One step away
The first thing you need to know about Edinburgh is the stairs. Nothing is flat. Everything is a hill or a stair.
When we visited when the kids were small, my youngest announced outraged as we were heading up the hill to the castle, “Who put this big slope here? It's not convenient!”
But the hills and steps are not just geographic. They're also a complete metaphor for the Edinburgh Fringe. Some days you're climbing up, other days you're heading down. Expect the road to be bumpy.
I've been here before many times, and though I generally forget about how to pack properly for Edinburgh (Anorak and comfy shoes essential) I always come with my head prepared.
My method of dealing with the Fringe is generally to keep a step back. I live on my own slightly away from where the action is. If I don't have written work to do, I spend the time before the show pottering about Edinburgh’s pretty wee streets, or if it's not raining, sitting on a park bench enjoying (what once wasn't, but now is ) a foreign climate.
After shows, I'll have a drink with mates and then head back to digs for client sessions courtesy of Zoom, and to talk to Mark and Lachlan who are still in LA.
I know it's not very rock n roll, but it's a system that works.
As a result I'm always a step away from the action, and periodically feel like Edinburgh is doing a show for me, rather than the other way round.
It was like that one day last week, a day I called, “The Three Sisters”
Sister 1 was the supervisor in the refectory. I live in posh student accommodation ( if there is such a thing) on a campus. In the mornings they serve a hot breakfast in the on-site refectory. It's busy and fast, but they had me at unlimited cups of tea. One of the staff was having a meltdown about something (she seemed like a professional complainer) then moved back in indignant umbrage, knocking my arm and pouring scalding hot liquid over my hand. As dramatic as that might sound, I'm the mother of two kids and have therefore burnt my hand plenty of times before. It wasn't serious, but it could have been if it had been a child or a frail person. I made it clear to the complaining woman, that generally when it comes to performance it's best not to do it next to boiling liquid and other people. Then I headed off to have breakfast, considering the matter sorted. But the Supervisor followed me. She was concerned. She wanted to know if I needed anything. A cool pack, anything. I reassured her that as I was a big leathery-skinned person I was fine, and as we talked I realized she wasn't ok. “Are you alright?” I asked. She replied - way way too quickly - that she was. So I did what my kids call, ‘prodding eyes’, which makes people fess up.
I said as a potential burns victim, I needed her to sit with me and have a cup of tea (of course I had two - tea is unlimited) and her story poured out. I can't tell you what it was, because that is her story, but at the end we had a cuddle and I told her that she couldn't be accountable for other people's bad behavior. She could only lean into what she knew to be right, accept that she was doing her best, and let others face the consequences of their own decisions.
And she left and I ate breakfast, I thought about how I'd learned that lesson many moons ago at the Fringe.
Sister 2 was also at the digs. I was in my room, and there was the obligatory knock on the door and “Housekeeping”.
I opened the door to a wee woman with a cart full of towels and the like. She looked fucking exhausted. “Are you alright?” I asked. “Oh yes, uh huh.” she replied with polite efficiency. And I know I shouldn't have, but I'd already had my prodding eyes out that day, so they just kind of happened. “Are you sure?”
Her face crumpled. “I have so many rooms and I just don't know how to get them all done.” And she explained the rest of her story, which is again hers. Anyway, I told her I was staying for a while and I'm an introvert so she’d be doing me a favor if she didn't do my room every day. Periodically I said I'd come and nudge her for clean linen, and we could arrange a time for a wee hoover here and there, but otherwise, we were good. She smiled and thanked me and I closed the door.
There was a knock on the door 5 minutes later. It was my new wee pal from housekeeping, bringing me some extra cups and of course more tea. I was thrilled.
I closed the door thinking about another lesson I'd learned at the Fringe: Friendship and compassion make the overwhelming feel much more manageable.
Sister 3 was on the bus home after the show (rock n roll eh?) And to be honest, I should have known. The bus was busy and there was only one empty seat next to a tiny wee lady with a wheeled walker. It was so convenient, it was conspicuous in its emptiness. But I was tired after the show and carrying a heavy bag. I had barely placed one butt cheek on the seat when she started yelling about how her walker didn't have brakes and I was putting my life in my hands. She demonstrated the danger by ramming the walker into my legs.
“Lady, cut that out!” I said in no uncertain terms.
“You can't sit here!” She yelled.
I turned, giving her what my kids call angry eyes, and said. “I am sitting here. It's only a couple of stops and this is where I am sitting. Get over yourself. Understand?”
She gulped. And was silent. There was such an air of relief on the bus, I almost expected a round of applause.
I had earned her respect. After a moment, she leaned in and conspiratorially whispered, “I can tell you the best busses to get Covid on if you want?”
“No thanks, I'm good.” I replied.
“Have you had Covid? Anybody here have Covid!!!!?” she yelled
The woman in the chair alongside me scowled. A man diagonally in front tutted. And I found myself starting to giggle.
“You know,” my new traveling companion explained, “You can get Covid 2500 times?”
I nodded, keeping my mouth shut. It was wrong, but I really wanted to laugh.
“So, “ she said, “How many times have you had COVID?”
“2499 times” I replied, cheerfully.
She looked at me like I had just explained some theory of quantum physics and nodded knowingly.
I laughed about talking with the wee lady all the way home. Another Fringe lesson: when faced with craziness, sometimes the best thing is to laugh with it and enjoy the ride.
Back at the digs later, I talked with Mark on Zoom. We talked chickens, and bees, and life. Then Lachlan came on the call and talked about his first day back at school. Then they asked me how Edinburgh was going.
“Oh you know,” I said, “Edinburgh is ups and downs. Nothing is flat.”
And Lachlan laughed knowingly “Yeah, I can't believe they put that slope there. It's very inconvenient”
Till next week xo
Hello there, loves