They've left town to escape the mysterious Flymo fury

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The Independent Online
ONE OF the things I couldn't help noticing as we drove up to Edinburgh on Monday was how heavy the traffic was coming the other way. I'd be prepared to swear that there was much more traffic coming down from Edinburgh than there was going up to it, which is odd, because you'd think there would be a lot more traffic going towards the Edinburgh Festival. It was only when we got to Edinburgh and drove along the darkened streets of the New Town that it finally clicked. What we had seen on the roads was the mobile population of Edinburgh leaving town for the Festival.

There seem to be several reasons why the average Edinburgher streams south, or dodges north, during Festival time, which is after all popularly supposed to be the only time that Edinburgh really comes to life. One is that they don't want Edinburgh to come to life because they like it nice and quiet as it is. The second is that if you leave town during the Festival you can re-let your flat or house at a nice, juicy profit to people who have come up for the Festival.

There is also the third factor of having to go to shows you don't particularly want to go to. Anyone who lives in Edinburgh is bound to know people involved in one, two or more shows, and they will feel under some obligation to attend their friends' shows, and if they don't feel under any such obligation, then their friends will make sure they do.

I speak of this subject with some delicacy, as the people I am staying with in Edinburgh have suddenly developed plans to be away during most of the Festival and will probably, alas, not be able to come to either of the two shows we are involved with. They are in fact going severally to Glenfinnan, Iona and Skye, which is a long way to go just to get away from the Fringe, and I think it means I will have to feed the guinea-pigs while they are away, but that's showbiz.

In the short time I have been here in Edinburgh I have noticed that nothing much has changed. There are slums still growing in the city, a tree I haven't seen for years (except as saplings in English hedges, already going brown with Dutch elm disease). There is already a slight chill in the air, perhaps brought on by the advent of football, which always seems to get going indecently early in Scotland.

It's good to report, too, that however swollen and cumbersome the Fringe becomes, there are certain things that never change. I'm always on the lookout for the First Disaster Story and The First Great Moral Outrage Story, and both have happened already. Usually the disaster is just a publicity-seeking hard luck story ('Student Group Catch Pneumonia After Being Forced to Sleep Out on Arthur's Seat After Being Thrown Out of Digs'), but this year's winner was grimly realistic. 'Actor killed after Nazi nightmare in Germany', said the Evening News headline, and the opening of the item said more than you wanted to know. 'A troupe of Polish stilt-walkers have pulled out of their Edinburgh Festival debut after a nightmare journey across Central Europe. First they were shot at by suspected neo-Nazis. Then just hours later they were involved in a crash which killed the driver, who was their lead actor . . .' Enough . . .

In the old days, the moral outrage was almost always about sex or nudity, but violence seems to be taking over. I spotted a Daily Record placard which exclaimed: 'Flymo Fury At Festival Circus Danger Stunt'.

I promptly bought a copy to find out why Flymo lawnmowers should be involved in a circus horror, but the paper had mysteriously dropped the item, and I was only left to speculate. Do clowns ask for volunteers to lie down in the path of Flymo machines? Do skilled acrobats juggle with fully throttled lawnmowers? Or has the Daily Record discovered that formation-flying Flymos are trained by methods which involve great cruelty? I fear I shall never know.

But some things do change at the Fringe. No, it is not yet time to report the decline of stand-up comedy, alas. But it is time to report that the venues may be taking over from their tenants. Last year (and again this) the wonderful Italian delicatessen Valvona & Crolla staged its own shows in its own back room, starring ace folk singer Mike Maran and the owner of the shop himself, Philip Contini. This year I notice that the Salvation Army office has become a Fringe venue and is presenting evenings of (sic) 'Christian comedy'. Whatever next?

I just mention these things so that those people who live in Edinburgh and are unavoidably absent at the moment know what is going on back home . . .