Our daughter (now 10) loves stories more than almost anything. Increasingly she loves them in films as much as in books but however she imbibes them stories are her thing, sometimes her best friends. For this reason we ventured to the (very expensive) madness that is Edinburgh in August again this year to take her to events at the city's annual Book Festival. We got a wee holiday out of it too and there are notes below for anyone who's interested (last year's trip here...for people who prefer old news).
We got the 8.32 East Coast train from Montrose on Saturday morning. Nothing of any importance to report.
We went to the same one as last year (near the Book Festival... Italian...obscene hot chocolate...very fancy). We do have posh cafés in Angus...but there's something about the Edinburgh ones – they have very different people-watching opportunities for a start. In Angus it's all a bit "isn't that the woman from the butcher's?" whilst Edinburgh has that capital city "anyone could walk in" possibility going on (I mean I once saw Mr T in London...). Our Girl's drink looked like this (all photos by Mark on his phone):
3.Book Festival 1
Next we wandered down to the Book Festival in Charlotte Square. In the first of a small series of sort-of famous people-spotting I saw poet Simon Armitage greeting visitors with big hugs in the foyer area (his own visitors, you understand...not just everyone who passed by...). I recognised him (a) because he's often in the papers and (b) because I went to a couple of his StAnza events back in 2009 (ramble on that if you want it is here). He is very much the friendly face of poetry (and therefore slagged off regularly online by bitter, less successful people...). I like him more and more... not that that really matters to him, of course.
We looked at what was on today and our Girl was obviously keen to get in there and start soaking it all up so we bought spontaneous tickets for Philip Ardagh at 1.30pm. I left her and her Dad to that one and headed north for art (they both enjoyed the Ardagh event very much by the way – highly recommended).
4.Art for me - Inverleith House (Botanic Gardens)
An artist friend (Kim Canale) had mentioned on facebook about an exhibition of work by American painter Joan Mitchell and the recommendation was so enthusiastic that I felt I had to look in. I'm really glad I went as it was SO great – there were bright, wild, abstract paintings, a beautiful setting and fascinating dvd about Mitchell on in the basement (I sat and watched the whole thing – bliss...and one reason why you don't take your child with you to a gallery...). I loved the whole experience (I have been to this gallery before but the whole package this time was fantastic). I wrote a wee poem about (or connected to...) one of the paintings (been doing that a lot lately) and I might post it soonish. The Mitchell exhibition is on in Edinburgh till 3rd October.
I walked to and from the Botanics...because it's such a lovely walk (the Water of Leith, Stockbridge and all) and because I am, undoubtedly, addicted to walking (it is probably the closest thing I have to praying or anything like that). Also it keeps me fit (and allows me to eat more cake and drink more hot chocolate).
I picked up (and bought) poet Kathleen Jamie's not-poetry book 'Findings' in a second hand bookshop in Stockbridge. Maybe I'll read it when I finish the excellent Zadie Smith essays book I was talking about the other day (here). I'm pretty sure I first heard about this Jamie book via another blog recommendation from a while back (Juliet Wilson – was it you?) and recommendations are partly what this post is about, I suppose. Blogs and facebook come in for a lot of stick but I get most of my good tips and recommendations from the online pages these days.
I got back to the family and we wandered over to where we were staying. As we went we saw Australian jugglers by the National Gallery (the exhibition in there looked interesting too but I find I can only look at so many art exhibitions in one day... plus it was a payer). Then we wandered down the heaving Royal Mile (well, we are still tourists) and it seemed busier than ever this year. Our Girl loves hearing all the different languages and now asks what they all are (some I know, some I don't).
We've stayed in all kinds of places in Edinburgh (youth hostel, nice hotels, chain hotels...) but we stayed in one of those new, bright, central hostels this year... partly because it was the only thing we could get at quite short notice that would let us stay only one night at this time of year.
9.Cup of tea
Vital. Without it I am nothing.
10.Scottish Poetry Library
I left my people settling in to our new (temporary) home and nipped down to the SPL to deliver posters for the October event in Montrose. I had a quick nosey at the exhibition on there but I wasn't really in the mood by then... and I had to be somewhere else anyway. I was excited to see Helena Nelson's name in big letters on the StAnza leaflet for next year though (and do I hear Hugh McMillan will be on next year too...truly a year for brilliant poetry!). They sell my postcards in the SPL shop (have done for years now)...always nice to be on a shelf or in a rack somewhere in town.
11.Dean's Dad's Ducks
Somehow I've managed never to get to an event at the Edinburgh Fringe – until this year. I went to the Tattoo as a child (with someone else's family) but other than that it's mainly that I've rarely been in the city at Festival time, I think. So as we were there this year...and had some time...all of us saw our first Fringe event. Following a tip from aforementioned Helena Nelson (see here) we went to a show about family and fiction by the Suffolk poet Dean Parkin. We loved it (all 4 of us – man, woman, poet and child) and even more so as it was just how you imagine the Fringe (funny little venue, another show just out, another one going straight in after). I also, while we're mentioning her, like the latest post at Helena's HappenStance blog (see here). She really does write beautifully, you know.
Girl loves pasta and we don't have an Italian restaurant in Montrose (boo! Or even boo hoo...)... so we had an Italian meal (hurray!). It was delicious.
After an early start and a busy day (and wine for the over 18s) Mark and Girl were ready to flake out in the bunk beds. Never an early-to-bed I thought I might just catch one more show so...
We were staying just around the corner from a fringe venue called the Banshee Labyrinth and at about 10pm there was a poetry thing on I had read about somewhere (via poet Claire Askew on facebook maybe) so I thought I'd go and give it a try (because I like to at least try all sorts of words and sounds and stuff). It was a trio of guys called the Chemical Poets and I stayed for about 15 minutes but I'm afraid it wasn't for me so I gave up and crept out after that (maybe the name should have been a clue...I never liked the Chemical Brothers much either). These poets have skill for sure (very fast, very flexible) and others in the crowd seemed to like it (good atmosphere...buzz, excitement...all that) but for me it was kind of headache material (and I wanted to enjoy it, I really did). Maybe it was partly that I didn't get all the references (we watch, read and enjoy very different things I imagine...). Maybe I'm too old...though I don't think it's that...they didn't look that young and I'm quite keen on some of what young rappy London poet Kate Tempest is doing (see here). And it's definitely not that it's political in places – unlike a lot of people I really like quite a lot of political poetry (rant on the subject and not particularly good poem here). It's also not that they're all blokes – at least 50% of my favourite poets are men (Gil Scott Heron, Philip Larkin, Hugh McMillan, Adrian Mitchell, Lemn Sissay, plenty of others...) and in fact oddly (for someone who doesn't mind being called a feminist at least some of the time) I have put on more men than women at events I've organised so far. And yet still...it wasn't for me. I think a lot of it is to do with speed of delivery because I really hate it when all the poems are thrown out as fast as this lot were doing...certainly in the bit I saw it was all full-on, no changes of pace, no time to think. For me this is all wrong - it's not a race, we are not 'Poetry Top Gear' - and if you've spent ages working on something then presumably you think it's good enough to let your audience actually hear it, maybe even think about it (do I sound old here...yes...undoubtedly...but old isn't always wrong). I can understand why they do it all so fast like this (lots of reasons - youth, excitement, craziness, nerves, adrenalin, sometimes drugs, sometimes lack of drugs, competition, display of prowess, desperation, motivation...) but it just turns me right off, simple as that, and it reminds me of ravin' DJs who always had to play everything on the fastest possible speed. But then I'm 43 now...and not a DJ any more but a housewife (of sorts)... and these guys were obviously hip hop fans and I've never hung around long in that section of the record shop (though I've liked some bits and pieces...probably a lot of what they'd call hip hop classics these days... this, for example, and of course, this). Maybe, on that note, I might have preferred it if there had been some music to counterbalance the what in the end felt (to me) like nagging voices (isn't hip hop as much about the best beats as the best lines...I'm sure it used to be). But what does it really matter, they're doing well, the Chemical Poets, so I read, and it's probably just what some people want (plenty more like it on youtube...). One thing I didn't understand – at least one of the sections was about being Scottish (and not American) and yet they didn't sound Scottish at all... they sounded a bit English, a bit American (like a lot of British kids these days). [See comments for one of the Chemicals explaining this section and the accent angle...]. And of course they is white too...oh, but let's not get into that...
A bit disappointed, I went back to the hostel and tried to sleep. Some hope. It was very, very noisy inside and out and, unlike the other two, I can't sleep through noise at all well. I listened to some music through headphones, read the paper, thought a lot about the guys stuck in a mine in Chile, tried not to listen to the guy (from bloody Yorkshire!) who was laughing loud enough to wake the long dead outside our window (for hours!). I could cheerfully have strangled him... but I didn't (I went to Quaker school don't forget and we are a peaceful people...).
In the morning we had a cheap breakfast, packed up and returned to the streets. There was still a lot of city life to take in before the train home...
We watched an English actor pretend to be a French clown on a unicycle. As you do. Here he is:
18.Posh cafe 2
Almond croissants...never a better foodstuff invented. Hark at me – I'm just so bourgeois.
19.Book Festival 2
Finally it was time for the bit our Girl had been waiting for – Francesca Simon (author of the 'Horrid Henry' books) at the Book Festival. Simon was very entertaining and lovely and read a new Henry story that contained death metal lyrics (for kids). We loved it. Girl got books signed. Like this:
In the meantime Mark went to a reading by Linda Polman (freelance news journalist – read about her book 'War Games' here) and then, as we sat in the corner of the book signing tent, he spotted Sarah Brown (wife of the just ex Prime Minister of Great Britain) queuing with her kids to get books signed by the marvellous children's writer/illustrator Nick Sharratt. I wouldn't have recognised S Brown, to be honest, but Mark watches the news, reads the news, is a grown-up. It was our Girl recognised Nick Sharratt (he is her kind of famous person).
On an unrelated point one thing I noticed at the festival this year was that the poetry section in the main bookshop seemed much smaller. I'm not necessarily saying that's is a bad thing...I'm just mentioning it.
I'd seen lots of mentions of the Martin Creed exhibition at the Fruitmarket Gallery online and it is near the station so we wandered down to that. Creed's is just the kind of art that upsets people (even more than abstract painting like Joan Mitchell's does these days) and this show had chairs stacked on top of each other, a lego stack and lots of other things you could easily dismiss if you wanted to (or hype out of all proportion on the flipside, if you wanted to do that). It made me think how weird it is for artists these days (and it's similar for poets of course) because the rebelling (the fun part) has all been done really so now it's just getting on with it and either (a) succeeding and having most people think you're crap whatever you do or (b) failing and ditto. As it happens I quite liked Creed's felt tip pictures (thoughts on colour and all that... not breathtaking but not dull either) and I loved the singing lift (could have gone up and down in it all day, as it were) but none of it was knock-out stuff for me. It was OK.
We got our bags from the hostel and then went to eat more Italian food. Lucky us.
On the way back north we had seats in the quiet coach but sadly so did a stag party from Aberdeen (all the clichés turned up loud – the shouting, the silly clothes, the drink, the swearing, the leering). They weren't too bad but it was all so predictable that it was desperately boring (did they copy their stag do from TV's 'Gavin and effing Stacey' I wondered...). It wasn't what anyone would call quiet so in the end...we moved. Then there were signalling problems by Arbroath so the train sat on the Tay bridge for half an hour or so. There was a beautiful sunset...
and only minimal nervous sweating from me about falling into the (very big) river. Instead we played trivial pursuit on a phone and I thought more about the Chilean miners...and what it must be like to be really stuck (our train moved on eventually... obviously).
We got there and went to sleep...with no tourists to be seen and no men from Yorkshire shouting outside our window. Peace, peace, and more peace. Peace out.
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