Writings

Called to prayer by bagpipes at dawn

29 July 2008 - The Herald  www.theherald.co.uk

If I were an alien who had just landed from Uranus on Edinburgh, I might think I had just landed in a very large frying pan. Upon spending more than a few minutes here, I notice a different story: it's more like a wok.

How the English arrive in your cities, backpacks full of Scottish stereotypes! There is more to Scotland than frying, drinking, and shouting, sometimes there is frying while drinking, and shouting while frying.

The first time I arrived here I found it frightening. It was not what I was expecting from the land of Sean Connery and Scottish Widows. What's all that noise so early in the mornings? Are those bagpipes the Scottish use to call to prayer? Each morning I was awoken to the sound of a little man in a red kilt playing bagpipes outside my window. Well, I think they were bagpipes. He was off tune and sounded like a tramp crushing empty cider bottles to create a noise that resembled something vaguely Scottish. No-one complained - I find the Scottish to be very supportive and tolerant.

We invade the city of Edinburgh every summer like a nasty plague with bumbags and loafers and in turn you greet us with support, laughter, and direct opinions. The Scots have been through the Roman Caledonia and the Wars of Independence - they can handle a small invasion of comedic egos. We descend on you, take your homes, take your pavements, and the Scots just embrace it and say, "may as well join in".

I've been coming to Edinburgh for the festival for the past few years, and have made a few observations.

Everyone in Edinburgh lives on the top floor. There is no life below the fourth floor.
Edinburgh is a geographical phenomenon in that it's the only city in the world where you are always walking uphill, no matter which direction you are walking in. By the time the festival ends, I'll have calves the size of beer barrels. The landlords in Edinburgh are the nicest kind. There's a bit of Lorraine Kelly in all of them. I once arrived at my accommodation in Edinburgh and it was still being built. The lovely landlord took money off my rent, took me out to dinner, and bought me a new pair of shoes while the doors were being put on their hinges.

The Scots at the festival bring a welcome sense of normality. When they approach you after your performance and that's all you want to talk about they will say things like: "You can get 12 padded envelopes for 80p in that shop, you know".

The locals are friendly: ask for directions and they'll actually take you home. Smile at them and they'll attempt to sleep with you. They are encouraging, but if you talk nonsense the Robbie Coltrane in them will come out.

The taxi drivers don't just chat drivel, they really are interested in you. They will ask you everything about yourself, they will promise to come to your show, they will even ask you about your mum. And for some reason a cab anywhere seems to cost £5.
This interest extends all over the city. Staff at Greggs the bakers in Rose Street are wonderful. Even when they swear in your face and tread on your feet, they manage to make it sound more like a privilege than a threat.

And anyone who can serve chips "w' salt 'n' sauce" and deep-fried burgers to lippy middle-class Brits at 3am on Leith Walk without invoking the spirit of Braveheart and chasing us all back over the border deserves a seat in the Scottish Parliament.

Shazia Mirza's standup show previews at The Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, from Wednesday.