Joseph Ridgwell

The Edinburgh Festival is Degenerate and Depraved

It was late afternoon when we tumbled out of an Edinburgh tram and hit the streets of Auld Reekie running. Collectively known as The International Lit Fiends, we were in town to check out the world famous Edinburgh Festival.

Each August – peak summer time – the peaceful tranquility enjoyed by Dunediners is ripped asunder by what can only be described as a mass invasion of undesirables, perverts, megalomaniacs, criminal elements, religious cranks, ego-trippers and just ordinary weirdo’s. Having proudly never attended a festival in my four decades on the planet it was to my initial horror that I had relocated to a beautiful city that fostered and indeed actively promoted such a ghastly abomination. For natives of Scotland’s capital the Festival is a major inconvenience – a stress ball of such magnitude that it inflicts great trauma – and has even been rumoured to be the cause of premature death. Understandably, as well as the mass invasion there is a simultaneous mass exodus – with most native sons and daughters fleeing the city for the entire duration.

Having abandoned our taxi’s in North Bridge due to gridlock – something that never happened the rest of the year we – The Lit Fiends – hotfooted it to Edina’s legendary book shop People Power in West North Street. On the way masses of tourists and lost looking fruits wandered around as if – in the words of Chuck Berry – they had no particular place to go. And really they didn’t. This was Fringe territory – the world’s largest arts festival – spanning 25 days, featuring upwards of 4,000 acts and 400 venues. Frankly it was chaos. The only ones profiting from the shambles were the founding fathers and any number of convenience stores. During the Festival prices sky-rocket – from a tin of mushy peas to a night in a luxury hotel – everything shoots up by at least 400%. As for the hapless performers they are ripped off via preposterous registration fees, venue hire, accommodation, and travel costs. And yet each year they return, undeterred, and ever more desperate.

At People Power all was not well. A best-selling author from New York City – had just left the shop in tears – after her event was cancelled due to lack of interest. Not a single person had walked through the door. This, despite the fact the streets were rammed with hundreds of tourists and festival -goers.

This type of author and publisher just don’t get it,’ said the erudite owner of PP.

Get what?’ I said.

You can’t just turn up at the Festival and expect people to walk through the door.’

Too much competition.’

There are more than 1,500 acts performing at any one time.’

1,500, isn’t that a little kinky?’

It gets bigger every year. It’s out of control!’

Outside on the streets the Festival was in full effect. Everywhere you looked desperate performers harangued tourists to attend their shows, shouting at them, pawing at their touristy garb, pleading, entreating, and in some cases becoming violent. Word on the Festival vine was that one female comedian had even offered free blow-jobs and cunnilingus to anyone who would attend her show. Amazingly, no one had taken up the demented offer and afterwards it was dismissed as nothing more than a publicity stunt.

After relocating to the Peach Tree pub we – The Lit Fiends – ordered drinks and waited for something to happen. As I swigged over-priced lager I recalled my stint at the Edinburgh International Book Festival the year before.

I’d been handed a free pass for the EIBF by one of Europe’s top Lit Fiends. The pass accessed all areas. I could come and go as I pleased – attend any show – but the only reason I wanted the pass was for the free food and drink. I wasn’t working at the time and each morning I rolled up and partook of the Festival breakfast. The EIBF canteen was an astonishing scene. Long lines of famous writers, mildly famous writers, writers who had once been famous and untold failed writers queueing like vagrants at an inner-city soup kitchen for repast that could only be described as public-sector primary school fare. It was then I REALISED that there really wasn’t any money in making up shit for a living.

Anyway – there remained the free booze, which being no mug I spent each evening wandering from bar to yurt to Spiegeltent, flashing my access all areas pass into the empty visages of the minimum waged minions. All the usual names were in attendance – the people who like to be seen. Ever since Marlene Dietrich sang Falling in Love Again on the stage of the famous Spiegeltent in the 1930’s – her magic mirrors had reflected thousands of artists, audiences and exotic gatherings. Subsequently it was the place to be and be seen. Nobody minded being stared at – it’s why they were there in the first place. Some even spent most of their time in the tent. They could chill-out on some of the strategically placed cushions and flea-market furniture and check out the revolving door of faces. After a couple of days and nights of that shit, however, I handed back my all access EIBF pass and retreated to my usual Edina haunts.

Meanwhile back in Fringe territory everything was going downhill – and fast. The festival-goers were getting drunker and drunker. Acts appeared and disappeared on the stage of the Peach Tree, but nobody was watching or even listening. The people were all there to say that they had been there – not to watch anything. And maybe they were right. For as an unjuried festival there is no quality control. This means that anyone with enough bees and honey to pay the extortionate reg fees can get up on stage and play out some weird fantasy masochistic – one day I’ll be famous crappola. It was all gravy. The night wore on and the Lit Fiend crowd grew restless. We had to get out of there.

Man,’ I said to Lit Fiend No. 3 standing next to me, ‘Party back at Ranchlette Ridgwell, spread the word.’

With that taxis were summoned and the literary underground got the fuck out of the depraved and degenerate mess that was the Edinburgh Festival. As the convoy headed out of the city we eyeballed the carnage. The pavements were slick with vomit, the air heavy with the scent of cannabis and crack cocaine, with prostitutes from around the globe lining every street corner. Drunks pissed themselves while queuing at ATMs, pregnant women were trampled on, homeless people robbed of their mendicant rewards, people fought at bus stops, kids were sold to peaodophiles to pay for rip-off hotel tariffs, even a few suicides.

It’s sick, sick, sick,’ mumbled Lit Fiend No. 5, as she swigged Buckfast.

Will we ever get out of here?’ wondered Lit Fiend No. 6 aloud, as he lit up a twenty-skin reefer El Granton Speciale.

I raised my can of lager, took a hit, and turned to the driver. ‘Put the peddle to the metal amigo before we get lynched.’

It was slow going. The roads were blocked with traffic and festival-goers. Faces loomed up at us into the night, peering inside the car, sitting on the bonnet, tapping and clawing at windows. It was like a scene from The Day Of The Triffids.

The driver was by now sweating cobs.‘I know a short cut, it could work,’ he said desperately.

Do what you have to do,’ I said.

The driver turned down a cobbled side street where festival-goers were less in evidence, some camped in ragged groups on the pavements, surrounded by backpacks, clutching fistfuls of flyers and other promotional paraphernalia in their grubby mitts.

Two more side streets, across a main thoroughfare, and we had made it to the other side. In Granton, we, the Lit Fiends, tumbled out of the taxi and poured into Ranchlette Ridgwell. From here on in – the rest of the night became a vicious drunken nightmare. Everyone began to fall to pieces – even as somebody played – I fall to pieces by Patsy Cline on the turntable. The convos were heavy. I got chatting to the Editor of the Midnight Gun – Edina’s only free literary publication and one which was banned by the head honcho of the EIBF, who was in turn cursed by the infamous Fairie Boy Of Leith. Not long afterwards Elizabeth Sotheby suffered a series of personal tragedies and then died. Don’t fuck with Lit Fiends is the moral to that one. Anyway more trouble was brewing on the horizon.

I’m going to have to resign in protest at the reaction to your story,’ the Editor said as we smoked liked chimneys and drank like fish in front of a black faux marble fireplace, while all around us Lit Fiends danced, shouted, fought and fell over.

But, why man, why?’ I pleaded.

Somebody has to make a stand against these bastard hypocrites. You saw what we just escaped from, decadency of the first order. And yet according to these petty bourgeoisie scum a short piece of harmless fiction has the ability to corrupt the minds of Edina’s young folk.’

How can a story about a grown man shagging a septuagenarian corrupt the minds of todays youth?’

And that’s exactly why I’m resigning. It’ll be big news, in all the papers.’

I wished the Editor luck and then mingled. The night wore on. There was a tent in the garden that veered crazily to one side, inside of which were Lit Fiends No. 9 & 10 composing drunken haikus by candlelight. Somebody pissed up a tree. An owl hooted. The survivors, what was left of us, the rabble, stayed up fighting the dawn…

Sometime around ten-thirty the following morning I was awakened by a scratching sound at my door. I rolled out of bed and hit my head against the door. My body ached all over. What had happened in the night? I tried to reach up for the handle, but the effort required to do so was beyond me. Ranchlette Ridgwell has mad over-sized doors, like something out of Alice in Wonderland. The handles are positioned at least six feet from the floorboards.

Push it open,’ I croaked.

A face appeared around the gigantic door. It was Lit Fiend No. 2 mumbling something about the need for another drink. Apparently there wasn’t a drink left in the house.

Need a drink bad,’ said Lit Fiend No. 2.

Shit,’ I said, ‘Your drinking’s getting out of control.’

Get dressed. I must get out of this place – NOW!’

Okay, okay.’

I got dressed as if I was a hundred years old. There was a nasty purple and blue bruise traversing the length of my right ribcage. I couldn’t remember any action, but you can never tell. I checked my visage in a mirror. I looked bad, not as bad as Lit Fiend No. 2 – who looked like Brian Jones warmed up – but bad enough.

Maybe we should get some more kip, recharge the batteries?’ I said.

Lit Fiend No. 2 shook his head. ‘No… no, I’ve got a bad case of the Hattie Jacques and my flight leaves at one. I’m not sure I could negotiate those rickety airstairs onto the plane. What if I’m trembling so bad I fall off, taking an air-steward with me?’

I see your point. We’ll hit the Anchor Inn. It’s a swish place, so tidy yourself up a bit as you look like shit.’

At that early hour The Anchor Inn was only half full, mostly old geezers supping quietly. We strolled up to the bar and ordered two pints and two drams.

You’ve got to stop this drinking,’ I said.

I know. This is no good, no good at all. But for some reason it makes me feel better.’

And you don’t want to turn up drunk at the airport – they might not let you board.’

Lit Fiend No. 2’s face turned white. ‘Do they do that?’

Do what?’

Not let you board if you’re pissed?’

Gerry Rafferty was once turned away because he was so drunk he couldn’t stand up.’

Lit Fiend No. 2 downed his drinks and ordered another round. ‘Maybe they were worried he was going to break out with a boozy rendition of Baker Street as they cruised 30,000 ft above sea level.’

We stood at the bar drinking. We talked about the depravity and degeneracy of the Festival. Some bar flies hovered above our heads. Gradually the pub began to fill up until it was crowded. The locals, however, gave us a wide birth. There was a ten foot circumference between us and the nearest patrons. I glanced in the mirror behind the bar, horrified at the reflections that presented themselves before my jaded optics. If anyone looked degenerate and depraved it was us!

After the eighth round of drinks Lit Fiend No. 2 held out his hand.

Steady as a rock,’ he said.

We left the Anchor Inn and stepped out into a dazzling summers day. I lowered my polarised sunglasses, essential kit for those harsh Northern hemisphere rays.

Will you make it to the airport?’ I said.

Lit Fiend No. 2 gazed determinedly ahead. ‘I have to. It’s the last available flight out of town…’

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