Edinburgh – From the Fringe of Madness

We made our annual trip to the UK’s top cultural festival over the past weekend to take in some spectacular shows, spot a few celebs and take a few drinks.

Teetering on the Brink at Edinburgh’s Fringe

The Shows

The first show we had booked was Marcus Brigstocke’s the Brig Society at the Assembly’s Rainy Hall. As you would imagine from the show’s title, it riffs off the Tories big con-trick The Big Society. Coming from a privileged background himself, Brigstocke ably demonstrated how the present government feathers the nest of its own members at the expense of everyone else, exposing the hypocrisy of cuts designed to hurt the least well off in society while millionaires like UK Prime Minister David Cameron (personal fortune £30 million) just get richer. I particularly enjoyed the way he showed how bankers caused the financial crisis by borrowing money from the audience. Lots of great jokes (which I always have trouble remembering), I liked this one on Scottish independence “Alex Salmond likens the Scottish economy to a Celtic tiger, that’s like a normal tiger only with type two diabetes”.

Naturally Brigstocke also enjoyed telling us that the present UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has decided that the UK should, in the wake of the success of the 2012 Games, host an annual cultural festival with dance, music, literature, poetry and art. Must be news for the organisers of the UK’s annual International Arts Festival that has only been going on in Edinburgh since 1947! Shows how out of touch the idiots running the UK are, either that or they consider Scotland’s independence a done deal.

Brigstocke’s show finished at 10.20 so we had to beat it across Edinburgh to the George Square Theatre to catch Reanimator the Musical at 10.40. If you haven’t seen Stuart Gordon’s 1985 movie of HP Lovecraft’s classic tale of how medical student Herbert West brings corpses back to life, you are probably at a disadvantage, as the show is packed full of gags based upon it.

The cast, which includes George Wendt (Norm from Cheers) as Dean Halsey were brilliant, the musical score is somewhere between 70s prog rock and Gilbert and Sullivan and the effects, achieved with minimal props excellent. If you ever get the chance to see it, the first three rows are the splatter zone, you will get squirted with fake blood and other fluids. You have been warned.
Sunday’s main events were both at the very intimate Pleasance Cabaret Bar. We knew what to expect from The Tim Vine Chat Show and the Not Going Out comic did not disappoint, quick fire gags like this,

were supplemented by chats with volunteers from the audience, although Formula One engineer Ross Brawn didn’t put himself forward, Vine managed to get laughs even from an accountant who admitted that accountants were boring!

Hardeep Singh Kohli was in the audience for Reginald D Hunter‘s Work in Progress. More observational than quick fire gag riffing Hunter’s show took us from his family in the deep south of the USA to people’s reaction to his so-called celebrity status in Britain and then on to a tabloid newspaper attempts to honey-trap him and the duplicity of blackmailers. Very relaxed, laconic delivery as you would expect from his Have I Got News For You appearances.

We also watched part of a free show by a singing accupuntuarist at the Meadows pub. It was different.

What we ate
Food is always an important part of our Edinburgh weekends. Our first meal was very disappointing and sad to say it was at somewhere we have recommended in the past. Lunch at Barioja (19 Jeffrey Street)  has usually been very good, but on Saturday it was dreadful, the tortilla boccadillo might just as well have been stuffed with instant mash there was so little egg in it, the meat in the Mixta boccadillo could have soled an army boot, the waitress was inattentive and there was no draft beer. The tapas bar’s next door cousin Spanish restaurant  Igg’s was recently featured as a business in trouble on Channel 5’s The Restaurant Inspector. On the basis of our experience on Saturday I’m not surprised.

Shamoli (105 High Street) in the Royal Mile, was somewhere we had often passed but never ventured inside before. On Saturday night the first floor Indian/Thai restaurant was packed . I thought the food was OK but not that remarkable. It was also a bit pricey at £99 for four with a bottle of cheap white and the service was a bit lacklustre.

Breakfast at retro diner Mums  (4a Forest Road) on the other hand was superlative. Three full Scottish (eggs, sausage, black pudding, bacon, potato scone, beans, mushrooms and toast) with tea and coffee all for just £26.70, all served with a smile, plus a complementary fruit salad and blackjack retro sweet for everyone. To top that there was someone dressed as a reindeer at the next table, that’s one of the reasons I love Edinburgh during the Fringe.

Huzzah for Mums

We also ate at a branch of La Tasca (Omni Centre). I know it’s not a real Spanish restaurant, but the food was better than Barioja’s. With a discount card it came to £90 for four including sangria, coffees, two draft Estrellas, two brandies and two liqueur 43s.  My only criticism is the expensive poncy bread-board, I’d rather have a basket of bread.

Where we stayed

Because hoteliers get greedy and charge-rip off prices during the festival we stayed at the Travelodge in Egglington Crescent. Converted from a couple of Georgian terraced houses, this hotel offered a relatively cheap option even factoring cab fares in and out of the town centre during our stay (about £9 a go). We have stayed here a couple of times and have had the odd problem with noisy plumbing. This time we got a room on the third floor overlooking some very neat gardens, but the toilet flush had a knack to it that only I mastered. Lucky old me!

Scottish National Portrait Gallery and a pint at The Conan Doyle

When we went to see the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo the other week the bus passed this incredible piece of Gothic Revival architecture.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh

This is the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh’s  Queen Street. The photograph doesn’t really do it justice, but short of standing in the traffic I wasn’t going to get much better. The building was designed by the Scottish architect Robert Rowland Anderson, who was trained by the great George Gilbert Scott and built between 1885 and 1890. It was built specifically to house the collection of portraits founded by David Erskine the 11th Earl of Buchan and as such was the first custom-built national museum of portraiture. London’s National Portrait Gallery was founded earlier (I worked on Royal Mail’s 150th anniversary stamp products back in 2006), but didn’t move into its current location until 1896.

It is a bit of a wow moment when you step into the atrium.

William Hole frieze – Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh

The processional frieze below the balcony is by the English painter William Hole and depicts important Scots from Saint Ninian to Robert Burns and David Livingstone. The collection has lots of portraits of famous Jacobites like Bonnie Prince Charlie and Flora Macdonald as well as Kings, Queens and other worthies. Notable portraits include Raeburn’s Walter Scott and Nasmyth’s Robert Burns. Unfortunately the contemporary gallery is presently being rehung, so the only modern Scot on view John Bellany’s portrait of Billy Connolly.

We found the portrait of another famous Scot at the bottom of Queen Street.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The Conan Doyle, Edinburgh

Hanging over the entrance to The Conan Doyle pub. The Conan Doyle has had a bit of a facelift since I last visited and the exterior is now a smart black rather than green. Inside it’s still packed with Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes memorabilia. The pub is just of Picardy Place, where in 1859, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born at number 55. Number 55 is no longer there , but I had a lovely pint of Belhaven stout, drawn from a hand-pump. It was better than Guinness, with no CO2 artificial fizz.

Customised pump badge at The Conan Doyle

The Bear Necessities – Edinburgh Zoo

I couldn’t help but be reminded of Baloo in Disney’s The Jungle Book when I saw this bear having a good old rub against the tree trunk in Edinburgh Zoo.

Sun Bear – Edinburgh Zoo

He wasn’t the only animal enjoying the Scottish sunshine, while London drowned over the Jubilee weekend.

Patagonian sea lion

This sea lion was having a kip, but just for a change the Amur Leopard (the world’s rarest big cat, there are only 38 in the wild) was pacing up and down its enclosure.

World’s rarest feline – the Amur Leopard from the Russo-Chinese borderlands

Which made a change from all the other big cats who were all having a nice lie down.

One-eyed tiger

‘Look it’s a rat-bear thing’ called a little voice.


Actually that’s not a bad description as the binturong is also known as a bearcat. It’s not a bear but a relative of the civet and is found in forested parts of Bangladesh, Nepal, Malaysia, Indonesia and Indochina where it eats fruit, eggs and small rodents.


Edinburgh – Pandamonium

No it’s not a typo, on Sunday we got to see Tian Tian and Yang Guang at Edinburgh Zoo.

Oi where’s me bamboo

You have to book a special ticket at the Zoo website to get a slot. It does not cost anymore than a normal Zoo entry (£13.95 adult £9.90 nipper),  but they can be quite hard to get on busy weekends. Our slot was at 3pm and we had timed it perfectly as the male panda Yang Guang (Sunshine) had just woken up having heard the keepers getting his bamboo ready. Pandas strike me as a bit of an evolutionary oddity seeing that they eat  a plant that is both very low in nutrient value and packed full of deady cyanide. They have to spend up to 18 hours asleep everyday just to digest it.

Ah that’s better

Needless to say about the first thing he did when he woke up was to have a massive poo followed by a handstand to rub his arse against the grill. Apparently this is scentmarking his territory and pandas are very territorial beasts.

We then moved outside to see Tian Tian (Sweetie), who was having a kip in her enclosure.


Now another evolutionary quirk about pandas is that the females only come into season for two days a year and when Tian Tian came into season earlier this year Yang Guang only cottoned on to what he was supposed to do by the time it was over. It’s hardly any wonder they are an endangered species!

When Tian Tian is not in season the animals have to be kept in separate enclosures because of their territorial needs. By the time we had finished taking pictures of the comatose Tian Tian, Yang Guang had moved into his external enclosure.

Get your noggin out of the way Mrs there’s some bloke trying to take a photo behind you

Where most of the time was spent hiding behind a tree noshing on bamboo.

Bamboo, my favourite.

It was a great day out and we were really lucky to see one of the pandas being active. The weather was brilliant unlike London where poor old Brenda had her parade rained on.

Watch the Birdie – Edinburgh Zoo

Or is he watching us?

Southern Cassowary

This is a southern cassowary from the rain forests of Indonesia, New Guinea and North Eastern Australia. Flightless like his cousins the ostrich and the emu, he’s a bad-tempered old bird and in the wild has been known to kill humans with his razor-sharp talons. However he is one of those rare birds who makes a good single parent dad, incubating the eggs and bringing up the chicks on his own.

Animals are Lazy II – Edinburgh Zoo

It’s one of those awkward questions many parents dread on any zoo visit.

“Why’s that monkey got such a big bottom Daddy?”

For most primates it’s a signal that they are ready to mate, but not for the gelada baboon from Ethiopia.

Gelada baboon, a fan of a nice sit down

These creatures spend so much time sitting on their bottoms that their chests have become the principle area of sexual display.

Male gelada baboon, waitng for a nice cup of tea and a biscuit

As you can see even the male has quite a cleavage!

Despite all this lazing around, he’s been quite a busy boy, as most of his wives have small bundles of joy. Geladas live in family groups with each male having up to twelve wives.

One of the harem

So twelve willing women and sitting on his bum doing nothing all day, living the male dream eh?

Animals are Lazy! – Edinburgh Zoo

One of my favourite overheard remarks at the weekend was ‘Animals are just so lazy!’

Can’t see why anyone should think that. Or can I?

Rockhopper penguin

I remember explaining to a workmate why penguins no longer need to fly in evolutionary terms. Her response was ‘no they are just lazy birds’

Lazy gentoo penguin

Not that the cats are much better,

Amur Leopard

apparently there are only 36 of these Amur leopards left on the Chinese/Russian border.

Edinburgh’s other Amur leopard

If big cats have made a kill and eaten they can sleep for 22 hours out of 24.

Black jaguar

The south and central American jaguars come in two different colour schemes; black,

Traditional spotted jaguar

and spotted, makes choosing suitable pyjamas easy I suppose.

However some younger animals, like this baby pygmy hippo were a bit more active.

Wake up Mum

While the meerkats were positively hyper.

Next person who says Simples gets his face ripped off

Pebble Thief – Edinburgh Zoo

The big penguin pool at Edinburgh Zoo has sprung a leak so most of the penguins are on holiday at other zoos.

The only exceptions are some of the rockhoppers,

Rockhopper penguin

and the gentoo, who have been found alternative accommodation. Despite the upheaval the gentoo are nesting and some have even laid eggs.

Would that be a nest egg?

I find these creatures quite fascinating to watch, especially when there are some nests that are obviously,

No place like home

much, much better than others,

Ohh nice pebbles

and then someone get’s caught red-flippered,


breaking and entering.

I got a pebble and you can’t catch me

Edinburgh Zoo – Life in Black and White

There was no chance of seeing the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo this weekend, but plenty of life in black and white

Life in line zebras at Edinburgh Zoo

Someone asked ‘why are penguins black and white?’

Well they do get to attend a lot of evening functions, even if it is only as waiters.

Rockhopper Penguin Edinburgh Zoo

While someone here is just waiting for that black cat to squeeze under that freshly painted flagpole.

Alors Le Phew – Edinburgh Zoo

Arthur’s Seat, the Tolbooth and Cafe Truva – Edinburgh

Robert Louis Stevenson described Arthur’s Seat as ‘a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue for its bold design’.

Me in the middle of Edinburgh

It’s actually part of a 350 million year old volcano system that also includes the mount on which Edinburgh Castle sits and it’s slap bang in the middle of Edinburgh. In fact it could be said to be the Queen’s back garden since you get a stunning view of Holyrood Palace as you climb to the summit some 830 odd feet above the city.

Brenda's back garden, bit too misty for her to be putting the washing out though

Legend has it that this was the setting for Camelot and although there are plenty of other contenders for that in the UK,  there are the remains of an Iron Age hill fort on the mound. It’s also the place where the tiny coffins and dolls, which may have been a ritual burial for the victims of Burke and Hare were found in a cave back in 1836.

Some of the Arthur's Seat Coffins

It’s also a great place to get away from the city and see some wildlife.

Spot the weasel

Having nearly made it to the top I found this rock was perfectly moulded to the shape of my bottom,

Simon's Seat on Arthur's Seat

I suspect I’m only one of many people to have parked their arse there, while attempting to get their breath back. the views from the top are stunning, but not that great for photography in the fog.

Edinburgh was somewhere down there

Returning to the city we made our way back up the Royal Mile pausing for a pint of Deuchars at the Tolbooth Tavern.

The Tolbooth Tavern

This boozer dates back to 1820, but the building is much older than that going back to 1591 and used to be the tax collection offices and jail for the burgh of Canongate. I think it’s much more useful as a pub although the last time we ate there I thought the food was a bit average.

However just a short distance further up the Mile we discovered the Cafe Truva (251-253 Cannongate). This little gem is one of a chain of three family run Turkish cafes in Edinburgh and what a delight it was.

I satisfied my hunger with the meatballs in cous cous

meatballs with cous cous

It was lovely, the delicately spiced lamb meatballs came on top of a mound of cous cous with sun dried tomato and mushroom, plus salad, a minty yogurt dip and pitta. Just the thing I needed with a glass of red wine. Mab had soup and borek,


filo pastry tubes stuffed with cheese and spinach which were equally nice. Our meal for three people with drinks was only about £36 ,so I think we may try this place next time we are in the Royal Mile.

All this little chap needs is a fork in place of that sceptre.

Lion ready for lunch at the Queen's Gallery Edinburgh