ED2011 Columns ED2011 Comedy ED2011 Week2 Edition

David Reed, Humphrey Ker & Thom Tuck: A dreadful guide to Edinburgh

By | Published on Friday 19 August 2011

Penny Dreadfuls

This August each of the three members of the ThreeWeeks Editors’ Award winning sketch comedy group The Penny Dreadfuls have brought a solo show to the Fringe.
Now operating apart, but with a combined knowledge of the Festival City that could fill, well, at least one page of a newspaper, we asked them each to submit a mini-guide to Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is a city steeped in history. One cannot walk her streets without sensing the presence of persons long gone. A chill in the air. An almost tangible sadness. And a discarded flyer for “Improvised Sing-along-a-Chekhov, C Venues, 4.13am”.

The air is thick with such stories. Many still told by the denizens of minstrels who wander her highways and byways, spitting at their tiny dogs as they ask for change. And this thriving metropolis we know today bears little resemblance to the humble settlement from which it sprang: A simple tartan mill and tiny cluster of kebab shops opened for a bet by King Edin himself over a million years ago. What memories have lingered on in that time? Which tragic souls have not yet departed her hallowed walls? Who are Edinburgh’s most infamous ghosts?

1. The Phantom Dennis
A peculiar and off-putting spirit, The Phantom Dennis (or ‘TPD’s Free Fringe’ for short), has been sighted fairly regularly in the Grass Market area since the death of disco in 1984. His fluorescent glow, over familiarity and insistence on calling everyone ‘chief’ has been a constant burden on local businesses and tourists alike, prompting one irate visitor to declare “At first it was a shock! This figure just floated through the wall, you know? But, then he started hanging around us and things got awkward. I couldn’t have made it much clearer that I was uncomfortable with him touching my arm, but he just kept doing it! He even offered to carry my bag like eight times. Sort of ruined our anniversary”.

2. Mary The Bell-end
Spotted only twice in the last 400 years, accounts of Mary The Bell-end are hard to come by. But, some say if you travel by train between Haymarket and Waverley at the stroke of midnight, and listen very very carefully, you can still hear her leeching all your wi-fi bandwidth by watching BBC iPlayer.

3. The Creaky Poo of Auld Caledonia
Also known as the ‘The Dread Campbell Jobbie’; Edinburgh Castle has been plagued by this spirit since records began. Manifesting in the mess halls and barracks at the height of Hogmanay celebrations, the Creaky Poo crawls across the floors, ceilings and walls like a caterpillar, leaving a vile trail of excrement as it goes; all the while, creaking like a rusty gate. The experience of ‘The Poo’ dropping unsuspectingly onto your shoulder is said to be as terrifying as it is puerile.

4. The Shrieking Borough Councillor  
A terrifying and persistent ghoul, this creature has been known to sprint heedlessly around town screaming, “A tram system! We must have a tram system!!!!” before cutting off her own legs with a well worded letter of complaint.

5. The Ghost of Jarred Christmas Past
Since 2008, this apparition of the past performances of stand-up and actor Jarred Christmas has dogged the Kiwi’s Edinburgh appearances: compering gigs using slightly out of date material and interacting with audience members long since dead. The real Christmas is said to be sick of it and “seriously considering taking matters into his own hands”. He has bought a boiler-suit and a Dyson.

When ThreeWeeks first approached me to write an article for them I said, “What? Tomorrow? Bloody hell”. But then I remembered that this is Edinburgh and realistic deadlines are for jerks and cowards.

In casting around for inspiration, I turned back to that oft visited well of inspiration for poets and artists of my calibre, Mother History. My show, an account of my Grandfather, Dymock Watson, and his attempts to end the war by blowing up the industrial framework of Eastern European countries is rooted in the rich narrative history of whatever he told my mother about it that one time at Christmas.

History is my great passion. So much so that I spent four years of my life studying it right here in Edinburgh. At the University of Edinburgh. Rather than one of the crap ones. BA-ZING! So, it seems only appropriate that I use this space to give you, the reader, a brief guide to the vibrant and exciting history of Auld Reekie (the city, not the ghost tours company).

The earliest evidence of settlement in the area dates back to the third age of Middle Earth, when Arthur’s Seat was known as Weathertop, the place where Elijah Wood got stabbed by the Dementors.

A series of invaders: Picts, Scots and Romans, shaped the burgeoning city opening their colourful and varied takeaways across the city. The construction of Hadrian’s wall almost destroyed the city as the stag and hen parties that keep the local economy afloat were turned back and forced to go to Carlisle and Morpeth instead.

Scotland’s fractious relationship with her southern neighbour is nowhere more obvious than in the nation’s capital. The famous castle was built in 1540 to stop Henry VIII of England from coming up and having sex with all of the Scottish nobility’s daughters, and the one o’clock gun that is still fired from the castle walls to this day was a signal of reassurance to the cityfolk that ‘Auld Gingernuts’ was still in London.

The Forth Road Bridge is in fact only stage one of a project to construct a gigantic Battle-Mech – abandoned due to spiralling costs in 1739 – that was originally intended to form the backbone of Bonny Prince Charlie’s Jacobite forces in their attempts to put the ‘Young Pretender’ back on the throne. In the Thistle Chapel in St Giles’ cathedral is the ‘Most Antient Booke of Pooves’ a great, thick tome, that contains the name of every Englishman who has ever wronged a Scotsman. It runs to some six thousand pages, and any Scotsman of voting age may enter a name at his own discretion, provided he answers the Chaplain’s riddle. The answer to which is 1976, Kenny Dalglish, Hampden Park.

Edinburgh’s history, however, is not all antagonistic. The University was founded in 1583 by a travelling troupe of performance academics. “The Mindly Mummers”, as they were known would tour the courts of Europe wowing heads of state by writing theses and demanding that all references must be clearly cited before their very eyes. James VI granted them a royal charter and funds to establish a campus, an unusual break with convention that some scholars have attributed to his raging boner for the dusky beauty Dr Paz Veron, criminology lecturer.

In 2001 the next great academic chapter of Edinburgh’s history was written when I arrived as a freshman History student and promptly failed my first year when I was forced, due to an administrative error, to take Gaelic 1A. I got back on track by dropping all my outside courses and the rest was, as they say, history.

Perhaps, like me, you are a hopeless romantic. Perhaps you can see the breakup coming, like a train hurtling ever nearer to the point of the track to which you are lashed. And, perhaps, you want that moment to be just right.

Well you’re in luck at the most joyful time of year in this fair city, for I can exclusively reveal the top five spots in Edinburgh to get that heart of yours well and truly broken; five places to have that pumping organ wrenched out of your pathetic chest and trampled upon.

1. Costorphine Hill
Standing beside the towering monuments of Calton Hill, up high on Arthur’s Seat, or by the Royal Observatory on Blackford Hill, there are many beautiful and dizzying spots that afford a panoramic view of majestic Edinburgh. Whichever hill you choose will be lovely, if the thunder doesn’t roll in before you get to the top… But Costorphine Hill is my favourite, mainly because there is a zoo on it. Most hills don’t have many tigers on them in this country, and more’s the pity. Take your beloved to the walk-through lemur enclosure, salute the penguin parade and then make it to the summit. When there, take in the grandeur before your lover crushes your dreams. It will hopefully start raining. The rain washes away any memory you have of being loved.

Also try The Highland Wildlife Park, where a polar bear recently died.

2. Cloisters Bar
Alcohol and heartache are as intertwined as alcohol and violence, or alcohol and regurgitation. There are a million places to get a pint and a dram while you’re in Edinburgh, but nestled at the west end of the meadows, in Tollcross, is the peerless Cloisters bar. With a dizzying array of alcohol, you can ply your dearest with enough honesty serum (I recommend a Dalwhinnie) to extract that little fantasy about slitting your throat so you cannot possibly speak any more drivel…  this is probably a bad sign. You’ll be left, crushed and alone, crying into your drink while all around you is revelry and real ale.

Also try The Penny Black, which opens at six in the morning. Depressing.

3. The Bruntsfield Links
There is nothing like a bit of healthy competition to lay bare the cracks in the façade of your failing relationship. Swing by the 36-hole pitch and putt course just beyond the Meadows to force all the tension to the surface. Then, when the inevitable occurs, the golf clubs double as handy weapons to destroy nearby flora in your pitiful love rage. When you and the putter are broken, sit on one of the handy benches dedicated to people who actually cared for each other and swig some Buckfast. You’ll fit right in.

Also try bowling, which is never romantic.

4. Stockbridge
Tucked away behind the New Town is the picturesque Stockbridge. Have a coffee in one of the lovely cafés and amble alongside the Water of Leith. When you get to St. Bernard’s Well, a crumbling well-house from the 1760’s, stop and have a little look around. Every year a single heron returns to summer in this beautiful stream. It is this natural beauty that will impress upon your beloved the ephemeral nature of existence and bring them to the crushing realisation that life is far too short to spend another moment of precious life with you. They will run away, without so much as a warning. Only then will you notice the man shooting up behind the statue of Hygieia, the Greek Goddess of Health. You will eat in Pizza Express alone, not for a moment enjoying your window seat.

Also try the Museum of Modern Art, for a similar effect, but indoors.

5. Rhubarb
At the beautiful Prestonfield Hotel amidst the peacocks and croquet hoops, you will find the delightfully opulent restaurant, Rhubarb. As you sip champagne in the Red Room whilst awaiting your table, take a moment to breathe in the gilded woodwork and antique furniture. When you have your table in the busy dining room, order a beautiful wine and gather up enough courage to look your partner in the eyes. There will be tears forming: they know it’s not fair to let this continue, but they’ve heard great things about the amuse-bouches, and are now stuck between a rock and a delicious place. Halfway through the main course (they’ve probably ordered sea bass), they will be able to take it no longer. It’s a lovely atmosphere that you are completely ruining. And the wailing only makes it worse. The cheerful and unfalteringly polite maître d’ will call you separate cabs.

Also try The Apartment, which is cheaper.

Or, you could try sitting in the Jack Dome at ten past eight every day of the Fringe.

David Reed’s show ‘Shamblehouse’  and Humphrey Ker’s show ‘ Dymock Watson: Nazi Smasher!’  were both performed at the Pleasance Courtyard, while Thom Tuck’s show ‘Goes Straight To DVD’ was performed at the Pleasance Dome, during Fringe 2011. 

LINKS: www.pennydreadfuls.co.uk