If it's festival time, it must be Edinburgh

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The Independent Online
FAINTLY to my surprise, I am back in Edinburgh at festival time. If I weren't here, I would be suffering tremendous withdrawal symptoms. Being here, I am faintly surprised at not being elsewhere. I know that I am involved in a show. I know that my wife is involved in a show (directing Struck Off and Die at the Pleasance - selling out already, so hurry, hurry]). I know that if I were anywhere else, I would be thinking of buying a ticket to Edinburgh, but still . . . .

The Edinburgh Festival has been heralded by the usual flurry of speculation about its impending survival or death. Will the new director save the festival? Will the Fringe die under its own weight? Will the festival offer anything to the local citizens? Will the local council offer anything to the festival?

The Guardian even offered a pair of articles on 'Why I am coming to the festival', and 'Why I am staying away this year'. Ned Sherrin said he was coming because he had been asked to chair some lunchtime talks and was glad to plug them in the Guardian, which seems reasonable, and Waldemar Januszczak said he was staying away because he was sickened by the provincial nature of the festival, and the narrow way it promoted Scottish art.

This confused me somewhat, as there seems to be very little Scottish culture in the festival most years, until it turned out he was enraged by the thought of the Allan Ramsay exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. It was hard to tell why. I was at least impressed by the thought that the show was sponsored by Mobil - an oil painter sponsored by an oil company. Lots of possibilities there - Turner watercolours sponsored by Thames Water, sculpture shows backed by whoever it is puts all those stone chippings on the main roads ('Careful] Henry Moores Ahead]'), and so on.

People in Edinburgh seem less worried about the survival of the festival than people in the Guardian. Those who can afford to, have got out of town, renting their flats at inflated prices to those coming in for the festival, which enables them to afford to get out of town in the first place. (I met some friends who were renting a grotty flat for pounds 400 a week. Well, I mean.)

Those who are left behind have other things to worry about. If you buy the local papers, you might get the impression that the only really important thing to worry about in Edinburgh is the future of the Hibs and Hearts football grounds, which have to be relocated, probably out of town.

I went down the Easter Road one year to attend a Hibs v Hearts match, and the thing that struck me - apart from the memory of being surrounded by Hibs supporters and having all my cheroots surgically taken away from me in the most friendly fashion; I gave up smoking shortly thereafter - was that I had unequivocally crossed a division between festival and town, and that it was a journey that not many made either way.

There is, as far as I know, no show in the Fringe reflecting the troubles of Hibs and Hearts, but then, there is no show on the Fringe that I have noticed yet which has anything much to do with Edinburgh. This was not always so. There used to be a strong contingent of shows with a local accent - I can even remember one year going to a play written in Aberdeenshire dialect, which was an invigorating, if ultimately baffling, experience, a bit like an invigorating walk in blinding rain. There isn't much like that around any more. Sorry, Waldemar.

Anyway, if there were a show about Edinburgh, it would have to reflect the new reality of Edinburgh's status as an Aids and drugs centre. It seems ironic that last year's cult comedian, Bill Hicks, came here from America with an act based on defiance of drug and tobacco taboos. A very funny act, actually, but when Bill Hicks stayed on stage defiantly smoking a cigarette, it seemed a little less than daring here in hypodermic city. The least he could have done, I think, was go on a trip before our very eyes, or actually contract Aids on stage. I see he's back again this year. Perhaps that's what he will do this time.

Anyway, I am here for a week, doing a one-man talk late at night at the wonderful Pleasance, called a Rough Guide to the Fringe (advt), and if I don't mention it, nobody will. If you present a copy of this article at the door, you can get in for full price. I'd like to be more generous than that, but I seem to be paying a lot for my flat.

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