It’s easy to nick a bike at four in the morning

04 August 2008 - The Herald  www.theherald.co.uk

I can't imagine what Edinburgh would be like without the Festival. It might just be full of depressed students from China whose parents don't want to see them for the summer, or curious Americans looking for a haunted dungeon and turning up to the castle asking if the Queen is at home.

The Edinburgh Festival is good for Scotland. If it was held in Wales or Newcastle, it just wouldn't be the same. Welsh people in kilts are not as sexy, and only a Scottish man can get away with wearing a sporran while juggling glittered plant pots on the Royal Mile.

The festival is also a good incentive to force the lovely landladies who run the inimitable bed-and-breakfasts in the Outer Hebrides out of their abodes and down to watch a live show about a guinea pig's revolution on Mars at two o'clock in the afternoon.

It will entice the farmers of Aberdeen away from their daily grind, and the bakers of Dundee to swap their aprons for an intimate afternoon with a troupe of Icelandic cross-dressers. Great opportunities to broaden the minds of the already open-hearted Scots, who, like the Dutch, seem to have seen it all.

The festival is special.

It's the only place where you can catch future stars while they are innocent, humble and uncorrupted. The next time you see them, they'll be having babies with Courtney Love and strutting out of rehab.

You might watch one comedian struggling for an hour and, years later, while hoovering your carpet, you'll accidentally catch them again on some television show. "Oi, George, do you remember her from the Festival? That was the one we spent a tenner on and she was rubbish. Didn't laugh once. She's come on, hasn't she? She's presenting Family Fortunes now."

Economically speaking, the Festival is like Vegas - anyone can make money if they really want to. Landlords can become millionaires, tour guides can earn enough to buy a property, ice-cream sellers in the Meadows can buy spanky new tyres for their van - and, if they're lucky, the performers might even make enough to pay the landlord.

For charity shops, it's always a windfall; they get bucketloads of clothes from people clearing out their spare rooms. Then, when the visitors get drunk at three in the morning and go rolling over George IV Bridge and lose their Guinness-drenched coats in the gutter, they'll have somewhere to buy a replacement.

No space in Edinburgh is wasted during the Festival. Yesterday Peer Gynt was being performed in a wardrobe with its own orchestra. My venue resembles a caravan lost in a camping site; it has fake grass and multicoloured tents on it. This kind of architecture illuminates Scotland for the month.

Environmentally, while people are trying to save money by using as little petrol as possible, everyone involved in the Edinburgh Festival is at the forefront of saving the planet. Hardly any performers drive, you can never find a taxi when you need one, and it's easy to nick a bike at four in the morning when someone has forgotten who they tied it to. Most people seem to be walking all the time - always uphill, and always up steps.

The Festival is great for Scotland. It is a thrilling artistic spectacle that brings the most unlikely people to view the most unlikely entertainment in the most unlikely of places.

Scotland wouldn't be Scotland without the Edinburgh Festival. It would be just be full of nice people giving you directions to the nearest wax jacket supplier.