On 1 September 2015, I wrote a Tea Towel Blog about my Edinburgh Festival tea towel from 1976, with my memories of Arthur Smith. It has always been a regret that, however many times I returned to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, there was never a new tea towel – always postcards, posters, fridge magnets, pens, t-shirts but never a tea towel (maybe they were so popular they always sold out before I got there!). When I was in Edinburgh in September 2015, long after the Fringe was over, I saw on Twitter that there was a new Fringe Festival tea towel. I rushed over to the Fringe Office and became the proud owner of a new Fringe Festival Tea Towel. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t visited the Fringe in 2015, it represented all those years that I visited and couldn’t find a tea towel. As I use this tea towel today, my memories are of all those years gone by. I’ve always loved the street performers on the square in front of the museum on Princes Street (where they filmed ‘500 Miles’ being sung in the film ‘Sunshine on Leith’) or seeing some preview snippets on the Royal Mile to tempt you to buy a ticket to their show. I loved the fact that the Edinburgh Tattoo plays out high above the Royal Mile or the Book Festival is in Charlotte Square. I saw some great performances in St Andrew’s Church on George Street; I always enjoyed the performances from the American High School productions. There are usually some really good exhibitions. If you want big name comedy then the Assembly Rooms were always the place to go.
When I first used this tea towel, the memories were so vivid, the yearning to go back, and absorb the atmosphere, so strong that I definitely decided that I wanted to return in 2016. I persuaded Liz that this was something she wanted to do. We booked the caravan onto the Edinburgh site early, because it is always booked up at Festival time. The day the Fringe Programme was published I put in my order. I remember the excitement of 432 pages to flick through, divided into categories: Cabaret and Variety, Children’s Shows, Dance Physical Theatre and Circus, Events, Exhibitions, Music, Musicals and Opera, Spoken Word, Theatre. I have a system for getting to grips with this hugely extensive programme. First I flick through the pages, without reading it in any detail; I eliminate any categories that I don’t want to see e.g. Children’s Shows, Dance Physical Theatre and Circus. Then I start the serious looking; it is easy to eliminate, at this stage, all the shows that are not on when you are there. The Fringe is on for 4 weeks and very few performers are there for the four weeks. By the time you have done this, the programme is in much more manageable proportions.
I was delighted to see that the programme is in almost the same format as it was in 1976, just a lot bigger; this meant that I didn’t have to worry about all the symbols and small print. Liz and I decided that we would plan a full programme of Fringe events but also set aside a few days for other things – visits to Incholme, the Isle of May and Aberdeen. I like a plan; I like to book things in advance because I know that you can be overwhelmed when you are there and can miss some great shows. The problem with the Fringe is that with so many different, unusual and ad hoc venues there is no way to guarantee the quality of access at all the venues, especially since very few seats are reserved. Then I saw in the programme that there was an Access Line. And, boy, were they helpful!! They had all the details about the access at each venue, whether seating was tiered, how many steps there might be and they could even reserve some seats. Brilliant.
The first thing I looked for was anything that might involve Arthur Smith. His show was on in the weeks before we were going, which was disappointing, but there was The Arthurart Museum of Socks, a free “unique exhibition telling the little known but inspirational story of socks”, by Arthur Smith. That sounded good to me. Second choice was Rachel Fairburn (who gave me the tea towel of The Royal Wedding 1981 – tea towel blog dated 30/7/16) who has a show called Skulduggery. She was appearing the week we would be there. Third choice was Caroline Ryan with her show ‘The Anatomy of Dating’. Caroline was a Senior Manager in Social Services, before I retired, and who managed some of my contracts. While I didn’t like the decisions the City Council took with regard to austerity cuts and cuts to Social Care, I had a lot of time for Caroline and the principles and fairness which she operated by. The story goes that when Caroline turned 50, she set herself a challenge by taking up Stand Up Comedy. There’s a show I wanted to see. I always love a musical so the combination of the Proclaimers and a musical meant that “Sunshine on Leith” was a must. I felt the need to see some Shakespeare since it is his 400th birthday so an open-air version of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ in the Botanical Gardens sounded good; the Botanical Gardens are a favourite of mine and would make a great setting. I remember seeing the Red Hot Chilli Pipers at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 so that was another must and Music to Inspire a Nation sounded rousing enough for anyone. The Craft Scotland Summer Show also sounded good. That left enough space in the programme for at least one accappello group and for a Gilbert and Sullivan production if I found one. I booked the tickets with the help of the Access Line and within a couple of days the tickets arrived through the post. Ever since, I have looked through the programme every day to check there is nothing interesting that I have missed; sometimes in the build up to the Fringe, on TV, there might be some production that I had not originally thought of seeing, that has been showcased.
Planning holidays is always really exciting for me; it is part of the holiday process but experience from the past has taught me that the ‘best laid plans of mice and men gang aft aglee’. I don’t know why I don’t learn. The Edinburgh Fringe 2016 has certainly reminded me to learn by my mistakes. It is 12 August 2016 that will now be memorable; it certainly will not be regarded as the Glorious Twelfth in my book. This was the day that Liz dramatically fell and and broke her upper arm. As everyone will tell you, if you break your arm it is always better to break the lower arm because you won’t need a full cast. And it certainly isn’t a good idea to have a displaced fracture. So no driving. Moving, walking, bending, standing are all very painful. Some things are just I mpossible. It is, without doubt, disabling. It is awful to see someone in so much pain; awful to watch someone desperately trying to do things one handed, trying to do what you have always done. Liz still doesn’t know the future for her arm, whether it will need an operation in a few weeks; that depends on whether it is healing, in the position that it is in, how long it will all take, how much physio she will need but what we do know is that Edinburgh is not possible at all, no matter how much we tried to ‘problem solve’ it. The Fringe Festival Box Office have been incredibly helpful in the cancellation process. It is disappointing not to be going, but it can’t be helped. This tea towel will always remind of the exciting prospect of the Fringe Festival in 2016; the fact is that 2017 is the 70th anniversary of the Fringe Festival so we are geared up to go next year. Stuff Rabbie Burns, despite setbacks, I will always get excited about planing for the future and take my chances. Incholme and the Isle of May will still be there; the burning question is whether Rachel Fairburn and Caroline Ryan will be there. I hope so. Next year, maybe, I’ll get a chance to see Arthur Smith.
My thanks goes to Louise and Beth from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Access Line to whom this Tea Towel Blog is dedicated.
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