I am driving up from London to Edinburgh today.
Being at the Edinburgh Fringe for what amounts to four weeks can be like living inside a rather noisy and crowded bubble. But, if you think it’s noisy and crowded in Edinburgh, think what it’s like in Vancouver.
Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent e-mailed me before I set off for Edinburgh at 6.00am this morning.
“Last night,” she told me, “only 200,000 people showed up for the annual fireworks show in Vancouver…. 400,000 had been expected and the Vancouver Police Department had issued a radio advisory that vast numbers of people were going to be performing public urination. I saw no evidence of that at all and the streets smelled normal this morning.
“Vancouver is awash with festivals at this time of year – There’s the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, the International Buddhist Film Festival, the Powell Street Festival (of Japanese Culture), a Brazilian Festival, at least two Latin American Festivals, a Caribbean Festival and Gay Pride Week.
“For the last, a rainbow version of the Canadian Flag is flown merrily on flagpoles all over downtown, all the major Canadian banks have rainbow-coloured feather boas and ribbons fluttering everywhere and a zebra crossing on Davie Street has evolved into a rainbow crossing.”
Anna has been working at one of the festivals – the Folk Festival.
“I was a receptionist in the massage tent,” she told me, “booking massages for the artists. I recognised one of them from his name tag – one of Canada’s top violinists whom I had known thirty years ago, when I was a striptease artist in Toronto.
“I greeted him with the words: Holy shit…It’s Ben Mink! and he was so surprised to see me he immediately telephoned a recluse we both knew in Ontario so I could say Hi…
“Later during the festival I had a conversation with Marie Lynn Hammond, who cleverly realised that I was ‘Nurse Annie’ – one of the characters I performed as, in striptease AND comedy.”
Yes, Anna was both a striptease artist AND a comedian – so it was not/is not just Malcolm Hardee, Martin Soan and Bob Slayer who combine the two vocations.
Anna continued: “Marie Lynn Hammond’s bass player Dennis Nichol asked me: You are Nurse Annie?? Can I have your autograph?
“I thought he was joking, but he insisted. I was flabbergasted. Nobody has asked for my autograph for the last thirty years – except for building managers wanting it on my rent cheque.
“We had a conversation about the good old days before cassette tapes were invented and strippers had to dance to live music. It turned out that he had once played at the Zanzibar Circus Tavern on Yonge Street in Toronto, which is the first place I danced professionally.
“The only sad thing that happened during the festival was a public announcement that there had been a theft of hula hoops and juggling balls…. WOULD THE THIEF PLEASE RETURN THE HULA HOOPS AND JUGGLING BALLS the plaintive announcement said.
“I thought,” Anna told me, “that perhaps the spirit of Malcolm Hardee was roaming the forests and mountains.”
With luck, though, it will be roaming the venues, streets and pubs of Edinburgh over the next four weeks.