Why Edinburgh bus drivers are stars of the Fringe – Vladimir McTavish

The students handing out flyers to uninterested punters deserve a medal. Picture: Getty
The students handing out flyers to uninterested punters deserve a medal. Picture: Getty
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It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but spare a thought for the folk who keep the whole, marevellous Fringe show on the road, writes Vladimir McTavish

It’s the first weekend in August and there is absolutely no doubt that there is a definite scent of the Fringe in the Edinburgh air. There is a certain smell one can always detect in this first weekend of the month, as our fragile Scottish summer lingers towards its conclusion. It is that unmistakable melange of congested traffic, confused tourists and desperate artistes. It heralds in our month of shaking off our Calvinistic inhibitions and indulge in a full month of hedonistic merry-making.

The Stand's cowboy doesn't decamp south at the end of August

The Stand's cowboy doesn't decamp south at the end of August

If truth be told, I had smelled the scent of Fringe in the air around Monday of last week when the heavens opened and the entire city was engulfed by the kind of deluge from above that saw our streets turned into rivers, as the rain poured down on all of us heathens. I could almost hear John Knox warning us infidels that our party came with a cost. “That’s what happens if you turn churches into theatres where the public pay to see filth,” he was doubtless thinking.

And, of course, were there ever to be a surer sign that festival time is upon us, Edinburgh City Council decided to dig up every available space of road where there wasn’t already a massive hole surrounded by high-visibility cones. It would, of course, make no sense to carry out roadworks and street diversions at a less busy time of the year.

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I have gone on record a number of times as an open, enthusiastic fan of the Fringe. I live in this beautiful old lady of a city 12 months of the year. For 11 of those months, it is an elegant, archaic work of art. For the month of August, it is the craziest zoo on the planet and I love every minute of this circus of self-indulgence. I just wish the weather was kinder and that the infrastructure could cope a wee bit better too.

We really have reached saturation point in terms of vehicles on the city’s streets all year round, never mind when the entire globe descends upon our wee town for three-and-a-half weeks.

I am not the only artist on the Fringe this year performing a show about the fragility of our planet. Indeed, the amount of times we hear about how we are destroying the Earth, the more we think we are listening to the same record being played on continuous loop.

Goodness knows what the carbon footprint is of Edinburgh in August but it would doubtless make anyone worried about the environment a wee bit concerned to see the amount of paper used in publicising the entire shebang. I reckon a couple of huge forests die each year to provide the flyers for the whole party.

Then, of course, that does not even factor in the artists jetting in from all over the world, or driving up here from every corner of the UK. On top of that, there are probably enough plastic bottles discarded by the end of week one to feed an entire family of dolphins for a month.

Yet, somehow, we all survive this month. Somehow, Edinburgh always scrubs itself up brilliantly for its one month in the spotlight. And I, for one, am proud of that.

I am proud of the unsung heroes of this self-indulgent self-referential bacchanalia. The bar staff on minimum wage, the students handing out flyers to uninterested punters, the venue staff working 12-hour shifts who never get a glimpse of the glamorous side of showbusiness, the luckless idiots who have mortgaged their entire future to produce a play that turns out to be a massive flop, but most of all to the men and women who make our capital city of work 24-7 all year round, the bus drivers of Edinburgh.

We are rightly proud of having the best bus service of any city in the UK, publicly-owned and run. We have the newest fleets of buses of any city I have visited and if a service does not run to time it is so unusual to be worth remarking on. Our bus drivers are the people who make our festival city the friendly place it is, who get us from A to B to C and back again to A at all times of night and day. They are worth their weight in gold. Or perhaps, gold is itself worth its weight in maroon and white.

We have the best bus service of any city I have visited anywhere in the world. That is due in no small part to the men and women who take us to our daily work and to our nights out. I for one think they should get every penny they are asking for.

They’re laughing all the way to the bank – and it’s not in Edinburgh

The Fringe is not only party time in Edinburgh – it’s also the city’s equivalent of a harvest festival, its most bountiful time of year.

Almost every available room of any adequate size, and many more of inadequate size, becomes the home of a pop-up comedy venue. It seems that we cannot get enough laughter in Auld Reekie in August.

There is no doubting that the Fringe, and all the other summer festivals, are the cornerstone of the Capital’s economy. From the end of July until nearly the start of September, the cash registers never stop ringing in city’s bars, hotels and restaurants. Taxi drivers are busy, the railway station and the airport are packed to capacity – all full of visitors spending money. Many drawn to Edinburgh to watch a comedy show and have a laugh.

And we do have a laugh in August, a lot of laughs in fact. In fact, many people are laughing all the way to the bank. One of the problems, however, is that quite a lot of those banks are nowhere near Edinburgh.

After the big comedy promoters like Assembly and Underbelly roll out of town, a lot of that money goes with them and is deposited into some bank in London, or some offshore account, or who knows where. It certainly does not end up in the Pilton branch of the TSB, if indeed that branch is still open.

The Stand, the Monkey Barrel, the Gilded Balloon and the Scottish Comedy Festival all have a year-round presence in the city. They make profits, sure they do. But much of that profit is re-invested in the city. So, when you buy your Fringe ticket this weekend, if it’s a choice between The Stand’s cowboy or Underbelly’s purple cow, give the cowboy your cash. He’s not going to take the money and run.