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Edinburgh Festival

House prices in Scotland are still falling

Is the economy finally recovering? This is the question everyone has been trying to answer this week, reading the latest statistics like tea leaves in the bottom of the nation’s teacup.

Part-time workers affect the  employment figures

Part-time workers affect the
employment figures

There are several good signs. Retail spending is up 4 per cent on last year, unemployment is down to 7.2 per cent, purchasing mangers report growth in both manufacturing and services, and our exports should benefit from the Euro zone coming out of recession.

But there are worrying signs too. House prices are still falling, the rise in employment is due to part-time work and older people staying on in employment because their pensions are being eroded by inflation. And real wages have fallen by 5 per cent since 2010.…one of the worst falls in Europe.

It’s hard to tell whether we are reaching the end of the years of famine or not. It’s particularly difficult living in Edinburgh where the festivals are in full swing and the theatres, pubs and restaurants are crammed with high-paying customers.

Out in the countryside, the harvest is rolling in, though yields of some crops may not be so good because, according to a study by Strathclyde University, we lost around a third of our bee population last year. Farmers are putting in long hours while the good weather lasts.

Crops are being harvested (Pic: Brian Forbes Creative Commons)

Crops are being harvested
(Pic: Brian Forbes
Creative Commons)

One poor farmer in Aberdeenshire was killed in a combine harvester accident as he was still working away at 8 o’clock in the evening. On the grouse moors though, the “Glorious Twelfth” was celebrated with the prospect of a bumper season.

Believe it or not, it is time for the schools to return to work. They do so as a survey comes out from the London School of Economics showing that Scottish pupils are not performing any better than they did before devolution in 1999. This compares to an increase in standards in England.

Disappointing, but the analysts agree that perhaps they are not comparing like with like. What seems to be beyond doubt however is that there has been no surge in performance as a result of devolution and there is still a huge gap in attainment between schools in rich and poor areas.

Scots are still undecided

Scots are still undecided

This week we got another opinion poll on independence. The Ipsos Mori poll found that 44 per cent of Scots are still undecided, so there is still everything to play for, especially in deprived areas of central Scotland. It shows a surprising number of people saying they are certain to vote in the referendum next year, 56 per cent. And of those, 33 per cent said they will vote for independence.

The pro-Union campaign lost one of it mighty warriors this week, David McLetchie, the former Conservative Party leader, who died of cancer at the age of 61. The tributes paid to him included phrases like: he saved the Conservative Party from wipe-out in Scotland; he had a lawyer’s ability to take someone’s argument apart; he was hugely sociable; he enjoyed his family, his golf and his karaoke.

He also enjoyed his football. Unfortunately he did not live to see Scotland’s exciting performance against England at Wembley on Wednesday night. It was 3:2 for England but what a sparkling match ! It was the first time for 14 years that the Tartan Army had taken over Trafalgar Square and this time, despite the 10,000 beer cans left behind, there was no trouble. Perhaps we are learning to enjoy the company of the auld enemy. It’s only taken a thousand years.

Edinburgh Festivals – Six for the Price of One?

At festival time Scotland always seems a crowded place. The population of Edinburgh itself almost doubles. But this week we have official confirmation that the Scottish population is continuing to increase and there are now 5.3 million of us.

It’s also becoming a pretty hot place, with the month of July being the second warmest since records began. Temperatures were reaching over 30 degrees, enough to melt the hardest hearts.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Edinburgh folk do not always warm to the festivals, until they realise that they bring in £250 million of extra business. There are six festivals, all crammed into the city in the month of August.

The main international festival, the even more famous “fringe”, the book festival, the arts festival, the Tattoo and the Mela. As I stood in the queue for a Jane Austin show, I was showered with flyers for operas, musicals, dramas, and as many comedy shows as any man’s sense and sensibilities could stand.

At this time of year, the Royal Mile becomes a medieval market place, selling talent, ambition, hope, energy, humour and funny costumes. The Fringe alone this year has 2,871 shows, involving 24,000 artists from 41 different countries. The book festival, in its tented village in Charlotte Square, has 700 readings scheduled and is expecting 200,000 visitors. I remember going to first book festival 30 years ago, still tented but tentative.

The Festival ends with a Firework Concert

The Festival ends with a
Firework Concert

The official international festival has cost an estimated £10m to stage and has the unlikely theme this year of “art and technology”…..ranging from the anatomical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci to Beethoven’s Fidelio set in a spaceship. The Russian National Orchestra is coming to play Rachmaninov. Meredith Monk will sing a meditation on the environment and the well-named Benjamin Millepied will bring his dance troop from Los Angeles.

Towards the end of the month, just before the closing fireworks, the Scottish Parliament will be staging its own “festival of politics.” It promises an earnest discussion on “Scotland’s place in the world.” This is dangerous talk. It could include such delicate subjects as independence, nationalism, the Union ( both UK and EU) and perhaps a nostalgic look over our shoulders at the glory days of the Enlightenment, our role in the industrial revolution, in the Empire, in science and invention.

It would be easy to conclude that we have lost the place. Our big metal industries have gone. Our education system is no longer the best in the world (though there has been a 2 per cent rise this year in the number of Scottish pupils gaining places at university.) The health service is creaking. Wages are falling. A third of all workers, we learned this week, are now in part-time or temporary work. Things are falling apart. Even the Vikings are back – this year’s Viking Congress is being held in Shetland for the first time in 20 years.

Earthquake House at Comrie

Earthquake House at Comrie

But I like to think we are still a nation of enterprise and discovery. It’s just a pity it’s all happening in virtual subjects I don’t understand…particle physics, the bio-sciences and computer games. Give me steam engines, sailing ships, and rock science any day.

I was in Perthshire a few days ago and was lucky enough to stumble on the Earthquake House in Comrie. This little stone building was erected in 1874 to record the minor earthquakes which occasionally shake the village because it stands on an ancient fault line between the Highlands and the Lowlands. It was the inspiration of the so-called “Comrie pioneers” – two ministers and, later, the village post-master and shoe-maker who carefully recorded the vibrations of a pendulum as it traced the slightest earth tremor. (There are hundreds each year in the UK.)

They were tweedy citizen scientists, trying to work out what was happening deep in the centre of the Earth. I hope we have a similar spirit of inquiry today. And I like to think that amidst the fireworks and the entertainment of the Edinburgh festivals, there are also the sparks of human inquisitiveness, energy and imagination.

Charles Dickens (1812–70) reading to his daughters

Charles Dickens (1812–70) reading to his daughters

By John Knox

We are now entering the year of the dragon, the rainforest, the co-op, the Olympics, the Jubilee, the year of culture and what-the-Dickens-else – yes him, too.

The Chinese New Year begins on 23 January, the start of the new lunar calendar. As part of the 12-year cycle of animals, it is the dragon’s turn. Which means, apparently, that it is going to be either a quiet year or a year of catastrophe – a flood or earthquake or great political change.

Certainly, the era of “Who and When” is about to change. President Hu Jintao and prime minister Wen Jiabao are due to hand over to the next generation of Chinese dictators. Vice-president Xi Jinping is the favoured son at the moment, but it seems that ultimate power in China is passing from a small cabal of leaders to a wider constituency of around 400 top Communist Party apparatchiks. We live in interesting times.

And so to the rainforest. This is a campaign run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. It seems, though, that the society is a little late, not just to save the rainforest but to catch up with the United Nations’ year of the forest, which was last year. Curiously, the RSPB is concentrating on East Africa and Indonesia and is rather ignoring the problems of deforestation in Pakistan and the Amazon basin, not to mention Scotland. We cut down our native forest years ago and even now we are struggling to increase our tree cover from 17 per cent to the target of 25 per cent.

But saving the tropical rainforest would certainly be a good thing. Around a billion people depend on it for their livelihood, as well as 70 per cent of the world’s species of land plants and animals.

The UN itself has moved on to the year of the co-operative. My Co-op store down the road will certainly be glad to hear this. So will my bank, which is in the process of taking over the good bits of Lloyds. The UN tells us there are over 800 million members of co-operatives in 100 countries, mostly in farming and retail. In the USA, the land of free enterprise, there are 29,000 co-operative businesses. In the UK, there are 5,450. And this month a new law comes into effect which eases the restrictions on membership and shareholdings. In these hard times, when capitalism is stumbling, the co-operative movement may be the job-creator we are all looking for.

The Olympics will certainly be a job-creator. There are 7,000 people currently working on the various construction sites and up to 100,000 temporary jobs are expected to be created in staging the games. And it is hoped the redevelopment of the Olympic areas of London will lead to 10,000 permanent jobs.

Goodness knows how many jobs will be created by the Queen’s diamond jubilee as pageants are staged, cities spruce themselves up for royal visits and new forests are planned. It is hoped that six million trees will be planted, in diamond jubilee woods, each at least 60 acres in size. One of them, in Leicestershire, is to be 460 acres.

Here in Scotland, the government has announced that 2012 will be a year of “culture”. The highlights begin with Celtic Connections, which will see over 2,000 singers swarm into Glasgow later this month. There is then to be a Festival of Visual Art, also in Glasgow, in April. On midsummer’s night, the Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra from Venezuela will perform in the open air at Stirling Castle.

Then, as the nights darken in August, Edinburgh will stage a “Speed of Light” show in which hundreds of runners, with lights attached, will sprint around Arthur’s Seat. It will be Scotland’s answer to the Olympic Games, reminding people that the next big event will be the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014. August will also see the 65th Edinburgh Festival, the greatest show on earth.

All this, of course, takes place against a black economic curtain. It is a most suitable year to be remembering the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. We are living in hard times, our great expectations have been dashed. Money has corrupted us, uncaring capitalism has brought us to this bleak house. We must now all live most ’umbly. Only love and the simple life remain. We must all live like the blacksmith Joe or Barnaby’s dear old mother and hope that 2012 will be the year of Something-Turning-Up.

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Calton Hill, best not mentioned <em>Picture: Andrewyuill</em>

Calton Hill, best not mentioned Picture: Andrewyuill

By Diane Maclean

As Edinburgh once more puts on its glad rags and prepares for the deluge, it would be inhospitable of us here at The Caledonian Mercury not to pre-warn visitors of a few hidden dangers lurking between the cobbles and the disintegrating tram-tracks. (That’s two dangers for starters and they don’t even make the list.)

As you pack your suncream and thermals, Alka-Seltzers and The Dictionary of Pretentious Quotes, factor these potential pitfalls into your preparation. As we say here: fail to prepare and prepare to… fall victim to the dreaded Edinburgh Festival madness. You have been warned.

Altitude sickness
The Athens of the North it may be, but if you’re seeking a European capital comparison you’d be better thinking of Rome. No, not because we’re suave, drive around on egg-blue scooters and have a pathological dread of efficiency – but because, like Rome, Edinburgh is built on seven hills.

Being of a Presbyterian nature, we don’t go in for namby-pamby names like Aventine and Palatine. Here it’s simply “the big hill that goes down to the Cowgate”, “the killer hill that goes down Broughton Street”, another few bigger and smaller hills – and Arthur’s Seat, the remains of a spewed-up piece of supervolcano where you get great views and can do fantastic roly-polies.

There’s also Calton Hill, but the less said about that the better.

You may think that here in the cold, dark north there’s a somewhat prurient attitude to sex – and in many ways you’d be right. John Knox’s “monstrous regimen of women” may well still believe that “sex is something you use to carry the coal in”. But not for nothing are Morningside’s elite referred to as dressed in “fur coats, nae knickers”.

The steely gaze of Protestant forefathers would discourage even the most ardent admirer, yet wander off Lothian Road and you find yourself in the midst of the “pubic triangle”, where sex shops and strip bars abound. So many contradictions, so much potential for a slap in the face. If in doubt, don’t risk it. Other than that, there’s not a Scottish lass or lad around who wouldn’t fall for this classic chat-up line: “If you were a burger at McDonalds I’d call you McBeautiful”. (The Caly Merc advises readers to use this gambit at their own risk.)

The locals would suggest that during the Festival, time is illusory, with normal 15-minute journeys taking up to a fortnight. Time can be confusing for visitors, too. You could try turning to the locals to help, but they’ll just growl at you.

Daybreak is in the middle of the night and night-time doesn’t begin until after midnight. Your body clock is probably kaput, what with all the battered food, strong drink and getting repeatedly lost in the pubic triangle. Luckily, there is always the One O’clock Gun to keep you right – if, that is, the fright doesn’t kill you. Oh, and remember the clock at the Balmoral Hotel is kept deliberately fast in order to encourage tardy train-travellers to get a move on.

There’s the usual variety of animal life in Scotland’s capital. Beware the urban foxes (Stockbridge ladies of a certain vintage). Scarier, though, are the biggest and most brutal seagulls imaginable. Not only are these winged behemoths everywhere, but – even when not visible – their maniacal dawn cackling is enough to waken even the most comatose drunk. Brollies, when not needed for the rain, are to be encouraged to ward off both aerial attacks and seagull bombs.

If that wasn’t enough to worry about, there’s always the potential of jailbreaks from Edinburgh Zoo. Although it’s probable that the story of escaped wolves is a myth, the zoo has had problems in the past with its animals. As recently as July, a baboon made a partially successful bid for freedom.

Edinburgh is a city where if you think you’re seeing pink elephants, you might just be seeing pink elephants.

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Andrew Newman

Andrew Newman

He cuts a striking figure in his Lindsay tartan kilt, black shirt and jacket with a black beard and long black curly hair straying from under his cap. In his hand is what at first glance looks like a huge butterfly net. He sits by the side of the road like a vagrant. But he is not begging for money: he is begging for poems. Andrew Newman is the Pavement Poem Catcher.

Newman has been on the streets in this way for just over a year. His winning smile, charm and sheer cheek have persuaded hundreds of people to write for him. He has begged for poems from the queues waiting to go into Wimbledon to watch the tennis and from people watching the fireworks concert at the Edinburgh Festival. He has published nine books so far – a tenth is nearing completion.

“It all started,” Newman explains in a distinctive South African accent (his mother was Scots, thus the Lindsay tartan), “as a reaction to the [January 2010] earthquake in Haiti. I wanted to do something to raise money to help the victims but didn’t know where to start. I was in St Andrews for the StAnza Poetry Festival. I simply picked up a piece of cardboard, wrote a sign saying ‘Donate a Poem’, sat down on a sunny street corner and begged for poems.

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“By the end of the day I had 58 of them, each using the word QUAKE for inspiration. Quite a few had the word ‘time’ in them, so that became the theme for day 2. The third day’s theme was ‘soul’ and the fourth ‘happiness’. By the end of that fourth day, I had 139 poems in seven different languages. I also had two photographs donated by people who said they couldn’t write poetry but could offer something else.” One of these photographs, of a grain of pollen taken through a microscope, became the cover of the book Quake – Built from Nothing.

Some of the poems were written by poets performing at the festival. One of them, by the Canadian poet John Akpata, particularly appeals to him, perhaps because it pokes a little fun at the way he’d approached the project. His poem was called The Thief of Fife:

In St Andrew’s [sic] I met a charming confident thief
A man named Andrew from Cape Town
Who arrived with a cap on his head
That hid the cap in his hand
He boldly and brazenly asked poets to write poems for him
For an anthology that he planned to print and sell at the festival
Where he was not famous, not a feature
A stylish vagabond from the fringe
Who unashamed and unabashed and unhindered
Bamboozled the bards into planting seeds in his yard
And he proudly sold their work back to them
And he proudly wallowed in his shamelessness
As he allowed the poets to create and donate
Their words, which are all stolen
And give to the thief of Fife
A man named Andrew who arrived in St Andrew’s
With a cap on his head
That hid the cap in his hand

The books sold quickly. All of the proceeds from the first 50 went to SOS Children’s Villages. The next 50 were sold privately to raise the money for another print run. The book is still in print and £3 from every one sold goes to the same charity, helping Haiti’s children.

The project also taught Newman that, as well as fundraising for charity, he could also turn it into a business. Becoming a publisher with no publishing experience was, he admits, “a steep learning curve”. He chose the self-publishing route because it gave him control over the whole process.

Newman has had to learn about desktop publishing, about indexing and cover design. He has also developed techniques which mean that anthologies of the poetry he gathers can be rolling off the presses within an hour of creating the file.

As a therapist in Edinburgh (based at the Salisbury Centre), Newman works with a wide range of organisations. He realised that he could use the same techniques to help them raise money. “I’ve been working with a school in Haddington,” he says. “There’s a group of 27 kids needing to fund-raise for a trip to Nicaragua.

“So we make a book together. It does a couple of things. On an educational level, I’m doing an inspiration/creative writing piece, along with discussing social enterprise and teaching them how to make a book and what’s involved in that. They do the work, write the content, design the cover and the rest.

“They get involved in marketing the book, arranging a book launch and so forth. The way it works is that they buy the books at £5 each and sell it on for £10, putting the profits towards the trip to Nicaragua. There’s great learning experience to be gained from it all.”

Newman’s latest project is a further development of his business model. He has been back on the streets of St Andrews, begging for poems about the Royal Wedding. He has also been in other parts of the country doing the same. But he is still on the lookout for more, insisting that “I’d love to have the problem that a thousand poems arrive because Britain’s been inspired to write poetry about this event.

“But this is also a first, in that I’ve never gathered material for a book ahead of the event before. The idea is to publish it on the day of the wedding. I’ll be in London on the day with a couple of hundred copies, selling them from my suitcase. I’ll also be gathering poems about what people felt on that day.

“I also have a concept in my mind about creating what I’d call ‘neighbourhood books’, where the poems would be published by geography. I haven’t worked the back end of that out yet as it’s a little bit technical. But what I have in mind is a series of books defined by post code so they could be completely relevant to a particular area. What I’d really like is for people who are organising street parties on the day of the wedding to buy copies of their local book at £5 (just like the kids) which they could then sell for £10 to help pay for the event.”

Newman has offered samples of the poems already submitted to The Caledonian Mercury in the hope that some readers may themselves feel inspired. The following, for instance, is from the Edinburgh-based poet, Simon Maclaren, and is entitled Proposition–Preposition:

In St Andrews
by the sea
under pressure
in the lens
under the microscope
in the papers
over the top
in love
on one knee
in the abbey
in the carriage
in the future
on the throne

An ebook is already available of some of the other poems received. The Caledonian Mercury plans to publish more in the days leading up to the Royal Wedding. If any readers feel inspired to write their own poems, they can submit them to Andrew Newman by following one of these two links.

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<em>Picture: Rama</em>

Picture: Rama

By Ewan Spence

The Edinburgh Fringe is over for another year, and if you look around there’s the usual good news stories (more tickets sold, lots of shows with award nominations),
as well as the more worrying noises (people won’t keep paying these prices, it’s all the fault of “insert another venue’s name in here”).

So why am I not worried that the Fringe won’t last?

Let’s face it, all the festivals are part of the fabric of Edinburgh, including the Fringe – and it’s such a tent-pole date for theatre, comedy, and to a certain extent music, that it’s not going away.

But it will change. It’s changed in the past 12 months. It’s changed from how it
launched, and it will continue to twist into a new shape. The key is for everyone involved to not impose any arbitrary ideas onto the Fringe, but to respect what is there and work together as a team.

The beauty of the Fringe is that even though there is a central organisation keeping an eye on things (the Fringe Society) all the performers, venues and associated people that orbit around the event have their own stake in the Fringe as a whole. If people are not careful this can lead to insular thinking and put elements of the Fringe in danger.

A case in point is the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, where Gilded Balloon, Assembly,
Pleasance and Underbelly banded forces to create a specific subsection of comedy at
the Fringe. They continue to push to get a banner sponsor, and produce their own listings brochure of shows – and it’s this brochure that upsets me most about the endeavour.

Look around the “Big 4” venues and while there are lots of their brochures available, you had to look really hard for the main Fringe programme – the one that carries all the venues and shows. I’ve no problem with individual venues pushing their own shows, but they have to remember the Fringe is bigger than one (or even four) venues.

There is nothing stopping them locking out the rest of the programme from people grazing for shows, but for me it goes against the spirit of the Fringe. But I realise that business is business, and there needs to be a balance between altruistic intentions and commercial need.

Just don’t take the Mickey.

Over the next few months most people will forget about the Fringe. Behind many closed doors those involved at all levels of the Fringe will be looking back on August to decide what they did right, what was wrong, and how they can improve their return on investment in 2011.

I’d ask them to look around the whole city and think of everyone, By all means make next year a better one, but please invest in the Fringe as well. if you’ve something that will make you millions, but seriously upset the balance of this cultural milestone, then pull back a bit. Won’t hundreds of thousands be sufficient profit?

The Fringe needs care and attention from everyone to keep it in the best of health. Every year throws up new obstacles and threats. I’m pretty sure that we can trust those people entrusted to protect the fringe to do what’s best for the Festival long term, and not what’s best for themselves.

That’s why I’m confident the Fringe will be here for many years to come, no matter the sabre rattling that we hear about.

<em>Picture: Bonita Suraputra</em>

Picture: Bonita Suraputra

By Ewan Spence

When a performer steps out on stage, they have no idea what to expect. The audience could be anyone, from any walk of life. But at the Edinburgh Fringe there’s every chance that they’ll have an idea who the toughest people to please will be. They can choose from one of many theatre critics, newspaper reviewers, a writer from one of the multitude of specialist internet sites… or Kate Copstick. And helpfully the box office will ring up first and ask if it’s okay to give them a ticket in the hours before the show.

But that’s not the toughest audience at the Fringe. The toughest crowds, and the lightning quick performers, can be found at the very front of the Fringe Directory. The children’s shows.

You will not find a more critical audience than a room full of children asking to be entertained. Forget the heckles from the bear-pit that is Late and Live, put aside the comedian known for being “edgy” with an audience, the ultimate challenge is 100 kids in a hot, stuffy fringe venue… then walking out and bringing every single one of them to the edge of their seat?

Perhaps that’s why Patrick Monahan is a regular in the Late and Live compere slot – his kids show, Stories and Tales for Kids, Who Can Run Faster Than Snails (Gilded Balloon) is a hugely wonderful car crash of chaos, quiet story telling, kung-fu fighting kids on stage, all held together by someone at the top of his game. Monahan dives around the crowd, attempts some surfing, and builds a tidal wave from fabric; he is truly the eye of a hurricane of fun.

A show like Stick Man (Underbelly) takes one of the best selling children’s books and turns it into an hour of singing, dancing, acting and fun. Every single beat is measured, the movements are as precise as gymnastic performance, and the script is pitched perfectly. It’s an accuracy that’s demanded of very few Fringe performers – because one cry of fear or an upset audience member can loose the entire audience for the whole show, and no witty comeback or improvisation skill can save you.

I doubt there’s a handful of comics that could handle that, and I suspect that many of the actors working on one man shows at the Fringe would have a moment of panic given an upside down purple cow full of kids who are secretly hoping Santa turns up in the middle of August, because he does in the book.

If you’re at the Fringe to see some spectacular performers, who can really fly in front of an audience, then can I recommend you take a look at the very front of your programme. Yes, it says it is for the younger Fringe attendees, but that shouldn’t stop your appreciation. Everyone has a kid somewhere inside them, and if you can’t let it out at the Fringe, then when could you?

You want a stone-cold recommendation for a five star show that has two pitch perfect performers, that can have kids screaming for more and the adults demanding an encore? No problem… Dan and Jeff’s Potted Panto (Pleasance Courtyard). In theory it’s two storytellers going over their favourite pantos (yes, in August), but with an ear for comic timing, a story that works on multiple levels for every age in the audience, knockabout slapstick mixed with nods to Casablanca and Das Boot, this double act is the secret gig of the Fringe that everyone hopes they find so they can say “they were there”.

Who are the bravest performers at the Fringe? Not the gymnasts, not the swearing comedians, not the actors monologuing for two hours. It’s the children’s performers. Everyone should go and see how it’s done.

Photo by: Chris Scott

Photo by: Chris Scott

Like a kind of cultural tsunami, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is now upon us – like you won’t have noticed, what with it being the world’s biggest-ever biggest arts festival and everything, not to mention the only time of year Scotland gets this much concerted media attention. So as you gird yourself for the onslaught, here’s an initial, hopefully lucky 13 picks from across the programme. (Headings refer to Fringe brochure sections, where applicable).

MUSIC: The Burns Unit Fantastic eight-piece Scottish ‘supergroup’, originally formed through a collaborative songwriting residency, whose boldly adventurous mash-up of pop, folk, rock, rap and alternative sounds unites the vastly eclectic talents of King Creosote, Karine Polwart, Emma Pollock, MC Soom T, Future Pilot AKA, Kim Edgar, Mattie Foulds and Michael Johnson. Recently the toast of the Cambridge Folk Festival, where they launched their debut album Side Show.
Queen’s Hall, August 9

THEATRE: The Author The ever-ingenious, always intriguing Tim Crouch presents his latest piece of multi-layered storytelling theatre, after last year’s sellout premiere run at London’s Royal Court. A characteristically cunning four-hander twist on the play-within-a-play device, its deceptively quiet simplicity pulls no punches in examining the nature and interrelation of abuse, complicity, empathy and violence.
Traverse Theatre, until August 29

THEATRE: Smoke & Mirrors More the beautiful bastard child of cabaret and circus than theatre per se, this hit Australian production is this year’s flagship show at the Famous Spiegeltent – thankfully back in its Edinburgh home-from-home after missing the 2009 Fringe – and promises to follow triumphantly in the footsteps of La Clique, with a darkly delicious brew of vaudeville, dance, aerialism, acrobatics, burlesque, magic and live music.
The Famous Spiegeltent, August 10-29

COMEDY: Marc Salem Surely one of the few Fringe performers to combine elite academic credentials with a successful comedy career, the winningly avuncular Salem brings 30 years’ study of non-verbal communication to bear on deciphering his audiences’ unspoken thoughts. He’s the first to insist that he isn’t a mind-reader – but you’ll nonetheless come away half-convinced that he is.
Assembly @ Princes Street Gardens, August 16-22

DANCE/PHYSICAL THEATRE: Brazil! Brazil! A decent interval having elapsed for the cast to recover from their World Cup chagrin, this show ticks both its category boxes and then some, with a brilliantly dynamic, gravity-defying fusion of freestyle football, samba music, capoeira, acrobatics and carnival dance, directed by esteemed Fringe veteran Toby Gough.
Udderbelly’s Pasture, until August 29

THEATRE: Beautiful Burnout Still on a sporting note, this intense, visceral new show brings together the heavyweight triumvirate of acclaimed physical theatre company Frantic Assembly, the National Theatre of Scotland, and award-winning playwright Bryony Lavery, in a closer-than-ringside dramatisation of the elemental world of boxing.
Pleasance Courtyard, until August 29

MUSIC: Alan Cumming – I Bought A Blue Car Today The Tony-winning Scots-born star of stage and screen charts his ten-year odyssey to becoming a US citizen in a mix of songs and anecdotes – the former including covers of Cyndi Lauper, Dory Previn, John Bucchino and Jimmy Webb, as well as numbers from Cabaret, Chess and Hedwig and the Angry Inch – ahead of his debut album release next month.
Assembly@ Assembly Hall, August 13-15

COMEDY: Mark Watson’s Unusually Enjoyable Book Launch Watson – he who famously became the first-ever comic to perform for 24 hours straight on the Fringe in 2004 – need have little fear of the Trades Description Act, as he launches his fourth novel Eleven, about a nighttime radio DJ forced to reassess his life by a cleaning lady, with a semi-planned, semi-spontaneous walking tour-cum-‘literary adventure’.
Meet outside the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, August 11, 2pm

THEATRE: The Tailor of Inverness Invernesian actor Matthew Zajac returns with his multi-award-winning, multi-media solo show based on his Polish father’s life, which spanned most of the 20th century. As he traces the journey, much of it through wartime, via the Soviet Union, the Middle East and England, which led to his own Highland birthplace, Zajac subtly but powerfully explores the effects of forced migration on character and identity.
Udderbelly’s Pasture, until August 29

ALTERNATIVE: Forest Fringe If you’re seeking what’s generally known as ‘the true spirit of the Fringe’, look beyond the official programme to www.forestfringe.co.uk/festivals/forest-fringe-2010/, where you’ll find all manner of free-spirited, genre-blurring happenings – theatrical, musical, poetic, avant-garde and beyond – that would never fit a 50-minute slot. Given that they’re all free gratis, too (although willing donations are of course always welcome) you can roam at will around the spacious main Forest base, or go with one of the dozen or so artists who’ll be leading the adventurous to various off-site projects hidden around the city.
Bristo Hall, Bristo Place, August 9-21

DANCE/PHYSICAL THEATRE: Potato Country If the title weren’t irresistible enough, then the start of the programme blurb – ‘A show about the Swedish love of potatoes’ – surely seals the deal. Thankfully, the same blurb, having touched on melancholy, despair, warmth, love and humour, ends with ‘and maybe just a little bit of irony’. Hauntingly yet comically stirred together by choreographer and performance artist Gunilla Heilborn, these elements find expression through a mix of dance and spoken-word text, plus songs by Swedish indie outfit Drivan.
Dance Base, August 11-20

THEATRE: The Not-So-Fatal Death of Grandpa Fredo The Glasgow-based Vox Motus company, here in cahoots with Zoey Van Goey guitarist and songwriter Michael John McCarthy, follow up their last two years’ Fringe hits – Slick and Bright Black – with an edgy, inventive neo-noir comedy inspired by the true story of an early experiment in human cryogenics, complete with live jazz, gospel and country score.
Traverse Theatre, August 8-29

COMEDY: The Ballad of Backbone Joe Australian trio Suitcase Royale, self-styled purveyors of ‘junkyard opera’ conjure a 1930s demi-monde murder-mystery with all the gothic glamour and low-tech theatrical trickery they can muster – which, judging by the rave reviews they bring with them from Down Under, his a hilariously jaw-dropping quantity.
Pleasance Courtyard, until August 29

by Betty Kirkpatrick

<em>Picture: marcel iordan </em>

Picture: marcel iordan

I happened to be passing the foot of Edinburgh Castle earlier in the month and saw masses of people queuing to get in. Apparently they were waiting to get into a Rod Stewart concert. They must have been very loyal fans indeed because they were all completely drookit and yet they stayed resolutely in line.

Drookit is Scots for absolutely drenched. It was the only apt description that sprang to mind for those wet stalwart fans. Some had no defence against the weather whatsoever, having not reckoned on our reliably unreliable weather, but even those who had supposedly waterproof clothing and umbrellas were streaming with water from top to toe. You could see that they were wet through to their very bones, or even to their souls. In short, they were drookit.

Compared with other Scots words, drookit is till in fairly common use and I think its use could increase in the future. This is because the nature of the Scottish rainfall seems to have changed recently.

We are well used to precipitation of all sorts from a gentle drizzle to relentless heavy rain, but the kind of rain we sometimes get now more resembles a monsoon. It is heavier than any previous torrents and seems to come out of nowhere. Perhaps this is the Scottish version of climate change. Whatever the reason, drookit is the perfect word to describe its drenching effect on us.

Drookit, which is sometimes spelt droukit, is pronounced drook-it with the first element of the word rhyming with look. It is derived from the verb drook or drouk, to drench, soak or steep. The origin of this is uncertain, although it might have some connection with Old Norse drukna, to be drowned.

Drookit is usually used to refer to people or, perhaps to vegetation, such as trees. The verb drook or drouk, however, was originally also used to mean to soak something, for example oatmeal, bran or dried beans as well as to drench people.

Apparently drook is sometimes associated with moisture other than rain and the phrase in a drook (or drouck) of sweat was once quite common. Perhaps some of you might know it—or still use it. Another phrase associated with drook which I have just discovered is drookit stour. Stour is dust and so drookit stour is wet dust or mud, a synonym for glaur (see previous article) in fact. I like it.

The verb drook has given us the noun drookin as well as the adjective drookit. Getting a right drookin on a regular basis is all part of the Scottish summer experience, as visitors to the forthcoming Edinburgh Festival will probably soon find out.

Betty Kirkpatrick is the former editor of several classic reference books, including Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. She is also the author of several smaller language reference books, including The Usual Suspects and Other Clichés published by Bloomsbury, and a series of Scots titles, including Scottish Words and Phrases, Scottish Quotations, and Great Scots, published by Crombie Jardine.

<em>Picture: Jordan S Hatcher</em>

Picture: Jordan S Hatcher

Maybe it’s Glasgow’s currently secure ranking as Scotland’s visual art capital; maybe it’s the guaranteed presence of a massive and unusually open-minded arts audience for the duration, but there’s a winning dearth of angsty pretension or arcane exclusivity about this year’s seventh Edinburgh Art Festival programme.

It is characterised instead by a welcoming expansiveness and palpable sense of fun that deftly complements its older, bigger Fringe cousin.

From the heavyweight blockbusters – Impressionism and Surrealism at the National Galleries; Martin Creed at the Fruitmarket; US photographers William Wegman and Edward Weston at the refurbished City Art Centre; Abstract Expressionist Joan Mitchell’s first UK gallery show at Inverleith House – to new public art on Portobello beach, a poetic podcast soundtrack for a Royal Mile walk, and a mass procession of costumed tour-guides, there’s something to tickle most fancies.

Other UK or Scottish debuts include the Brazilian site-specific artist Iran do Espírito Santo (Ingleby Gallery), German filmmaker Hito Steyerl (Collective) and the traditional/conceptual Japanese stone sculptor Atsuo Okomoto (Corn Exchange Gallery).

Aligning the local with the international, meanwhile, Tram Spotting/Train Spotting (Schop) brainstorms Edinburgh’s thorniest transport issue, and Edinburgh People (Central Library) presents new portraits by blind photographer Rosita McKenzie.

Painting, from Old Masters to contemporary provocateurs, features particularly prominently this year, a strand that includes 2009 Turner Prize laureate Richard Wright’s new work, especially created for the Dean Gallery’s double stairwell. This is one of three Art Festival commissions backed by Scottish Government Expo funding – the others being Creed’s forthcoming permanent addition to the Waverley Steps, and a video installation in the City Observatory by Kim Coleman and Jenny Hogarth – together with four “interventions”.

These latter include a bicycle-powered mobile gallery, an intriguingly literal/lateral exploration of health and safety issues, a “viral publication” spread digitally through all festival venues, and the aforementioned tour-guides’ flash mob.

Art meets music in the Edinburgh Printmakers’ show Prints of Darkness, featuring 11 Scottish artists’ response to the history and iconography of record cover art, and accompanied by its own limited-edition LP.

At the Scottish Poetry Library, Plan B sees Irish Pulitzer-winner Paul Muldoon obliquely in dialogue with photographer Norman McBeath, “loosely around the theme of life’s cock-ups, contingencies and conspiracies,” while Catherine Sargeant at Dancebase unveils a text-based response to the language and expression of dance.

Beyond the city centre, and besides Portobello, there are plenty of other tempting cultural pretexts to escape the madding Festival crowd. The regular National Trust for Scotland tours of Newhailes, a 17th century house in Musselburgh, will be enlivened by Anna Chapman’s Subjects for Melancholy Retrospection, a mix of drawing, sculpture and sound art inspired by the building and its archives – and with Luca’s legendary ice-cream nearby for afterwards.

Sculpture park Jupiter Artland, near Wilkieston, kicks off its second year with newly installed works by Nathan Coley, Jim Lambie and Cornelia Parker, and if you follow the Antony Gormley figures down the Water of Leith, you can check out Gemma Holt and Richard Healy’s show at the Granton Lighthouse, along with pop-up interpretations of local waterfront regeneration proposals.

The Edinburgh Art Festival runs from July 29th – September 5th.