Edinburgh is a wonderful city to live in throughout the year. It is beautiful, cultural and filled with interesting people. However it is at it’s best during August when the streets are alive with people from every corner of the globe, there both to experience the festivals and to perform in them.
The first traces of the festival season begin appearing in mid July. Workmen move into Charlotte Square Gardens and begin erecting the many tents and walkways that will become the book festival. One day you glance up at the castle and pause to smile when you see the first metal supports of the Military Tattoo seating. Posters go up and red banners highlight the front of the Assembly Rooms. By the time the festival cavalcade marches past the fringe is already in full swing, the last book festival tents are going up and it feels as though the world has come to town in a dazzling, constant onslaught of diversity.
Some things are the same every year and some are new and different. Opening the Festival Fringe program is always a guarantee of being faced with listings of thousands of shows all the way from the outstanding sell outs to the barely watchable ones that you regard as a wasted hour of your life that you will never get back. There are street performers on the Royal Mile and beside the national galleries and craft stalls in the same places selling everything from jewellery and felt bags to leather bound diaries and paintings. This year a speagle tent appeared in Princess Street Gardens as a new Assembly Rooms venue. Nearby a vast crane lifts a platform several times a day where, if you have £90 to spare and no fear of heights, you can dine at 100 feet.
By far my favourite place in August is Charlotte Square Gardens, home of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Over the years the RBS Children’s Theatre has become the RBS Corner Tent and my favourite authors’ events to go to have changed from Debi Gliori and Eoin Colfer to Ian Rankin and Tariq Ali but the things that make it the festival I love have never changed. There is the excitement of going to see someone you love to hear speak or the rapt attention of the audience during a fascinating debate on a particular issue. The wonderful atmosphere, as enhanced by the group of friends enjoying an evening glass of wine round a table on the grass as it is by laughing children eating lunch at the same table in blazing sunshine.
Every time I am there I notice things that make me smile. The sound of feet on the wooden walkways, varying between a sharp clack and a quiet thump depending on the owner’s choice of footwear. Glancing along a row to the view of a long line of clapping hands. A family of plastic ducks that took up residence in one of the obligatory puddles last year. A child crouched on the floor of the Children’s Book Tent, absorbed in the pages of her latest discovery. The swift movements of the signer’s hands, translating Lord Winston’s explanation of a nuclear fusion experiment in California or the wave of pleased agreement following a comment that Scotland seems to breed Crime Writers. Lin Anderson explaining to a packed tent that she was pleased to chair Ian Rankin’s event because she couldn’t get a ticket for love or money.
Outside people are queuing for other events, street performers are coaxing cheers from their audience and artists’ pencils are skimming across paper to create a caricature of their latest customer. A small brass band play show tunes on one corner and a piper’s kilt and distinctive sound draws tourists and their cameras on another. Walking down the street you are surrounded by people of every culture and race, speaking in every language. It gets busier and more exciting every year. It’s as insane as it is beautiful. It’s August in Festival City.
Banana Bread (Adapted from Recipe Girl)
220g all purpose gluten free flour
1tsp baking soda
115g butter/dairy free spread
150g brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
5 mashed bananas
Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F and lightly grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
Whisk together the flour, soda and salt in a large bowl.
In a separate bowl cream the butter and brown sugar the mix in the eggs and mashed bananas until well blended.
Stir banana mixture into flour mixture until just blended.
Pour batter into the pan and bake for 60-65 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Leave to cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then turn out to cool completely on a wire rack.