Sunday, 16 August 2015

Actual Size

Mackay, Me, Jay, David, Sally, Sally's tit, Dillie, Hatchet faced mermaids

I have just arrived in Edinburgh and am sat in the vast kitchen of the house on Albany street that 

David, Mackay, Jay and Spud the dog have taken residence of for the month of August.
David is telling me about a show they'd been to see the previous night.
'There's this man moving about mid air and he has the most perfect body – and no tattoos which we thought made it even better really. The woman next to us is screaming her appreciation and we're all very impressed -
'You were screaming too,' Mackay interjects.
'I was just joining in,' David mutters. 'He really is quite godlike. And then the other performers join him on stage and we collectively pause. He's about four foot tall. I hear the woman next to me say 'Oh.''
They show me the flyer and point out the tiny perfect specimen. Over the course of the next couple of days a note is stuck under the image with the words 'Actual Size'.
It's hot and sunny in Edinburgh and everyone's suspicious. Based on last years experience I'd packed a winter wardrobe. No one really trusts that this weather will last and so we broadly ignore it and continue to wear our coats certain that it will rain at any moment.
Mackay and Jay
They have a number of guests who pop up for a few days here and there over the festival and in addition to me they currently have Jane Beese staying. I've met her a few times in passing over the years but this is really the first time we've ever spoken properly. She is a constant vision entirely clad in black (I don't know why but the black she wears is somehow blacker than usual blacks. Raven like.) Her lips are red and a vogue cocktail cigarette is elegantly draped in her fingers. Whilst clearly a very successful woman with an impressive career Jane's sole responsibility whilst visiting is to make a full cooked breakfast for everyone, every morning. She does so gracefully whilst sipping tea and frying individual eggs in a tiny one egg frying pan which she so loves that Jay actually makes a trip to Peter Jones to buy her one of her very own. Jay isn't as loud and dramatic as the rest of us. He quietly observes the madness and

is a sort of behind the scenes angel who keeps everything in the house running smoothly with constant trips to the shop for more tobacco, bacon and anything else anyone mentions even in passing. I spend a bit of time alone with him chatting and discover he's very funny and has a sort of light in him that makes you feel good just to be around.
The only chink in the house is the wifi which is running at dial up speed and intermittently sends David in to a giddy fit of rage. He holds court in the kitchen anchored behind his computer with an overflowing ashtray and a cup of tea or a screw driver that we have renamed The Jab - Johnson's All day Breakfast. He works, plays us music, chats and smokes whilst Mackay leans against the counter sipping coffee and making arid comments. We're a happy little group.
Jay and a dog that isn't Spud
After a couple of hours of catch up Mackay whisks me off to see Dillie Keane perform in The Cow. I hear her before I see her, she has the most recognisable voice. We go over to say hello and there's a quick hug and a 'drink later?' before I find a seat and watch the audience file in. I like that bit between pre show final checks and curtain up. Everything transforms in an instant and you're cocooned in the world that's been created for you for an hour or so. That's where the magic is. Dillie moves seamlessly from funny to tragic and back again. She sings a song towards the end about people of a certain age attempting adventurous sex and I see couples nudging each other in the audience “You do that.” She is performing without the rest of Fascinating Aida this year but she mentions them frequently and it feels as though Adele is with her watching the proceedings. Her accompanist, Gulliver, compliments her. He's posh and sweet and sings wistfully about the benefits of being a lesbian.
As soon as it finishes David is there telling me to hurry up if I need the loo because the next show is starting in minutes. We go in to The Box, a tiny space, to watch Alfie Brown do stand up. It's an intimate space and I spend the first five minutes sat rigidly with my bag clutched in front of me like a barrier but he's funny and charming and I soon forget how close he is and just enjoy his clever set.
We all head to The Abattoir for drinks afterwards. I've been given a pass to get in to these places. Well, actually it's the dogs pass as evidenced by the rather smart photo of him on it. I wave it at the man on the door and he stops me.
'That's Spud.'
'We're here together.'
'I see.'
I say we're here together but he has been completely ignoring me since I arrived. Until the third day when he starts licking my neck which I take as affection but turns out to be the most cursory foreplay before he tries to violently stick his penis in my ear. You get what you can.
I'm aware that I have a very blinkered view of the Fringe. People pore over the program, queue for tickets, look for a free space anywhere to sit and eat their wraps and drink their pints. I only go to see the shows David and Mackay are producing. I see them free of charge. I'm driven from place to place. I don't queue and I get to drink in the cordoned off little enclave set aside for artists and professionals. And that is absolutely fine by me. David and Mackay are so good at spoiling you that you quickly forget how privileged the position is and become vaguely shocked that your bed hasn't been made by some invisible force whilst you were out having fun. This is why I'm not allowed to have nice things all the time. I'm fairly certain I'd become a despot within weeks. I text my mother:
“Everything is splendid. I have my own room and a very comfy bed.”
She texts back:
“That's good. Pity no men to share it. Ha. Ha. Ha.”
I tell the others and they talk (a little too earnestly) about the possibility of getting mum up next year to do a show.
'Have you and your mum watched Grey Gardens together yet?' Mackay asks.
'Fuck off.'
It's my birthday the day after I arrive and despite my phone being broken I somehow receive an email from 'Weight loss surgery support' wishing me a Happy Birthday! This is followed quickly by another from 'Pre arranged Funeral Insurance.' I'm not feeling too celebratory by the time I roll down for breakfast (Pot of tea, 15 fags).
No one up here knows it's my birthday which I don't mind at all because, let's face it, they flew me up here and treat me like a queen. I'm already having the best birthday by virtue of location and company and I don't want for anything. Except possibly a martini at some point during the day.
But David finds out via Facebook pretty quickly, tells me I'm naughty and after a brief discussion with Mackay books us all a table at Ondine for supper.
I tell Mackay I feel a bit guilty about all this expense on my account to which he responds:
'Don't be a cunt. David loves any excuse for a celebration.'
Dinner is perfect. We have a private dining room and are joined by Jane, Dillie and Sally who is Stewart Lee's PR. I get my martini and am levitating with happiness. Dessert arrives and there are candles and Happy Birthday is sung.
Birthday dinner
I have a strange little moment when I remember finding a Fascinating Aida CD in the library aged about 14. I took it home and learned all the lyrics to Dillie and Adele's songs which I can still recall instantly. And here I am at 41 being sung Happy Birthday to by a group of lovely people including Dillie. 14. 41. Ha. I think I actually grab Dillie's arm and sing part of 'Saturday Night' which she tolerates graciously.
As we leave we notice a criminal piece of art on the wall. A huge and terrible painting of some very skinny mermaids thrusting their breasts out whilst staring at us with hatchet faces. We pose beneath it for a photo and it isn't until later when I upload it on to Facebook that I notice Sally has whipped out a tit in protest. It quickly spreads like wildfire on Facebook. Sally calls the following morning and speaks to Mackay.
'She says she took her tit out on the understanding that this was a private joke to be shared amongst intimate friends,' Mackay conveys.
'Tell her Graham Norton 'liked' it,' David says.
Mackay tells her and there's a seconds pause before he confirms:
'She says it's fine. Leave it up.'

Me and Mackay

The following day is David's party celebrating 25 years at Edinburgh. His friend Fiona hosts it at her house and we all dress up and make our way over to be greeted by young men brandishing cold champagne. A rumour quickly circulates that the hired chef is gorgeous and so in small groups we make excursions to 'admire the garden' which is only accessible through the kitchen. He is quite gorgeous but in a slightly 'actual size' sort of way.
Jay and I are hiding in the corner with an ashtray chatting when David sees us from across the room and subtly screams: 'Get up and Mingle!'
We both shoot up like Jack in the boxes and frantically throw ourselves at some guests. I take lots of photos and chat to people and it's a fab evening. About halfway through I notice most of the single women are 'admiring the garden' in a very blousy way.
David makes a speech in which he forgets to thank anyone he'd intended to thank but it's good and fun and everyone whoops and claps and raises a glass to the joy of it all.
The time, as always, flies by too quickly and now Richard and James have announced they'll be arriving the following day for a visit.
'Change your flight,' Mackay says.
'You have to stay,' David says. 'Jane is leaving and who the hell is going to make us breakfast?'
The flight is changed for the following day at great expense and I hear David say drily to Mackay:
'Perhaps it's time we got Thea her own Amex card...'
Richard and David
Mackay, Jay and Spud
Richard and James will arrive to a big lunch cooked by Jane. Whilst everyone is out doing other things I run the hoover around and over David who spends the entire time screaming 'Turn it off! Infernal noise! Bloody hell!' The boys arrive and James immediately sets about fixing the wifi whilst Jane cooks and we drink and exchange stories. Chicken is eaten, champagne drunk and the afternoon glides by in a hazy alcoholic blur of laughter. Mackay observes that I seem to have gay men secreted everywhere who host and indulge me. In fact he and David have been referring to me as: 'Around the world in 80 gays.'
The day before I leave Jay and Mackay take me and Spud for a walk up a lovely hill with views of all of Edinburgh and Arthur's Seat. It's hot and sunny and I'm so happy to still be there with them. Mackay knows a shocking amount about the history of Edinburgh and points out castles and streets and tells me about them.
Richard and James
We head back and I make breakfast for everyone. Richard who has been welcomed back in to the arms of inebriation after two years dry had gotten phenomenally drunk the previous evening and adopted an angry scotsman persona that was luckily caught on film and played back to him as he morosely tried to shovel bacon in to his mouth.
All too soon it's time to go home and I crawl to bed at 3am with an alarm on either side of my head to wake me for the taxi 2 hours later. I haven't gone to bed before 4am for the entire visit. Most people head off to bed by two and then there's just David and me in the kitchen talking for hours, listening to music, dancing with arms only, smoking endless cigarettes and having one more Jab before bed as the sun rises.
'This is my favourite bit,' I tell David.
'Me too,' he smiles. 'Now listen to this...'