringe conversations, aren't we?", and they both laughed. But talking and swapping of gossip does take up a lot of time here - looking back to see what I have done at the Fringe, I find that, like many other people, I spent a lot of my time in the Pleasance Courtyard discussing a very important topic, ie, what we would be doing if we weren't having a pleasant time sitting in the Pleasance Courtyard.

During the rest of the year it is just a quiet university backwater - on my first day here I met a middle-aged man staring mournfully into the merry maelstrom of outdoors tables and drinkers and saying to himself, "That's my parking space in there!" - but for the Fringe month it is a place to drink and jostle and talk.

Or rather, to listen. Two weeks ago, for instance, I was asking Ralph Oswick of the Bath Natural Theatre Company what he had seen on the Fringe that was good.

"Well, I've seen the travelling Polish version of Macbeth."

"How was it?"

"I was disappointed."

"Not good?"

"Oh, no, it was good enough, even if you know no Polish. But I was disappointed because when I went in, there were three very big ladies going in in front of me, and I just knew from the look of them that they were going to be the three witches. They sat in front of me looking very threatening and I was waiting for the moment when they would leap up dramatically on to the stage, when I heard one of them say to another, 'Oh, dear - I didn't know it was going to be in Polish...!'"

But it's not just the Fringe - it's real life as well. We were having dinner one Saturday night in a nice little restaurant called Keeper's, with a big room off to one side that was full of a noisy American party, which we could hear but not see. They all fell silent at one point for the leader to address them as follows.

"All right, can I just talk to you about worship tomorrow morning? Now, in the church we're attending I don't know if they will be using ONE large chalice or several small chalices pouring into smaller cups, so if any of you has any problem with either approach, please let me know..."

Weird. Even notices that I have jotted down have a slightly odd flavour. There was one I spotted in the Royal Commonwealth Pool when we went for a swim: "No Access To General Purpose Room". There was a blackboard I noticed in Portobello, outside a pub on the beach called The Tides Inn, which was the sort of blackboard that normally says something conventional like "Lunch served from 12 to 3" but which in this instance said pleadingly, "NORMA - DON'T FORGET YOU'RE WORKING TONIGHT!"

I also copied down some graffiti in the gents' loo at the Botanical Gardens, partly because some of it was in Gaelic and partly because it was the gratifying sort of graffiti that begins with one line and is then added to by other people. It went like this:

1. "Saor Alba! Free Scotland! Thigar la..."

2. (In a different hand) "This Canadian heartily agrees with this."

3. (In a different, scornful scrawl) "Oh yes, back to the old clan and feudal system..."

I must go back at the end of the week and see if the debate has continued.

Even our own little show, "The Death of Tchaikovsky - a Sherlock Holmes Mystery" (advt) has produced useful comments. A microbiologist came to see it one night and left a note with the stage crew saying: "You might tell the cast that you catch cholera from a bacterium, not a virus". The script has been amended accordingly. And one night my old music master from school, Noel de Jongh, came to see the show (in which I briefly play the euphonium) and could be heard saying to his neighbour, "I used to teach Kington music, you know!", then adding, "Not that you'd know it."

Actually, it was Noel who came up with my best overheard remark at the Fringe. Afterwards in the Pleasance Courtyard I heard him saying to someone: "I had an aunt who smoked so many cigarettes that her voice went deeper and deeper as she got older. Towards the end of her life she could easily manage the bass chorus part in The Messiah".

Now she would have been a wow on the Fringe.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'