Diary: I'm Staying at the Same Hotel in Edinburgh as Lynne Truss and Barbara Trapido. at 2am a Fire Alarm Brings a Drift of Authors Downstairs in Red Satin Pyjamas, Kaftans, Neat T-Shirts
Bakewell, Joan, New Statesman (1996)
Challenging the Edinburgh Festival is like challenging Everest: it just won't budge. "Too many people," you may say, or "Other places are just as good." The fact is there is only one unassailable Edinburgh Festival, a world peak, irresistible magnet for performers and visitors alike who swamp the city with good humour. I am one such, fully prepared--sensible shoes, folding umbrella--just to stroll the streets, drop in here and there, take my fancy with whatever show catches my eye.
I am appearing at the International Book Festival and, like many of its writers--Barbara Trapido, Lynne Truss--am staying at the Channings hotel. I am in a position to tell you what festival folk wear in bed. A fire alarm around 2am brings a drift of authors downstairs. Red satin pyjamas, eastern kaftans, neat T-shirts. Some self-conscious souls stop to dress before descending. Some of the women clutch handbags: no one comes down hugging a precious manuscript. Soon there are groups in the street--it is a balmy night--casually exchanging festival chatter in their nightshirts and nighties. Me? Thank goodness I remembered the yellow silk dressing gown.
The Book Festival is celebrating its 21st year: 500 authors from 30 countries in 650 events. But that's just the numbers; the people are what matter. We congregate in the authors' yurt, a series of bamboo-framed circular tents, laid out with colourful rugs and cushion-strewn divans. The first person I meet is Drue Heinz, cultural mover and shaker, founder and presiding spirit of the Hawthornden Literary Institute, which is one of the festival's sponsors. Among others are Valvona & Crolla, the legendary Italian delicatessen, whose name adorns our coffee cups. Alexander McCall Smith, on his home patch--Edinburgh, not Botswana--draws the crowds. But an audience for Latvian poets? No problem. Catherine Lockerbie, the festival's presiding genius, has neatly located them in a smaller tent, so their event is virtually as full as McCall Smith's. Scots writers are here in force. A L Kennedy teases her audience of Edinburgh ladies, "Health warning: I'm about to say 'cock'," then goes on to read, from Paradise, her new novel, a hilarious episode involving drink and semen in equal measure. The Edinburgh ladies queue to buy their copies.
I go walking in the sensible shoes. No need of the umbrella--Edinburgh is exotically hot. In St John's church hall I find an exhibition of "New Scottish Furniture". This is serious stuff, the project part-financed by the EU and the Forestry Commission. Sixteen furniture-makers have put on display a whole range of styles. Some of it is a bit knobbly and eccentric for my taste--a crazily convoluted bed surely destined for some gothic Scottish castle--but there are more austere looks on offer. …