It’s at this time of the year that I start to make my arrangements for the Edinburgh international festival and fringe. Although they’re still a couple of weeks away, I’ve previously found, much to my distress, that anything less than a rigorous approach to preparing for the shows can diminish your enjoyment of them.
The consequences of a haphazard approach to the oncoming festival season in Edinburgh can have regrettable consequences. I don’t actually visit Edinburgh to attend many shows and so it pays to obtain a copy of the festival fringe programme. That way, you can plot your summer drinking trips in the capital, avoiding times of peak cultural intensity.
There’s nothing worse than settling down in one of the Royal Mile’s famous old taverns for a drink and a sing-song, only to be invaded by middle-aged men sporting ponytails and wearing red corduroy trousers as they seek to affect that active crusty look. Many of them will order nothing more than spritzers and then crowd round your table hoping to shame you into offering it to them. Under no circumstances must you do so, for the bar staff will not thank you for it as these men will loudly compete with each other in adding up the number of shows they have been to this year.
Many won’t actually have watched them, you understand; they simply collected the ticket stubs so they can post a collage of them on Facebook for the purposes of ensuring that all their friends and family acknowledge that they are full of culture and are most definitely not visiting Lanzarote.
To all the other satellite festivals that have begun gathering around this bloated and sanctimonious parody of a cultural event, there is now a festival of politics. We’ve already got a television festival, a film festival and a book festival. They also added a comedy festival, presumably because laughter and drollery are in short supply in the Shortbread City during much of the rest of the year. A festival of politics is simply a sign that there is no end to the self-indulgence of those middle-class types who are intellectuals in their own back-yurts.
At this point, I have something of a confession to convey. I took part in a panel discussion two years ago during the festival of politics. It consisted of a bewildered-looking audience all asking themselves if they ought to know any of the blinking assortment of middle-aged white men in dodgy linen suits sitting in front of them. I can’t remember what we were discussing, but it was utterly of no consequence. There was a wee ripple of polite applause at the end, but this must be placed in context: so ineffably polite are these audiences that they would have greeted the end of an Isis recruitment video with the same sense of decorum.
I was once propelled into the midst of an audience at the book festival, where a well-known and very indulgent English novelist startled his audience after a typically windy, self-important and arduous question was asked of him about how he structured his novels. “I just start at the beginning and see where it takes me,” he replied. I started to applaud but was cut short by the withering glances shooting out from beneath a hundred straw hats.
Now we learn that one of Edinburgh’s many august bodies has become upset at the number of tourists who annually flock to Scotland’s capital city. According to the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, “commercial over-exploitation” of Edinburgh’s city centre now threatens its “authenticity”. It cites the increase of hotels, holiday flats and unprecedented popularity of visitor attractions. Only in Edinburgh would whingeing of this sort be taken seriously.
This is a boutique city that would be unremarkable were it not for its architectural beauty and profound historical status. Scotland’s tourism sector is a significant building block in the nation’s economy and an Edinburgh-centric Holyrood government accords it myriad financial advantages over all of Scotland’s other cities, including Glasgow, which drives the nation’s economy.
What threatens Edinburgh more than tourism is the recent civic support for a building policy that threatens the very character of its ancient and beloved built heritage. We have already observed the way in which a Las Vegas production is taking shape at the east end of Princes Street and the recent attempts to destroy the famous High School and turn it into a hotel that seems to have been inspired by Walt Disney. There are other equally hellish plans afoot.
If the guardians of old Edinburgh are now getting sniffy about the number of unwashed visitors thronging its boulevards then there is an easy option for them: simply erect more signage telling them that Glasgow, Scotland’s authentic city of culture, is only a 45-minute train ride away. We’ll look after them; feed them and water them and introduce them to our culture that doesn’t hibernate with the last days of summer.