I've been in this city for five minutes and already I've avoided eye contact with an ex-boyfriend and run into a friend from university I haven't seen in months.
National Records of Scotland
Arrived at the National Records but I'm not sure where the Famous Scots from the Past exhibition is. I ask a man standing nearby if he knows and he gestures behind me. 'Over in that building over there,' he says. Behind me there are two double doors lying wide open on the side of the building as two men and a woman transfer boxes from the van parked outside the entrance. Confident I'm in the right place, I skip past them and scan the building for the exhibition. I quickly discover though that all of the doors are electronic; you need a pass to get through them. I sheepishly walk back to where the trio were unloading their delivery and find them gone and the door locked. Oops.
National Records of Scotland
National Records of Scotland
Freedom. By sheer chance a woman opened the door that conveniently leads to the reception area. I don't have time for the exhibition now because I have to head to my next show. The receptionist has given me a quizzical look as if to say, 'where did you come from?', but before he can say anything I've strolled out into the glorious sunshine beating down on Princes Street.
The characteristically carnivalesque atmosphere of High Street during August is somewhat tainted by the heightened visibility of dozens of uniformed police pacing back and forth through the anti-terror barriers that are peppered across the city. These steel arches are just about the only surfaces on the Mile not plastered in flyers. I wonder if it's a mark of respect for those affected by the attacks at Westminster and Borough Market, or if people just don't know what to do with them.
The Photographic Exhibition Centre
The man behind the reception desk puts down his newspaper long enough to let me know that the exhibition is through the door immediately to my right. It's just me and two other girls wandering up and down the aisles of photographs. They're all quite impressive, but few have as much of an effect on me as the conversation being shared audibly between the two girls from across the room. One of them has just split up with her boyfriend and he's moved out. Now she's considering moving back to her mum's, but the plot thickens, she can't find her iPad. I should leave now before I'm late for my next show, but I need to find out what happened to the iPad…
Out of breath. Had to run here. Phew.
As I take a seat at the back of the room, I notice that the gentleman on stage is playing with a Barbie and Ken doll. He's making them flirt and kiss and bending them into compromising positions. I don't know what the next 60 minutes holds but it doesn't look promising.
The Counting House
There's only six of us here for the next show. It's being held in a dingy little attic room in a pub by the university. They've gracelessly pinned a giant black cloth along the back wall to transform the space into a stage. It's difficult to hear the performers over the constant drone of the three industrial fans that are humming noisily from nearly every corner of the room to stop it from overheating. The show isn't what I thought it would be either. From its synopsis, I gathered that comedians would be invited on stage to share their best break-up stories, but what it's turned into is some kind of lunch-time group therapy session. The first speaker is a woman married in the 1950s whose first husband beat her and second husband left her. I struggle to find the humour in this, but I laugh when everyone else does to blend in. The second speaker on stage talks about the lack of sexual fulfilment in her last relationship, while the final comedian talks about her life as a polyamorous woman in her 30s. Suddenly the chap with the Barbie and Ken dolls doesn't seem so bad.
It's raining and I've just whacked some poor guy in the head with my umbrella in the queue for mind reader and hypnotist Aaron Calvert. As we file into the bar and take our seats, I notice that two police officers are standing at the back of the room. In six years of attending the Fringe, this is the first time I've ever seen uniformed police attend a performance.
Racing across the city to make it to the next performance of the day, 'Atlantic: A Scottish Story', a two-part collaboration between Northwestern University in Chicago and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. As I make my way to my seat in the incredibly stuffy theatre, the cast are already on stage, frozen in the opening tableau.
I'm realising that I might just be the only person in the room who isn't a friend or relative of someone performing. Excited audience members are pointing and waving at the faces they recognise on stage but, to their credit, the tableau remains stoic. It reminds me of school nativity plays when my mum and dad would wave and smile proudly at me from the audience despite the fact that I always played someone inconsequential like chorus angel #12.
Just as I'm beginning to relax after a 15-minute sprint from one end of the city to the other, an American boy in his mid 20s takes the vacant seat next to me. He's an armrest hogger, and I can feel his sweaty arm sticking against mine. Then he manspreads, and from that moment on I can feel his heavy leg resting against mine. Affronted by his total lack of regard for my inalienable right to personal space, I fix him with a withering stare, but he doesn't notice. Instead, he pulls a handkerchief from his rucksack, blows his nose with it, and then uses it to wipe beads of sweat from his forehead.
Edinburgh University Library
I'm alternating between jogging and walking to my next show. It's the kind of almost-run that people adopt when they're trying to catch the bus, but they don't want to look like they're trying too hard in case they don't make it. As I make my way past an endless series of faces and arms trying to give me flyers and promote their shows, in the distance I hear someone yell, 'I'M A BEAUTIFUL MONKEY. LOOK HOW BEAUTIFUL I AM.'
After a string of comedy acts of questionable comedic value, I'm hopeful about this next act. It's a vintage mobile cinema that turns into a comedy club for the Fringe. It only holds about 20 people, but aesthetically it's one of the most intimate venues at the festival. I'm confident that a show with this much aesthetic character will have content of equal quality.
Then again, don't judge a book by its cover.
Ten minutes into the show (which started 10 minutes late), the comedian forgot his material and tried to fill in the time by inexplicably launching into a rendition of 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'. When that failed, he turned to the audience for some inspiration.
'Are there any God-fearing people in the house?' he asked.
An older women sitting in front of me raised her hand.
'Ah yes, thank you ma'am. And do you think God is a man or a woman?'
'A man,' she replied with a tone that invited him to tread carefully.
'Me too,' he said. 'Because, if God wasn't a man, then why would he have a beard?'
Cue the tumbleweed. Feeling sorry for the poor guy I let out my best impression of hearty laughter, but the hostile silence with which I was met shamed me into sinking into my seat.
'You know, my grandma told me never to have pre-marital sex. But now that I'm married I'm not getting much marital sex either.'
'When I was younger, my grandad told me not to masturbate until I was married…'
At this point the God-fearing lady turned around and looked at me with a horrified expression on her face, then leaned into her husband and whispered, 'There’s a young lady behind us.' The man dutifully turned for proof of my existence and returned his wife's look of horror.
Just when I thought it couldn't get any more awkward, a man two rows from the front zipped up his jacket in a gesture to leave. At this point the poor comedian decided to call it. Time of death: 18.40.
I know I'm tired because it's the last performance of the day and I'm leaning against the wall outside the venue relying on sarcasm to get me through all social interactions. 'TICKETS RIPPED. DOES ANYONE NEED THEIR TICKETS RIPPED?'
'Don’t you need your ticket ripped?' my friend asks me.
'Well, yes, but it doesn't seem like a two-man job.'
Had I gone home before seeing 'All We Ever Wanted Was Everything', I'd have missed out on one of the best theatre experiences of my life. I don't know what I was expecting, but from start to finish the performance was exhilarating, bold, and the last line completely stupefied the room. When the stage turned black, there was a glorious moment where the audience just sat in the dark in total silence before roaring with applause.
All day I'd been waiting to see something extraordinary like that, something that would leave me feeling unnerved and nonplussed long after the bright lights of the Edinburgh skyline had disappeared from my rearview mirror. That's the great thing about the Fringe: just when you think you've seen it all, it shows you something completely new.