I was up in Edinburgh last week with my wife, doing a talk at the Book Festival, and while I was there, a man said to me, "You know that Sandy Gilchrist's shop has closed, don't you?"
I gasped, as one does when a chapter of history clangs shut. In all the years I went up to Edinburgh to take part in Fringe shows - about a dozen in all - the first thing I liked to do was go to Sandy Gilchrist's bicycle shop on the London Road and hire a bike for the duration. The cobbles in the big Edinburgh streets were uncomfortable and the hills ditto, but otherwise the freedom of swishing round that fair city and even getting out into the country was unbeatable.
I hadn't been back to Edinburgh in festival time for some years, but I had imagined that Sandy Gilchrist's shop would always be there if I needed it. And yet, of course, there is bound to be some other bike shop now which I don't know about, hiring cycles to young performers I don't know about, just as the hundreds of acts on this year's Fringe can have very little sense of the history of preceding years. There are not many things that are the same from year to year. Only Valvona & Crolla, the great Italian shop. And Arthur's Seat.
And comedian Arthur Smith. My wife and I were there for only two days, yet it seemed unsurprising that we bumped into him outside The Pleasance.
"It's been a very busy Fringe for me, Miles," he said. "You see, I have been taking a dozen Bavarian Girl Guides round the place. I met them in Glasgow and was immediately attracted to their simple way of life and their charming short skirts, and when I found out that they were coming to Edinburgh, I made arrangements to meet them. I got them put on stage in a Fringe show that very day, to do one of their songs, and they went down a storm so they've been appearing on other shows. I hear they're turning work down now."
True? Untrue? A bit true? I have no idea. Anyway, we decided we have time to see one Fringe show while we are up, and my wife said that there was a show given four stars that very morning by The Scotsman which sounds just the ticket.
"It's called American Vaudeville," she said. "It's two guys re-enacting the history of vaudeville and it sounds as if it's theatre AND performing skills AND humour AND a good story..."
And so we went to see it, and it may have had four Scotsman stars and been The Independent's pick of the day recently, but I have to say we felt short-changed, because it wasn't much of a story, and not very theatrical, and the guys' performing skills were pretty raggedy, though they played the spoons nicely.
"Still," I said to my wife,"it's traditional to go to at least one show on the Fringe that's a real let-down."
"Yes," she said, "but not if it's the only show you go to see."
Luckily, we did have at least one funny experience in Edinburgh, and it was my wife who stage-managed it personally. We stayed for one night at the Bonham Hotel in Drumsheugh Gardens (worth it alone for the amazing 40 or 50ft Japanese hanging lampshade in the stairwell) and arrived there bringing a bottle of white wine for aperitif hour.
"We won't be using any of the stuff the hotel have put in our bedroom fridge," she said, "so I'll clear out the contents and put our bottle in."
And so she did.
A bit later she was browsing through the hotel folder when she suddenly said: "Oh God, listen to this. It says: 'Your mini-bar is computerised and will charge your account for any item if it is removed for longer than ten seconds'."
We looked aghast at the fortune in booze that she had removed and put on the table twenty minutes previously. Reader, have you ever skipped out of a hotel without paying, half an hour after you arrived, simply because you had already run up a drinks bill of £150? No, nor did we, but it's worth bearing in mind next time you enter a room with a fridge.
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