There’s a buzz in Edinburgh just now, caused by the annual massive influx of tourists, reasonable summer weather which encourages people to walk around town, and the various Edinburgh Festivals. Strolling up or down the Royal Mile is quite an experience – in the melee of people you hear just about every language imaginable, you see faces and fashions from all parts of the world, and every fifty yards or so a crowd gathers to watch various street performers, many of whom are very good at their craft. They plead for, and often receive, donations of £20 for their performances. They are allowed twenty-minute slots, so it’s quite controlled.
Around every corner, so it seems, is a Fringe venue.
Before he became a hermit, I used to go to a few random Fringe shows with Fat Mac, starting in the Pleasance and ending up in an old man’s pub of Fat Mac’s choice. Fat Mac used to write plays, one or two of which were quite entertaining, but since he went to seed his output has dropped to zero. This year, I missed the only Fringe show I’d booked tickets for, due to the 30-hour-flu. I’d booked the show because a distant relative performed in it. The Fringe programme, nowadays, is so full of shows that it is very difficult to make informed choices.
Instead, I tend to stick to the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Charlotte Square is a superb venue for #edbookfest and I hope that they don’t move it to a new location. The audience seems to be less international than at the Fringe, with a fair proportion of attendees being Edinburgh’s New Town literati.
I missed the first Book Festival show I’d booked this year due to the aforementioned 30-hour-flu, but Lindsey took my ticket and very much enjoyed Trevor Royle talk about Culloden: A Very European Battle. She took copious notes, “So that I can answer your many questions, Roddy”. It sounded as though it was expertly presented, with new angles on a complex topic. I wish that I’d been there. I went to another talk about Culloden on Monday 22nd, given by Murray Pittock – Culloden: The Battle and the Myths, but I wish I’d been able to compare what he said to what Royle said. I gathered that the two don’t entirely agree, but I’ll have to read both of their books before commenting further.
Can you believe that in 2016, at the Book Festival, there are two presentations about two new books covering the battle of Culloden, which happened way back in April 1746? Various aspects of the battle are still contentious, and the historiography is very revealing, politically. I’ve mentioned Culloden in several posts in the past, here and here, for example, and I now realise after listening to Murray Pittock that here I perpetuated a myth of Culloden. I don’t like perpetuating myths (the myth is that the Highlanders, brandishing little more than claymores, were cut down by lead shot from the British force. According to Pittock, if I understood him correctly, the Jacobite army actually fired off more shot than Cumberland’s army during the short battle).
Although still under par, due to the 30-hour-flu, I made it to Geoff Dyer‘s talk, The World: Intimate Portraits, along with Lindsey and JD. A pretentious title for a talk, IMHO, but Dyer can handle it, and there is no doubt in my mind, having so far read two-thirds of White Sands that the boy can write, and write well. He is very creative. He knows that he is creative. He’s not dislikeable as a presenter, unless you envy blatant writing talent. A fair amount was made, at the talk, about what genre Dyer’s work fits into, even to the extent that someone suggested that he, along with some others (I can’t remember who they were), deserve to have a new category. Personally, I think that the title ‘story’ (there was discussion about whether it was a story, essay, or something else) of White Sands is rather clichéd and road-movie-ish, but his extract reading from that chapter was superb. He told us that his wife in life is called Rebecca, but that in the title ‘story’ he writes that his wife is named ‘Jessica’. You can’t nail this guy down. I like that fact.
Random quote: “The Knowledge that there are things to do, tasks to be completed, is enough to keep postponing them, to give life a sense of projected purpose and improvement. Having made the long-postponed decision to go into the office just three days a week so that he can have more time to devote to his frustrated urge to play the saxophone, a solicitor discovers, in the two extra days at his disposal, that the main purpose of the musical dream was to blind him to the truth of his existence and identity: that he is a solicitor through and through.”
Excellent writing by Geoff Dyer!
On Tuesday 16th I went to Martin Carver’s presentation: The Last Days of the Picts, about the Portmahomack dig. Lindsey and I will visit the site next summer, and this is something I am very much looking forward to. We also hope to re-visit Burghead, where part of a major Pictish fort survives.
Frank Dikötter‘s talk about the Cultural Revolution was informative, and it is always a privilege to listen to Sir Tom Divine discuss Scottish history. His presentation concerned Scotland’s considerable and very profitable involvement in the slave trade.
Ben Rawlence entertained an appreciative audience with his talk about Dadaab Refugee Camp in northern Kenya. It is the biggest camp in the world, with over 300,000 people living there, although many people have never heard of it. His book City of Thorns covers the stories of nine of its residents.
Sir Barry Cunliffe’s book By Steppe, Desert, and Ocean covers a great deal of ground – 10,000 years of development in Europe, the Middle East, and China. His talk summarised its findings. Cunliffe is an archaeologist, and normally deals with very specific findings from particular places, but he is also able to turn his mind to the bigger picture. His book looks particularly attractive.
I’ve written about the failed Darien colony before, so am looking forward to John McKendrick’s talk Darien: A Dream and a Tragedy, tomorrow, and my final ticket is for Amira K Bennison, who will be talking about Islam in the Mediterranean on Thursday.
The only thing about going to presentations at the Book Festival is that I end up with a great pile of books to read!