Watermelons don’t normally aggravate me. I have nothing against their tropical plump pips; as a matter of fact, I regard them as one of the most loving and docile fruits around. But in Edinburgh, a shop named “Real Food” has smeared its reputation with a display window adorned with plastic counterfeits of an otherwise innocuous fruit. If only the false advertising would stop at mouth-watering melons and not continue down the Royal Mile – the famous street in Edinburgh that literally paves the way for performers, hustlers and dancing llama’s.
You would be forgiven for thinking that the variety of shows displayed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival fit comfortably into “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”. Clearly, Sergio Leone never went to the Fringe. Here, one has a blinding spectrum of the magnificent, the stagnant and the comatose. Just beware of those flyers offering “a perishable tale of the inextricable woes of human existence”. Although this won’t be the post-modern treatise on the universe you were promised, you can’t help but admire the creative applications of a packet of lemon bon-bons.
At least every show manages to pull off an impressive poster design as its saving grace, persuading you at every kiosk and toilet seat that your chances of seeing theatrical splendor are nigh. Imagine my horror when the Saul Bass poster imitation that lured me into a black box of sweat turned out to be nothing more than an adolescent monologue on the trials and tribulations of feta cheese.
If bizarre occurrences like this won’t lead to the dreaded fringe-fatigue, you can always rely on walking to have its ups and downs – but mostly ups; it doesn’t matter which direction you came from, you will always be on the wrong side of a daunting hill. Why bother with the Yorkshire Dales? Besides, the fringe has a plentiful supply of eye candy on the street; chainsaw jugglers, somersaulting girls (with a concerning amount of facial hair) or people simply dressed as leprechauns. Anywhere else, these citizens would be brandished with an ASBO: here, they are given a performance permit.
Trundling about on foot at the Fringe also carries the exclusive weight of responsibility. There is an untold conduct to follow here at the Fringe. Firstly, keep moving forward, or backwards. Keep in constant motion or else you’ll be wedged in between hordes of tourists complaining about fire assembly point complications.
The second rule is to give celebrities their own space. Unfortunately, I don’t have much authority with this, because as I walked down Nicolson Street with a friend one afternoon, one such personality started walking towards us. “Oh look”, my friend mused, “It’s Phil”, mistaking the comedian Phil Jupitus for our mutual friend by the same name, and, curiously enough, the same facial features. I nodded awkwardly, like a mortician nodding to the family of the deceased, assuring them that thanks to his cosmetic skills, he’s in a better place. My friend didn’t extend the same somber courtesy. The squeal could be heard amidst the delayed traffic. “PHIL. PHIL!” I began to sweat as I watched him painfully disobey the first rule of conduct, turning around against the flow of passers by who were now beginning to eyeball my friend and I, murmuring celebrity-something’s into each others ear lobes. As Jupitus’ face slowly scrawled into a look of perplexion, my friend, by way of absurd reason, motioned towards me, explaining “Its Ben. Ben! Ben?”
Melting back into a sea of faces, I desperately attempted to reclaim my anonymity. I had become a pastiche of an incredulous onlooker, all while breaking both rules of conduct. How had it come to this?
I retreated down a side street, hoping to retrieve a sense of decorum that had been torn from me. Turning around another bend in the cobbled road, I spotted a magician. Semi-circled around him were a dozen fidgeting onlookers. At last! I could bask in the predictability of the crowd here until the whole Jupitus affair had blown over.
Something was wrong though. This magician was far from predictable. He was actually quite good. With the help of an excitable 8 year-old boy, he restored cut rope and produced coins from palms and armpits – all in three and a half minutes. He even gave sound career guidance to his young assistant, encouraging him to study hard and “become a lawyer, a doctor, or Chinese.”
Oodles of applause later, the magician arrived at his grand finale: the cups and balls routine. After the usual placement and transposition of three red balls under three silver cups, he proceeded to vanish each ball in turn, leaving just one cup unturned. After a pregnant pause and an impossible revelation, he tilted back the remaining cup to a gasping choir of praise. My expectations plummeted as the shiny veneer of a suspicious looking watermelon rolled out.