I’ll never forget coming out of Waverley Station in 2001 on my first visit to Edinburgh and seeing a man in full Highland dress – the kilt, the sporran, the little dagger in his sock… I was so excited to see my first real American tourist.
I also remember the first flat I stayed in – a classic Edinburgh tenement. Being a Londoner, I couldn’t believe the high ceilings and huge windows. But that flat, and all the others I later stayed in, all had the same odd combination of huge kitchen and tiny bathroom. I put it down to some sort of Calvinistic modesty: a decent Scot shouldn’t be spending time in a bathroom – get in, wash your sinful bits and then get out again quick!
Most of all, I remember crossing the North Bridge late at night and looking up at the castle. I thought I’d never seen anything so beautiful – it was like being drunk in Fairyland.
My Edinburgh guilty pleasure is paying extortionate prices for cocktails with a great view. I recommend The Tower on Chambers Street or the bar on the top floor of Harvey Nichols.
Edinburgh lends itself to late nights. I think my latest was when I went for dinner at the house of my friend, the comic JoJo Sutherland, and I was still there drinking when her husband went to work at eight the next morning. I also went to meet JoJo once for a quick drink after my show, which turned into seeing the dawn breaking in the Loft Bar at the Gilded Balloon. I’ve just realised – JoJo Sutherland is my guilty pleasure.
A few words of advice for anyone who’s performing at the Fringe for the first time. Avoid the Royal Mile – it’s full of drama students handing out their flyers. They’re all so positive and excited and full of hope, bless ’em. Don’t read reviews of you or your friends. Accept that things will go wrong – posters will get lost, leaflets will have the wrong time or venue on them, your room will have sound-bleed, your techie will fall asleep, shows will over-run so your audience have to leave halfway through to get to their next show, your flatmate will get nominated for an award. Just enjoy it. You’re a comic doing comedy in one of the most wonderful arts festivals in the world. That, to me, is the dream.
If you’re a newbie audience member, my advice is to use word of mouth – talk to people in bars and queues and ask what they have enjoyed. If you see a big queue, join it, especially if it’s Free Fringe. Go and see at least one type of performance you’ve never seen before – burlesque, magic, mime, dance, sketches, opera, drama, anything….
To survive Edinburgh, remember – it’s summer but not as we know it. Last August I saw two young women walking across the Meadows. One was wearing boots, leggings and a raincoat; the other had on shorts, a T-shirt and sandals. I thought, “At some point today, you’ll both be wearing the right clothes.” So pack a raincoat and suntan lotion.
I always tell people to explore Leith. Wander down Leith Walk, Bernard Street, Constitution Street and The Shore. There are great bars for food, atmosphere and history – Lioness of Leith, Nobles, the Port o’ Leith and the Carriers Quarters. And you must visit the Leith Dockers Club on Academy Street. I saw a great play there, but my highlight was the pre-show announcement: “In the event of a fire, please quickly finish your drinks, take your empty glasses back to the bar, use the side exit and assemble across the road.” You don’t get that at the poncy Traverse Theatre! Dockers Club, I salute you.
Interview: Kate Copstick
Picture: David Keay
Jo Caulfield: Pretending to Care, The Stand Comedy Club, 5–28 August (not 15, 22)