50 plus 1: An Edinburgh birthday

Posted: 18 August 2014 in life, don't talk to me about life, personal, writing
Tags: , , ,

Well, I’m 50.

To be precise, I was 50 yesterday and those of you who’ve been following the countdown on this blog may – with some justification – have expected a blog post from me before lights out last night. And, to be fair to myself, I’d actively and positively intended to post something before I crawled into bed and pushed the light switch into the off position.

Ah, the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley, especially when numerous examples of what Alistair Cooke used to call the wine of Scotland are involved.

I mean, it’s not even as if I’d planned planned on coming up to Edinburgh this year; like the past few birthdays, I fully expected to spend the day on my own and just wandering as on any other Sunday. However, the opportunity to (a) come up to Edinburgh for a few days during the Festival, and then (b) to travel onwards for another few days to stay at an old friend’s house on the Isle of Skye was too good to pass up.

So, I arrived Saturday morning in Edinburgh after a couple of hours driving; I’d come up with Clara Benn and the girls but once I’d fallen asleep after the first stint, surrendering the driving to Clara. She very foolishly kindly let me sleep and drove the rest of the journey.

A nice pleasant, relaxing Saturday afternoon followed before we headed into town for my first Fringe experience of 2014, seeing the most excellent Nick Doody in his show: Nick Doody vs The Debonair Assassin. Nick’s a funny, clever man with a clever, funny show in part discussing the difference between how we see ourselves and how others see us. Brilliantly incisive and superbly funny. Highly recommended. No, sod that; I’m telling you to go see him.

Although we got out early enough to see another show if we fancied, to be honest, I was enjoying just soaking up the atmosphere of the Fringe; Nick, Clara and I then visited several bars and caught up with other comedians, most of whom I knew and chatted away, passing the hours in a very pleasant manner.

At one point, we found ourselves at the abattoir bar, with an amusingly appropriate wifi password, and although the place was packed with comedians, and there’s no way whatsoever that I should have felt comfortable – since I’m obviously not in the business – I didn’t. It took me about ten minutes to realise why: the atnmosphere, sounds, and sights were almost exactly the same as that at a comics convention (comics in the meaning of comic books) after the punters have gone home and it’s just the pros and hangers-on* remaining.

*(e.g. me.)

The same tone of stories were being told, the same age range was there, the same relaxed comfortable nature of professionals catching up in a social environment with other professionals in the same industry.

It’s funny – I’ve always thought that it’s amusing that comics can be taken as meaning comic books and comedians, especially since the bile thrown at women in both industries is distressingly similar: the vile insinuations as to how they got their break, the ludicrous assertions that there’s something inherently and qualitatively better about the work of men, and the flatly outrageous sexism online.

Somewhere in the very wee hours, my phone buzzing with texts, emails and twitter notifications wishing me happy birthday, we headed back to the house in which we’re all staying, old friends of Mitch Benn and Clara.

And so to bed.

Woke up mid-morning and then quickly into the city centre to meet up with Emma Vieceli and her husband Pud for lunch. Emma’s up here in Parade; I’m hoping to see it when I get back from Skye; you should see it now if you can. Lovely to see Emma and Pud; they’re always great company, and Emma genuinely is one of the nicest people in comics, as well as a fascinatingly wonderful artist. You should be reading Breaks by her for a start…

After lunch – delicious! – headed off to The Stand 3 to see Mitch Benn Is The 37th Beatle; although I’ve seen several versions of this show, this was a new one to me, as although it’s returned to the hour length of last year’s Fringe version, there’s at least one new song (from the 80 minute touring version), and a few minor differences and new jokes I couldn’t recall hearing before. Lovely show, as always though; it’s my favourite of Mitch’s recent shows, but of course, I haven’t seen this year’s show yet…

Bumped into Andy Salzman as I was leaving Mitch’s venue; Andy’s a lovely bloke, and he very kindly supplied a challenge for last year’s Comic Relief 24 Hours of Fast Fiction, this one. Confirmed with him when his shows are this year, Satirist For Hire in the afternoon, Political Animal at night. I’ve plans to see both if I can. You may know Andy from The Bugle podcast, or from Radio Five Live’s 7 Day Saturday. Or you may not have heard of him at all; if it’s the latter, I highly recommend you remedy this loss in your satirical needs.

Thinking of Andy reminds me of John Oliver (Andy’s partner on The Bugle) and his new venture, Last Week Tonight. Anyone who saw him sub for Jon Stewart on the Daily Show knew that John was ready for his own show, and I’m more pleased than I can say that not only has Last Week Tonight been a roaring success so quickly, but also that it’s established with astonishing rapidity its own, very different, identity from that which most people thought it might be, i.e. The Daily Show on Sundays. That the show has managed to do that is fantastic for all involved but especially for its audience which if there is any justice in television is sky rocketing week after week.

Anyway, back to me. When you left me… (ok, ok, that was a long digression, I know), I had just left Mitch’s gig and was on my way to The Pear Tree wherein I intended to reside for the rest of the day, enjoying friends, acquaintances and possibly one or two people I didn’t know, stopping by to help me celebrate my 50th birthday with chat, stories and alcohol.

Now I don’t want to spoil the story but… that’s pretty much exactly how it worked out. Too many people to list everyone but it was so bloody lovely to see Carly Smallman, if only briefly, as well as Kirsty Newton and Nick Doody; Jay Foreman dropped by, which is always a pleasure, as did Tiernan Douieb and Matt Blair. And the gorgeous Pippa Evans popped by as well… (Loretta Maine promised to come, but strangely couldn’t make it.)

Can’t thank Mitch and Clara enough for organising it; was a lovely day, and a lovely evening.

Managed to get to see Al Kennedy and his missus Cariie, as well as their six-week old daughter, who was cuter than any child has any right to be. Despite me merely wanting people’s presence, rather than presents, I must mention two presents I got.

I already mentioned Clara buying me a first edition of my favourite novel, The Man by Irving Wallace.

Al and Carrie’s present was a tad more recent, but it involved one of my favourite writers and one of my favourite artists, Kurt Busiek and Stu Immonen respectively. Somehow, somehow, I’ve never reasd ShockRockets, their 2000 book.

So, I was particularly delighted to receive a hardback collection of the entire series. Really looking forward to reading this.

When I returned home, suitably relaxed, suitably chilled, and not shaken at all, let alone stirred, Mitch presented me with the following:

As the more sharp-eyed of you will see, the pen has the words MAKE GOOD ART engraved upon it, a worthy sentiment most often expressed by our mutual friend Neil Gaiman, but one which I commend to everyone reading this.

And that was my birthday, leaving out the hour or so during the evening when Clara and I nipped out for a bite to eat, which I didn’t quite realise I needed as much as I did until the first bit of food hit my stomach….

It almost feels like cheating to talk about today, but since it’s got a link to the above, why not? It was Kirsty Newton’s dad’s birthday today (as well, coincidentally hers as well) and she’d organised a ‘flash mob’ to sing Happy Birthday to him at half-three this afternoon. Since she wanted unique things to happen for and to him today I offered to write him a short story, an offer which she accepted. So, this morning, I typed out a short story written specifically for him. And then… I hand-wrote the story, using the my new fountain pen, onto Basildon Bond paper, sealed it in an envelope and presented it to him this afternoon, a story no-one else will ever read unless he chooses to let them read it.

I think it’s nice and appropriate that the first thing I wrote with a pen engraved with MAKE GOOD ART was a story written specifically for one person.

As for the next thirty-six hours (I’m leaving for Skye on Wednesday morning), I’ve plans to see Salzman, and tonight, Jess Robinson in her four and five star reviewed Mighty Voice. As for the rest, I’ll see what occurs… it’s not as if I’m short of choices, is it?

  1. Congratulations on surviving – and mostly prospering in – your first fifty, Lee!

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