Saturday, 6 August 2011

The Return of the Chocolate Ocelot’s Fringe - Friday

Location: Skelmanthorpe, near Huddersfield. Spend much of morning discussing the relative heights of the Emley Moor TV mast and a Martian fighting machine with a five year old (nearly six). Remainder of morning devoted to perfecting our martial skills with the punchy-stick, an ingenious combination of rubber bath ball, plastic slide binder, and five-foot runner bean cane. I demonstrate my ability to hurl said weapon the length of the back garden and hit a child-size wooden biplane on the tailfin, thus rocking the five year old’s world. I can see now why people have kids – it’s so they can show off their mediocre adult abilities to someone with no reference points.

Thence we pile into our noble conveyance Elwood and proceed north to Scotland. As we are travelling to the Fringe by car this year and not train, I am afforded the luxury of far more packing space than I really need, and thus have brought enough clothes, footwear, bedding and reading material to see out a brief global disaster. The soundtrack to our journey past Leeds, Newcastle and Jedburgh is the audiobook of Where The Bodies Are Buried, by Christopher Brookmyre, an appropriately Scottish author who has written a number of thrilleresque contemporary tales with largely forgettable titles. One exception is the recent Pandemonium, which for once contains a clue to the story’s subject in the title, and is highly recommended by myself and Herself.

After a brief stop in West Auckland for a very fine grated cheese roll, we take the long undulating A68 into Scotland, predictably getting stuck behind large slow moving horseboxes. This happened to me before, well over 10 years ago on the way back from Edinburgh – a tour coach was poodling along at 30 miles an hour and we were stuck right behind it, with another 20 odd cars behind us, all fuming at the prospect of another umpteen miles following this lumbering beast. Thinking boldly, I spotted that there was a village lying ahead, just parallel to the A68, which I could use as a sort of short cut to leap ahead of the coach. Unfortunately, I hesitated for a second too long at the junction out of the village, and the coach lumbered past the front of us. Followed by the rest of the traffic queue which proceeded, to a man, to not let me back in until they had all passed, the bastards.

We reach Edinburgh, more or less hitting the afternoon rush hour and navigate into the city centre, where we decant a car-load of luggage into our swanky holiday apartment. This year we have relocated from Castle Wynd (too close to the nightly Tattoo crowds, too many steps, a springless sofa and the smallest toilet known to humanity) to Kings Stables: still within the shadow of the castle, but a more spacious two-storey affair with a fabulous metal spiral staircase and a bathroom sufficient to swing a relatively short-tailed cat for once.

While Herself stocks up at the local Sainsbury’s, I leap back into Elwood before Edinburgh’s diligent traffic wardens slap a ticket on him, and drive all the way out to one of the city’s satellite park-and-rides. This feels very odd, having already driven into the centre only to turn around and drive out again and dump my lovely car in some anonymous car park for a week. I should point out that the park-and-ride, I’m not saying which one, is patrolled and monitored 24 hours a day by CCTV, guards and vicious Scottish attack lobsters, so don’t even think about stealing Elwood. Anyway, he does rubbish mileage and he has the turning circle of the Exxon Valdez.

On the bus back into the city, I read a free Metro paper and am dismayed to come across an article debunking the popular folk story of Greyfriars Bobby. Apparently there were two dogs; the first just being a stray that the graveyard warden kept fed, rather than the mythic loyal hound mourning at his dead master’s grave; the second being a younger Skye Terrier that the local businessmen cynically brought in when the first died, just to keep the tourist trade coming in. I think they did the same thing with Eddie in Frasier. Shocking. My world crumbles just a little more around me.

Hook up with Herself just outside Fringe venue 18 – Sweet Grassmarket – with literally 4 minutes to go before our first show of the 2011 festival. Herself has thoughtfully brought along two freshly made peanut butter sandwiches to sustain me, which I proceed to eat one covert bite at a time during the blacked-out scene changes of the performance. Said show is Subsist (DBS Productions), an excellent tale of four unnamed people trying to survive two years into a zombie apocalypse. It’s small, minimal, and excellently written and acted. And also Scottish by all indications, which is actually a refreshing change for the Fringe, which can often seem to be a decidedly English affair. All in all, Subsist is a bloody good play about zombies which never shows one of the walking dead or even says the z-word. It could equally have been about people surviving after a nuclear war or a shipwreck I suppose, but then you don’t get the fun of waiting for the ominous thumps at the front door…

We race out of the venue, nip back to the apartment for me to grab a coat, and then back down Grassmarket and on to the Gilded Balloon Teviot, once again occupying the courtyard and rambling neo-gothic (I pinched the neo-gothic bit from the Fringe programme – I have no idea about architecture) building of Teviot Row House – the oldest purpose-built student union building in the world (according to Wikipedia). We shuffle into the Billiard Room antechamber and are hit by a beery wave of hot air wafting off our fellow Fringe-goers. Ominously, Herself and I are issued by adhesive name badges as we troop into the Billiard Room itself, which fills me with my well-documented fear of comedy interaction. As we are about to see Rich Fulcher – the American one off of The Mighty Boosh – I am more than a little concerned that either or both of us will at some point in the next hour be dragged up on stage and forced to oil his prominent moobs or some such.

But my fears are unfounded, as only a hapless sap in the front row (Ha! Sucker.) is picked out for interaction, as Mr Fulcher induces him to take a megaphone out into the Assembly courtyard and entice total strangers to gather round him ‘for free money’, all the while being filmed by Arno, Rich’s endearing young comedy stooge. The show is as mad and (possibly staged) shambolic as you might expect from Rich Fulcher, but fun and silly and positive too. Plus, Herself and I agree that we like the way Arno speaks – maybe it’s his slightly androgynous American tones that we responded too, or his big Indian puppy-dog eyes.

Then an hour or so to kill before out last show of our first day, so I grab a rather fine sugar and lemon crepe from outside the Gilded Balloon, and we wander south to George Square, where the Assembly (Rooms) have developed a swanky upmarket sideshow venue in the last few years – all artificial lawns, uplit trees, open-air heaters and purpose built mobile theatres that looks like a cross between a nineteenth century carny and the set of Moulin Rouge (shudder).

Here, we see Mr Andrew O’Neill, a splendid young fellow whose progress we have tracked (not in a creepy way you understand) over the last couple of years. An eclectic and energetic gentlemen, Andrew is a musician, stand-up comedian, steampunk performer, and self-proclaimed gendernaut (a term I thought I had invented, but hey). He also runs occasional Jack the Ripper tours of London’s east end, where he (ahem) convincingly argues that the Ripper was none other than a young Winston Churchill.

Tonight, Andrew is in comedian/musician mode, and delivers a highly entertaining hour of anecdotes, songs and Harry Hill-esque non-sequiturs, loosely strung together along the theme of leading an alternate lifestyle. All jolly good stuff. We are brave after the show and trot up to say hello briefly, name-dropping one of his fellow steampunk band members from The Men Who Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing in a pathetic attempt to raise our stock a degree above the regular groupies. I’m sure he saw right through it, but it’s nice to pretend you’re saying hello to a friend after his gig.

Nursing a headache from not having drunk anything since 11’o-clock that morning, I am led back to our apartment by Herself, where we slump in front of the telly to watch Team America: World Police. I am delighted to discover that Herself has done me proud by snagging the last of the original recipe custard creams from Sainsbury’s. As you are no doubt aware, they recently changed (read: downgraded) the recipe for a distinctly crapper formula, thus ending a decades-long love affair between myself and Sainsbury’s. Sniff.

I manage to keep my eyes open long enough to catch the bit in Team America with the deadly ‘panthers’ but start to flag by the time Matt Damon utters his legendary catchphrase. We wobble down the metal stairs to Bedfordshire.

Today’s SlebWatch: Wright Stuff regular Hardeep Singh Kohli on a bicycle (wearing his trademark pink turban), Horrible Histories actor and O2 front man Jim Howick (sporting trademark ginger beard and cricket sweater), and the boy from Primeval (sporting neither crap beard, nor little hat, nor whining ‘Abby!’)

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