Pete Martin: Stand out from the crowd at Edinburgh Festival
In the world of Cohort C, Edinburgh has what it takes to satiate experience seekers as well as the usual culture vultures, writes Pete Martin
‘Good morning. I am the hotel musical director,” said the young man, just as I pronged a forkful of scrambled egg. He was tall, stooping over our table with a servility which fitted him like the cheap black suit he wore. His wide silk tie was emblazoned with a black and white keyboard – more forte than piano. It was the kind of thing a classical musician might wear if their Homer Simpson tie were in the wash.
I eyed the absurdity over my breakfast with ill-hidden ill-will. It goes without saying, I am not much of a morning person at the best of times.
Indeed, the best of times had been the previous evening when I’d graced the hotel’s rooftop bar with my wallet. Under a sky fading to velvet darkness across the Danube – the sort of soft warm summer evening that’s receding from Scottish memory – I’d sampled a few refreshing draughts.
We were probably a bit casually dressed for a hip joint with a panoramic viewpoint. But the place was quiet, save for groups of gorgeous women. My wife cursed under her breath that she hadn’t donned her own little black dress, as another bevy of Bambi-legged belles tottered up the steps.
Oddly, it reminded me of Alderley Edge, a moneyed part of greater Manchester where you can sometimes see wannabe WAGs hanging out in fancy bars in the hope of meeting footballers. If that were the strategy here, disappointment beckoned. No-one showed face who was in the ladies’ league.
Part of the problem I suspect was that the hotel’s general over-the-top opulence was not designed to attract blokes. If I were to say that the lobby looked like it had been put together by colour-blind interior designers, I’m sure that the colour-blind interior designer lobby group would be rightly outraged. The surfaces were all marble and mirror and velvet, set off with eye-watering shades of ‘soor ploom’ green and magenta.
At a push, you might think it had been designed for a Middle Eastern elite. But, like a Tony Blair peace mission, the overall outcome was hideous, as well as improbably expensive.
And so, I found myself musing the next morning in a baleful kind of way. First, I recalled why, like Nina Simone’s baby, I don’t care for high-toned places. What with the Scots’ attitude of “a man’s a man, for a’ that” and all that, there’s something about being fawned over that puts you right off your porridge. Second, and this may be a related point, I wondered why consumption is so much less conspicuous in Scotland’s capital than in other cosmopolitan cities? Are our footballers not flush enough? Are our executives not thrusting enough? Why can’t we sustain vainglorious venues, and give Scotland’s next top models somewhere to go?
Then, as the coffee kicked in, I came to a conclusion.
As in many things, I believe The Beatles got it nearly right. “Tell me that you want the kind of things that money just can’t buy. I don’t care too much for money – money can’t buy me taste.” (I know McCartney may have preferred the word ‘love’, but I think my version is more accurate.)
Too much money had simply let the hotel make an enormous, over-designed gaffe. Of course, taste is culturally conditioned – one woman’s essential frippery is another man’s wasteful decoration. Taste also tends to have a price tag, if not an overt logo, so it can signal socio-economic status. But, glancing round at the other guests, it struck me that “taste” mostly seems like an exercise in self-validation. Whatever you find beautiful makes you feel like you belong. It helps each of us cling to the idea that we’re special.
Despite being one of seven billion human beings, your existence is astonishingly improbable. You are a singularity in time and space. And yet, under the cold stare of distant stars, we seem to understand the universe doesn’t give a monkeys about mankind in general, or poor little you in particular. Or even rich little you.
So we should know that a sense of self-worth can’t be bought, at any price. If it takes “all that glisters” and the smarm of a man in a musical tie to make us feel good about our place in the world, no amount of money may paper over the cracks in our psyche.
Right now, Britain is writhing in bad taste. The hollowness at the heart of our society is encrusted with obsessive bling, and bookies, lotteries, pay day loan sharks, “don’t cook, just eat” fast food, reptilian tabloids and sleb TV. But there’s also a quiet revolution going on.
According to YouTube, a new cultural grouping has been identified. Defined by a distinctive mindset, “Cohort C” cuts across traditional demographic indicators,. In the words of the researchers, “they care passionately about creation, curation, connection, and community… they are what they share.” It’s also a big group, accounting for 40-50 per cent of every major market by 2018.
But, says Renegade Economist’s Ross Ashcroft, they are not interested in “your prestigious tat. Their definitions of wealth, prestige and success differ from their predecessors”.
That’s one reason why “experience” is the new materialism. Out on the streets of Edinburgh, Cohort C is experiencing an aesthetic extravaganza. They don’t want sunnier, shallower trips with the gaudy nothings and cocktails sliding down the throat. They prefer our grey skies and raindrops trickling down the neck.
From high drama to low comedy, a trip to the Edinburgh Festival really is an expression of the most exquisite taste. It’s cultural appreciation as self-presentation. You can be the envy of your friends, and stand out from the crowd, which is vital in sexual competition. So, the next time a leggy model sidles up to you on a rooftop bar and asks “Do you play for Manchester United?”, you can say “No, but I’ve been to the Edinburgh Festival.”