Lock up your vulnerable young people, denizens of Edinburgh! The Athens of the North reverberates once more to the throaty battle-cry of Hawkins, laden with stuff for a month of ‘Everything is Purple’ at the Dragon Fly, West Port, nightly at 22.10.
The last time I performed here, I had to get all the way back to the Dundee of the South-East (or Southend-on-sea), via an unroadworthy bus. We had to leave the engine running during rest stops on the journey, because once stopped, it wouldn’t start again.
The car that took me the final leg of the marathon trek home was also a wreck: the carburettor exploded as it drove into the rendezvous at Potter’s Bar, and so the last two performers arrived in our home town in all the style an RAC recovery truck can provide. My nerves were stretched so tight, if you brushed past me, they would play the opening bars of ‘Duelling Banjos’.
But in many ways I was glad to be home, and to have survived the trip at all: it had been a long month, a month of perilous expenditure, hard work, and sleeping on the floor, four to a room. I performed badly, nightly, in a good and largely ignored show. The daunting thing about the Edinburgh festival is that everyone purports to be having a fabulous time, though now I’m a bit older and wiser, I’m more of the belief that if the Samaritans set up shop on the Royal Mile, the queues would beat any show the Fringe had to offer. I very definitely did not have a good time, yet as far as I know, I am the only cast member to have come back. It’s taken eleven years.
It is very difficult to feel like the weak link in a chain, particularly when you’re stuck in that position, and there isn’t much you can do about it. I’m not a huge fan of the ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ school of personal development (really? Try a dose of pneumonia), but I will admit to mixed feelings about a show I tried to avoid doing, and quickly wished I’d stuck to my guns as the money and mood dwindled through August 2001. Yes, it was a learning curve. Yes it is quite nice to say I’ve done that long run. Yes it has shaped me. But shaped me for good and bad. If I could send a note to my younger self timed for the beginning of the Fringe 2001, it would contain the money to get a train ticket home.
The worst of it was that in September, I thought: ‘That is it. I am never standing on a stage and telling another joke again.’ It felt like a forced retirement from the business at 24, considerably before I’d had much to show for whatever talent I thought I might have.
Fast forward to yesterday: I got off the train at Waverley, picked up my bag from the platform with an ease that made a mockery of the receipt system, and the first sight that greeted me on
Prince’s Street was of a 12-year-old boy smoking a cigarette. Welcome back to Scotland. Just as Scout Camp made me appreciate the comforts of home, my last Edinburgh experience makes me appreciate the fact that this time round I have a bed, a door that locks, my own key, flatmates I am not in a show with, my own desk, hanging space, privacy, peace. Frankly, reader, I can cope with whatever show time brings.
And I have my return ticket stashed in my wallet.