It started with a five-star castle, and finished with a five-star show
Wednesday 17 Aug 11 - Wednesday 17 Aug 11 16 °C
On Wednesday, I got up early in order to beat the crowds. In a further attempt to avoid the crowd, I booked my Edinburgh Castle ticket in advance online, a move that worked very well. When I left, there must have been at least a few hundred people queuing for tickets.
The Castle sits on a huge rock, so even its foundations are well above the rest of the city. A perfect defensive stronghold, and for tourists, it is one of many spots that affords a brilliant view of the city. On a bright, sunny morning like this one, you can clearly see across the Firth of Forth into Fife and beyond.
I joined a tour, and Colin, our guide, spoke slowly so that we could understand his accent. He told us about the Castle’s history, and the Scottish kings and queens who have lived there, and the (relatively few) attacks on the fortress. Also sitting within the Castle grounds is the oldest building in Scotland, St. Margaret’s Chapel, dating back to the 12th or 13th Century, I think; the present military barracks; the National War Memorial; an exhibition housing the Scottish crown jewels; an ex-prisoner of war complex; multiple decorative cannons; and of course, two gift shops.
There’s also the National Museum of War, which gives an insight into Scottish battles against the English and also Scottish battles with the English, against a common enemy. I learnt, for example, that in 1707, the Scots became allies with the English, to give the Scottish protection, and also so that the English wouldn’t have to worry about the pesky Celts from over the border trying to invade again.
I walked down the hill and did the length of the Royal Mile, which is really the hub of the Festival. You’ll find everything there: street performers, bustling cafés, shopkeepers spruiking their products, and hundreds of people handing out fliers to people who might look like they might want to go to a show. Clearly I wasn’t a part of many target markets – I can remember a number of occasions when the person in front of me would get a flier, but the advertiser would look straight past me.
For what it’s worth, I accepted any flier offered to me with a smile, out of politeness, mostly, but they also made interesting reading material if nothing else. I also noticed that if other advertisers saw you take a competitor’s pamphlet, they’d rush to you like Brits to a queue, as if to say ‘you’re obviously looking for a show, but don’t see that one, this one’s much better’.
I then ventured out to another tourist attraction, this one slightly out of the city centre in Leith. Leith is a port, originally a city in its own right, but swallowed up by Edinburgh in the 1920s. I was off to the Royal Yacht Brittania, the vessel used by the royals for holidays until 1997. I hadn’t really done my research, and so didn’t realise that there’d be such a ‘royal family’ slant, and given my complete lack of interest in anything to do with those irrelevant, useless, out of touch inbreds, I wouldn’t have gone if I had.
While interesting in its own way, it was slightly weird to see the level of deference towards the family, and the Queen particularly. I mean, they were saying that she had quite a difficult job with all the papers she had to go through, and they were trumpeting her choice of modest fittings, but jeez, she didn’t exactly have it bad, either. While the sailors slept in tiny bunks, and kept all their belongings in even smaller lockers, the royals had huge rooms to themselves, with a large private deck. This deck was scrubbed daily, and if a sailor saw a royal in this area, he would have to stand entirely still, looking straight ahead, until they had passed.
The chefs were flown out from Buckingham Palace, all of the silver was polished each day, regardless of whether it had been used or not, and the dining table took three hours to set, because rulers and other measuring instruments had to be used to ensure the spacing between knife and spoon was exactly right. Perhaps a bit excessive, but at least the royal family have worked hard throughout their lives, contributed a great deal to society, and deserve to be revered and fussed over.
Actually, hang on, what have they done again? Anything? Anything at all? Major contributions to society? Come on, someone must have an answer. No? Nothing? Absolutely nothing? Are you sure? Oh.
I caught the bus into town, and had a bit of a look around the New Town. Like its name suggests, the New Town is newer than the Old Town, and was built in the 18th Century to alleviate overcrowding in the city (the rich moved here to get away from the poor, essentially). Unlike the Old Town, it was meticulously planned, with parallel streets forming a mostly grid-like system, churches in strategic locations and plenty of green space, but it’s a bit hard to get a grasp of that from the ground, so after a bit of a walk I went home.
I had tickets to two shows in the evening, and was looking forward to both. The first, unfortunately, left me a little disappointed. Two young Melburnians again, exploring racial tension, and white man’s fear of Islam – it sounds interesting, and it was, but I didn’t think the delivery was quite there, and while there were quite a few witty and perceptive insights, the jokes generally fell flat. To be fair to the performers, the audience wasn’t great, either. Two and a half stars.
The second show was incredible, though. After a quick dinner, and a bit of a rush to find the venue, I joined the long queue and only managed to get in the back row to see the wonderfully (and accurately) titled ‘The Boy With Tape On His Face’.
I’d imagine comedy is hard enough with the ability to talk, and surely, by removing the ability to talk, you just make it harder. But this was an hour (it seemed a lot shorter than an hour) of brilliant physical comedy, and it had the audience in stitches all the way until the standing ovation. Definitely the first comedy show I’ve been to that received one of those. If he comes back to Melbourne in 2012, and he should given he's a Kiwi, don’t miss out. Five stars.
I went for a drink afterwards with Miles from Plymouth – we’d sat next to each other at Dave Gorman, had both been at Alex Horne, and sat next to each other again at the latest show, a ridiculous coincidence given the sheer number of acts. We discussed comedy, the fringe, good shows to see, cricket (of course) and listened to The Cat Empire as it played on the speakers of the Bistro Square Garden. More Melbourne acts going global.