Have you ever stayed up through the night to watch the sunrise? Whether the happy consequence of a night on the town or as the panic-tinged conclusion to an extra-long study session before an important exam?
I have. I once watched the sky ignite over Aberdeen beach with little idea how I got there or why I was carrying a wooden spatula. I’ve finished movie marathons to find the horizon ablaze, and taken the night bus to London, pulling into Victoria Bus Station just as a new day was born.
But have you ever had to watch the sunrise? Have you ever been outside on a night without the option of just giving up, going home and catching up with the sun a little later in its shift? As of this weekend, I’ve done that too.
Ever since first reading about wild camping earlier this year on the Wanderlust website, I’ve wanted more and more to give it a try. So when a friend suggested that we go through to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with nowhere to stay and no way of getting home, I just couldn’t resist.
With a couple of shows booked and a rough plan hashed out for the following night (something involving Arthur’s Seat, soft grass and it not raining) Mel and I set off on Saturday morning for a day of comedy, cider and, if past years were any indication, near-impassible crowds. A very, very long day, that is.
Naturally, we arrived at our first show, First World Problems (not Jason Manford’s show of the same name, but another, free-er one), to find the venue packed to capacity. Having searched The Three Sisters for a place named by the guide as Laughing Horse, we found twelve or so festival-goers crammed into what was previously the staff room.
Disappointed, we made our way to Pleasance Courtyard for a drink before our next allotted show at 16:10. Sitting down at the only free table (a wobbly wind-trap that could have doubled as a bucking bronco) we were immediately beset by fast-talking flyerers desperate to sell us on their employers’ shows, or at the very least dump their respective loads.
These pitches varied in quality, with some people merely sliding flyers under our unfussed faces while others approached with slightly more enthusiasm. One man tried to sell us on some sort of atheist church service, while another gave us free tickets to Holes (usually £20), which he assured us was already a strong contender for the prestigious Perrier award. We gave him 8/10.
We were told that the tickets would include transport to and from a secret location, where Invisible Dot Ltd would be putting on a show about four plane crash survivors. According to the promoter, the biggest selling points were star Daniel Rigby (of Those BT Adverts fame) and the sand, which had apparently been “shipped” all the way from London. Only at The Fringe.
The persuasiveness of his pitch caught us off-guard, and threatened to throw off our entire itinerary. There wasn’t any guarantee that we would be getting any sleep that night, and if not then staying awake until the first bus home at 8am would be challenge enough without pushing the finishing line back another ten hours. We put out a last-minute request for accommodation.
Having missed First World Problems, The Boy Who Kicked Pigs was our first show of this year’s festival. From Kill The Beast (a theatre company which includes a fellow Best For Film alumnus), this stage adaptation of Tom Baker’s short novel of the same name was a deranged delight, telling the story of Robert Caligari and the townsfolk plagued by his pig-kicking compulsions.
We had planned to follow The Boy Who Kicked Pigs with another show at 18:45, but we unfortunately found ourselves waiting a little longer than anticipated for our pizzas at The Chanter (where we opted for BBQ over the slightly more ambitious-sounding Banoffee). Instead we took the atheist church guy up on his offer and headed for, er, The Hive.
Wonder & Joy, it turned out, had been personally sold to us by one of the church’s founders, Sanderson Jones, and along with Pippa Evans he sought to build a community and make some memories with us assorted strangers. With the promise of songs, games and meditation, the (slightly surreal) hour saw us singing along to Queen, shaking hands with everyone else in the room, and ‘Danish Clapping’.
No sooner had we left The Hive than we were ushered into The Banshee Labyrinth for An Audience With Jeff Goldblum — or rather Benjamin Partridge pretending to be Jeff Goldblum. On previous years we had sat through singing hoovers, bad Facebook jokes and a guy showing off his collection of coat-hangers, and in 2013 we were now naming invisible prawns and promising Not Jeff Goldblum that we would look after individual plastic cups of water.
Having pre-booked our final show of the night believing that it would take place at Bristo Square’s Underbelly, we were more than a little disappointed to find ourselves redirected to the Cowgate for Foil, Arms and Hog. A sketch show starring a trio of Irishmen, the act pointed fun at everything from Ryanair to beekeepers, and more than made up for any initial misunderstanding.
By now it was ten past eleven, and we were already knackered. Having failed to find anywhere to stay, we relocated to Tron for another drink and a chance to re-evaluate our options. Having exhausted plans A (search for a cheap hostel) through G (which involved us using “We have nowhere to stay tonight” as the fact we had to tell everyone during Wonder & Joy), we returned to The Banshee Labyrinth which was said to be screening movies until five the next morning.
Sat in the same room where Partridge had earlier been handing out pretend pets, we endured Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back and Wayne’s World while various other festival-goers came and went. A group of girls debated whether or not Shannon Elizabeth was Nadia from American Pie, a drunk Jersey Girl fan told us what our favourite Kevin Smith film should be, and a foreign Mod offered everyone amphetamines while smoking what appeared to be a battery-powered sonic screwdriver.
We left at the back of three and headed for Arthur’s Seat where we hoped to get a couple of hour’s kip before sunrise at 05:22. Cold and uncomfortable, we gave up after a while and went for a walk instead, stumbling across a pair of substantially better prepared campers (they had a tent and EVERYTHING) at St Anthony’s Chapel. We left them to it and completed our ascent to the peak, where we watched the sun rise over Leith with a surprisingly large number of people with similar intentions.
It was around this point, about half-way down Arthur’s Seat as rain started to fall, that we decided not to hang around for Holes at 15:00. We were wet, hungry and tired, and the thought of boarding a coach full of people (largely press, apparently) without first showering, changing our clothes and brushing our teeth was too much to bear. Instead we waded through the evening’s rubbish (still being swept up at 7am) for breakfast at McDonalds, and then went to the station to pass on our tickets and catch the first bus home.
So I still haven’t wild camped, unless of course actually sleeping outdoors isn’t an essential requirement. But I did enjoy a number of very entertaining shows at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, finally make it to the end of Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back (Mark Hamill?) and watch the sunrise from an extinct volcano. Not bad, really.