Monday, August 22, 2005


Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Edinburgh. So good they named it, er, apparently 3 times. Nothing comes close. Trust me. And this year's trip was a corker by any standards, and that's against some pretty strong opposition. If you've never been to the Edinburgh Fringe, then go. Nothing looks like it, feels like it, makes you feel like it.

Which isn't to say this annual pilgrimage doesn't have it's bad side. Which it does for one, it makes you sick. And not just physically sick, but if you're not careful, rotten to the core 'if I see one more pint I'll die', just leave me alone in my misery to die sick. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

The Fringe

OK - The Edinburgh Fringe Festival. What can I say? The Fringe was started in 1947 by people who couldn't get into the festival proper (which is still running) but which The Fringe has now massively outgrown, in no small part due to the fact that there are no entry requirements or genre criteria (other than finding a space to perform and being able to finance it) or restrictions of any kind. In fact The Fringe is now the biggest festival in the world, bar none. In 2004 there were 25,326 performances of 1695 shows by 735 companies in 236 venues with an estimated 15,629 performers (to put that in context, the Olympics has about 11,000 athletes) and 1,253,776 tickets were sold. Very impressive, no, but what does all that mean?

What it means is that unless you're careful you can end up seeing some of the worst shit you'll ever have the misfortune to sit through / walk out of. Talentless ego maniacal (or worse, nervous and frightened) performers doing terrible material in venues that'd be uncongenial for a power-point presentation about meatotomy. But it also means that get it right and for about a tenner you're going to see some shows that you'll never forget. And I mean that in a good way.

Of course, this isn't the Panster's first time in Edinburgh. Not by a long chalk. Nooo Sireee Bob. So there was actually little danger of being accidentally sucked into seeing some terrible bag of shite, and everything we saw was actually pretty good. But before all that here's a quick recap of those previous years. There were others I'm sure but the memory has been eradicated. I know that sounds odd, but look at it this way - you go to largely the same places and see largely the same stuff with, by and large, the same people. Add in that you are background level drunk the *entire time* and roaring shit-faced bed at 6am wankered more nights than not, it's actually miraculous I can remember anything other than some sort of tartan themed stream of consciousness melange of pubs, shouted conversations and bags of chips.

1993 - Living in a Car.
1994 - Silverfish Infestation
1995 - Hotel Bastardo : Breeze Block Horror
1997 - Hotel Gay Boy
1998 - Hotel Bastardo : US Invasion
2000 - The Place With no Beds
2002 - New Town Palace : The Return of Hotel Gay Boy.
2005 - Student Haggis Breakfast

This year we stayed at Pollock Halls, (Edinburgh First) which was actually not bad and pretty well located. And even better it was a) cheap and b) included breakfast WITH HAGGIS!!

And although the accommodation was not as posh as, say, Hotel Gay Boy this was actually one of the less fucked up trips I can remember. Which is not to say that we didn't cane it mightily - simply that we can't take the pace quite as well as when we were 23, plus there were only 4 of us instead of the more usual 8-12 which is a much more manageable number, plus we wanted to see a lot of shows and eat a lot of big expensive and delicious dinners. All of which we achieved.

Day 1

Arrival. 4 hour train trip with Hari & The Riggmeister - no problem with the rooms. get in, and immediately head off to The Pleasance to take in a show, any show before dinner. We met Ana, our 4th compadre there and had a quick 3 or 4 pints before going to see (completely randomly) David Strassman schizophrenic ventriloquist. Who was great, even though I was already suffering from Edinburgh Urinary Syndrome (EUS). EUS, by the way is extremely common and is characterised by an intense desire to pass water, caused by the rapid consumption of lager in cold courtyard, but being unable to do so due to being trapped in a darkened space full of strangers ruled by a sadistic maniac who *will* pick on you should you make any attempt to sneak out to relieve yourself.

Serious Dinner

And from there (after a quick loo trip) we went on to Stac Polly. What can I say? We booked it because it was Ana's birthday, and we wanted to do something special. And boy was it. I wouldn't like to say this was the perfect meal, because then where would you go from, but it was pretty close. There's not a lot more they could have done to make it any better. If only I'd worn my mongoose costume . . .

This is grown up dining - it's a formal place. There's a french maitre 'd who is unfailingly polite but clearly takes his job seriously.
And it's elegant - spacious, quiet, civilised - crisp white tablecloths, high backed banquettes, an acreage of glassware (four glasses per person - is there any other way), but all of this is icing on the cake, what about the food.

I was expecting something good - it's a French influenced Scottish restaurant that aims to use the best of local produce in traditional and innovative ways. A couple of amuse gueule to get us going and help down a bottle Delamotte 1997 and then I started with baked filo pastry parcels of haggis on a sweet plum and red wine sauce. Delicious - spicy, sweet, everything you could want. Next up a fillet of roe dear with miniature roast potatoes, braised red cabbage and savoury apricot chutney. Heaven. Amazing. But could probably have managed with less cabbage. Then we shared a couple of puddings, the chocolate mousse and the sticky toffee pudding. The chocolate was fabulous the sticky toffee was beyond. Without doubt the best pudding I have ever eaten. I can't even begin to describe it properly - light, rich, sweet, ethereal, substantial. How can something made out of little more than fat and sugar be so divine? I don't know. And then of course, coffee, petit four and onto the bill.

So - incredible food, beautiful surroundings, wonderful service, a bottle of vintage champagne, 2 1/2 courses (+ extras bits), coffee and a beautiful bottle of Crozes-hermitage : £208 between 4 - £52 each, including service. If you can get better value anywhere else, tell me about it.

After that we rolled out of there feeling decidedly corpulent. Hari found it a bit difficult to walk up the hill so we had a bit of a rest leaning against someone's house and then caught a taxi to Bannerman's. A couple of quick beers and I was done. The girls (who hadn't had so much lager in the afternoon (and also hadn't been to Yauatcha, The Blue Posts and The Star and Garter the night before) managed to go on to another couple of places, but for the Panster it was game over. Sheets, pillows, duvets - I was out for the count.

Day 2

Up with the lark (9.30) to take advantage of my free cooked breakfast and then back to bed for another couple of hours until we rolled off into town. Quick bite of lunch (traditional Pleasance hot dog for me (ack)) and onto the next show, the decidedly odd, but strangely touching 'How to build a time machine'. I quite liked this show, it was certainly gripping in parts and amusing in others, Hari really liked it and she was suffering at this point, and the other two were somewhat less enthused, so overall I'd give it 3/5. And from there to . . . shopping (don't forget I went on holiday with a bunch of girls, amusingly referred to by other lesser friends as my 'harem'), bit of a kip, afternoon soak in the tub and time for dinner again.

Bloody Tourists

Now here we hit a problem, the place we'd intended to go was booked up, and finding a replacement for dinner at 7pm was proving hard to do. Eventually we went to the Mussel & Steak bar on the Grassmarket. Now there's nothing wrong with this place, but after the night before anywhere might struggle. And they nearly made us late for our show by underestimating how service times. But they did dish up a dozen of the most delicious oysters I've had in years. Even oyster agnostics were in rhapsodies. They were spectacular - firm, flavoursome, with a wonderful creamy texture and perfect blue grey and beige colouring. Mmmm mmmm. And beautifully opened - not one spec of shell. Not that there was anything wrong with the the main courses, just a bit uninspired. So if you are there, stick to the mussels or order a couple of starters and, of course, some oysters. Can't comment on the steak - no-one ordered it but it goes up to 14oz,

So we *just* made it to Omid Djalali. Now I've seen Omid a couple of times before and I'm a big fan. Even though one of those times was fairly painful. As I've said, I'm a big fan, he's very talented, and very funny. But it still doesn't explain why he can fill a 700 seat venue whilst people who are, frankly, quite a bit better are struggling with 120? It's not like he has a TV show or something, though frankly I'm surprised he doesn't. Or maybe I just missed it. Still he was very funny. I particularly liked his Iranian disco dancing, and somehow persuading half the audience to impersonate Islamic fundamentalists : "Think about being in a BBC news report, slap your palm repeatedly against your forehead and shout 'Allah, Allah, Allah!". No doubt about it he's a funny man, but funnier than so many other people . . . I guess it's all in the eye of the beholder.

Rubbish Bar

And on we go on and on and on. A couple more pints and then on for some serious drinking at The Opal Lounge. This is the sort of trendy, soulless, up it's own arse place that I have no time for, but Hari likes because she can guarantee to be pestered by predatory 30/40 something businessmen in them. I mean it's a favourite of Prince William's ffs, how much more of a reason d'you need to stay away than that? Anyway, I'm not going to bang on, but it was a fucking dull, though I did manage to drink my way through a staggering number of beers, mostly because all I had to do was drink and dance and occasionally make polite chit chat. I suppose I could have attempted to go off and pull some birds myself, but I was on my own remember. I'd find the prospect daunting enough with a wing man, but on my own . . . frankly I'm just not that guy, for which I think I'm quite grateful.

Good Bar

Anyway, about 3am Ana & Rigg had had enough, but I was starting to liven up a bit, and Hari was still up for it, so we jumped into another in what was becoming by now a never ending procession of taxis and headed off to Espionage. Now Espionage is much more my cup of tea - it's open till God knows when and has 5 differently themed floors, all of which are actually two basic themes in varying amounts. Theme 1: drinking like a demon and talking to strangers about how drunk you are. 2 : dancing like an idiot and talking to strangers about how drunk you are. And it's huge, and weird - because it's built into a hillside you can enter at level 1 or level 5 and in between there's just acres and acres of Tombraider-esq twisty turns and hidden rooms. That is if tombs are packed with drunk Scots, tourists and thespians.

Anyway we ventured into the bowels of the building and somewhere inbeetween level 3 and 4 (I think) Hari took a tumble down a flight of stairs. And amazingly though she ended up with her legs above her head, braced against a wall while a bunch of locals (rather nicely I thought) tried to help her up again she spilt NOT ONE DROP of either of the pints she was carrying. I suppose that set the tone a bit and from then on in it all went pleasantly pear shaped. 3 memories : attempting to do some sort of line dance to Dolly Parton's Nine to Five; telling some bloke I was talking to that I was an air traffic controller (why? why? why?); standing on a miniature stage to air punch my way through Bon Jovi's Living On A Prayer.

Don't remember getting home.

Day 3

Didn't make it to breakfast. Rolled out about 10.45, quick shower and wandered on my own into town for a bit. It was a beautiful day and eventually I sat outside this cafe called Sadivino, just up from the Pleasance. Anyway, over the course of the next 2 1/2 hours I consumed one plate of smoked salmon, one of bressaola, one portion of olives, 2 Purdey's, 1 coffee, 1 lemon mineral water and one glass of milk with mint syrup. And felt much the better for it. By then all the various kids had managed to haul themselves from their respective pits and join me so it was time to start drinking again. Which we did, and then at 4 went off to see our next show : Arthur Smith's Swan Lake.


Now we're getting somewhere. The shows up to this point have been good, but just shows.
Arthur Smith is something else. This is a show that utterly defies description. It's a narrated, interactive, funny, utterly silly, reworking (in the loosest, loosest sense of the word) interpretation of Swan Lake. And it takes place in The Stalinist Edinburgh housing estate : Dumbiedykes. No I didn't say it was set there - it takes place there. So the show consisted of Arthur leading you through the estate which is littered with his performers - people up trees, people singing from the stairways and balconies of the tower blocks, an excerpt from West Side Story in the local kiddies adventure playground . . . the interval (standing under a tree in the pouring rain while shivering thesps in their underwear distribute cups of warm neat vodka) conflict (being water-bombed by local kids (all part of the act, (probably)), Valkeies (more kids on skateboards), Elvis, and finally dancers on the mountainside. It was surreal, beautiful, funny, touching, heartwarming, life affirming, utterly silly, completely pointless and the best thing I have ever seen in Edinburgh. Actually the best thing I've ever seen, period. Arthur's done 4 performances, and that's it - finished. It'll never be seen or done again. I wish I hadn't forgotten my camera, but in a way that only makes it more unique.

We were all (those who saw it and hadn't buggered off to Glasgow) utterly charmed by this show, and felt the need to reflect quietly on it, which of course meant retiring to a nearby pub, the utterly charmeless but strangely comforting Holyrood Tavern and starting to drink heavily. A few pints later and we're heading for what, for me, I'd thought was going to be the highlight of the trip : Richard Herring in Someone Likes Yoghurt


There's not a lot I can say about Richard that isn't on his own website. The first time I saw him was WAY back in the day (1994?) doing Richard Herring Is Fat. Which was pretty good, and the year after that, Richard Herring Is All Man. With Sally Philipps as I seem to recall. Next year I saw her in Arthur Smith's Hamlet and she was really mean about an imaginary ex boyfriend called 'Dick Kipper'. Now what was all that about? Anyway, then he and Stuart Lee started doing telly and my attention sort of wandered, but now he's back, and how. I have NEVER laughed at a show as much as I did at this one. At one point I actually put my hands over my ears to stop the words coming in because I thought I was going to stop breathing if I laughed any more. And what was so funny about it? I couldn't tell you. It's too surreal - a stream of pointless, petty, vindictive complaints and diatribes against the world, a good half of which was directed in intense detail at some supermarket check out woman who had hinted that Richard liked yoghurt more than the next averagely lactose tolerant person.

Given that one of the other major thrusts of the show (religion is all crap, especially catholasism) ended with Richard accusing the women in the audience of wanting to have enormous trout swimming up their vaginas, you pretty much get the idea of what's going on here. Apparently he sometimes gets quite a bit of stick at gigs, but I can't imagine why - its the work of a genius in my book. But don't go if a) you are very religious b) you are uncertain about the whole vagina/trout thing c) you are a bisexual serial killer paedophile - Richard's magpie reward system will expose you . . .

Yet more dinner

And after that (can you see a theme developing here) dinner. This time we went to iGGS on Jeffrey street, which does Tapas during the day and then transforms into formal dining Scottish/Spanish fusion at night,. Which is fine with me - back to the lined table cloths, multiple glasses and lots of extra knives and forks. I was reasonably conservative in ordering having a beef carpaccio to start and then an olive crusted cod thing with something. Hari ordered the chicken!! This may not seem outrageous but it's one of our little restaurant unwritten rules - never order the poulet, but by this stage we didn't care. Anarchy.

Cod's a bit rubbish

The chorizo mash that came with Rigg's salmon was a revelation, but my cod was, predictably not that exciting. The olive crust was great, the fish was fresh, it was perfectly cooked to retain moisture, but at the end of the day it's a piece of cod - bland. I can't begin to understand why this flavour free fish has been fished practically to the edge of extinction. I suppose the firm flakiness of the flesh (too many 'f's) is spectacular, but I was reminded why I never order it - it's boring. A couple of bottle of wine went down pretty happily and the bill was about £45 - not too shabby at all.


And onwards and onwards. It was shortly after 11 by then so we thought we'd check out The Famous Spiegeltent. The Famous Spiegeltent writes on it's website :

"The Famous Spiegeltent is a mainstay of the Edinburgh Festivals season and a star in her own right, hosting parties, concerts, clubs and a myriad stunning performances. She has launched the European careers of countless artists and will forever remain the stuff of dreams."

But let me condense that down for them : The Famous Spiegeltent is a big pile of wank. Expensive, rammed and wall to wall with tossers, wankers, louts, oafs, public school numpties and (the horror) rugby bores. Imagine trying to struggle through a heaving tent to an overpriced bar having to listen to some Kiwi cunt behind you rant on and on about 'The Ruggers' while in front you some retarded trust fund chick is glued to her phone ascertaining what her dimwit friends wanted to drink.

Rude Irishman

So naturally Hari and Rigg managed to attract their usual crowd of shambling inadequates and I met the rudest Dubliner I've ever spoken to . Despite being charmless, graceless, short, bald, somewhere in his mid 40's and (nice touch) homeless he'd somehow got it into his head that I'd ruined his chances with Hari and was quite happy to communicate his displeasure to me. Despite at one point meeting some nice older Scots guys the evening was looking grim, but what goes around comes around.

More rude bastards

Rigg bumped into some bloke they'd met on day 1 who'd taken them to his private members club and spent 3 hours talking to them. He completely failed to remember her in any way. Ooopsy. She was just pouring out this tale of woe to me when she spotted Hari talking to some other bloke they'd also met before who she described as 'a right rude bastard' which was odd seeing as he looked like David Aaronovich (see left), but apparently his opening line is (regardless of whether you've met him before or not) "I hope your chat's better than last time". He'd also taken less than 10 minutes to make a totally unwanted and ugly spirited pass as well. Don't forget that normally mild mannered Pan had been drinking pretty much constantly for over 10 hours by now, and fuelled by this, and perhaps some other emotion - the vague aroma of which you can doubtless detect in this travelogue, decided to take matters in hand. Which entailed lurching over to this 6'2" genetic cul-de-sac and bellowing the following classic put down :- "Fuck off mate! And you've got man tits." It was lucky Hari was also telling him to get lost and he was in the process of turning away from her (while she was still talking to him) and it was very noisy. If he heard he didn't show any sign of it.

At that point we thought it would be a good idea to try somewhere else and headed off. On our way out we passed a trio of tall young gentlemen glassy eyed and frozen faced with inebriation wearing jeans, stripey shirts and sports jackets (the off duty uniform of the public school twat) who were shouting 'D'you wanna fuck?" at any and every young lady that passed within 10 feet of them. Ah, Young Britain at play. Charming.


So next up we tried The Grassmarket. This is a not so upmarket, stretch of central Edinburgh full of pubs and bars and somewhere I know well. The first place we tried after asking many equally drunken punters, the infamous Dragonfly Bar wouldn't let us in because they said they were closing early. Maybe they were, maybe they weren't but they don't get a link. Then we tried somewhere else, and finally some other bar or other which seemed fine. It wasn't a big place and not that full but pleasant enough. We'd just got out drinks and sat down and Hari went to the loo and came back telling us that the other bar 'upstairs' was nicer. So we followed her downstairs (weird) and up the other flight to the 'upstairs' bar. And yes it was simply the other side of exactly the same room. About 20 feet away ;-)

Will it never end?

When that joint closed about half an hour later you might think we'd consider going home, and I, at least, was SHATTERED, but oh no, no such luck. We staggered out onto The Grassmarket where all the pubs were chucking out. The population seemed to be about 79.9% drunk kids, 15% bemused German tourists, 4% Borders & Lothian Police, 1% vomit and 0.1% us. Time for another taxi. We headed back towards the Spiegelshite but got off and headed for the student union building. This is famous for several things which in order of importance are : 1) The bar's open till 5am 2) There is no discernible door policy of any kind 3) It's a bit grotty 4) Downstairs is the world's shittest disco bar none. By this stage it was well past 3am and we were past caring about anything really. Don't know when we went home, but I can remember how. By rickshaw.

Nice one.

Day 4

Made it to breakfast but that's as good as it got. Came home. Don't want to think about it. It was U.G.L.Y. Ack

So overall, what can I say about this year's trip to Edinburgh. Basically, I loved it.

Best. Year. Ever.

Normally you spend at least one day in Edinburgh locked in a room with only you and your alcohol poisoning, half the shows are a bunch of arse and you can't stand your friends by the end of the week. None of that happened, though I do seem to have got some sort of throat / neck / ear infection.

Roll on next year. Yeah Baby!!!

1 comment:

Timothy said...

Now that's what I call a trip through Endinburgh, I'd definitely like to follow in your footsteps and walk the trail but I'm not sure I could manage it. I will take your advice with regards a couple Edinburgh restaurants to eat at, they sound pretty good.