I woke up to find Edinburgh bathed in wintry sunshine. It was bitterly cold. There had probably been a frost whilst I was having a rather lovely lie-in in the very pleasant, not-too-pricey room I’d booked myself.
Somewhat irritated by having to pull a suitcase about, I made my away along Rose Street, before crossing North Bridge and hauling myself up to the Castle, memories constantly rushing into my head from scores of Festivals in the 1990s. That feeling of invincible optimism returned. The sense of innocent hedonism. The Edinburgh Festival is a bubble of exhausting fun - at least, that is, if your show is selling out. If not, it can be a fairly humiliating experience...
Handing out fliers on the Royal Mile brings out the very worst in everyone. Passers by are forced to become the rudest people in the world simply to get from A to B. Introverts become almost catatonic. Public school boys become obnoxiously confident. Wannabe thesps turn into mini-Brian-Blesseds. I remember one year organising some sort of horrific, wanky exercise involving a company of actors, in chevron formation, standing on a street corner, moving and breathing as a single organism. No one wanted to be there. As instructed, they started moving like fronds of seaweed swaying in the tide, but then mortification took over and they started shuffling at ever-greater speeds down the cobbled hill... straight into a pub!
I remembered the year when everyone came down with the most shocking flu and Philippa and I clung to one another in a single bed, shaking violently. There’s a picture of me wearing an enormous jumper in the height of summer because I felt so cold. I’ve only had a flu three or four times in my life and that one was a stinker!
The sun set as my train pulled out of Edinburgh and skated across the beautiful hills and moorland towards Glasgow.
As I walked through Glasgow Station, I could hear someone playing a pub piano version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah on the honkytonk piano in the ticket hall. It seemed most strange to me that all the street lights in the city were on at just gone 4pm. In this neck of the woods you get beautifully long summer’s evenings but those winter nights must be super-punishing.
Speaking of punishing, the hills which lead up from the station in Glasgow are almost as impressive as those in San Francisco. I was rather relieved to only have to walk up one of them.
I was staying at the Ibis Hotel, which is all a bit too cool-for-school for an old man like me. Instead of a check-in desk, they have a person who hangs about in the bar with an iPad. I walked in and immediately assumed I was in the wrong place...
Maybe I was!
The room was fine, but I’ve started to get very angry with hotels which don’t have baths in them. Invariably, when I arrive in a hotel after a long day of slugging things about, I want a nice, long, hot bath. And, actually, even when I do manage to bag myself a room with a bath, it’s often either tiny, or the soap dispenser is half way up the wall. Life, it seems, favours those who shower. Mini-rant over...
We ate at Glasgow’s CCA, which has a vegetarian restaurant attached to it. I had been joined by Adele, who is UK Jewish Film’s first point of contact up there, her husband Michael, and Tanya, who is one of my oldest university friends. She’s one of the group I go camping with, and, because she’s based in Glasgow, I don’t get a chance to see nearly enough of her. I adore Tanya and her entire family and have made a mental note to spend far more time with them.
The screening in Glasgow wasn’t perhaps as well-attended as I was hoping. It was a late screening and the first time this autumn that temperatures in the city had dipped below freezing. I was given a proper telling off afterwards by one of the audience members who plainly feels that London Jewish people don’t think enough about Jewish people in the rest of the country. “We don’t all come from NW3” he said, “no,” I replied, “I’m from Northampton!” Of course, his argument has a degree of validity and it’s very much in the same sphere as the North-South divide issues which (Islington-based) Jeremy Corbyn smugly brought to the country’s attention after the recent spate of flooding. Of course, the thing which irritates me most about all of the discussions on the subject is that there’s this incredibly misguided assumption that everyone in the country is either Northern or Southern. If you really want to feel ignored, try coming from the Midlands. Or worse, East Anglia!
I had a troubled night’s sleep, and wondered if I’d been having nightmares because I woke up feeling quite anxious and sad. It’s a mood I didn’t managed to shake for the rest of the day. A long train journey home, crammed against a radiator didn’t help matters, neither did my bizarre ticket home which told me that my train left from “Glasgow Central/ Queen Street.” My outsider’s assumption from that piece of information was that Glasgow Central Station is also known as Queen Street. Wrong. They’re two separate stations, which are at least as far apart as Euston and Kings Cross. My map took me to Queen Street Station where a mock-astonished staff member scoffed before telling me that NO trains from his station went to London. I actually said excuse me to him three times before he deigned to give me his attention. Yay.
So there I was, with fifteen minutes until my train, dementedly running through Glasgow to the main train station...
When I finally arrived there, I discovered the station had two levels, so asked a member of staff where trains to London went from. “Upstairs” - came the reply. “And whereabouts is that?” I asked. “Upstairs.” Ask a silly question - mock the silly Englishman who’s plainly in a panic!
I have two bugbears about Virgin Trains. The first is that, when the crew come down the aisle with the food trolley, whenever anyone asks for a cup of tea, they’re trained to say “would you like anything to go with your tea? Crisps? Cake? Chocolate?” It’s hardly encouraging healthy living...
And then, when you enter the loo, the most awful thing happens. A chirpy little voice pops up saying “hello, I’m the toilet. Well, actually, I’m Fiona from Glasgow and I won a competition to be the voice of the toilet.” She then lists all the things which can’t be flushed down the loo on the train. It’s deeply distracting. In fact, I know blokes with relatively shy kidneys, who wouldn’t be able to pee for a week after hearing that!
Euston station was hell. Welcome to London! They’ve moved the entrance to the tube and now funnel people into tiny little, deeply-angry lines. It took five minutes to get down the first escalator into the ticket hall, where we were greeted by two gurning women flanking someone dressed in a Pudsey Bear suit collecting for Children In Need. I wonder how many of the frustrated commuters wanted to rip that soddin’ bear’s other eye out!