August in Edinburgh- some observations

(Grumpy old woman alert!)

As the Fringe and Book Festivals pack up for another year, the media are full of stories on ticket sales and overviews of the highs and lows of the arts in Edinburgh during August. There is still more to come, of course but I wanted at this point to add some highs and lows as a visitor (from Glasgow) and member of the audience in Edinburgh during the summer.  I have been coming to the festival since I was a child and, as an adult, I have been every year for more than I can remember. This year, like every other, there have been many wonderful moments which I will cherish and some (very few) I will happily forget.   But this blog is about the wider experience.

The city looks magnificent.  It always does look pretty special and the sunshine definitely helps.  But big congratulations to the staff of City of Edinburgh Council who kept the place so clean.  Given the number of flyers being thrust into my hands and those of other visitors, we should have been knee-deep in litter.  The fact we weren’t is down to the unsung heroes of Street Care and Cleaning.

This is the last year BT (before trams) and I don’t want to add to the grumbling we have heard for too long about the disruption caused by their construction – and at the same time the re-construction of both Edinburgh’s main stations. It has been an obstacle course round diggers and Heras fencing for too long. However the city has never been kind to pedestrians and the relationship between those on foot and those in vehicles is fraught.  This year I brought my bike through on the train to aid getting from one venue to another and let me tell you Edinburgh bus drivers just don’t care.  My hope, therefore is that in the brave new Tramworld, we see a better layout of roads and pavements and special lanes which can accommodate everyone.

Another infrastructure issue is access to wifi. For overseas visitors this is crucial for getting information, booking tickets, using maps to find venues on smart phones without incurring huge bills.  No point, promoters, having shiny apps if your customers can’t afford to access them. I can attest to the fact that in parts of Quartermile it is impossible to get 3g never mind wifi.  Many venues offer access but often it is not adequate for most purposes beyond email. So Edinburgh, bite the bullet and create a city centre wifi zone and be an enlightened city for the 21st century.

However wifi is just one aspect of accessing information.  Most phones need regular re-charging and a common site in the city is of folk crawling along the floor of bars and restaurants trying to find the socket used by the cleaners for their vacuums in order to plug in an i-phone –and then hovering around anxiously making sure it is not stolen.  This is one for the private sector. Install proper phone charging facilities which can be freely accessed for those buying a meal/drink/ticket.

I want to put on record my great box office moments—the Edinburgh International Book Festival which refunded my tickets I booked online by mistake; the Edinburgh International Festival which re-printed lost tickets (twice!); the Fringe box office which refunded money for a cancelled show before I even knew it was cancelled- and joy unconfined- the Fringe Booth at Glasgow Queen Street! Thanks to them and their lovely helpful staff. Less impressive was the attitude of the front of house staff in some of the temporary venues. It is likely that they were overworked, low paid and lacked training. Back-to-back shows mean we have to expect queuing and crush but so much of that can be made bearable by good customer care. If you want to see how to do it, go to the Traverse, Edinburgh International Book Festival or Summerhall which managed to cram in audiences to its rabbit- warren of venues with a smile and charm.

Summerhall, however scores less well on my final point: toilets. With the huge numbers of folk passing through venues, this becomes a real issue. Not enough, not clean, not working. Temporary venues in old buildings have a problem. They cannot address the issue with portaloos, like the big tented spaces or with lovely facilities you find in lottery funding-enhanced theatres. However Summerhall is not a temporary venue and it needs to look at its operations in this area.  But it is not just venues. How is it possible that a new restaurant facility like Peter’s Yard is allowed to get away with inadequate number of loos?  Whether you are using temporary toilets or not, they need to be cleaned — and regularly.  And ‘out of order’ signs should be a badge of shame.  Perhaps there is a lesson to learn from those who clean Edinburgh’s streets, not just during the festival period, but all year round.