- 30,000 performances
- 2,000 shows
- 464 venues
- 4 pain killers/day
- Half the number of functioning upper limbs
If the Edinburgh Fringe Festival flogged bespoke T-shirts mine would read “I survived Ed Fringe with a broken arm”. I’d be a proud but exhausted wearer, my fractured shoulder suspended inside the garment, empty sleeve flapping in victory. Under the Fringe festival archway, I’d thank GlaxoSmith Kline, codeine manufacturer to the feeble and my friend Sally who, like Amy March to Aunt Josephine, was part lively companion, part fetch-and-carry girl.
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is slightly demented. Celebrated artists are scheduled along side acts which don’t or won’t cut the mainstream mustard. It sprawls across the city in multiple venues. Participation requires a daily strategic meeting – what to see, are there seats, how much does it cost? – followed by an operational one – how many minutes between our chosen performances, how far is the next venue, what is the quickest route to get there? Most shows last an hour. The applauded cast gets 5 minutes to pack their stage props before the next troupe unloads. Word of mouth reviews run up and down the queues outside each venue. Someone recommends Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons. The Fringe app says tickets are available; the next minute – the time it took to work out if we could get from Venue 59 to 326 in 20 minutes tomorrow afternoon – it’s a sell out.
Of the over 2000 shows, Sally and I caught 12 performances over four days from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival’s listings, as well as Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, part of the (“proper”) Edinburgh Festival, a photographic portraiture exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, part of the Edinburgh Arts Festival and spent a few sunny hours aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia. We couldn’t find time for the Edinburgh Tattoo or anything in the Edinburgh Literary Festival. Yeah, weaklings.
Come Watch The Baby runs everyday at eleven am for half an hour. On our chosen morning about twenty people paid £4 to watch this show in a small softly light room. Just before the scheduled start I hear a pram parked behind the curtain and a minute later The Baby arrives on stage, carried into the stage / tent by his groovy grandmother. Applause! The show had been running for over a week and Baby clearly knows what to expect. The Baby looks up and around. S/he beams at each person in turn. We all grin back, waving, wobbling our heads, wiggling our shoulders trying to hold The Baby’s gorgeous gaze. It’s hard to tell audience from actors. I can see him/her thinking “Smashing! Nana has brought me to the human zoo again!”
For the next half hour, Nana takes her cues from Baby. S/ he twirls a long-limbed monkey, strains for a just-out-reach velcro set of bugs and bees, laughs in surprise when a book squeaks. Every few minutes Baby looks up, turns her/ his head around the room, delighting us individually with a smile powered by the solar system. It’s George Clooney/Michelle Obama’s charisma magnified in a stripey sleepsuit.
I try to imagine how Baby is going to feel at the end of his/her Fringe Festival run when a roomful of people no longer coo at her/his every gurgle. Were Baby’s parents easily persuaded to allow him/her to “perform” with Grandma? I muse about this unseen generational link, at the whole of Baby’s Family Tree and then about my own. My immediate family tree is more of a stump and I often visualise my limbless familial state in which I float in a vast midnight blue universe vertically unconnected above or below. As I watch Baby, I know again that it has been relatively easy this last decade to ignore my childless / free state. I’ve been away from home for six years. My friends and extended family’s children are now passing into or out of teenage-hood and while it’s arguably the most important transition a person can make – periods, car licenses, career choices, sexuality, tattoos – these rituals are less publicly marked. And I experience much of it through Facebook. But soon my cohort’s offspring will possibly graduate, become engaged, marry, provide an additional branch with all the joys of inter-generational connection. What is it about babies that is so fascinating or as David Attenborough put it “jaw sagging”? They are coded for cute sure – those eyes, that smile – but it seems no matter your age, the delight of mutual recognition and pure acceptance is simply life affirming. Then almost on cue, a half hour in after a gentle stroll in Nana’s arms to look at the bunting, Baby yawns and flops. Applause! A Star is (recently) Born!
In contrast to spontaneous, cheap and cheerful Baby perving, we pre-booked splurgey tickets to The Glass Menagerie performed by the American Repertory Theatre. There are only four characters in Tennessee Williams’ play but when I reflect on it now, it seeps desperation, disappointment, delusion by the 1930s crowd. Laura, the fragile centre of the Wingfield family’s attentions, appeared and disappeared through a concealed slit in the back of the chaise lounge, at first like a crinkled butterfly and then like a flat penny lost forever between the seams.
But like the White Rabbit, we mustn’t tarry. I’m late / I’m late / For a very important date. / No time to say “Hello, Goodbye”. / I’m late, I’m late, I’m late. Le Bossu (The Hunchback) by North Yorkshire company, WithWings was recommended by Daisy, ticket seller at the Kit and McConnell’s cabaret show. It is the perfect match between the play’s setting, Notre Dame and it’s performance venue, Bedlam Theatre, a deconsecrated church in the centre of the city. Company members in white Victorian lace corsets and bloomers were the cathedral bells, oscillating high in the chancel on swings. The same actors flit across the transept squeezing small bellows-cum-pigeons, coo-cooing with each leather in- and exhale. And at the end, as the exotic Esmeralda urges the Hunchback to freedom before choosing to hang over submitting to the lustful priest, Edinburgh’s sun disappeared into cloud behind the altar’s rose window.
I’m four weeks into the first phase of Having a Fracture. I’ve stopped feeling stupid and regretful. I’m tired and more resigned. Two weeks and I can bin the sling and release my newly knitted but still vulnerable arm. My elbow will be grateful. I feel like a Godwit, which, when it migrates from Siberia to Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, is stuck in flight position, unable to lower its exhausted wings for several days.
In Phase two, (six to twelve weeks) Regaining a Range of Movements will be my focus. I hope to stop listing to starboard, using my teeth for non-primary purposes, dividing my daily codeine dosage by two to determine my laxative dose. Stage Three from about ten weeks, I’ll be pumping if not iron, small plastic balls and bands and John can stop unscrewing the milk, juice, peanut butter lids every morning.
I remember these phases from my broken wrist 2005. I didn’t remember how pain chunks down the world. I’m living a version of what mental health experts urge us to master – the moment. Except it feels like I ‘m slightly beside it and the moments largely occur under the doona. I fretted about putting on weight doing nothing except sleep and watch “makeunders” by the fabulous Stacy London until I read about the thousands of calories it takes to mend a fracture. I can’t drive. I live amongst sheep. I miss running, running comrades, squeezing supermarket fruit, B because I’m stuck at A, other people’s tea cups. I imagine what it must be like to live in endless pain without any hope. I think about euthanasia policy, how to thrive in advanced old age, whether I will regain a sense of curiosity to take me beyond these mothering yet eventually I am assuming smothering domestic walls. I cut out Melanie Reed’s pieces published each week in the The Times under the banner Spinal Column. She broke hers in a horse riding accident a few years ago and she writes brutally about limitations, identity, body image, perseverance. I know eventually I will run, reject a bruised mango, go to B and if I wish, on a horse.
Travel Notes to Self
Edinburgh best places to say Yum!: Rollo, Outsiders, The Field, The Printing Press Bar and Kitchen
Edinburgh best place to go to the toilet: Balmoral Hotel. Act cool, enter the foyer, turn right, hit the lift to go down. The floral washstands are gorgeous and cured all my ills.
Royal Yacht Britannia: princely fun! Even if you have to wear your Aussie 1999 republican T-shirt underneath your flannie.
Fringe Honourable mentions:
- Northanger Abbey by Box Tale Soup. Unique, fabulous, funny. http://www.boxtalesoup.co.uk/about.html
- Driftwood by Casus Circus, Brisbane. Joyful, trust-ful, athletic, delicate. The moment Jesse Scott did a hand stand on his finger tips was horrifying/ inspiring. http://www.casus.com.au/