The Edinburgh Festival draws to a close tonight, Monday – now 72 years old since its inception in 1947.
The population of Scotland’s capital doubles in August with folk from all over the world and it’s a real bonanza for many – many well-off people I should say. A lot of the extra money that comes into the city goes into the lavish hotels and restaurants and fails to reach the poorer parts such as Muirhouse in the disadvantaged North West of Edinburgh.
Muirhouse library where I write this is, is filthy and dilapidated with ancient carpets and noisy kids who play loud music on their radios despite repeated requests from the sorely tested librarians not to do so. This is `Trainspotting` country as in the book and films made famous by local author Irvine Welsh. The local pub called `The Gunner`, now demolished, was a frequent target for drugs raids by the police.
In nearby Leith just two miles or so down the road from Muirhouse there was a police seizure of £120,000 of heroin and cocaine only yesterday.
This deprived area of North West Edinburgh as made world famous by Welsh in his novels contrasts so starkly with the plush city centre just 3 miles to the north with its smart hotels and luxury shops.
I stay (live) in Granton which is halfway between Leith (port of Edinburgh where the Royal Yacht Britannia is now permanently moored as a tourist attraction) and Muirhouse. Granton sees little or none of the festival and while it is a poor area, once industrial, it has become gentrified in recent years with a new hypermarket and impressive college of further education where the carpets are of somewhat better quality than Muirhouse library!
Last week, I was in the tent city in Charlotte Square in the west end of the city where the book festival is held. The month of August atmosphere seemed phoney in a square which is usually simply a small park with a statue of Prince Albert in the middle, and the house of the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon nearby. There is a plaque close by commemorating Douglas Haig the First World War general.
Sipping a preposterously expensive latte and a small shortbread biscuit I looked at the various talks on offer, but none really caught my eye. Ludicrously priced tipples were on offer like `Jawbox Pineapple and Ginger Gin Liqueur` and `Faith and Sons Organic Pineapple Gin`. Being alcoholic I had to give them a miss.
Some of the talks seemed way too intellectual for me; with obscure subjects like pre-Raphaelite existentialism in Outer Mongolia in the 1630s and the like. That’s the scholarly book festival, and I’m a man of simple pleasures.
In the Fringe the feature writer of the local Evening News, Liam Rudden said, “It’s a mad, mad, mad world at the Festival Fringe.”
With something like 50,000 performances from 3,000 odd performers he’s probably right.
Australia is well represented as usual though Amelia Ryan is absent this year looking after her two-year-old child. I remember in 2017 she actually travelled all the way from Adelaide when 31-weeks pregnant to compere the show `Made in Adelaide`. She brought a giant roll of paper towels with her just in case she gave birth on stage! Happily, she had her child safely back home in Oz.
Joanne Hartstone who I interviewed in both 2017 and 2018 is currently in Adelaide as well – talent scouting and organising the next Adelaide arts festival. She has presented a number of shows in Edinburgh including – `The Girl who jumped off the Hollywood Sign` and `That Daring Australian Girl` – referring to Muriel Matters the Australian born suffragette and journalist and opponent of World War One. Joanne confided to me that she doesn’t like flying and it’s a hell of a trip from South Australia to Scotland – maybe 11,000 miles.
One outrageous Aussie Comedienne called Sarah Kendall has been appearing at the Assembly George Square Studios with her one-woman stand-up show. Actually, there was a serious side to one of her past performances when a drunk spectator tried to make his way up on to the stage to try and assault her, but he was fortuitously stopped by security. Sarah hails from Newcastle, New South Wales but is now based in London. She is a writer as well as a performer and has appeared on both Radio 4 and BBC3.
I have to say I felt out of place in the teeming, crowded cauldron that is Edinburgh City Centre in August and I must confess that those pseudo intellectual talks and plays by Sophocles often leave me baffled.
I’ve been in touch with noted Australian actress Mercia Deane-Johns who was in `Winter of Our Dreams`. She wants to come to Edinburgh to do stand up. I’d be happy to help her but there’s a fantastic amount of competition, Merc!
One man I really would like to see give a talk at next year’s festival is journalist and publisher Julian Assange who is currently in Belmarsh prison for the heinous crime of telling the truth. He has embarrassed the powers that be, especially the Americans, with his shocking revelations such as the video `Collateral Murder` where an American Apache attack helicopter murders dozens of civilians including children in Baghdad. You can watch it on YouTube. Julian is currently in poor health in the prison wing of Belmarsh and I have my fingers crossed for him. It’s pure Orwellian for a writer to be in jail for doing what any good journalist should do.
I’m afraid I have to end on a very poignant note and that is to announce the tragic death of Aboriginal actress Ningali Lawford Wolf. The star of the films `Rabbit Proof Fence` and `Last Cab to Darwin` died on Sunday 11thAugust during a tour of `Secret River`. She died of complications following a severe asthma attack aged just 52. A great loss to Australian cinema and theatre, she leaves 5 children.
The Edinburgh Festival 2019 finishes with a giant firework display tonight.
Don’t forget its southern cousin the Adelaide arts festival which runs February 11th to 15th March 2020.