Heavens, where have I been? I mean a week in Edinburgh, yes, and then a poetry week back on home ground in Sussex, but where have I been? Not in my usual place, that’s for sure – a little bit out of the body; and it was great, folks! And me usually so sparing with exclamation marks! Taxis in Edinburgh are cheap compared to down South (£4 a trip, I mean to say) but on the whole I managed with all the walking this year, mostly drug-free. Mr. Signs and I were situated in the Grassmarket area of Edinburgh old town, right beneath the castle. Last year we struggled to get beyond the haggis, chips and pies but this year we found all kinds of places, including one that served heavenly oysters and a ‘surf and turf’ combination of perfect steak plus pot of mussels cooked in cream and wine. Sorry to bang on about food before culture, but the importance of such to the general wellbeing and disposition of Signs cannot be overstated, especially as I have been doing (my version of) a Stone Age-type diet that seems to be, if not strengthening, a little less enervating than other kinds, and you can do lots of calories without doing extra weight (they ate crème brulee in Stone Age times, right?). I couldn’t keep that up in poetry week as I ate at the college where it was based – healthy vegetarian, with all the grains and pulses that go with it, but my body registered the difference strengthwise; back on home ground, too, the clay soil does tend to exert a gravitational pull – I should live on granite really, it suits me best.
But anyway, culture: I have been doing it, people – I almost said so you don’t have to but of course everyone has to or we will all go to the dogs. Sometimes one suffers, and it wouldn’t be Edinburgh Festival without a turkey or two, or something really dire. Last year it came in the form of a folk concert and this year it was a one-man show, full of sound and fury that signified nothing that I ccould identify, with a guy who looked as though he had taken one too many acid trips in his mis-spent youth and was therefore, despite all the sound, not quite or even remotely in the body from whence it came. And to boot, the show was in an underground vault of a place that absolutely reeked of mould and made the insides of my nostrils prickle, so I had to make an exit before the end, leaving Mr. Signs and a friend to make the best of it while I sat in a bar wishing that I were still a smoker. Absolutely everyone, it seemed, was smoking, even those of a certain age who should know better. I know better and wish I did not. Still, there was coffee and taiblet (they also ate fudge in Stone Age times, I believe).
The good things were many. We saw Jerry Sadowitz again – not as thrilling an experience as last year, but still worth doing, even if only for the quality insults; the comedian Stuart Lee – fabulous and I’ll see him again if I get the chance; a Mighty Boosh-style comedy group from Melbourne called Simply Fancy – so delightful that one forgets to complain about the airless room they performed in (despite relentless rain outside, many of the smaller venues were stiflingly hot); a Russian folk group called Koleso that we only went to see because one of the women caught the eye of Mr. Signs as she waved a flyer and her cleavage at him, and at first I thought it was going to be another turkey because of all the red lipstick and promise of “Russian heartbeat”, but it was thrilling, and we bought the CD afterwards; extraordinary flamenco dancing and singing – the real, unadorned thing; a foot-stomping Blues Brothers cover show suggested by my friend’s daughter. Just some of the things that come to mind.
But the highlight for me was seeing the performances of the Signs children. True, I’m their mother. Had I not been, I don’t think I’d have gone to see a show like Strippers & Gentlemen, and though the words “physical theatre” and “multi-media” had prepared me for the idea that this was something out of my usual experience, I had no real idea what I would find. We went twice, each time in the company of different friends. It was an astonishing production. The review from Three Weeks called the show “something great” and said “through dance, mime and spot-on dialogue the faultless cast explore ideas of contemporary sexuality, self-respect and morality. Set to a thumping high-octane soundtrack, this perfectly intense promenade performance will have you questioning your own ideals from the word go. Impeccably directed, involving and revealing, this must be one of the secret gems of this year's Fringe.” It had some other sparkling reviews, and a couple that were not quite so enthusiastic, including one by Lyn Gardner in the Guardian who didn’t, to my mind, really get it – but still, three stars in the Guardian for a show devised by people fresh out of drama school is not to be sniffed at. For me, hand on heart, it would have been a highlight whether my daughter had been involved or not. The co-director did wonderful things with sound, lighting and film and at moments I felt as though the experience was like walking into a poem where everything becomes, as it were, illuminated from within. Of course everyone’s experience of a work of art is different. Mine was that it was (in the words of my friend) poignant and beautiful.
We had to leave Edinburgh the day before son’s jazz a cappella group were due to perform because of my poetry week; but we were treated to a special preview performance in the living room of the flat they all shared and it was glorious; not just the music, the arrangements, the fact of all this fabulous sound coming from twelve voices, but the sheer work and discipline, the energy and enthusiasm that went into everything. They performed to full houses most days.
The arts: what would life be like without? I don’t ever want to find out. And so, as my lovely departed Dad might have said at the end of a long letter, here’s hoping that this finds you as it leaves me – in the pink.
More on poetry and stuff anon.