Miles Kington: I expected to hear the moaning of critics getting 50 lashes

The creaking of the timber walkways and the wind tugging at the canvas roofing reminded me more than anything of an 18th-century sailing ship
Click to follow
The Independent Online

One advantage of flying to Edinburgh from Bristol, as I did last week, is that you are not taking an international flight to the United States and therefore the security is not excessive. Yes, we had to take our shoes off for examination, and walk around unshod for a while ( "Athlete's Foot Outbreak Blamed on Security Clampdown!"), but I did not have to take the belt off my trousers, as has happened to me in Spain, and I had remembered just in time to put my corkscrew in the hold luggage, so I felt that things were not much worse than usual.

(In fact I was quite cheered up by a notice in WH Smith's in the airport. It said: "If You Steal From this Store, You Will be Arrested, and Then You Will be in Danger of Missing Your Flight". I thought this showed a humorous side of WH Smith's I had never suspected before.)

Airport security is only a passing nuisance, in any case, whereas if you are a smoker in Scotland life is now a constant series of permanent nuisances. As you have to go outside for a cigarette these days, I half expected when we flew in over Arthur's Seat to see the mountain sparkling with the glowing ends of hundreds of smokers who had taken to the hills.

Scotland, however, is not the greatest country in the world to pop outside for a smoke, being generally chilly and damp, so Arthur's seat was unillumined - indeed, I was not surprised later to see a notice outside a pub in Rose Street which said: "Enjoying a fag? Getting soaked? Come in and borrow an umbrella!"

And so to the book festival. When a town puts on a book festival, it has two options. It can either house all the events in existing venues, as they do at Bath and Oxford, or it can build a temporary township of tents, as happens at places like Hay, Fowey and Edinburgh. But there are tent townships and tent townships. The tents of the Daphne du Maurier Festival at Fowey have a rather jolly village atmosphere, whereas the Hay tent ensemble, bigger and slicker, reminded me more of a canvas airport terminal ("This is the last call for the Bishop of Oxford's talk," I seem to remember hearing when I was there; "will the last remaining passengers for the Bishop of Oxford please make their way ...")

Yet the Edinburgh International Book Festival reminded me more than anything of an 18th-century sailing ship, if only aurally. This is because they have laid down paths of wooden decking for you to get everywhere, from tent to tent, or bar to shop, so if you close your eyes and listen, the constant creaking of feet on timber combined with the wind tugging at the canvas and the polythene walkway roofing conjures up echoes of Douglas Fairbanks, Hornblower and the Spanish Main. You half expect to hear the hoarse monotonous cursing of Long John Irvine Welch, or the moaning of literary critics getting their fifty lashes ...

On stage, do the talk, off stage again and all too soon we were off back home via Edinburgh Airport, literature quite left behind.

Well, not quite, as it turned out. Our BA Connect flight to Bristol was cancelled and we were flown to Birmingham instead, then put in a minibus down the dreary motorway to Bristol. As the minibus pulled away, a woman in the front seat said loudly to the other passengers, "I'm afraid I'm going to disturb you for a moment, as I have to dictate 400 words to The Sun," after which she did pick indeed up her mobile and dictate a piece on what happens to us physically when we dream.

No Sun journalist, she turned out to be Professor Susan Blackmore, returning from Edinburgh after giving a talk about her new book, Conversations on Consciousness, and as we talked away the afternoon, just for a moment the Edinburgh Book Festival had an unsuspected extension, in a minibus, on the M5 going south.