Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Taking the tips - Edinburgh August 2010

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).

1.Train down

We got the 8.32 East Coast train from Montrose on Saturday morning. Nothing of any importance to report.

2.Posh café
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).

8.Hostel 1

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 Duck
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.

13.Hostel 2
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...

15.Hostel 3

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...).

16.Hostel 4

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.

20.Musical stairs

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.

21.More food

We got our bags from the hostel and then went to eat more Italian food. Lucky us.

22.Train back
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.


martine said...

Now that's a real adventure:-)
much love martine

The Weaver of Grass said...

What a lovely time you had - glad you bought 'Findings' - it is one of my favourite books.

Rachel Fox said...

All cities are full of stuff to do and places to go but Edinburgh is almost overflowing with it all... especially in August. It seems mad really... all those shows (some with small audiences) whilst there are people in out-of-the-way places who would love the chance to see some of them. Still, that's the festival system. And it certainly makes it all exciting...for 48 hours anyway.

swiss said...

so organised! i really seem to have lost it with the blogging these days...

i did go to martin creed. i found it profoundly depressing.

Rachel Fenton said...

Totally fab - loved reading all that - had been reading Ed Fest updates online and feeling rather envious that I couldn't go and then foolish because I never went when I could have! - Thanks, I feel like I've been now!

Hot choc looked like breakfast/dinner/tea all in one! (Proper prol speak for you there)!

Rachel Fox said...

Swiss - I'm sure you're doing lots of other things... I am still in the post-Mum-death water-treading period and doing stuff like this keeps me ticking along. As for the Creed... I've never produced any visual art of my own (and I know you have) so art exhibitions don't depress me in the way that, say, shit books/films do. I just find it all interesting in galleries (why did they do that? Why does someone think that is good? and so on). I have lots of friends who are visual artists in one way or another (and very few writers...) and I do just find the whole subject of the visual interesting - partly because it's so foreign to me (though of course it was the audio,not the visual, that I liked most in the Creed show... perhaps that says something else!).

Rachel - last year someone said my account of the (similar) trip made them feel they were tucked in my rucksack going round the place with me. So, nice to have you in the backpack this year!


Rachel Fenton said...

Doh - that was me I think!!!

Rachel Fox said...

I can't find the comment now...maybe it was another trip...

Rachel Fox said...

Remembered the rucksack thing this morning....it was Poetikat back when I went to StAnza in March 2009 (here).

Dave King said...

What a fantastic trip - and a post to do it justice. (Nothing like a posh cafe with people-watching opportunities, though, is there? Hope we get to see "the wee poem" soon. (I, too have been doing that of late.)

Hugh McMillan said...

Good adventures, Rachel.

Immensely honoured by your admiration for my pottery and the way you keep dropping my name into lists containing really good writers without apparently blushing or sniggering. Thank you so much.

Rachel Fox said...

Thanks for reading, Dave.

And Shug...I wonder where they're going to put you at StAnza... I hope it's not in that horrible cellar room!


Totalfeckineejit said...

What a great trip and the cafes ( ilove cafes) sound amazing.Never been to edinburgh, would like to go.Was at a wedding in Loch Lomond once and sawa bit o glasgee.

Rachel Fox said...

There's a reason people come from all over the world to live in Edinburgh... it really is a knock-out city - visually as much as anything. I'm sure if you live there there are downsides (the cost of everything, the tourists, the number of English people everywhere...) but for visitors it's pretty special (a bit fairy tale in some ways... but I've nothing against that...not these days anyway).

hope said...

Wow...I'm exhausted just reading this! I love your Girl's cup of chocolate and her lovely hair. I can't believe she's growing so fast! Thanks for sharing.

Rachel Fox said...

I know...she grows with the blog! She was six when I started writing on here...and she's 10 now!

Sarah said...

Wow what a great and varied trip with such great descriptions! I love Edinburgh and enjoy reading things where I actually know the places! I have been to the festival a couple of times but not for years now. Such fun! I love Nick Sharratt books-they are so good for the age I teach-and for me! Glad you had a good time.

Rachel Fox said...

He was lovely and friendly too (Nick Sharratt). He did our Girl a lovely autograph with a drawing and everything... and she wasn't even at his event.

Titus said...

1. Bright green with jealousy.
2. We love Phillip Ardagh
3. No. 9 - so with you.
4. I love the Poetry Top Gear comment.
5. I want the not-so-small-girl's hair, very badly.

Sounds like a fantastic time, and brilliant run-down!

Rachel Fox said...

Jealousy...I'll swap you that weekend for the intro McMillan just did for your new book!

As for 'Top Gear'... it's been in the news lately hence it's inclusion I suppose. I'm not a regular viewer or anything.

And the lovely hair... I know, I know. She is quite dazzling at times.


Rachel Fox said...

And that photo of her was after an early-morning, rush-for-train, comb-dragged-through-it start. Imagine if she ever got into the hands of someone who knew what they were doing!

Texture AKA Bram E. Gieben said...

Thanks for the review Rachel! Sorry the show wasn't to your tastes. I felt I had to comment on one thing you said though...

Regarding our 'Scottishness' credentials, the poem you are talking about was mine. It was intended to be a celebration of Scottish hip-hop bands (many of whom I namechecked in the rhyme - I have worked as a journalist publicising Scottish hip-hop for several years).

It had nothing to do with 'being Scottish' and everything to do with what it is like living in Scotland. It is about Scottish hip-hop being relegated to the sidelines by the media, the record companies, and the public, because of preconceptions about accents. It is about genuinely amazing artists like Eaters and Penpushers who never get their due, because they are not the 'traditional' Scottish musical success story (ie. indie bands from Glasgow).

In terms of my own accent and origins, I was born in England to a Scottish mother and Dutch father. I have lived in Scotland since I was 11 years old, went to high school here, and have received grants from the Scottish Arts Council... so does my accent still rule me out from being included as Scottish? Would this be a less racist proposition if my accent was Polish, say, or French?

I have always been singled out as an outsider because my accent has remained English. It seems that this will always be the case.

I find myself typical of the 'mongrel' origins of all Britain. Yes, an accent is a good indicator of where someone is from... but just because someone sounds English, it doesn't necessarily mean they can't profess love for, or feel they belong to, the country where they have lived for the majority of their lifetime.

My fellow Chemicals have also lived in Scotland for most of their lives - hQ has roots in America, Tickle in England and Scotland. We are all proud to identify as Scottish.

As for us not being black, and that being a problem vis-a-vis us doing hip-hop.... well, if you're only going to tangentially mention it without passing comment about what you mean, so will I.

Thanks for coming to our show!

Texture AKA Bram E. Gieben said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Texture AKA Bram E. Gieben said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachel Fox said...

Well, I did say I didn't understand that bit of your show...and you've added an explanation so thanks for that. I too am a bit Scottish (sort of...my Mum was always a bit in two minds about how Scottish she was) and I sound completely English. Likewise my partner is half Scottish (and sounds English) and our daughter is quite a bit Scottish (never sure how much...how do you work it out?) but insists on talking like the bloody Queen (that's her rebellion...)...so basically it is something I know a bit about. Plus I live in Scotland and am to all sounds and appearances English. Not always feeling the love exactly.

My interest is because I am a linguist of sorts and so interested in how people sound...and as I say I just wondered why that poem was being read in that accent. But now I know. You can't always assume people know who you are...and while we're on the subject one thing I missed in your show was the poems being put into context really. I love poets doing introductions to their work - quite unfashionable I think but it can be so brilliant. Have you ever seen Hugh McMillan (very Scottish!) - the master of the poem intro. She speaks nice and slowly too.


Rachel Fox said...

And now I've just called McMillan a woman! I meant HE not SHE! Oh jeez, the locals are coming....

Rachel Fox said...

And by the way I've never heard of Eaters or Penpushers...so maybe an intro to that poem would help them get better known...the point of your piece, no?

Indie bands...they're terrifying...like a neverending tidal wave or something.


Rachel Fox said...

Plus 'racist' is a big word. Use it wisely.

Rachel Fox said...

And another thing! All that 'outsider' stuff...please don't think you're the only one with that claim. Nearly all writers and performers feel that way... that's the drive! I could list my outsider details from now till xmas...as could most people who visit here. It's nothing special.

Rachel Fox said...

Now I'm looking like a fanatic...but here's the master with a few words

Anonymous said...

hia rachel.

i just wanted to add a further reason why we might have performed quickly (at least for the first twenty minutes). personally i do it cos i like the way it sounds.

it's blatently not to everyone's taste though. :D

also thought a teuchter such as yourself might like this?


peace and hugs


Rachel Fox said...

That is good! Makes me want a pie too...there must be somewhere open...

and I'd say you all have daft names except when I was a DJ my mate and i were called Daisy & Havoc. Hmm. No legs to stand on there then!


Anonymous said...


the reason i signed my post tickle was cos it's my nickname. the other guys don't generally get addressed by their stage names off stage (though maybe online) but i'm tickle to most folk.

tickle mcnicholl


Rachel Fox said...

Now it makes sense! I like it.

People really did call me 'Havoc'...and my real name isn't even Rachel (I used another name for writing for simplicity and ended up making things complicated...long story).