day 22: friends in edinburgh

After the early night, it was fairly easy to drag myself out of bed on Friday morning to meet Mum and Nick, who have come back into town for today. We went to the Mussel Inn, which is one of my favourite places to eat in the whole of Edinburgh.

After that I went to meet Steve Bloomfield (whose talk about his book I saw yesterday), and some others – including the flashback – in the Just The Tonic bar.

Well – at least, I’d like to say ‘friend’ because I always liked him tremendously. But as my boy Aristotle says, you can only truly be friends with your equals, and back in my immature undergraduate days I was probably too envious of him for being so incredibly brilliant and high-achieving while I was stuck in my room trying to record crap songs. He was the star reporter of the Liverpool Student; he had a really lovely and very gorgeous girlfriend (he still does); he wrote and directed a play; and in my final year he was elected President of the Guild of Students.

In some ways, when I got to Warwick and realised I had a second chance at doing University properly, I probably subconsciously tried to model myself on his renaissance-man brilliance.

Anyway, these days he’s still frighteningly high-achieving. He’s had a pretty spectacular journalistic career so far covering Africa and global politics, and he recently published his book about football in Africa (which I’d like to say more about but unfortunately haven’t read).

But more importantly, he is still an extremely nice, witty, quietly confident chap, and it was lovely to see him. And hey – I might not have published any books about Africa, but I’ve got quite a good blog, I get a few paid stand-up gigs now and again and I hang out with the cast of the 80’s Movie Flashback, so I reckon that makes us equal enough nowadays to be friends. And it was really nice to see him after so long.

The day’s biggest downside was the dropouts we had from the showcase. I thought I’d booked a really fantastic lineup for a big Friday night crowd: Julian Deane to open, Patch Hyde and Timmy in the middle and James Sherwood to close. But then Julian sent a very polite text to say he couldn’t make it, and Patch let me know that he would have to drop out too because Tony Dunn needed him for his gig (which was annoying for the gig, but as friend of both of them, I knew was totally the right thing – I get the impression that Tony has been horribly unlucky with people dropping out of his show, and I don’t begrudge Patch being there to help fix that at all).

Then when the show got going, the audience seemed small and unresponsive. Even James couldn’t get much life out of them and by the end of his set looked just about ready to go home. I think he’s probably not the only one. The showcase has generally been a lot less fun this week than it was in the first half of the festival, and I think numbers have dropped as the people of Edinburgh have got increasingly fed up with us.

But then the Flashback was just amazing. We knew there were likely to be TV people in, as well as Fraser’s boss, so we packed the audience with our friends.

And it absolutely rocked. The others were hitting all the right notes in all the right places, adlibs were getting good laughs and everything went right. It was as good a performance of the show as there is ever likely to be.

Annoyingly, it was the only show we forgot to get on video.

Still, it had been a good day; and it got even better when we went to the Library Bar and Robert White showed us the Malcolm Hardee award he had just been given. That, on top of Imran’s Best Newcomer nomination earlier in the week, made it really felt like a really bloody good festival. And we went and danced and laughed and were happy in a way that I have never been in the last week of an Edinburgh Festival before.

One strange thing about Edinburgh is the strange things it does to your idea of friendship: last week I got annoyed at having friends and family in town because it took me away from the festival. But Aristotle is right: a sense of commonality and shared experiences is a necessary condition of friendship. And so immersive and intense is the Edinburgh experience that friends in Edinburgh can only really be your friends if they are doing shows too. Those people who have those same nerves, those same crushing, humiliating defeats, that same sense of exaltation when things go well. These are the only people I can relate to while I’m here.

Which would be depressing, if it weren’t for how much affection I feel for the rest of the flashback, for other performers who I like, how incredibly proud that makes me when they do well. In Edinburgh, these people are my best friends. They are the only people who could be.



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