Saturday, 27 August 2011

Desert Island Drawings


Time to get all Brian Sewelly on you and talk Art. Close personal friends will know that I am not a great fan of the Old Masters and their ilk. The closest I ever got to enjoying a piece of proper art was at a J.W. Waterhouse exhibition a couple of years ago where I tried to spot all the hidden witches, ghosts and toads in The Magic Circle.

No, I thought I’d tell you about artists that I personally like for various reasons. You might even say that they’re influential, but that would pretentiously suggest that I’m an artist myself, which I amn’t. So let’s just say that these are artists that I dig. I dig their style, their subject matter and usually the memories they evoke.

I dashed this list off yesterday in about five minutes, so it’s by no means exhaustive. I could’ve gone on about my many, many favourite comic book artists, but I tried to broaden this out and cover a slightly wider field of artist. Not amazingly wide as you will see. No Banksys or Emins or Hirsts here, but a decentish selection of my Desert Island Drawings. Maybe you’ll dig them too.

1) Ben Eine
I know, I know. I said No Banksys and here I am with another street artist. But I beg your indulgence on account of having walked past Ben Eine’s art twice a day every day for two years. His Alphabet Street letters cover 26 metal shop shutters along the length of Middlesex Street, which I would pass on my way to and from work. I liked how jolly and colourful they were, and it was fun watching each letter spring up overnight as the weeks went by. It gives the place a colourful Sesame Street feel, minus the giant forlorn yellow bird (sadly).

Come and play, everything's A-OK...

2) Hannes Bok
What a cool name. I mean, if I knew nothing of the man’s artwork, I’d still love him for his name. Pseudonym actually, but more power to him for choosing something that sounds like a cross between a Dutch painter and a Hyborian necromancer. I came across his artwork in one of those massive ‘Fantasy of the 20th Century’ coffee table books that parents and rich friends might give you as presents, but which are too damn big for your Billy bookcase. Check out his wraparound cover for The Wheels of If (1948). It looks positively psychedelic, predating Steve Ditko’s freaky dark dimension art for Dr Strange by fifteen years. I love how his style, unlike most other fantasy cover artists, seems to evade dating to a given period – it’s just his own weird surreal look.

The Dread Dormammu is just out of shot.

3) Alex Ross
Imagine reading comics for twenty years, where all the art is broadly from the same ‘pencil in the outlines, ink in some shadows, colour in the white gaps’ school. Then imagine picking up issue #1 of Marvels in 1994 and coming across a fully painted three-dimensional scene of the android Human Torch staggering across the road, his white hot body reflecting off every surface. Man, it was like going from black and white to colour, or 2-D to 3-D (except that 3-D sucks). Alex Ross makes superheroes look both cool and real. You can see Spider-Man’s costume ruching up as he climbs past a Daily Bugle window. You can actually tell all the blond heroes apart. And Iron Man looks like Timothy Dalton! His artwork was a revolution in the comic book world, a style often aped but never matched. My favourite piece of his? This enormous Crisis On Infinite Earths anniversary poster, a joint effort between Ross and legendary penciller George Perez. I had it on my bedroom wall and would stare at the tiny details for hours. You can’t beat a good shot of Superman cradling a dying Supergirl (she's actually dead but I'm still in denial).

Still time to save the world...

4) Neave Parker
Who? You may well ask. Only the bloke who painted the black and white postcards of dinosaurs I had when I was little. I don’t think they started off as postcards though; they originally accompanied articles in the Illustrated London News. Amazing what you can find out online. Have a gander at his noble Triceratops or that most British of terrible lizards, the Iguanodon. How cool are they? I really wanted to include his classic depiction of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, but the internet has let me down badly. Suffice to say that said beast is shown standing fully erect, as T-Rex used to in the 1950s. These days he’s all head-forward and tail-out, the slovenly wretch. But back in Parker’s day, the king of the dinosaurs stood loud and proud.

The Fonz of the early cretaceous.

5) Steve Thomas
I came across this chap’s artwork about a year ago, courtesy of Art You Grew Up With run by the enthusiastic Russell Singler. What I like about Steve Thomas’ work is the smooth way he’s rendered classic Star Wars subjects in the style of early 20th century commercial art. His Cruise The Galaxy poster makes the evil Empire looks like a pretty sexy crew to fly with. Cleverly done, and yet so so wrong.

Fly the Imperial skies.

6) Jan Pienkowski
Polish-born Jan Pienkowski has one of those names that is bound to stick in a young British child’s mind as they grow up. At least, if you read Meg and Mog or the splendidly silhouetted The Fairy Tales. But if the man never did anything else other than create the pop-up book The Haunted House, I think he could rest easy in the knowledge of a life well lived. It’s worth it for the ghost materialising over the sleeping figure in the four-poster bed alone.

No, we don't get many visitors...

7) Boris Vallejo
The master of muscle-bound dudes and chainmail chicks, Boris Vallejo and his wife Julie Bell are responsible for a large portion of the photorealist fantasy art genre. Hovering somewhere between Conan and Playboy, his anatomically detailed work made me want to simultaneously become a painter and a body builder. I still haven’t resolved that one. Now I could’ve chosen any number of swords and sorcery barbarianettes as an example of his work, or a particularly erotic shower scene involving a bar of soap with teeth, but instead I went with Chrome Robot on account of the cool metallic effect.

Good looking fella. Shame about the ears.

8) Russ Nicholson
I must confess that I didn’t even know Mr Nicholson’s name until I looked him up yesterday. I had his art down as belong to another Fighting Fantasy illustrator, John Blanche (who also deserves a mention here for his work on The Shamutanti Hills and other surreally inked adventures), but that’s memory for you. I chose Russ Nicholson over Blanche and other D&Dish artists like the Bok-esque Erol Otus or Jim Roslof (of Keep on the Borderlands fame), because of the sheer impact his drawings had on me when I played The Warlock of Firetop Mountain as a 12-year old. His black and white artwork is superbly atmospheric, and kept me playing the book so I could finally get to turn to the picture of the Warlock himself at the end. Though it was the spooky shots of those four zombies looming in a dungeon cell and the close-up of that decaying ghoul springing to life that really did it for me. I tried to find a nice shot of the original black and white ghoul online, but all I could find was some new-fangled colourised version for an iPhone app of the gamebook. Ptui.

His eyes flick open! You must fight! Turn to section 78.

9) Chris Achilleos
As a teenager, I was introduced to the Gor series of fantasy books by my well-meaning parents. The stories started off as John Cartery/Conany tales of barbarians, swords and giant intelligent animals, but swiftly metamorphosed into a sequence of misogynistic bondage parables loosely disguised as fantasy adventure. But that is a discussion for another time. One of the things I did enjoy about the books were the covers, especially those done by some chap called Achilleos. I particularly liked his depiction of an alien Kur from Marauders of Gor, and set about ripping it off for my Art ‘O’ Level. Later on, I discovered that Mr Achilleos was responsible for many of the fine Dr Who Target book covers I had also enjoyed as a child, though for slightly less suspect reasons than his Gor covers.

Look at Hartnell – Daleks shooting off all over him and he doesn’t give a monkey’s.

10) Tom Sutton
My last artist is one of the finest illustrators of simian shipboard action you are ever likely to see, and that is high praise indeed. Back in the 1970s, when my consumption of weekly Marvel comics consisted of whatever two wildly different titles the company had chosen to merge into one that month, I came across a gem of a story called The Future History Chronicles (as I was to find out some thirty years later). The plot, by comics mainstay Doug Moench, was to take the basic Humans vs Hairy Fellas conflict of the popular Planet of the Apes comics, but move the location to a massive ancient vessel called the Hydromeda, a sort of floating Gormenghast full of gorillas. The plot was cool in itself, but Tom Sutton’s intricate black and white artwork, looking more like something from the French Metal Hurlant magazine, realy blew me away. Too many fine examples to choose from, but I think this shot of the Hydromeda does the job.

Who's rowing? you ask. The human slaves of course.
Damn dirty apes.

Anyway, there you go. Some artists whose work I like. Comics and games and fantasy and dinosaurs. Big surprise.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The Return of the Chocolate Ocelot’s Fringe - Friday again


It is our eighth and final day at the Fringe. Tomorrow we shall be up with the lark and heading up to Inverness, so today is our last chance to see anything we’ve missed or been tempted by a flyer to see. If you have the time, it’s a good idea to have a ‘safety net’ day at the end of your stay at the Fringe, though in all probability your festival schedule will be ruled by jam-packed laminated timetable which plots out every hour of every day of your time in Edinburgh. Yes, our timetable has been laminated by Herself, to protect it from the lashing Edinburgh rain (which reduced every Kleenex tissue in my bag a few days ago to Ready Brek).

Checking on the clothes we washed yesterday, we discover to our disappointment that our jeans have not dried out one iota overnight. Which is a bit of a blow. How can a metal towel rail, which is searing to the touch, not dry out my jeans? Capricious bathroom accessory. So I am faced with the choice of wearing exceedingly damp denim today, or pulling on my emergency back-up combats. Recalling last year’s sartorial mistake, I opt for the damp jeans, after ineffectually waving the hairdryer over them. I soon realise that walking in wet jeans is not a pleasant experience. Though on the plus side, I suspect that the extra friction built up as I walk today will make for some impromptu resistance training.

As we walk to and from venue today, I come to the conclusion that there are some things that you are never far away from at the Fringe:

A man on a unicycle. Usually to be found on the Royal Mile, stripped to the waist and surrounded by a crowd of well over a hundred people. He is perpetually between tricks, much like his cousins the juggler and the fire eater. His main role at the festival is to generate as large a crowd as possible so as to block my passage down the street.

White faced children. Members of a youth dramatic group, you will see them trudging to or from the Royal Mile, where they will spend some hours handing out flyers for their avant garde adaptation of some theatrical standard. They are kin to the grey-faced children and kabuki-faced children, who may be genetic offshoots.

Young ladies in bright red lipstick. Often accompanied by retro hairstyles, they are clearly off-duty performers. If they have a male equivalent, it is the young man with moustache.

Youths dressed as historical paupers. At any given time, there will be one large group of beggars, plague victims, gin-fiends and haggard strumpets, promoting a youth theatre production of The Black Death / Burke & Hare / Jack the Ripper. I think it’s the law.

On with today’s entertainments. For some reason we start grading everything we see today. This is often a counterproductive endeavour, as I dislike comparing markedly different shows, which inevitably means you end up discussing the flaws in something you’ve just seen. Nevertheless, a spurious ‘marks out of five’ system creeps into our viewing today.

First, we march all the way over to the Leith Walk multiplex to see the Captain America film (I can’t be arsed to give it the full clumsy title). It’s pretty damn good. The way they represent the skinny Steve Rogers for the first third of the film is very well done – it really looks like an emaciated version of buff actor Chris Evans. Needless to say, the Red Skull visual doesn’t transfer perfectly from comic page to screen (like the Fantastic Four’s Thing and other monstrous super-characters), but it’s worth seeing for the Android Human Torch cameo and the Avengers teaser after the credits. Oh, and Hayley Atwell looks good. Getting up from my cinema seat, I find that my jeans are still damp, though that may have happened when I saw Thor, Cap and Iron Man together. 4/5

http://captainamerica.marvel.com/

Then over to the funny little room at the top of the Jury’s hotel on Jeffrey Street, where we see Dial H for Hitchcock. An enthusiastic performance from three young men in brown jackets, who put on a roughly glued-together concoction of North by Northwest, Rope and Dial M for Murder, somewhat in the style of the successful Thirty-Nine Steps west end spoof. It is in need of a little bit of music perhaps (A dash of Bernard Hermann wouldn’t go amiss) and maybe a bit of trimming on the dialogue-heavy third act, which is currently a lot of chat about invisible keys (a prop or two here would help). Oddly, both of us nod off during this show, even though it’s just 5pm. I suspect our schedule is catching up with us. 2/5

http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/theatre/dial-h-for-hitchcock-three-actors-three-mysteries-thirty-minutes

Next, we get round to seeing Robin Ince’s free show at Canon’s Gait pub on the Royal Mile. Like the Norman Lovett gig, you have to hang around the bar beforehand and nab a token (ticket) from the barman when he makes them available. It’s a bit of a scramble but I manage it. Mr Ince is funny, passionate (or maybe just angry), tirelessly energetic and deeply immersed in his subjects (the usual science vs ‘woo’ – for an explanation of woo, read Christopher Brookmyre’s Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks). Much funnier than the restrained version of him we get on the TV and Radio. Bloody good value too (it is free). 5/5

http://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/event/229144-robin-ince-star-corpse-apple-child/

We hang around the Canon’s Gait to see Norman Lovett, who is on next. Norman’s style of delivery is a bit of an acquired taste, I think. Not encumbered by structure, punch lines or pace, 55 minutes in his company can feel somewhat longer. Bless him though, he acquitted himself well when a semi-inebriate young lady in the audience starting discussing various female musicians with him. We give him 3/5. It would have been 2/5 but we both have a great fondness for the memory of Holly’s dialogues in Red Dwarf.

http://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/event/229140-norman-lovett-free/

Then we walk south to the ECA on Lauriston Place, a nicely spacious and quiet venue, to see Tales from Edgar Allan Poe. I am absolutely shattered by this point, but a chance to see three Poe classics acted out with puppets is too great to resist. It is also rather handily being staged just round the corner from our apartment. We are treated to The Raven, The Fall of the House of Usher, and The Tell-Tale Heart. The Raven is delivered by a chap who periodically climbs up onto a trapeze, or clambers through a wardrobe. Usher is a two-hander for the most part, with the part of Roderick ably played by a stand-in and a terribly spooky voice emanating from the deceased Madeline character. Tell-Tale Heart features a dead spooky life-size puppet of an old man and a well-lit dripping cardiac organ at the end.

Our criticisms of the Poe Show would be that a) The eponymous raven puppet is hardly visible because the puppeteer has not quite stood in the spotlight, b) the performance is apparently of the ‘promenade’ variety, which simply means that they haven’t put enough seats in and half of the poor audience has to sit on the floor and periodically move to allow for scene changes, and c) it’s just too darn hot in that venue. Overcome by exhaustion and heat, I rest my head against the wall of the auditorium and nod off halfway through Roderick usher’s descent into madness and begin dreaming about the Avengers. 3/5

http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/theatre/tales-from-edgar-allan-poe

We emerge into the blessed cool air and return home for our last night in Edinburgh. I intend to dream about vibranium shields and mystic uru hammers, though I actually end up thinking about a flyer I was handed a couple of days ago. It was for a comedy show called Stand Up, Fall Down by Graham Whistler, who has cerebral palsy. In my dream, I imagine suggesting to him that another good name for a show would be Spastic Fantastic. You know, to reclaim the name as it were. Even in my dream, this does not go down well.

Am woken in middle of night by an American woman having a screaming fit somewhere exceedingly close to our bedroom. It is at first a bit disturbing to hear someone shouting at the top of their lungs so nearby, then becomes curiously fascinating as I lie in bed trying to work out exactly what she’s saying and what her problem is. Apart from being the sort of person that thinks this sort of behaviour at 3pm is acceptable.

Today’s SlebWatch: Killing time in the Italian café at the junction of Leith Walk and Regent Road, we spot Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer walking by. Finally the question of what he looks like when off duty is answered: apart from losing the bowler and tweeds, he is exactly the same – same ‘tache (still waxed) and same massive spectacles. Somehow we imagined he’d at least wear different glasses. So there you go. Later on, Herself bumps into a doddery old chap at the Fringe box office, who she then identifies as the venerable Donald from the How To Survive a Zombie Apocalypse show. Well we think he’s a celebrity anyway…

Monday, 15 August 2011

The Return of the Chocolate Ocelot’s Fringe - Thursday

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It should be a more sedately paced schedule today, according to our timetable. Thank Christ. Though I have to say that the prospect of a midnight ghost walk later on does not sit well with my aching limbs.

The morning is spent writing this here blog (OK, the previous one if you have to be pedantic, and of course you do, you little devil). My creative mood is interrupted by a flurry of emails and phone calls from recruitment agents, or as I like to think of them, commission-driven sales bastards. My hopelessly narrow set of technical skills has apparently been matched against a job vacancy, and this astronomically unlikely event has just pinged up on the search algorithms of several different (but I fear oh so similar) agencies. I let the first overly-enthusiastic suit that gets through on my mobile snap me up and start dancing to their tune, banging out yet another infinitesimally different CV for them. I’m on holiday godammit – curse you mobile phones and free Wi-Fi.

We then set off into the rain for a leisurely stroll over to the new town and The Stand Three on Queen Street (actually a police social club). Haven’t seen Mitch Benn for a couple of years, though we listen to him most weeks on The Now Show, so we are looking forward to seeing him in the flesh once more. Sitting in the venue, I start looking around for him warming up. No sign. There’s some skinny bloke with a guitar out in the foyer, but he must be a technician or another act. So imagine our surprise when this skinny bloke trots up on stage. Mitch’s warm-up? No, that’s Mitch’s voice coming out of the skinny bloke’s mouth. Must be a clever tr…

(And at this point I must apologise for using a frightfully overemployed device – that of separating each word in the sentence by a punchy period. I promise it will be a one-off.)

… Oh. My. God.

Mitch Benn, 25-stone leviathan of musical satire, has become a 12 or 13-stone rake of a man. The beard is closely cropped, the long locks have been shorn, the cheeks are ever so slightly hollow. You can hear the muted gasping and muttering from the rest of his old fans. It’s him – at least it’s his voice, and maybe his eyebrows. But the rest? He’s disappeared. Christ, he must have cancer or something. Poor brave bastard.

No. Apparently he’s on a diet, the same one as Pauline Quirke, and has been since January. Thank Agon for that. But it is still damnably odd, not unlike seeing someone dressed as a member of the opposite gender for the first time – there is barely anything familiar about him. Save the voice and personality, and silky musical skills, so we soon get over the shock and enjoy a brilliant hour of songs, jokes and obscure pop-culture references that only he, I and one guy in the audience get (for example, the use of his new-born baby as Quatto, his love affair with Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, and numerous references to Dr Who).

Highlights of the show for me are the rock opera of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the brilliant BBC song (imagine We Didn’t Start The Fire, but using every classic Beeb show instead of world events), and the update of his old Macbeth rap routine using his iPhone to record a live multi-track beatbox backing track – genius.

We buy both of his latest CDs, two t-shirts, act a bit fangirly around him, and trot off.

http://www.comedy.co.uk/fringe/2011/mitch_benn/

We pass a perfectly pleasant hour sampling the tea and biscuits of St Mary’s Cathedral’s tea room, reading the papers’ reports of the end of civilisation as we know it. Then it is over to the Playhouse at the Hawke and Hunter Green Room (what a mouthful), for to see Hamlet House of Horror, a musical adaptation of Hamlet (of course). It is performed by a young but talented cast from the Westminster Theatre Company, sporting whiteface make-up reminiscent of Chinese opera (or a stage version of Gormenghast I once saw, but that’s not much help to you).

Since I have never seen proper Hamlet, I couldn’t tell you how faithful or different it is, but it does seem to contain a lot of mad people behaving illogically and occasionally killing each other. I assume that’s what it’s all about. The dialogue is more or less original Shakespeare, interspersed with entertaining modern asides. The chap playing the ghost is also the main source of live music, usually sat at the back strumming his banjo like a caucasian Baron Samedi. But in a couple of memorable scenes, he surges forward in a cloud of dry ice and uplighting, surrounded by shadowy cast members playing the souls of the damned (I imagine) and it looks bloody good. The other highlight is the comedy interlude with First Gravedigger – very well done. Hamlet himself is played by a mad-haired bleached blond young fellow, who is half mad Danish prince, half Bart Simpson. His look can best be described as Shockheaded Draco.

We leave early – it is running 15 minutes longer than we thought. Oops. We will never know what happens at the end, but it looks strongly as if everyone gets either murdered or kills themselves. Like I say, I’ve never seen it for proper. I’m sure there’s a skull bit in it, but it with 15 minutes to go the play is still cranium-deprived. We try to sneak out the back of the auditorium quietly, but the seats are built on a rickety scaffold which does not accommodate the passage of our walking boots with good grace.

http://www.hamlethouseofhorror.com/

The reason for our bogging off early? I’ve arranged to meet a friend for a drink and have chosen as our meeting point the Black Medicine Coffee Company because a) I know where it is and b) ever since I met a different friend there last year I now assume that everyone in Scotland knows where it is. Stupidly though, I have failed to take into account the fact that we are on completely the wrong side of town from the coffee shop, so Herself and I must now powerwalk up to Princes Street, over North Bridge and up Nicolson Street, through the busy festival traffic. Tch.

Thus we arrive both late and panting at the coffee shop, having received the shaming ‘Where are you?’ text from my friend, which I was too busy hustling along to answer like a civil person would. Late and rude. I am a terrible person, as Raymond Babbitt would say (which reminds me, the Dog-Eared Collective used a Rain Man height chart for a sketch set in a theme park in the 1980s. Cracked me up).

A fine hour or so of fat mastication passes with my chum before we bid farewell and scamper just across the road to the Royal Oak pub for our annual dose of Folk At The Oak. To compound our previous tardiness, we are now late for this as well, and have to put on our most puppy dog expressions to gain admission to the cramped Wee Folk Bar downstairs by the genial Paddy, a giant of a man with a curious Highland/Island fluting voice. I suspect his last name may be Dumbledore.

We huddle on stools round one corner of the bar and enjoy an hour or more of instrumental goodness courtesy of Bellevue Rendezvous, a trio consisting of Cameron on the guitar/ sitar / balalaika thing, Gavin on fiddle and Ruth on a bizarre Swedish stringed instrument which looks as if an 18th century violinist tried to recreate a Thompson machine gun from memory. Apparently it’s called a knickerbocker or a nickelbacker or something, but I privately decide to call it a whojumagog. (Ok, ok, it’s a nyckelharpa. And the guitar thing is a bouzouki. Happy now?).

We are treated to some fabulously foot-tapping music from Sweden (polskas, I believe), Serbia and home-brewed concoctions of the group’s own devising. A very fine way to pass the evening, marred only by the claustrophobic dimensions of the Wee Folk Bar and the extra special body aroma of someone sat a few feet away from us. So powerful is the sickly citrusy tang of their sweaty body, that we and a few other audience members are visibly breathing through their mouths whenever he raises an unclean arm. So, a good night at the Oak, but do like the coroners do in autopsies, and rub a little Vapo-Rub under your nose beforehand.

http://www.myspace.com/bellevuerendezvous

I am fairly pooped by this point of the evening and would happily slope back to the flat and slump in front of the telly, but we have another event to go before bed, a 90 minute tour of the South Bridge vaults, starting at midnight. It’s called the Midnight Paranormal Haunted Underground Experience. Oh great. Grumbling under my breath, we splosh along the length of Cowgate and climb up Blair Street to the Tron on the Royal Mile, where we join a handful of fellow terror tourists. Presently we are joined by our guide for the night - Natasha, a charming petite young lady decked out in the requisite pale facepaint, fake scar and black frock of the Edinburgh spook host. And of course, like 90% of Edinburgh tour guides, she is English.

What follows is a damn spooky hour and a half. Natasha escorts us back down Blair Street and through some innocuous doors in between a couple of dingy club bars. After a short look at the torture instruments exhibition, where Herself excels herself (hmm, that sounds weird if you read it out aloud) by identifying an eye-crushing device, we pass through into the vaults themselves. Curiously, this abandoned level is actually both below and above still-inhabited properties. This is why the entirety of the tour is accompanied by the constant bass thudding of music from the club below us. So while we’re stood in near total darkness, with water dripping from the arched tunnel ceiling above, listening to Natasha tell us tales of paranormal phenomena that has ‘like actually really happened’, the soundtrack to Blade seems to be playing beneath our feet. I find it strangely comforting. It certainly takes the edge off the spookiness.

One young scamp is apparently ‘touched by something invisible’ several times during our tour, but he is young and a bit silly. At one point, we are brought into an empty chamber to hear a tale of a spectral child-murderer (as I recall) that a party of Welsh nurses summoned up with a Ouija board. This is the only time I get really uncomfortable, because Natasha separates us into men and women for spurious ghost-paedo reasons. I hate those moments. I know I don’t really fit in and am hoping that Natasha and the rest of the women don’t object to the troll freak joining them on the girls’ side of the room. Not only that, but I am a little worried that the phantom kiddie fiddler will make a play for me and complain that I’m not ‘as advertised’. Such is life. And afterlife.

Our tour ends on a dramatic note when Natasha backs out of chamber and leaves us in the dark, only to scream piercingly in the blackness. We all jump (I assume we all do – I couldn’t see), but she then reappears and says that her fellow guide Angela just jumped out on her. Curiously, we do not see this Angela, as she has apparently pissed off down the spooky corridor. Weird, considering that Natasha’s warned us off from mucking about earlier. Herself and I decide, as we emerge back onto Blair street, that this is a bit of theatre to end the tour with a jolt. Fair play to our guide, we deserved at least one moment of genuine fright.

http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/events/midnight-paranormal-haunted-underground-experience?day=05-08-2011&performance=1%3A5091

Knackered, we shuffle off home, but decide to watch telly instead of sensible going straight to bed. The constant rain seems to have shagged up the freeview reception, so I lob in an Alien Nation DVD, which I subsequently fall asleep through.

Today’s SlebWatch: Hardeep Singh Kohli around the bins outside the Black Medicine Coffee Company. This is the third time I’ve seen him so far. I think he must just constantly patrol the streets. Perhaps he is a superhero. If only other celebs wore brightly coloured headgear so we could spot them as easily. I hear John Malkovich is on town. I see him wearing a bright yellow fez.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Return of the Chocolate Ocelot’s Fringe - Wednesday


Our overnight guest lets herself out in the wee small hours of the morning (well, 7:30) with all the silent grace of a ninja cat on its tiptoes. The perfect houseguest.

It’s another seven-event day, but as Herself has planned it with Germanic efficiency, there is very little walking involved. This is a good thing as far as I can see, as the rain has returned with a vengeance, and Herself has started to exhibit some sort of knee strain, which she self-diagnoses as ‘muscular’. However, by the end of the day she will still be disappointed with the paltry 8,000 we have achieved. I suggest she walk up and down during some of the gigs to get her step count up.

With a little time to kill in before gigs, we pop into Transreal Fiction, still a sci-fi bookshop and not a purveyor of enforced feminisation porn as the shop’s name suggests. It has moved a hundred yards up Candlemaker Row from Grassmarket, and in an attempt to strike up a rapport with the proprietor, I enter the shop with the stunningly original ‘You’ve moved then.’ To which he replies with a curt ‘Yes.’. There’s nowhere you can go with a reply like that, so I clam up, flick through a couple of art books and fanzines, and bog off. They do sell cuddly triceratopses though, so I may return.

There is also a paintings and framing shop on Candlemaker Row, offering an array of prints and greeting cards. Herself is much taken with a selection of cards portraying stags, goats and hares, as is her fancy, whilst the comic art of Lynsey Hutchinson very much catches my eye. Check out The Bats of St Giles on her website:

http://www.thehoudinibox.com/artwork.html

Speaking of shops, we find a few minutes to pop into another of my favourites haunts in the old town, only to be struck by a palpable fug of ‘exotic cigarette’ smoke, generated from somewhere within. Without coming across as a puritanical old biddy, this does seem a little unwise on the part of the shop-keepers. Granted, it establishes a certain counterculture street-cred with the regulars, but I can’t see it winning over passing mums and dads. Plus, the smoke’s sure to sink into the papery publications on the shelves, unless the intention is to infuse them so that they themselves may be rolled up and smoked by the customers in the comfort of their own homes later on. Devilish cunning.

Our first show is Wet Paint: A Magic Show, at the Voodoo Rooms. Given that it’s a midday day show on a rainy Wednesday, the turn-out is modest. Shame really – it’s free, half-decent and only a short walk away from a number of big offices. But from personal experience, a lot of the Edinburgh office-drones fail to cash in on the free Fringe stuff right on their lunchtime doorsteps. Ah well.

The show itself is presented by two young magicians called Ben Hart and Neill Kelso. One is tall and dark, the other short and curly haired, with a terribly expressive face. They take turns on stage, alternating between close up magic / sleight of hand (the tall one) and mind-reading / story-telling (the short one). All charmingly delivered, even when the tricks don’t go 100% to plan.

But there is an odd moment when the short one delivers an overlong speech about some criticism they recently received concerning the nature of their magic. It’s all a bit baffling as we the audience don’t really understand the criticism or the apparently heretical nature of the chaps’ magic, which seems to me to be well within the acceptable range of shows I’ve seen. Weird. Clearly some hurtful comments really got under the short one’s skin, but to us ignoramusses in the seats, it’s just confusing. Still, they end on a good note, and I leave having been impressed by the skill of the sleight of hand during the final wedding ring trick.

http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/cabaret/wet-paint-a-magic-show-free

We then nip along Queen Street to the good old Jekyll and Hyde pub, scene of many a free gig. We are here to see something called Women Just Aren’t Funny, but after ten minutes looking around, consulting the Fringe programme and looking like complete rubes, we are informed that the gig was cancelled. But all is not lost, as it appears to have been replaced by a free solo play called Rachael’s Café, starting in ten minutes. Perfect.

The splendidly gothic backroom of the J&H has been decked out like an Indiana café, where we meet Rachael, nee Eric, as played by Graham Elwell, An adaptation of a real transgender person’s life, we follow an hour of Rachael’s life as she clears tables, reminisces about the hardships of coming out in a conservative part of America, and takes phone calls from her children and ex-wife. There’s a funny bit at the beginning where Rachael complains that male-to-females are always portrayed on-screen by attractive ‘real’ women or men who have undergone none of the procedure that actual MTFs would have – a predictable situation given the low number of transgender actors, but still smacking a little of blacked-up white actors. The irony is of course if that Rachael here is indeed played by a regular guy, so it is a little surreal.

The story ends on something of a down-note, with a slightly predictable piece of theatrical transformation, but speaking from experience, I recognise the exact situation that Rachael finds herself in by the end of the show, so it’s by no means unrealistic. An excellent performance from Graham Elwell, well written by Lucy Danser, and well lived by the real Rachael herself.

http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/theatre/rachael-s-cafe

Returning from the Jekyll and Hyde, we are importuned by a flushed middle-aged chap called Eric Gudmunsen (despite the name, he sounds pretty thoroughly scots though). In a few short sentences, he lays out the stall for his free comedy show later that day, which he hopes we two will be able to attend. Phrases like ‘real comedy’, ‘for real people, not fringe-goers’ and ‘not for the easily offended’ are employed. As we move on, I read his flyer – ‘The bastard love-child of Bernard Manning and Chubby Brown?’, ‘Non PC World’ and ‘Modern Comedy is Rubbish’. Oh dear. I don’t think I’ll be catching his show. I don’t want to pre-judge without seeing it, but I suspect it may not be my cup of tea.

Not all encounters on the streets of Edinburgh are negative though. A couple of days ago, a chap and a little girl intercepted us outside the Gilded Balloon, despite our best and excruciatingly obvious attempts to skirt around them. But he quickly won us over by politely introducing himself (Roy Hutchins) and his daughter and then reciting a short poem about people walking invisible dogs in Brooklyn. So even though we haven’t seen his full poetry show, I’m going to plug it:

http://www.zanzibarcats.co.uk/

We visit a regular food haunt right by Wee Bobby, to take on a fresh supply of tablet, only to be told that they’re all out! I am disconsolate and start to get the shakes, until we duck into a newsagents and I espy some tablet in professional looking wrappers, rather than laid out in irregular home-made slabs, as is more common. But we are soon disappointed that this so-called tablet is nothing more than fudge. Gooey, chewy fudge, that sly sticky tablet-tease. I am again disconsolate.

Next we see old favourites the Dog-Eared Collective at the dank Underbelly, our first and only time at this venue as I have had a number of unpleasant gigs here (usually late-night ones ruined by drunken young arses). Their show this year is You’re Better Than This, another series of splendidly silly sketches, including Snooker: The Musical, a unicorn-themed perfume advert (love the home-made hooves) and Karl and Johann’s Streetdance/Basketball movie.

For this last sketch, they need a ‘volunteer’ from the audience to play the role of ballet-babe. The spotlight falls on us. I have unwisely sat us in the front row, in the centre, to show our support for the show (we sponsored their flyers). I freeze in the spotlight, but manage through rictus grin and rolling eyeballs to volunteer Herself instead, thank God. M’colleague excels herself onstage, joining in the dance routine and training montage with aplomb. Well done her, and thanks for taking one for the team.

Leaving the show, we say hello to the lovely Joanna Hutt, one quarter of the DEC and newsletterer, fundraiser and dispenser of souvenir badges. I feel almost like part of the troupe. But more shows beckon so we hustle off.

http://www.dogearedcollective.co.uk/

Our next two shows are both at C on Chambers Street, venue for singing, musicals and plays. First up is Scene of the Titans, the true story of Northern Ireland’s first gay rugby team, rendered into a musical. The numbers are snappy, the accents are more or less genuine (we detect a few ringers in with the real Irish), and the choreography is funny. I was going to single out for praise the actor who plays Sophia the glamorous drag queen, but according to their website, the role is played on alternate nights by Dario Cacioppo and Randy Grab and with no cast photo, I can’t tell you who we saw! Very pretty, whichever one he is. Shame they made him take off the wig though.

http://sceneofthetitans.co.uk/

We then stay in exactly the same room for Dinner, a piece of proper theatre. I say this because it uses the standard of a dinner party, where a group of insufferable arseholes take turns behaving appallingly to each other without resorting to violence or just leaving. That’s part of the theatrical suspension of disbelief I suppose, but I’m always struck by the unbelievability of these plots. You’d just walk out or punch someone after 5 minutes of the sort of verbal assault these characters inflict on each other.

According to the flyer, this is actor Alfred Enoch’s first major play after the Harry Potter series. I suppose they mean the films. Looking at the cast, I’m guessing that he must be playing Lars, one of the dinner party’s two hosts. He is a lanky red-haired gentleman, so I can only assume he played one of the endless Weasley clan in the Potter films, though for all I know he was Fenrik Badwolf or Felix Cumbottom of the ministry of magic.

http://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/event/227644-dinner/

In the queue outside the ferkin’ Caves, waiting for Henning Wehn in the relentless rain, I am assaulted by a waft of cigarette smoke from a chap in front of us and I am reminded of an incident a couple of days ago. We are queuing at the Pleasance for Colin Hoult, and two young ladies, evidently Fringe performers of some sort, start rolling up fags. They’re stood behind us, right behind us, as in elbows brushing against handbags close. Nattering all the while about their show, whatever it is (probably some crap burlesque from the look of them), they fish out the loose baccy, roll out the rizlas, pop in the filters, and light up. Then proceed to smoke with abandon, blowing it all over us with gay obliviousness.

Now, I know it’s outside and all, and they’re theoretically allowed to smoke, but in a tight queue with people you don’t know? A little impolite I think. I exchange grumpy looks with Herself but neither of us quite manages to say anything – she because her two settings in the situation are frantic but mute rage and frantic but exceedingly verbal rage, and I because I can’t think of a single blessed way to get these two carcinogenic young ladies to stop without me coming across as a complete prig (or prude, or prawn, I’m not sure). So we suffer in smoky silence. So after it happens again outside the Caves, we discuss the problem and resolve that next time one of us will begin to feign an asthma attack while the other implores the cancer-stick addicts to show a little compassion. It can’t fail.

We finally get in to see Henning When, who delivers another entertaining hour of Germanic observations on Britain. I love the way he pronounces uniquely English idioms like Right Old Two and Eight and Blimey O’Reilly. And how he gets away with some of the things he says, I have no idea; it must be his winning though curiously arranged smile. We enter a draw to win some fine German wines and grooming products, sponsored by the Munich tourist board, so fingers crossed.

http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/comedy/henning-wehn-no-surrender

Our final act of the day is a free science show at the top of the Beehive inn on Grassmarket - Kaos Theory: Dangerous Science with Professor Andy Kaos. A logic and risk assessment prof from South Suffolk uni, he also brings interesting science demonstrations into schools. This much is apparent in both the experiments we see and his delivery, which is very much of the bullish male teacher variety, bringing back unpleasant school memories for me. Nonetheless, in between rubbish jokes that he’d do well to drop, the prof treats us to two or three fun and not a little perilous live experiments, involving flames, explosions, and electrifying the entire audience via a hand-held Tesla coil, which can’t be bad.

http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/comedy/kaos-theory-dangerous-science-free

Magically, the treacherous fudge I had been hoodwinked into buying earlier has transmuted into a more tabletty substance. Clearly sitting inside the increasingly hot and damp outer pocket of my raincoat for the better part of a day has had a transformative effect. I resolve to try placing other foodstuffs in my pocket tomorrow to see if they too will turn into tablet. It’s like a fairy tale.

Today’s SlebWatch: No-one. It’s clearly the rain keeping them inside.

The Return of the Chocolate Ocelot’s Fringe - Tuesday


I find it exceedingly hard to tear myself away from the morning telly news, showing footage of Croydon, Ealing, Clapham and Enfield on fire, courtesy of the nation’s disaffected youth (apparently). There’s something perversely addictive about news like this, as outrage piles upon outrage, unrest spreading first across London and then to other cities. The sheer impunity with which the miscreants have struck at people and property stretches my credulity. I half expect a scientist to pop up on screen and explain that they’ve all been infected by pure rage, like in 28 Days Later.

And now a short word on Facebook. At times like this, it is of course only natural that those who subscribe to social media would be sending updates back and forth, as the rioting spreads. A cursory glance at my Facebook traffic shows me that 95% of the message activity is riot related. Apart from one person, who somehow manages to use the subject of the unrest to post up something about their baby, said infant being the topic every post they have made since several months prior to its birth. Surely it would save certain people effort and typing time if Facebook simply supplied them with a set of pre-generated status updates for them to click on at regular intervals. I think the following four generic statuses should cover most situations:

  • I have just eaten some food or drunk some liquid. Apparently this is worthy of comment
  • I am feeling a little depressed. Please send me a saccharine virtual huggy.
  • I have a strident political opinion that I wish to inflict on you all.
  • I have a baby. A baby. A baby.
I’m just saying. On with the Fringe.

It is a dry day, hallelujah. As a treat, we start the day with two full Scottish breakfasts (minus the haggis and black pudding, blurgh) at a nice café on King’s Stables Lane. Hopefully my infusion of naughty pork products won’t have the usual deleterious effect on my skin, coz by golly it tastes good.

Today we must see a full seven events. No chance to return to the flat in between shows, so we set off with some home-made sarnies. Mmmm.

First up is The Magical Faraway Tree, courtesy of Sleeping Trees Theatre at the scummy old Caves on Cowgate. Three young men deliver a dark, funny distortion of the well-loved Enid Blyton tale. Some excellent miming and facial expressions from all three (especially James Dunnell-Smith), putting on a Boosh-like story of Dick, Saucepan Man and Moonface in the land of magical medicines. Very funny indeed, especially on the occasions when they break character to catch the others out with a piece of improv or overacting.

http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/theatre/magical-faraway-tree

Thence to the Turret Room at the top of the Gilded Balloon for Gemma Goggin: Double G, a charming large-breasted lady who wins me over despite having one of those punchable-face posters. We are treated to a comedy power-point presentation, one of the modern stand-ups favourite tools (see also Rich Fulcher). Last year it was ukuleles, this year it’s electronic slideshows. Gemma takes us on a historical and physical tour of the boob and associated boobal issues, including where to get your girlfriend a nice bra (Rigby and Peller), what your actual size is (we all measure ourselves, even the lads), and the dangers of turning round too quickly in the shower. We also get to see some truly grotesque photos of some of the most over-endowed women in the world. You can’t go wrong with a few well-placed freak pix.

http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/comedy/gemma-goggin-double-g

We have just enough time for half a cup of tea each in the comfortable Gilded Balloon café before diving straight back into our next show at the same venue. The Fitzrovia Radio Hour players are back with a fresh 60 minutes of retro wireless drama. This year they entertain us with detective George Albion and The War Of The Roses, schoolboy sleuths vs Nazi Firemen In Westminster, mining romance thriller Tin! (that cruel metal mistress), and the cautionary House Of Clocks. All sponsored by Clipstone teas – “delicious”. The accents are cut-glass, the hair is smoothly coiffed and the dinner jackets are crisp. One odd thing I notice: because they split the sound effects and dialogue between the cast, it is sometimes (intentionally I suppose) confusing when one character is talking but the sound of their footsteps (for example) is supplied by one of the others. That’s radio I suppose. I imagine The Archers is much the same. A very classy show.

http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/comedy/fitzrovia-radio-hour

Our next show is a bit of a gamble, as it is one of the three hard-boiled Bane stories, by the talented Joe Bone. Which one we do not know, as the Fringe programme failed to tell us which of the three would be performed each day. Having already seen Banes 1 and 3, we are hoping against hope for number 2. But a glance at the poster in the Pleasance Dome tells us that we’ll be watching the first one again. Ah well, it is very good, so no great shame. We are again in the Pleasance Ace, where we were for Arthur Smith last night, and again it is a scramble for a decent seat. We grab an unoccupied booth to one side of the stage, but the seat is annoyingly shallow, so we must brace our feet on the ground to prevent us from siding to the ground in mid-show. Why do people make seats like that? Grr.

Anyhoo, Joe Bone delivers as tight and well-acted a one-man show as before. Two-man show actually, as he is again accompanied by guitarist and composer Ben Roe. Having seen the show before, I amuse myself by trying to work out which actors he is riffing on. I think I already worked out last year that Bane sounds like Christian Slater, and Bane’s neighbour Neil is Rick Moranis’ Lewis from Ghostbusters. I resolve to sidle up to Mr Bone afterwards and ask him if that’s how he creates the characters, but unfortunately he has already been corralled by a few hovering aficionados, so I can do nothing but stalk him with my eyes from across the Pleasance Dome cafeteria. Ah well.

http://www.comedy.co.uk/fringe/2011/bane_1_2_and_3/

Then upstairs at the Dome for Sara Pascoe vs the Apocalypse, a one-woman act (with slideshow natch) loosely based around the end of the world, though it’s really about her manifesto for a new world order. Maybe that would have been a better title. I’ll tell her if I see her. Of course I won’t. I’ll see her walking down the street in two days’ time, fail to walk over to her, and grumble internally about my missed opportunity for the rest of the day. The show is pretty funny, with lots of digs at her sister and references to her fixation on Dizzee Rascal and his cheeky face, but there is also an air of uncertainty in the delivery. The problem is that she has gone for the ‘this bit didn’t work last night’ approach to the show, which I’m not so sure is a wise move. It sort of opens the door for the audience to be critical of the material as we go along, wondering if this is the bit that is more preachy than funny, or if this is the bit that she’s padding out because she had to drop some material about civil unrest. I laugh, but I’m constantly aware of us watching her to see if she’s happy with how it’s going.

http://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/event/228787-sara-pascoe-vs-the-apocalypse/

We then nip over to the Udderbelly Pasture and hook up with a friend who’s comes down from Dundee for the evening. We meet in the shadow of the giant upside-down purple cow, from whence emanates curiously distorted sound effects that can only be Michael Winslow out of Police Academy’s show. Consuming my daily helping of lemon and sugar crepe from the Gilded Balloon foodery, we catch up on events and then join a massive queue for Richard Herring’s latest show – What Is Love Anyway?

In the queue Herself and I get chatting to some older ladies who have not seen Herring before and ask him if he’s any good. I hate being asked that – it’s like these strangers have transferred responsibility for their enjoyment onto us. Well of course he’s any good – we’ve just told you we’ve seen him before – we wouldn’t be seeing him again if he’s crap. Not unless we’re masochists or on a sponsored shite-show marathon. I have a friend like that, who asks me rather too many times if I think he’ll like a particular TV programme or comedy show, prior to him seeing it. He then invariably comes back to tell me that it was OK, but not that great, as if I’d forced him to watch it under false pretences. Look, everybody has different enjoyment levels, OK? Just because I like it doesn’t mean you will, and it certainly doesn’t make it my fault that it wasn’t your cup of tea. Stop pressuring me, you insufferable wretches.

I feel better now.

Mr Herring is very entertaining, and I am pleased that the older ladies seem to have enjoyed the show, though I resolutely do not ask them afterwards. There is a long piece in the show about Rich’s obsession with Julia Sawalha, the TV series Fist of Fun and Stewart Lee, as if he is finally feeling confident enough to mention his past glories without looking as if he coasting on them. As ever, there is a collection for Scope at the end, for which £40,000 was raised last year. Thus we feel entertained and not a little smug. Rah for us.

http://www.richardherring.com/wila/

Our final show of the day is Mr B: How I Invented Hip Hop and Other Faux Pas, over at the Voodoo rooms. Our walk there is doubled in length by the police having closed off North Bridge at both ends. Perhaps the national wave of looting has spread to Edinburgh. Doesn’t look like it though. Maybe it was a car accident or a drunken jumper. We will never know.

A fine hour of banjolele-based chap-hop ensues, courtesy of the moustachioed maestro. New songs Hail The Chap and Hermitage Shanks are played, and the show ends with us all on our feet as Mr B takes us on a chap-hopped journey through acid house. As you do. I feel the urge to cry Bravo at the end, rather than my usual indecipherable whoop. We buy a CD and shake Mr B’s hand, wondering what he looks like under the glasses and facial hair.

http://www.allgigs.co.uk/search/tourdates/66188/venue/51398/Mr_B_The_Gentleman_Rhymer-The_Voodoo_Rooms-Edinburgh-1.html

On the walk back to the flat, I dig out my last sandwich from the depths of my bag. The day’s travails have not been kind to it, so it’s an act of mercy to stuff the ravaged bread and cheese wreckage into my mouth with all the grace of Cookie Monster.

We stay up late chatting. Far too late. Our guest must get up at godawful o’clock tomorrow and catch the train back home, but you know what it’s like when you have guests over for the night – there’s no natural end point to the evening – not like when they have to get in their car and drive home. So at some point, when over 50% of us are openly yawning as we chat into the night, I break and stagger downstairs to bed.

Herself bought me an apple pie on Saturday, which I have still not touched, due to a lack of available custard. The tension is beginning to tell on me. I fall asleep, haunted by shortcrust pastry and fermenting fruit mulch.

Today’s SlebWatch: A well-preserved Lorraine Chase having a drink with friends at the Gilded Balloon. I couldn’t tell if it was a Campari or not.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The Return of the Chocolate Ocelot’s Fringe - Monday


Notice a pile of brown paper bags in our bathroom. A message printed on one side tells me that I will use around 12,000 sanitary products in my lifetime. I find this bold assertion from a piece of lavatorial stationery that doesn’t even know me to be impertinent, not to mention physically unlikely.

Very well. As promised yesterday, I shall endeavour to keep today’s run down a little more brief.

We rise ridiculously early (I think the time starts with a seven) so we can trot over to the Captain’s Bar on South College Street. The event is The Early Word, a chance to listen to a local literary type hold forth on matters Edinburghian. When we get to the pub, it’s just us two, the landlady, and a chap called Alan Foster (or possibly Allan Foster) – author of biographies of Scottish literary figures like Conan Doyle, Burns and Scott. We are thankfully joined by one other person, a weather-beaten old person of indeterminate gender (who later turned out to be a lady) with the tan and dress of someone who has run a lion sanctuary in Africa for 30 years.

Mr Foster entertains us for well over an hour, all sat round one little tale at the back of the pub, with tales of Burns’ love affairs, Doyle pestering his mentor Joseph Bell, and Mark Twain holding Sir Walter Scott responsible for the American Civil War. He does go on quite a lot about Robert Burns, who I just don’t get. I think you have to be a scot, or more likely a rabid Scottish descendant several generations and hundreds of miles removed from Scotland, to really be into him.

http://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/event/227702-the-early-word/

Next, off to see Bagpuss, the live show! Needless to say, the audience is a little younger than most of the shows we are seeing. And about ten times louder. I’d say 50% are around five years old: noisy, and a bit loose at the seams. The rest of the audience – the parents – are in their 30s, so we two 40-yearolds - sans kiddies - out-age them all. The show is cleverly pitched at two levels to give the mums and dads something to follow in between shushing their fidgety, wailing offspring every two minutes. For the children, it’s a series of three adventures involving magical toys, moving pictures and musical interludes. For the adults – a poignant tale of the adult Emily’s descent into madness following the death of her father. Actually teared me up a bit.

By the way, I can do a better Yaffle impression and Bagpuss yawn than either of the ladies on stage though. So.

http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/childrens-shows/bagpuss

Over to the Gilded Balloon for Dr Apple’s Last Lecture. A freaky little play about a repressed psychology professor who embarks on a mind expanding trip into his subconscious, courtesy of a plateful of special cookies. The best bit for me is when he has just started to trip out, and the three female performers, dressed head to toe in day-glo lycra, crawl onto the stage behind him and begin a psychedelic dance routine worthy of The Mighty Boosh. Not sure either of us fully understand the plotline, but entertaining nonetheless.

http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/theatre/dr-apple-s-last-lecture

Queuing for Dr Apple, one usually has nothing better to do than stare at walls doors covered with flyers and posters for every conceivable Fringe show. Some of these are intriguing, some of them look funny, and some of them just make me want to punch the faces of the people depicted thereon. It’s the ones I never actually seen perform - some of them just have extraordinarily punchable faces. They either look way too smug (Andrew Bird and Patrick Monahan’s posters come to mind), or it’s their sheer ubiquity, like the bloody smiling baby from the So You Think You’re Funny posters. I swear I’ll smack that kid’s face in if ever I see him or her. Given that they’ve been using the same face for a good 10 years or so, he or she must be a teenager by now at least, so they stand an even chance of dodging my attack.

Then over to the Pleasance for the first time this year. The usual reek of sponsor Foster’s beer pervades the place, and we are posed with the usual problem of figuring out exactly which of the endless Pleasance subvenues in the complex we are supposed to be heading for. Given that we are here to see Ed Reardon: A Writer’s Burden, I should’ve just followed the stream of grey-haired heads. Reardon, the comic creation of Christopher Douglas, takes us through a précis of his life as a frustrated writer and professional grumpy old bugger. Assisted by two actors from ‘Theatre In A Basket’, he re-enacts various scenes from Reardon’s life, usually involving his ego, intolerance for poor punctuation (rah!) and the ‘perpetuation of the sickening contagion of obedience’ - a phrase he manages to incorporate into everything he writes, even the Ladybird Book of Shoes. Decent fun for grumpy old buggers like me.

http://www.pleasance.co.uk/edinburgh/events/ed-reardon-a-writers-burden

After a short break, we return to the Pleasance for Colin Hoult’s Inferno, taking the title of his show once again from an old Dr Who story. I still hope to bump into him on the street and ask him if many people get the running joke. As ever, Colin Hoult plays a variety of bizarre characters, from a dog who’d rather you fetch his banana, to a Thor wannabe from Leeds, to the lonely author of a truly crap poem about a bear. As before, he slips his supporting performers into the audience, to catch us out at the start. Herself identifies Colin’s female colleague (Zoe Gardner) as the woman from Lights, Camera, Walkies! yesterday. I suppose there must be a fair bit of that at the Fringe – people doubling up on shows. If you’re a comic actor stuck there for a month, you wouldn’t want to just do one hour’s worth of show a day I suppose, and it’s not like they can busk around the cabaret / chatshow / bestofthefest gigs like the stand-ups and the musicians.

http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/comedy/colin-hoult-s-inferno

And then our last show of the night – Arthur Smith’s Pissed Up Chat Show at the Pleasance Dome – that weird cavernous student union building off Potterow with the cool caricatured wall hangings. The gig does not get off to a good start, when the queue moves forward to go into the venue and we find ourselves outside the toilets – the daft bint in front of us had taken a wrong turning in the heaving mass of people. Once properly inside, we just manage to find a space to sit that isn’t already occupied or behind a pillar. This is where we saw the late night BBC comedy showcase last year, and is a room composed mainly of stage-obscuring pillars as far as I can tell.

Anyway, Arthur comes on and introduces a couple of acts, some of which have something to do with drinking. It turns out that he himself hasn’t drunk since 2001 and is now diabetic, so he speaks from an interesting position. First guest is the excellent Ed Byrne, who I have just about forgiven for being the annoying voice of a certain mobile phone vendor’s adverts for many a year, followed by an old American hoofer and soul singer call Movin’ Melvin Brown, and then by a couple of gentlemen who have a show devoted to the art of drinking.

More importantly though, we the audience have all filled in little forms beforehand, stating our worst and best experiences whilst drunk. Having only been drunk once, I feel a bit of a fraud, but it’s just for a laugh. Arthur and guests read through the pile of submissions throughout the show, and lo and behold, mine is acclaimed the winner, though that may simply be because it is the last piece of paper in his hand when the show ends. We shall never know. Nevertheless, I come forward to claim my prize, a choice of a pickled egg or a signed copy of his autobiography (slightly soiled by a spilled cocktail). Hurrah for me, though Herself would’ve preferred the egg.

My winning submission? Thing I have most enjoyed doing while drunk: Having a good wee.

http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/comedy/arthur-smith-s-pissed-up-chat-show?day=12-08-2011&performance=33%3A8478

We return to our pad. Although our timetable dictates that tonight is ‘watch DVDs’ night, we instead stay up into the wee hours watching BBC news footage of Croydon burning.

Today’s SlebWatch: Russell Kane, with funny sticky up hair. Possibly. And Shappi Khorsandi getting a chocolate cake in the Gilded Balloon café. Though it may have been Shazia Mirza. This uncertainty makes me feel racist. My suggestion for the next Shappi Khorsandi show: Not Shazia Mirza, The Other One.

Monday, 8 August 2011

The Return of the Chocolate Ocelot’s Fringe - Sunday


I am already falling behind in my daily blog routine. The combination of a busy Fringe timetable and my tortuously slow and rambling diary keeping are edging me toward a 25-hour day, and even copious hunks of tablet and custard creams can’t keep me going that long. So, in an effort to catch up, I am going to really, really try to keep this one short. Let’s see if I succeed…

It is still raining. It has rained all night. Probably. I don’t really know. I haven’t set a pluviometer outside our window to make sure, but it seems pretty much like the same wetness as last night. Our clothes have just about dried off from yesterday, so we set off for a busy 6-event day.

First one just after lunch is on the top floor of the Beehive Inn on Grassmarket, so hardly any distance for us to walk. Huzzah. Cheese-Badger: The Epic of Hairy Dave is a brilliantly performed almost-one-man show, courtesy of Sir Henry Cheese-Badger (I suspect that may not be his real name). This rake-thin young chap delivers, with occasional built-in prompts from his man-servant Grosvenor (a fellow bearing an uncanny resemblance to Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), an hour-long saga of obesity, vegetables, beards, messianic mania and obsession. All in rhyme and one of those hrolling Northern accents you never hear spoken by real people under the age of 70. Excellent.

http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/comedy/cheese-badger-presents-the-epic-of-hairy-dave-free

Next up is Lights, Camera, Walkies, at the Gilded Balloon, a splendid 3-person show about the disastrous shooting of a Hollywood action movie which has been recast at the eleventh hour with two rival dogs instead of a human star. The two chaps and one lady play a variety of parts each, darting back and forth from behind a kennel-like screen, miming pooches, flinging clothes off and on and taking on an array of lunatic characters and voices. I think my favourite performer is the tall gangly fellow (Richard David Caine) who plays the laid-back stoner dog-trainer, the inebriated English director and the manic Korean director. Tight, well-acted stuff.

http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/theatre/lights-camera-walkies

And now a short digression. Long-time subscribers to the Pouch will recall my many insecurities re: my appearance. Indeed it was at last year’s Fringe that I spectacularly tried and failed to master the ‘copious swathe of hair swept across forehead’ look of the young gels, and also singularly did not rock an ill-advised ‘roll-neck sweater and combat pants’ look. This year, I am happy to announce, my sartorial experience at Edinburgh is much improved. Not only am I sporting a rather flattering sleeveless stripy top that hides my biscuit-tum and exaggerates my boyish hips, but I am also the proud owner of a proper bloody fringe, courtesy of Herself’s chum Mel. Said crop not only masks a multitude of foreheadial sins, not the least of which is an 8-inch scalp-line incision scar which suggests that I have been one of Dr Hfuhruhurr’s patients, but it also looks very pretty indeed when brushed correctly and in minimal wind. And to cap it all off, my current handbag is now entering its eighth month of good service without falling apart, eating my stuff or just bloody annoying me as it bounces around against my hip. Wonders will not cease.

After the dog show we nip just down to Bedlam, that weird churchy venue stuck in a wedge between Bristo Place and Forrest Road. There we see Vertigo. Not as you might suspect an adaptation of the Hitchcock classic, but a split performance where two plays, both with the name Vertigo, have been booked for the same venue and time. Breaking the 4th wall thoroughly, the characters of Tim and Philippa manage to perform their respective pieces about a young man’s fear of everything and a young lady’s relentless quest to recapture a brief sense of childhood wonder, without resorting to a predictable ‘war of the luvvies’ format. It’s actually very sweet and you don’t really know where it’s going. Good luck to ‘em for the rest of the run.

http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/theatre/vertigo

As is often the case at the Fringe, we find ourselves in an audience comprised largely of performers for other shows, either coming to watch their friends on stage, or simply sat in the front row because they’re on next. We wish the girls who clamber onto the stage at the end of Vertigo good luck.

After a late lunch, we then must nip over North Bridge to the Voodoo Rooms on West Register Street. Here we see The Bitch Doctors, a sort of afternoon cabaret-cum-chat show, hosted by the excellent Desmond O’Connor (no, not that one), who we saw last year as one third of Me, Me, Me! with Mr B the gentleman rhymer. Accompanied by two guest ‘doctors’ - circusy balancey juggly bloke Mat Ricardo and musicky ukuleley lady Helen Arney - Des proceeds to entertain a small but enthusiastic audience with bawdy tunes, anecdotes and gossip from the cabaret circuit, as well as fielding mental, emotional and health problems suggested by the audience. Herself amazes and/or disgusts performers and punters alike with a brief display of her dyspraxic bendiness, and I discuss my terror of being attacked by a blue whale. For once my fear of gig interaction is not too bad, because they are all nice to me, and my voice is not too blokey neither.

http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/cabaret/bitch-doctors
http://helenarney.com/
http://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/event/229331-mat-ricardo-three-balls-and-a-new-suit/

It is still raining by the way. It has been all day, and will continue to rain until well after beddie-byes tonight. We have but 25 minutes to rush back across North Bridge to a little venue near Chambers Street, where we are scheduled to rendezvous with our regular fellow fringers Dr Foot and heterosexual fringe mate Mitchell. We make it with ten minutes to spare, impressed with our own speed and agility in negotiating wet streets crowded with fat arses, wheelchairs and doddery old dears. We’re like a two-player version of Spy Hunter.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spy_Hunter

At this point, I’m going to diverge slightly from my usual review format, by not telling you exactly what we see, or where. The reason for this is that the show is not terribly good. Herself’s granny once said, if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all. I however am torn between sparing the performers a right slagging from a snarky nobody like me, and telling you how so-bad-it’s-funny the show is. If this was just you and me in the kitchen, I’d happily name and shame them, but this is a public bloggy type thing, and I’d feel bad tearing into people I don’t even know who’ve gone to all the trouble, time and expense of putting on an Edinburgh show. So it’s going to be as anonymous as I can make it, but given the subject matter, that may prove a little difficult. Bear with me.

OK, so the show is about a famous historical figure. This much we know going in. What we don’t know is that the performers are rather young, late teens, early twenties perhaps. Young, and on the whole not all that experienced, actorally speaking. This does however become apparent within two minutes of the play starting (albeit fifteen minutes late). There’s an awful lot of poorly rehearsed ‘general chat’ between a gaggle of female characters, which is neither realistic-but-improvised dialogue nor stagily orchestrated background chatter. It’s a bunch of girls all saying ‘Oh hello, Mary.’ and the like over the top of each other.

Then there are the boys. One of these chaps, looking like a gangly young Jason Flemyng, seems to act his best when a bag has been placed over his head (don’t ask) but the rest of the time is a little cartoony in his delivery. Though compared to the other young fellow, he’s Daniel Day-Lewis. This other lad, sporting a trainee beard (almost) is the most am of drams we’ve seen so far. He marches up and down the stage relentlessly, not knowing what to do with his arms, and has mastered… the art of pausing… every four or five… syllables as he speaks… to give the air… of a measured… delivery. Once I notice it, it’s all I can concentrate on. Well, that and the wandering accents. When one of the character says to another: 'What part of Norfolk you from, dearie?’ I am hard pressed not to shout out ‘Dublin, via Sydney’.

Yet if there is one piece of advice I would give this young drama group, it would be to dispense with all the needless scene shifting. The stage is little more than a curtained-off black square, as are many of the improvised venues in Edinburgh. But this production has chosen to use a couple of big wooden blocks onstage, to serve as bar, bed, mortuary slab and so forth. All well and good you might think, but the kids have to shift these big squeaky things around after every single bloody scene, in the dark, often taking thirty seconds to a minute. Just to flip wooden block A over and shove wooden block B to the other side of the twelve foot stage. It’s just not worth it for the hassle and time lost. I swear they could shave the play down by ten minutes if they just left the fershlugginer blocks in one place and used them more sensibly. Tch.

On the positive side of the show, I would say that the make-up is very good, especially the young ladies’ blacked out teeth. One of the performers (she played the mad old bird) was a passable actor, and the bag with eyeholes was sturdily made.

At last the show ends, with a shock-gasp revelation. Or is it a question mark? Ah, think on. Myself, Herself, Dr Foot and HFM Mitchell all congratulate ourselves on not sniggering out loud through the performance and we scamper off. Being charitable to the youngsters putting this on, and considering their age and inexperience, I would give this show the one-word rating of Bless.

http://www.madeuplink.com/

The two of us bid farewell to the others, thus ending our crossover Fringe team-up for another year. They are off to consume more booze no doubt, having already divided their time equally between pubs and gigs for the preceding weekend. Exchanging recommendations of shows seen (they: Gerry Sadowitz, we: Subsist), we scamper off into the soggy evening to once again cross North Bridge, for to see Mr Phillward Jupitus, late of Never Mind The Buzzcocks and Radio 6 Music.

As it turns out, this is Phill’s first stand-up gig in ten years, encouraged to do so by his comedy chum Eddie Izzard. This fact is related by a lengthy but entertaining impression of Mr Izzard, which frankly I could listen to all night. Phill himself has lost a fair bit of weight this year, and he does look the better for it. At first I’m worried that he’s just going to rehash old material, as he starts off with his ‘My (six year old) daughter brought her boyfriend round for the first time’ story, but thankfully he admits that this is just a warm-up, as well as a prequel for a newer story, this time about his now 16-year old daughter bringing her boyfriend over to stay the night.

Phill is as funny as he ever was and I am pleased to have dragged Herself along to see him, as I’ve had a real soft spot for his comedy ever since his Star Wars-themed Ready, Jedi, Go well over ten years ago (his miming of a romantic encounter between Chewbacca and a less than compliant Ewok will haunt me forever). The one down side is that the venue – The Stand over on George Street - is only half seated and we, arriving late, must (no pun intended) stand at the back and peer over the heads of the rest of the crowd. Not too much of a problem for one as lengthy as I, but Herself at a modest 5 foot 4 inches must constantly weave and swerve her head from right to left in order to peer through constantly bobbing bonces before her. But a bloody good show nonetheless.

http://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/event/229311-phill-jupitus-stand-down/

And then back to the apartment at a reasonable hour for once. Hurrah! Except that I then spend a good hour formatting the previous day’s blog. Tch. I swear tomorrow’s one will be a bloody bullet point list.

Today’s SlebWatch: No-one! We see nobody even remotely famous today, apart from Phill Jupitus. I expect they are all attending church. Or maybe the more famous you get, the more water soluble you become. That’s probably it.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Return of the Chocolate Ocelot’s Fringe - Saturday


Our first morning in Edinburgh. I discover that the shower is decent sized and comes with a movable head. This is in sharp contrast to a shower we encountered recently while staying in Belgium. It was big, ridiculously big – a purpose built stone booth capable of accepting 4 people at a time, but unfortunately it only had the one immobile showerhead fixed into the ceiling. Perfect for Cheval, the star of A Town Called Panic (coincidentally also Belgian), but less than ideal for a human. It also looked a bit Auschwitzy.

Herself is up with the lark, unlike myself, who prefers to rise with the Sumatran Twoextrahoursinbed bird. As is her wont, she nips round the corner to the Saturday Farmers’ Market on King’s Stables Road to seek out various foodstuffs. I myself am not that bothered with farmers’ markets – I can see the fine and noble reasons for supporting local producers and encouraging a diverse range of goods, but the end result is usually a load of stalls selling slightly different sausages that you pay 50% more for. She returns from said market with a few items to sustain us later on, including a curious breaded product called a cheese swirl, a flat round doughy affair containing as much sesame seed as cheese. Not one to eat on a first date.

I spend the morning blogging the previous day, and feeling guilty about so readily accepting the verb blogging into my life. Unlike last year, I am trying this time to post each day up within 24 hours, rather than leave it a week so I have more time to spellcheck and what have you. Consequently I am now finding that my blogging (there I go again) is taking up more of my actual Fringe-going time than before. This is mainly due to my inability to type on my new laptop (the keys are spaced out differently), and the enormous amount of time it takes to correctly format the text on Blogger (cutting and pasting from Word is a trial in itself, and don’t get me started on positioning pictures). I resolve this year to keep my daily entries shorter and not to wander off onto side issues.

Bugger.

First event of the day – Auld Reekie Roller Girls at the Meadowbank sports centre east of the city centre. We walk from our flat, down Cowgate, past Holyrood and the Dynamic Scottish Earth Parliament (actually, they may be two different buildings, but they seem to have been all mixed up together), and skirt the foot of Arthur’s Seat, watching people and dogs scramble up the grassy slopes, as a light sprinkling of rain evolves into a proper grown-up shower.

Words are exchanged between myself and my petite companion, vis the heights of our respective brollies. Mine towers above, providing shelter for all and a threat to none. Hers hovers just above her wee head, which is tragically also at my eye level. Watching its broken spoke swing perilously towards my face in my peripheral vision gives me some cause for concern. A compromise walking arrangement is agreed upon, which favours the single file rather than the classic wing-man formation, though it does look like we’ve had an argument or have adopted some sort of fundamentalist Muslim relationship.

We go to the roller derby event because I’ve never been to one before, but have caught glimpses on local news stories and the like. It’s like the one time we went to see the monster trucks – it’s something everyone ought to do at least once. Like bisexuality or eating horsemeat. Anyway, the roller girl event turns out to be a match between Edinburgh’s Cannon Belles, also confusingly known as the Auld Reekie Roller Girls, and Glasgow’s Maiden Grrders, also known as the Glasgow Roller Girls. This didn’t help, as I thought at first there were four teams involved. The audience is primarily female, and of all ages, but I would say mainly in their twenties.

But it’s not the gender of the teams and audience per se that makes this such a uniquely female sporting event, it’s all the peripheral bits around the match. First off, there’s a merchandise hall selling t-shirts of the team as you would expect, but also jewellery and accessories, nail treatments and hair styling. And there’s a charity bun stall, selling fairy cakes and flapjacks and muffins and tablet! This is not Luton Town football stadium.

A lot of the players, audience and traders seem to be sporting a special roller girl look too – a kind of lesbian-chic/rockabilly thing, with half shaven heads, pink hair and tattoos. My god, the tattoos, everywhere, on everything. I’m really surprised more men don’t go to these things.

The other fun thing about roller derby is that all the players use aliases, as do the refs (of which there are many with all sorts of different responsibilities. One has the job of marking out the lead jammer by pointing at them constantly from the centre of the track, looking rather like a trainer at the Spanish riding school). Names like Debris Harry, Coco Pox, and Apocalypse Cow. Brilliant. It’s like they’re all pro wrestlers or drag queens. I manage to jot down a few roller girl names myself during odd moments throughout the rest of the day. So far I have Princess Sleia, Eva Destruction, LeAnn Crimes and Greyfriars Barbie. You should try it.

We stay for the entire match, having half understood the rules of jamming, blocking, time outs and so forth, and have gotten rather into the spirit of the thing. We cheer at the right moments, I hope, and leave the Edinburgh ladies celebrating a storming victory over Glasgow. Edinburgh seemed to have actual teamwork on their side, not to mention faster wee girls for the jamming and tougher fat lasses for the blocking. All good natured stuff – go and watch some time.

http://www.arrg.co.uk/

We emerge into the rain which shows no sign of abating, and slosh back into town. By this time I am hopped up on sweet sugary tablet and skipping around on the pavement, much to Herself’s amusement. Her tartan brolly, a relic of last year’s Fringe, finally gives up the ghost in a wet squall, and I magnanimously replace it with a see through spotty one, though I really wanted to find a Wee Bobby brolly, just to annoy her. We kill time before our next show by lurking inside Forbidden Planet to buy a Batman-related book as a present for a friend. I manage to pick out the most expensive one there – The Return Of Bruce Wayne - damn you, deluxe editions. I also discover that the legendary John Byrne has finally begun a sequel to his series Next Men from the 90s. Hurrah. Though I seem to have missed issues 1 – 6. Boo.

Next, we see – at last! - Barry Cryer at the Gilded Balloon, thus making up for last year’s cancelled show. Mr Cryer gives us a slick hour of jokes and anecdotes based on letters of the alphabet, so building in useful aides-memoir into the structure of the show. He does a damn fine Dave Allen impression too. We keep our eyes out for a friend of a friend who is also supposed to be there, but since the only description I have is ‘He looks like Alfred E Newman from Mad magazine’, I fail to pick him out, and balk at asking a reasonable protuberantly-eared gentlemen if he is my target, we do not find him.

http://www.gildedballoon.co.uk/tickets/performances.php?eventId=14:70

Next, off down the Royal Mile for a free Norman Lovett gig. We can’t believe he is free, as he’s a pretty big name, albeit of times past perhaps. It is indeed too good to be true, as we discover that despite being a free non-ticketed show, the venue has instituted its own ‘turn up early and a get a token (read: ticket) from the bar’ booking system. Thus he is well sold out by the time we turn up, and have to squelch back out into the rain, a little miffed.

Herself’s new brolly, barely 3 hours old, also gives up the ghost in a moderate wind. We are devastated, as if suffering an umbrella cot death.

Now thoroughly soaked, we kill the time that should have been Lovett o’clock by lurking around the Radisson hotel on the Royal Mile. Not only is this the venue of our next gig, but it is large, warm, has seats, and is out of the bloody rain, now entering its tenth consecutive hour. I spend my time listening to two young stand-ups on the table behind us reading reviews of their shows from websites, rehashing how their performances went, and deconstructing individual gags. Fascinating stuff.

We then troop upstairs for The Museum of Horrors. The audience is small, perhaps 14, but fortunately we still outnumber the cast (which is not always the case). A fun little show (though not spooky), it’s a reality show spoof where the four housemates of the museum are picked off one at a time in a series of hilariously gory ways, accompanied by copious intentionally cheap props. The show is introduced by a fantastically hammy shaven-headed chap channelling his inner Lugosi with all his might and pulling the most glorious villainous gurns. The storyline makes very little sense if you pause to think about it, but it’s light fun for a late night.

http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/theatre/museum-of-horror

Our final show of the day is a cabaret called Sweet Release at the Apex hotel on Grassmarket, not far from our flat. We kill time beforehand once more in a hotel foyer, huddling by a radiator and amusing ourselves by watching the incoherent drunks and inappropriately dressed girls stagger up and down the sodden street outside in search of a taxi driver with no common sense.

We are disappointed for the second time today when we get up to go into the show. No-one is around, and there are faint sounds of performance from inside the venue. The chap at the box office table tells us that the show started thirty minutes ago. How can this be, we ask, holding up our 23:45 tickets. Ah, those are the old tickets, he says. When the show was briefly cancelled and then reinstated, they brought the time forward by half an hour. You can go in for the last bit he says. Bums we say. And shlump off into the rain for the final time that night. Bah. I console myself with a packet of custard creams and shouting at Horatio Caine on the telly.

Today’s SlebWatch: Rich Fulcher, a little hung over by the look of him, Steve Frost of the Comedy Store Players, and possibly him off of Two Pints of Lager – no not the one from The Royle Family, the other one, with the shaven head, can’t remember his name, probably Lee. Lee Bloke. That’s him.

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…

http://www.dbs-productions.co.uk/

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.

http://tinyactsofrebellion.com/

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.

http://www.andrewoneill.co.uk/

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!’)