Edinburgh Diary – Friday 25th August 2017

I was at the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Fringe from Monday 21 – Friday 25 August.

Whilst I was there I was a co-host on Ewan Spence’s Edinburgh Fringe Podcast.  Notes from today below.

I love the day I go home. I always love the day I go home. Back to base. Revised, revitalised.

The journey has been gratifyingly straightforward. Luton as a destination airport remains disappointing, but the connecting train to central Catford was direct, smooth, and air conditioned.

Inevitably, the last Edinburgh diary is brief.

Fourth Edinburgh Podcast

Fun, slickish (apart from the bit about the dice – I really didn’t twig quick enough), and informative.

Had no idea about how the Dolorean made it to the final script for Back to the Future.

Moments before Ewan pressed the button, I was feeling sad about the prospect of it all coming to an end. Loved the whole experience.


What I Learnt

What good is a trip away from home if you don’t reflect on stuff? Edited highlights below.

1. Come to Edinburgh, lose weight
The walking is epic. The unrelenting hills, and brisk last-minute walks to shows will get you fitter.

2. Keep on trying
The city is full of hopefuls, fuelled by creativity and supported by faith. That’s incredibly infectious.

3. The audience is vital
Everyone participates in a Fringe show. That’s proper live performance.

4. You will need: characters; stories; themes
Three basic ingredients for writing. That’s all you need. Start there. Experiment. Be prepared to fail.

5. Television is a tiresome and tired medium
In Edinburgh TV appears like a ridiculous self-inflated, self-indulgent medium. We place far too much importance on it.

6. New perspectives on personal histories can be illuminating
Bearded Dog’s Anathema helped me re-evaluate the past in a profound way.

7. Be vigilant: confirmation bias crops up everywhere
Counter the familiar stories you tell yourself and look for the liberating path instead.

8. The company of writers is a special thing
There’s a strong sense of unity amongst people who identify as writers. Very supportive. Where I feel at home.

9. Constantly stretch your thinking
Freelance life doesn’t tolerate those who stand still. Challenge. Stretch. Dare.

10. Always pack emergency underpants
This one explains itself, I think.

Edinburgh Diary – Thursday 24 August 2017

I’m visiting the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Fringe from Monday 21 – Friday 25 August.

Whilst I’m here I’m making appearances as co-host on Ewan Spence’s Edinburgh Fringe Podcast.  And I’m keeping a diary, just as you’d expect every good blogger to do.

I hate writing the date. It seems so late in the year. Summer is running out of juice. Autumn is on the horizon. Festivals are coming to an end.

EIF and the Edinburgh Fringe concludes on Tuesday next week, the Proms a couple of weeks after that. Sad. Freedom is slowly being extinguished.

Academy of Ancient Music / Edinburgh International Festival

I have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew.

I agreed to go to the Academy of Ancient Music’s Thursday concert at the Queen’s Hall before I’d accounted for the distance between the concert venue and Rose Street where the podcast is recorded. The podcast started an hour after the concert started, and it takes 25 minutes to get from one venue to the other.

I heard the first twenty minutes of the concert (which had in itself taken half an hour to walk to) and then I had to head back.

Listen to it on BBC iPlayer. The first work – the Telemann – is amazing.

Oh, and I made it to the podcast with 5 minutes to spare. Nice.

Second Edinburgh Fringe Podcast

I thought this morning about the joy of the podcast process.

I realise that I’m not especially keen on the technicalities (although I do understand them), and I really do despise editing.

That’s why I like recording things in one ‘stab’ – know as ‘as live’ if you’re interested in the jargon. I like sitting down in front of a microphone and sparring with someone. I liked doing it at LBC, and I like doing it here. There’s a running order, of course, but in the space of 60 minutes things just happen. Questions naturally arises. Banter bubbles up without warning. It’s quite an amazing thing.

What interested me this morning was the memory of me doing it quite a lot in the workplace too. Treating the office environment like a platform, joshing, bantering, and cajoling people I came into contact with.

I remember how draining it became.

Being ‘up and perky’ during the working hours was exhausting.

I did it for a hit – I got something back from it. But the more I do it, the more I became aware of my underlying feelings of droopiness. What I was saying out loud didn’t equate with how I felt deep down.

There’s an analogy that might help here. Think of the experience of stepping into a church and suddenly being aware of the fustiness in the air. It’s not a pleasant smell especially, but its one we’re all familiar with. In theory, its a smell we don’t want to have around. You’d think we’d want to do something about the damp and eradicate the smell, but we don’t because we’re OK with it.

Same with the banter thing I did at work. Habitual. Addictive. Inauthentic.

That said, the third podcast was great. I got to meet a professional broadcaster, a playwright, an actress, and a man with a very deep voice. It all went rather well. Loved it.

Brutal Cessation / Milly Thomas

This was the highpoint of my day.

I’m fascinated about the playwriting process, how a writer has to conjur up characters, issues, and dialogue, and then trust other people to bring those elements to life.

It is a remarkable collaboration, and something I think I’d struggle to feel comfortable with.

Brutal Cessation is unrelenting story about a disintegrating relationship. It’s uncompromising, necessary, and inspiring.

It’s also a brilliant thing. I walked away from it with a new resolve, and a copy of the script under my arm.



Edinburgh Diary – Wednesday 23 August 2017

I’m visiting the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Fringe from Monday 21 – Friday 25 August.

Whilst I’m here I’m making appearances as co-host on Ewan Spence’s Edinburgh Fringe Podcast.  And I’m keeping a diary, just as you’d expect every good blogger to do. 

I’m feeling a little frazzled. I get like this sometimes when I’m ‘on the trot’ on a trip. I try and pack in as many things as I possibly can, forgetting that part of the process of coming to things like a Festival is to get into the vibe. I end up getting a little wired.

I imagine that if Edinburgh was all on the flat, then my stamina would be a little better.

Second Edinburgh Fringe Podcast

The addition of a full suite of photographs from the podcasts (taken by Vikki Spence) makes this trip to Edinburgh a special thing.

The show goes in a flash, but the visual record makes for a lovely series of picture postcards. My mantra, the roots of which are far too boring to go into here, is always to never assume you’ll get a chance to do this sort of thing again. Treasure the moment accordingly. The pictures (yesterday‘s and today‘s) help do that.

Listen to the second show (well, really it’s number 19) on the Edinburgh Fringe Podcast page on PodcastCorner.com, It’s a bit of a corker. And for the most part I wasn’t rude to any guests.

Alfred Brendel Lecture / Edinburgh International Festival 

I’m fascinated by Alfred Brendel. I find his promotional pictures fascinating and slightly terrifying in equal measure. Listen to his many recordings and you discover another facet of the man – the exquisite musicianship. It’s something I find he distances himself from – or rather he distances himself from the performances and recordings.

It is as though he the master of modesty, taking it to such a level that I get strangely frustrated with him.

He was fascinating again today in his Edinburgh Festival lecture. The audience was appreciative. His considerable back catalogue spanning 60 years is next on my listening list.

Lord Dismiss Us / Boys of the Empire Productions

I said yesterday that it was the writing I was interested in coming to Edinburgh this year. Twenty-four hours later, I think that needs a bit of fine-tuning. It’s the characters I want get a handle on, and more specifically to get a sense of how characters develop during a story. It’s the one area I find really challenging in my writing, because I’m never entirely sure whether I’m being realistic enough. Seeing lots of other characterisations helps – strangely enough – develop confidence.

Lord Dismiss Us (Boys of the Empire Productions) is a case in point. It was a fast-paced stage adaption by Glenn Chandler of Michael Campbell’s famous 1967 book of the same name, about homosexuality in a public school in the late 60s. The dialogue shimmered with wit and emotion. The characterisation was blistering. When you’re sat in an audience and finding yourself emotionally engaged with the protagonist, then you know you’re onto a winner.

If I can subsequently find a way of distilling the immediacy of a beautifully engaging piece of theatre into prose, then I’ll be happy chap.


Edinburgh Festival 2017: Alfred Brendel Lecture

Alfred Brendel was a lonely looking man sat behind a wooden desk, downlight by bright white light at the King’s Theatre.

Throughout his 75-minute lecture at the Edinburgh Festival, he maintained the sturdy appearance that belies his 86 years. The familiar look of curiosity remains about his face – an invitation that draws you in to look at the world from his perspective.

He is a fascinating character. A man who, intentionally or not, keeps you at a distance.

From time to time during his lecture – elbows squarely on the table, hands propping his head up – he appeared perplexed, as though this was all too much, something he was doing reluctantly for us.

When we listened to musical excerpts from his recording career, the table became an imaginary piano keyboard. Subtle movements in his hands seemed Irresistible to him. Nothing ostentatious or self-indulgent. Touching.

But there was an edge to his lecture. The mischievousness and modesty – trademark Brendel – was tinged with the hint of sadness.

His soft Austrian accent created a hypnotic effect. Witty anecdotes spanning a 60 year career – delivered methodically, but softly, made it seem as though he was reading a first draft.

This and the dramatic stage setting, gave proceedings a sense of finality.

During the musical excerpts he would look out to the audience, with a squint that at times felt as though it was meant entirely for you. Mildly terrifying.

The audience cooed knowingly at the witticisms and the absurdities. Applause rang out after every recorded excerpt too. There was deference, love, and warm appreciation from the audience.

For all the detail Brendel gave us of a hard-earned, illustrious career, we never got to know him. A tough exterior of self-deprecation made that an impossibility.

In that way he remained true to his opening gambit that, “I do not believe that the merits of an artist can be explained or illuminated by my private life.”



Edinburgh Diary – Tuesday 22 August 2017

I’m visiting the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Fringe from Monday 21 – Friday 25 August.

Whilst I’m here I’m making appearances as co-host on Ewan Spence’s Edinburgh Fringe Podcast.  And I’m keeping a diary, just as you’d expect every good blogger to do. 

After yesterday’s unnecessarily demanding travel-day, I was pleased to get a lie-in this morning.

The pillows aren’t what I’m used to. I’m more of a feather pillow kind of guy. These are foam. But the mattress is firm, the night air a charming kind of Scottish chilly, and the surrounding streets surprisingly quiet in the mornings.

I waited for my flatmate to leave for work (technically he’s my landlord for the week), then clambered out from underneath the duvet and made myself a cup of tea. Fuck. No milk. An emergency visit to the nearby Sainsbury’s Local followed. I showered first. I’m not an animal.

The hint of student accommodation, my self-imposed prudence, and the pre-9am milk trip, brought back memories of my first term at university twenty five years ago. A nice feeling, despite the fact that the first term was incredibly tough. Funny how the brain filters out the bad stuff.

First Edinburgh Fringe Podcast

The first podcast (relayed on the radio doncha know) went reasonably well. It’s only my fourth or fifth time doing live radio. My first experience was working on Sandi Toksvig’s LBC show back in 2005.

There is an energy to live radio I had forgotten about today.

There’s a script, obviously. And, fortuitously, I’d made a point of looking for the clock so I could track where we were in running order. But there are still those moments in time when you catch a look of your host sat next to you, and terror momentarily flashes across your mind. Split seconds of silence can sometimes feel like a full half-hour.

I’ve listened to it all back and discover that it is nothing how I remember it being. Tomorrow, I’d like to manage the sudden drop in adrenaline when the whole thing finishes. That’s punishing. I’d also like to hold back on the dry humour a little. The line, “I don’t really like this guest, Ewan,” sounded funny in my head but was met with a near riot. Deservedly so.

There are also pictures taken by the producer, but I’m reliably informed they’ll be updated soon.

Open Road / Ecce Theatre

My first event was Ecce Theatre‘s Open Road. It’s Ecce Theatre’s return to the Fringe, one of many statements by long-suffering and much-maligned ‘millenials’ at this year’s Fringe.

I’m interested in what that generation are saying to people like me.

This was a sophisticated statement: playful; thought-provoking; and, deceptively dark.

I get excited when I watch people twenty years younger than me doing something that means a lot to them. I get excited for them.

Anxiety and Animal GIFs / Hannah Chutzpah

I liked the idea of this show – at least the synopsis I read in the show blurb on the Fringe app (more on that in the next para).

What I discovered doing the podcast with Ewan was that the show blurb has to be submitted by the artist to the Fringe people in March, meaning that what they provide as a synopsis may well turn out to be different come the finished product.

Hannah’s act didn’t disappoint. I wanted to be challenged. I also wanted to relate to someone’s story.

This was ‘Free Fringe’ – an opportunity for those artists with an act but not a budget.

Production values were necessarily low, but the spirit was there, so too the poetry, which was touching, heartfelt, honest, and brave.

Hannah has a story weaving through her act. She also has set-piece poetry, and a refreshing and reassuring sense of transparency.

It seems criminal she has to pay £400 to get her act listed in the Fringe App and Directory.

Anathema / Bearded Dog Theatre

There is a theme emerging from today’s shows. Youth, eagerness, and new writing.

Anathema dealt with something quite challenging: male rape.

The back page of the programme tackled some of the myths and realities of male sexual abuse.

The truth is that I’d had no idea quite how much detail the play would go into. There were moments when it all seemed a little too close for comfort.

I don’t remember anyone at University daring to take on the issues of the day in such a succinct or graphic way. I am impressed that Bearded Dog Theatre did.

A production full of hope and aspiration. Some painfully acute observations of fresher’s week characters, and Megan Bailes as Riley was perfect.

Today’s learning

The writing is what’s important to me. The words on the page. The thinking. The daring to say the things you think you shouldn’t say that you probably should that you’re not quite sure whether you’ve got the balls to say.

It’s the writing that keeps me going, and when I hear others saying the same thing I feel strangely reassured about keeping going in this weird period of time post-BBC.

Hannah Chutzpah’s show really helped me there.

Tomorrow, I have a veteran pianist to listen to. I’m wondering what he’ll share that resonates.