August 2008

Continued from below…

I was, if anything, all the more convinced I was in the presence of the lovely, long-lost Miss McGillivray for having not recognised her at first glance.  It was her voice (and no, she wasn’t singing, “Aye, now let me die!” – I mean her speaking voice) and tone that drew my attention increasingly towards her.  Thirteen years can work some fairly dramatic changes in a twenty-something’s face and figure (I respectfully present myself to the court as exhibit A), and I took the changes I discerned between the girl of my memories and the young woman before me as further corroboratory evidence of her identity. 

My natural diffidence and reluctance to risk inflaming hers (in addition to my understandable reluctance to make a goon of myself in public in case I had misidentified the maiden) prevented my interrupting her conversation with a cry of “You are Kirsten McGillivray and I claim my £5!” before I was overtaken by the circumstance of our being ushered into the auditorium.  I had, typically, by then left it too late – she and her friend spurned the importuning of the usher to help fill in the front rows (it was to be a full house) which made me (a biddable drone at the best of times) feel all the more keenly the desire to placate the management by my compliance with this repeated request.  I had thus lost the chance to sit close and gather my courage into a sufficiently large bundle to address her. 

And here I must apologise to the young chap at whose show we had turned up to chortle – Miles Jupp was his name and a cleverer, funnier, more self-deprecatingly charming young bean could scarcely be imagined.  [The fact that he reminded me of a more polished and wittier version of myself when his age (the blighter’s only twenty-bleedin’-eight) does not of course in any way contribute to my preparedness to extol his comedic virtues…] Sell your grandmother (should this provide even a temporarily successful way of raising the readies) to fund a ticket to his very reasonably priced show.  Anyway, airy persiflage aside, I am sorry, Mr Jupp – I cannot be said to have been giving your witty patter full and due attention.  My mind spun with the thought of Miss McGillivray, even as I guffawed loudly (and at times anticipatorily) at your gags. 

Within a quarter of an hour, I was quite certain that Miss X was Miss McG. [I hazarded the “Miss” as a not unreasonable induction: there was no visible evidence of a wedding or engagement band on her finger, and – let’s face it – how many gals wear them concealed in pouches strapped round their kneecaps instead?] 

I was aware, of course, that I had one further opportunity to super-glue my courage to the sticking-place.  I would probably be able to catch her on her way out.  Before the hour was quite spent, I would have to decide whether to avail myself of this final chance to unmask the poor unsuspecting gal.  I’m bolder, and my amour propre is somewhat less tender, than in the days when Kirsten and I last trod the boards together; and in addition to this, age contributes a wild dash of what’s-the-worst-that-could-happen? to almost any character.  How would I feel about myself if I failed to make the sort of minimally awkward social manoeuvre that to most people would scarcely be the material for an angsty blog-post?  Maybe she would be delighted to see me and we could have a long-overdue catch-up over a drink in the bar and she would laugh as she reflected on how much the charming and witty Mr Jupp reminded her of me when we last saw each other and we’d exchange numbers and…  Thus did I resolve to approach her after the show.

But upon ceasing my enthusiastic applause at the end of Mr Jupp’s “set” (I am so hip with the jargon, innit) I turned around to see that there was an exit to the rear of the venue – which Miss McG and her friend had already put to its intended use.  I dashed out the lower exit and on to the stairs as nonchalantly as I could, hoping that the two streams met there.  They did, and there she was, talking to her friend as they stood on the landing.  As my pulse quickened then, so must my account now – or we’ll all be dead before it’s finished. 

She didn’t see me as  I approached, but she could scarcely have missed me as I stood politely near to them, waiting for a suitable gap in their chatter to open up.  After a few increasingly awkward glances in my direction, the flow of their blethering petered out altogether and they looked unsmilingly towards me.  It was too late to back out now.  “Sorry,” I blurted out through my disarming grin, “but are you Kirsten McGillivray?”  After a very short pause (three or fours hours at the most, but it seemed longer) she replied, “Er, no…” 

The scales fell from my eyes with a clatter.  Of course it wasn’t her.  Without a beat’s rest I performed an odd little bow of self-mortification as I rattled out: “Ah, sorry.  I completely mistook you!”  This is not what I was expecting to have to say at all.  I didn’t even know if it made sense to say that.  But it achieved the required result in that the tension was now resolved, and the ladies allowed themselves a polite little laugh as they realised with evident relief that this was the end of my interrogation, and I bowed my way out of their circle and into more comfortable range.  Judge for yourselves if I was glad I had thought better of approaching her crooning some obscure bit of recitative from one of “our” G&S scenes.

I grinned maniacally to myself, at least as much relieved as disappointed at the outcome.   Determining I’d had enough excitement for one night, I decided against hanging around for a post-traumatic pint – who knows how many other phantom might-have-beens my febrile imagination might have conjured out of the assembled fringers had I not?  I was home in time for a late supper and some easeful slothing before retiring, unduly satisfied with my day.

If you’re asking yourself at the end of all that, “Is that it?” (as everyone else I’ve recounted this tale to so far has), then yes, I’m afraid that is it.  I regret I have no philosophers’ stone to turn plain honest lead into shiny narrative gold – I’m no “Alchemical Ali”.  But if it’s any consolation to you, my dear indulgent readers, I have enjoyed writing up even so trivial an account for your perusal.  If that isn’t any consolation, my lawyers refer you to the title of this here weblog in the hope that you will see the folly of raising an action for a more substantial return on your efforts.  At least you got some tips for shows. And just be glad you didn’t get the write-up of my abortive fringing from the week before

The End


All in all, Tuesday was a splendid day.  How unlike the day last week in which I completely failed to fulfil my intentions of “hitting” the Fringe, for all sorts of bleak and utterly uninteresting reasons – a day the written-up account of which is so dull and dispiriting that I cannot bear to polish and publish it here.  Be thankful.   Be very thankful.  I was determined not to let weather or mood or the state of my digestive system or anything else stand in the way of my “doing” the Festival this week, however.  And, by St. Dwayne and all his dweeby disciples, nor did I. 

I began with a mid-morning trip to the half-price ticket box in an attempt to save a bit of the hard-earned.  Typically, nothing I had planned on seeing was reduced.  Had I not any idea what I wanted to see, I would almost certainly have let the reduced price of these shows be my guide.  As it was, only my enthusiasm was reduced.  This could so easily have been the beginning of the sort of resolve-rotting that afflicted me on Wednesday last.  But no – I wouldn’t let it be, bedad. 

Instead I stuck to my initial plan to see two shows in particular: a piece of theatre (odd phrase, that: “A chunk of proscenium arch or perhaps some of the Royal Box, Sir?”) at three-ish and a stand-up comic at eight.  In addition, I was most keen to “catch” (it’s what one does at the Fringe, doncha know) some free music.  Having scanned the available freebies, I settled upon a lunchtime concert at Sir George Gilbert Scott’s boreal gothic masterpiece, St Mary’s (Piskie) Cathedral, Palmerston Place, and Choral Evensong also thereat later in the afternoon.

My day was planned out ahead of me like a military campaign and, perhaps cowed by my own unusual decisiveness, I spent the next hour-and-a-bit doing some aimless blogging etc. at my usual netcafé (“Mmm, Netcafé!” as Gareth Hunt so nearly used to say, shaking his beans the while).  I also checked St Mary’s website for details of the concert and Evensong that day: a free lunchtime treat of one Martinu and one Schumann piano quintet, and an office-full of Bairstow and Balfour-Gardiner was promised me, and I was exceeding glad. 

My other treat to myself was to be a solitary luncheon at a half-way decent grub-shop, so on the way to Our Lady of Palmerston Place’s gaff I booked a table for 2pm at a nice wee eatery mere yards away from my next cultural appointment at 1455.  Plenty of time to get there from St. M’s “35 min.” concert, I thought to myself as I squelched merrily through the greasy drizzle to the West End. 

As indeed there would have been  had the concert not lasted until a few minutes beyond 2pm.  Which it did.  The excellent young musicians fairly scampered through the scherzo of the Schumann as if they could read my anxious thoughts and I waited with exquisite discomfort until the very last note of the last movement before bolting for the west door, applauding as I went.  After a damp dash and a very hasty but remarkably unhurried and perfectly delicious lunch (assisted upon its alimentary way by a decentish glass of merlot) I was able to make my next venue with a few minutes to spare. 

This particular play, as well as being recommended by both a fellow book-grouper and the Hootsmon, would have appealed thematically to me anyway: a one-man (plus on-stage fiddler) play about the actor-playwright’s Polish father settling in Inverness as a tailor after the WWII and his various accounts of his post- and ante-bellum existence.  I won’t spoil if for anyone who pops past here in time still to catch it, but I will recommend it for its simple, subtle artistic and emotional effectiveness.  Also commendable is the direct transparency of its title (“The Tailor of Inverness” – delivers what it says on the tin) in a festival strewn with titles which seem to rival one another in opacity or strained allusiveness: given the example set by many such efforts, I’m grateful it chose not to call itself something ripely idiotic like “The Unbearable Brightness of Ceilings” instead.

Thence to the netcafé (“Mmm, Netcafé!” [You’ve done that one already.  Ed.]) again briefly, then another trudge to Evensong.  I am always deeply nostalgic at choral Evensong, especially when the music is stuff I sang as a wee piskie chorister, and this one was no exception.  The Balfour-Gardiner (his setting of the office hymn for Compline “Te lucis ante terminum”) especially punched above its weight in my gut.  Sitting at the front of the nave and having eschewed the service sheet for a plain old prayer book, I automatically found myself standing for the Magnificat – alone amongst my fellow congregants, as I found out from my peripheral vision.  Undaunted, I remained standing and stood again for the Nunc – it was meet and right so to do, whatever the cheat-sheet said.  Since when, I should like to know, did it become the form to sit for the canticles?  [There’s another fringe-title in search of a show: “Standing for the Canticles”.]  I intuitively felt the whole assembly’s tacit respect for me as an Athanasius-like champion of liturgical posture: oh yes, I’m quite sure that’s what they must have been timidly murmuring to themselves…

In need of a swift pint after these devotional exertions, I located my next venue and took advantage of its propinquity to a grand old boozer, Sandy Bell’s.  Thus accoutred with a foaming jar of nut-brown ale, I sat down near the bar and was soon joined at my table by a muy simpático couple fresh from Orthodox vespers at the nearby Greyfriar’s kirk.  After much friendly banter and festival-chat, I bade them (and sir’s handsome golden lab) a good evening, my faith in my fellow citizens of Auld Reekie filled to the brim and running over.

So thus in high spirits I made my short and soggy way to the last of my day’s choice cultural nuggets: a stand-up comedy performance by a young chap I’d seen a couple of years before and at whose routine I’d laughed “literally like a drain” – a drain on the other audients’ patience, that is.  I forewent another pint, remembering the pain that can be wrought upon a toper’s kidneys et al. by a chortle-wracked diaphragm, and so it was whilst waiting the ten minutes or so on the stairs up to the venue that I caught sight and sound of the young ladies in front of me in the queue. 

This was unfortunate, really, because I was pretty much constantly distracted by the thought of one of them for the whole of the performance to come.  I had, you see, begun to form the impression that the smaller, darker gal was an old acquaintance from by undergrad days whom I had on many occasions resolved to contact since I’d moved down here: truth to tell, she’d been a lucky but unwitting (I think) object of my youthful amatory attention.  Kirsten McGillivray (names changed to protect the innocent/oblivious/indifferent) and I had performed together in many Gilbert and Sullivan productions, and I had once played a highly susceptible Lord Chancellor to her graceful Iolanthe – “Iolanthe, thou livest!”  That sort of thing marks a chap indelibly, you know.

To be continued…