The first day of the trip began at five thirty in the morning, as I rushed through a bowl of cereal and headed out to the train station; suitcase strapped to the rear panier of my bike. There, I met Annalise, Krittika and Jacqueline: the four of us were heading to Scotland for the weekend. We didn’t have to wait long for the first train, which took us a little up the line to Ely, where we changed onto a train to Peterborough. We grabbed a few nibbles from the station kiosk, and soon enough, we were on board the train up the East Coast Main Line all the way to Edinburgh.
We spend some three hours on the train, watching the quaint villages of Yorkshire, and later, the rolling waves of the North Sea fly by outside the window. We watched eagerly on our phones for the moment that we crossed the border into Scotland; this was as far north in the UK as any of us had been before.
When the train finally arrived in Edinburgh, we navigated the confusingly laid out Waverly Train station, firstly to find a ticket machine that would dispense our pre-ordered Edinburgh Fringe tickets, and secondly to find the exit. We would be staying with Megan, an old friend of Krittika who was living in a flat near the centre of the city. There was a short, 20-minute walk south of the station to get there, made more confusing by the city being structured in low-level and high-level streets, the latter running perpendicular to most of the lower streets across a series of bridges, but with the tall buildings built high enough such that from the level of the upper streets, it felt like ground level.
We eventually found the flat and Megan let us in to drop our bags off. As only I had eaten breakfast, there was much consensus that lunch was in order. Megan took us to a nearby restaurant which served a selection of earthy Scottish dishes, ranging from haggis, to sausages and mash, to a slow-cooked casserole. This was followed by heading down to an alleyway coffee shop and getting some warm drinks.
Refilled, we were ready to explore the streets of Edinburgh. It was the first day of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, so the streets were teeming with people. There were many street performers around, thousands of people were handing out flyers to the many shows, and the main street, known as the Royal Mile, was closed to traffic and had set up small performing stages all along the street. We stopped for a few minutes to watch a gentleman on a slackline juggling a machete, flaming torch and an apple while balancing a bowl of water on his head. We couldn’t go all the way up to the castle because of the staging for the Military Tattoo, but we wandered around, led by Megan.
In the mid-afternoon, we went to Pleasance, one of the larger Fringe venues with several stages, bars and food stalls. We had tickets to see a stand-up set by Samantha Baines, which was staged in an old wine cellar underneath the main stages. The set was themed around three ‘lost women of science’, women whose accomplishments have been underappreciated by history. In particular, she choose Margaret Knight, the inventor of the flat bottom paper bag, Lillian Bland, the first female British aviation engineer and Sally Ride, the first American Astronaut. It was a very enjoyable and well constructed set and very refreshing to hear how passionate she was for her cause of inspiring women into science.
After the show, we wandered around Pleasance and were looking for another show to go to. After some discussion, we decided to see Showstoppers, which is a completely improvised complete musical. After a quick bite to eat, we queued up to enter the performance space, inside the local university gymnasium.
As it was completely improvised, the host began by taking suggestions from the audience for the setting. A couple of options were suggested and voted on by cheering levels from the crowd. The setting chosen was “A Fortune Teller’s Office”. The host also asked for suggestions of styles from various musicals from the audience, and was given suggestions of “Les Miserables”, “Book of Mormon”, “Viva Forever” and “Sweeny Todd”. There were six cast members, and a small group of musicians, completely improvised the production, which was incredibly impressive. The story took twists and turns based on the lines chosen by the cast, and, occasionally, paused sections by the compare to ask extra suggestions from the audience. It ended up being a story of a guy finding ihs true mother and coming to terms with that revelation. The title, as chosen by the audience, was “If you want to be my psychic.”
After the show, we headed back to Megan’s flat briefly, and met a friend of Megan’s who was also studying in Edinburgh. We left again to go to dinner at George Square, a large garden with many food trucks and stages, all forming part of the Fringe. The ground was covered in a green carpet, to stop the mud from being churned up. After browsing the stalls, we each went for a different selection of foods. I ordered a wood-fried pizza; others had Thai food or pork buns.
There was no spare seating in the gardens, so we instead went out to the beer garden at the Pear Tree, a nearby pub. We sat outside where there were seats free, which culminated in me holding an umbrella over the group, and others huddled under their rain jackets. When we had finished our meals and drinks, we moved on to the next venue, down on Cowgate. This place was teeming with people; some dancing to loud music, others queuing for shows. We decided we ought to see a show; and many of the shows at this venue for free, so we soon enough found ourselves in line to see a rotating set of four comedians.
This venue was long and thin, set in an attic of an old pub. We managed to get seats in the second row. The show was opened with a short section from the MC, scoping out the audience a little and picking on a few people nearby. At some point, his speech came to talk about Canada, and when asking for Canadians in the audience, Jacqueline and Krittika got brought in. Later, Annalise was heckled a little after a set up for New Zealanders which meant that I, sitting between the two, was interrogated as an Australian. Nothing more than the usual stereotypical banter, but it did make the show feel a little more personal.
The first of the four acts was of a white guy with long brown hair and a long beard, who had prepared a set on the fact that he looked like Jesus. The second was a rather self-aware American living in the UK for the past decade, the third was a tall guy who sang songs about his wife on a guitar, and the fourth was a loud-voiced American wearing sunglasses and bling. Overall, it was a fairly enjoyable way to spend the evening.
Finally, as it was approaching midnight, it was time to head home. We spent a little time sorting out the sleeping arrangements, then fairly quickly hit the pillows to get some much-awaited rest.