Back in harness after a packed day at the Edinburgh Fringe festival.
I took the scenic route to Edinburgh, past Otterburn battlefield and through the Redesdale forest. Very scenic, all mist-shrouded hills and farmland. Then crossed the border and encountered Scotland's premier revenue-generating industry: the speed camera.
Literally every few miles - what an absolute pain. I'm about 90% sure I wont be getting an official envelope with a Scots postmark. (The honeymoon's over for speed cameras in England - south of the border, they're few and far between.)
Edinburgh is absolutely buzzing for both the International Arts Festival and it's accompanying 'Fringe'. There are street performers everywhere, flags and bunting, and everybody seems to be having a blast.
We picked up our tickets from the festival office - girl behind the counter read out the events I'd pre-booked and asked if that was right. I looked back deadpan and told her she'd just blown the whole day's surprises. She was mortified! Fortunately, my better half had been reading posters, rather than listening to the transaction - the element of surprise was maintained! We got our map of the venues, and over a leisurely brunch I found and marked all our event locations - all our venues were within a 1.5km radius. (Which is a somewhat anally-retentive way of telling you it was all within easy walking distance!
First stop: Japanese traditional dancing.
Herself's a huge dance fan, so I thought we'd start with something right up her street.
The show was composed of several dance pieces - some traditional, some newly commissioned - based on the customs and history of rural Akita. There was a 400-year old katana-wielding victory dance, some new pieces based on a famous painting of the local peasantry's preparations for winter, and an interval with sake and local smoked pickles.
Then there was a short film explaining the tradition of the Namahage - grotesquely masked and costumed demon figures which visit each house, roaring and stamping, to check for "crybabies and lazy, bad behaviour persons". These hulking figures were rampaging about, while the younger infants of the houses were bawling in terror. The adults think it's healthy for the kids to get a good scare, and happily hold their panic-stricken offspring up to the Namahage (who are eventually placated by sake, before moving on to the next house.) I thoroughly approved, but I'm a monster.
That was followed by a Namahage dance, obviously.
The dancing was very impressive - the movements so perfectly controlled - and was accompanied by traditional Japanese instrumentation which segued seamlessly but surprisingly into big, brassy, Lalo Schiffrin-style jazz during a couple of the modern pieces.
Next we went to a one-man show called "Eric's Tales of the Sea".
(I chose it on the title, because herself is Anglo-Swedish, and has several relatives called 'Eric', who were sailors!)
It turned out to be the reminiscences of a retired submariner.
The venue was one of Edinburgh's famous vaults, and the arched room was made to suggest a sub's interior, with black panelling, red lighting and sonar 'pings'. At first, the show was a likeable mix of rough-and-ready naval humour and touching comradeship... then the mood changed to almost unbearable tension as Eric recounted the horrifying story of an emergency escape drill from a sub 603-feet down, which turned into a genuine emergency. The whole audience were holding their breath!
I'd booked a show called 'The Artist' next.
The show used a mixture of mime, prop comedy, dance and acrobatics, to depict a struggling artist trying to paint a picture. He was sabotaged at every turn by comically uncooperative everyday objects, and by his own tendency for distraction. It wasn't what I expected (it was listed under 'dance'), but it was really inventive and entertaining. My favourite moment was the bored artist repurposing his 'still life' bowl of fruit as a banana nightclub, with a determined pear trying to evade the banana doorman to gain entry. Inspired lunacy!
What I really liked about this show was how universal it was - you could have an audience of all ages, who needn't understand a word of english, and they'd all be entertained.
"Dollywould" next: two wildly obsessive Dolly Parton fans tell their idol's life story (conflated with the life story of Dolly the cloned sheep, who was named after Dolly Parton.) and the story of their pilgrimage to Dollywood (conflated with the story of their visit to the neighbouring Tennessee Body Farm, where research into human decomposition is carried out.)
It's punctuated with Dolly's greatest hits, and - I swear I did not know this when I booked - much of it is performed topless!
It was.... different.
Tuneful, of course - infectiously celebratory - subversive in an affectionate (and refreshingly non-snarky) way - but good gracious, so much jiggling.
Lastly: "Garry Starr performs Everything".
The premise of the show is that failed actor Garry Starr has been dumped by the Royal Shakespeare Company. They think he's a complete train wreck - he thinks he's an unappreciated theatrical genius.
The audience is invited to watch Starr vindicate himself by single-handedly performing every known genre of theatre.
To some extent, it went for easy targets - Shakespeare's long-winded, Pinter employs pauses, ballet involves prancing about. But the show's fast-moving, so nothing outstays its welcome, and Starr has that thing of 'having to be really good at something, in order to be able to do it comedically badly'. Some cringe-inducing audience participation aspects made the front row a very dangerous location. We were there. I did things. I don't want to talk about it.
My pick of the street performers were some tremendous Flamenco musicians from Granada.
If I'd done anything differently - more of the same, to be honest. Stayed over and done two days of shows!
After that lot, I couldn't be bothered playing speed-camera hide and seek in the dark, so it was home via the A-roads. (Still plenty of speed cameras on the Scots side of the border, but way easier to spot on a straight, well-lit road.)
There you go - Fringe in a day!
It can be done, but I would have appreciated a nice long lie-in this morning...