I believe this may be my tenth year of coming up to Edinburgh in August to see the Fringe and, sometimes, a little of the Festival to which it forms a rather overgrown adjunct. However, as I type this racing south by train, I feel this is the first year that I have truly mastered the experience (obviously, mistressy remains an even higher standard, but one which will ever lie beyond my reach).
This hard-worn mastery has a number of components which, as the more prescient or fatalistic reader will have realised, I am going to reveal to you (whilst studiously avoiding use of the phrase ‘life hack’ – except just then).
Let’s start, as some actors do, with the feet. Enjoying the Fringe does involve a lot of walking around: most of it up hill and much of it over cobbled ground. This can – and, in the past, did – play havoc with a chap’s feet and ankles. This year, in one of those flashes of insight which is such a rare visitor to my intra-auricular void, I travelled north with the perfect footwear solution. What are these wonder-shoes? They are a pair of New Balance 1060s, bought several years ago as urban walking shoes: but rarely used. They entered my life just as I started cycling everywhere and they make for a poor cycling shoe. As a result, they have lain forgotten at the back of the wardrobe for several years – just waiting their chance to shine. Shine they most certainly did – taking hills and cobbles in my stride. Never have I left Auld Reekie with such undamaged feet. I’ll admit that they lack style – and whilst gloriously breathable (a boon in the hot and sweaty venues that characterise the Fringe) are not the ideal companions in heavy rain or deep water – but they have more than repaid my faith in them. No longer will they be mocked by more obviously popular footwear in my wardrobe: they have (finally) found their niche.
Next, I shall turn my attention to the duration of the visit. I started at a mere couple of nights and have gone as far as a fortnight. This year I went with a week – and I feel that is the perfect length. Enough time to indulge thoroughly in the delights on offer, but not so much time that the physical and mental toll on the visitor becomes excessive. To avoid missing out on too much on offer, in the weeks prior to Edinburgh I caught a number of acts previewing their shows – which is also quite a thrifty option (special thanks must go to ARGCOMfest and the BAC).
This year, I also decided that you may have a very fine show – but if it starts after 22:00 it will not be graced(clumsied?) by my presence. I now miss the last bus home for no man (or woman) – and so can generally have my head in contact with pillow by midnight.
It is generally best to avoid buying beer in most of the paid Fringe venues – the choice for the connoisseur is limited and prices are higher (£4.00-£4.50 per pint!). The Free Fringe or Fringe-free venues are a better bet with prices falling to £3.90 (that I have lived to see the day when £3.90 seems a relatively reasonable price for a pint) and a much better range of session ales on offer. This year, I acquired a cold mid-way through my visit – though my immune system has already (almost) sent it packing – so on health grounds, during the day, I switched from beer to black tea for my liquid refreshment requirements. This was a much cheaper option and must shoulder much of the blame for my current abnormally healthful state.
This year my events formed a rather pleasing balance between comedy, spoken word and circus (of which, more in later posts). In the past, I think I have tended to over-emphasise comedy and it can all become a something of a blur – but adding circus made for a much more balanced(!) mix. I also spread myself across a wide range of venues and between the Free and paid Fringe – though, in general, I pay as much (or more) for the Free Fringe – so the latter is rarely the cheaper option.
The final element is my growing knowledge of where to find some decent food or a refreshing session ale when one is called for. This year’s discovery was Malone’s – an unexpectedly spacious and architecturally-interesting Irish bar which is handily close to several Fringe venues. Here, standing on the gallery, I took in the second half of the England-France rugby match and indie music from the Free Fringe. Not a combination which would generally be wise, but it was time-saving and did make for an enjoyable end to an evening out.