Eat. Sleep. Rave. Repeat. Eat. Sleep. Rave. Repeat. Wait, hang on.
Eat. Work work work work. See shows. Drink. See shows. Dance. Eat. Rave. Work. Repeat.
Welcome to the Edinburgh Festival.
Having lived in Edinburgh my whole life, and been going to fringe shows since I turned 18 (ahh, the heady days), this summer I decided to attempt to make more money than I spent, and being offered a last minute job doing bar work during the fringe, I accepted, and thus began the month of madness.
The way I took the job in itself hinted at the atmosphere of the next month. I had a kitchen job in Glasgow, when I came to see my friends in Edinburgh for a couple of days. One mentioned his employer for the festival was looking for extra staff. We spent that Wednesday writing my CV and applying. By ten o’clock that night I had been granted an interview. Thursday, at 2pm. By 4pm I had the job. Friday at 8am I was on the train to Glasgow to pack, hand in my notice and work at 4pm. Thankfully my boss agreed to me not working my notice period and I was on the first train to Edinburgh for training Saturday morning. That was only the beginning.
A typical day looked like this – up an hour and a half before the train to town. Attempt to squeeze in breakfast, a shower and some exercise. It was never possible to do all three. Then legging it from the always late train through the mobs of Princes Street up the hill (of course) to my wonderful outside bar on George Street. Then it would rain. It would rain for if not all, the majority of the 8-10 hour shift, at least two and a half hours of which we would be obliged to spend on door duty – making sure none of our hundreds of customers at the outside bar in the rain were leaving with their drinks. Ponchos came into effect in a drastic way. Fights ensued over the classic black ponchos and the ill-favoured “Scotland” ponchos, which had the water-proofing capability of a good quality newspaper – great while they lasted. As well as looking even dafter than the rest, if such a thing is really possible.
From time to time a few customers would roll up asking, usually, for coffee, sometimes for directions, and rarely for booze. By the second week of the festival we’d taken to hiding people in interesting places from the managers so that we didn’t get sent home, so usually the two people behind the bar would help the customer as appropriate, and the rest of us hiding under the bar would hold our breath till they left. The ones hiding in the storage container slept on blissfully.
But I’m painting a grim picture. As well as being paid for the privilege of sleeping amongst the Bulmers, there were other notable perks to working during the festival, not least the magical free show pass. Although there were certain terms and conditions, these in practice were rarely properly applied, leading me to getting over twenty complimentary tickets from work. Nice. Not to mention all the free shows, with their glorious spectrum of quality, subject matter and medium. I must have spent a minimum of four hours a day in shows, over the fringe, but I think I only paid for two. The free fringe is magical in a way that nothing else is too, because no matter the show, the performers give everything – they can’t afford not to. I’ve been quoted varying figures by performers for bringing a show to the fringe, and even the crappest, smallest, most out of the way venue is four figures for the full run, let alone props, transport, crew, artists and flyers, which I suspect run into the millions during the festival. In fact, there was a show this year that improvised their show based on the flyers you brought in. That’s how much flyers have become a part of the festival experience.
The other big bonus to work was the crazy social life – working alongside the same people for excessive numbers of hours every week for three weeks, you get pretty close, and the fringe does bring out the madness. Bring on the 1am finishes at work, followed by the drinking till six, and back in work for nine the next day. The cheap bars, the cheaper pubs, the inevitable and infamous Hive till five sessions… Nothing bonds a group quite like a solid month of time together, at least 50% of which you are all inebriated. I really have made life-long drinking mates.
However, there were some stunning days of sunshine during the festival, and they stand out from my entire working career. Being able to speak to the general public when both them and myself were actually in a good mood, to recommend them shows, even if I hadn’t always seen what I was recommending, help them out, serve them a couple of pints and see the bar bustling, was a magnificent feeling. I’d go so far as to say I really really enjoyed my work.
The one thing that gets on my nerves about the festival is the attitude of many Edinburgers to the festival. So many natives avoid town at all costs, the Royal Mile becomes a red area on the internal compass, and they don’t even attempt to walk down Princes Street, which saddens me. All I saw in the papers in the lead up to and during the commonwealth games was how proud Glaswegians were to have the Games in their city and be a part of it, and I think the festival is something to be proud to live amongst. Working the festival this year, seeing all the people it brings and really interacting with them instead of trying to avoid them and the whole experience, made me think more than ever, screw the Games, that’s once in a lifetime, the Festival is something, as an Edinburgh girl, I’m proud to be a part of every single year.