Warhorse

MulletProof at Edinburgh Book Festival 2016

8 September 16 words: Andrew Graves
"It resembles a refugee camp that’s been sponsored by Waitrose"

It resembles a refugee camp that’s been sponsored by Waitrose. Brightly lit canvases and pristine gazebos populate the busy open space, cocktails are sipped on, expensive looking pastries nibbled at and smoke unfurls on the dimming horizon from a distant gas powered barbeque, to mingle with the aromas of rosewood scented incense sticks. Slightly bemused bookish types slink past even more bemused looking authors and the whole thing hangs delicately in balance like the thinnest of Jeffrey Archer plots. A large sign near the entrance reads WELCOME TO THE 2016 EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL BOOK FESTIVAL. Now, over 30 years old, It’s become the biggest organized literature celebration in the world and in the past has seen the likes of Stewart Lee, Billy Bragg and Gordon Brown grace its many stages and this year, thanks to Nottingham UNESCO, me.

Eating packets of Tunnock’s Tea Cakes and watching repeats of Rab C Nesbitt is about the closest thing I’ve managed to do in terms of research, so I feel slightly ill prepared for my Caledonian festival debut but it’s obvious that Edinburgh is a strange and brilliantly contradictory beast, ancient and modern, nostalgic and forward thinking, a creeping, sometimes shadowy, often ostentatious city based version of Jekyll and Hyde.

I’m quickly ushered into the back stage area; a tastefully patterned yurt, which, once entered becomes a Tardis like myriad of russet coloured cushions, partitioned sections and candle lit wooden tables. We even have special writer’s toilets. Wielding my blue coded author’s pass like an underage teen thrusting a fake ID at the bouncer of some run down night club in Mansfield, I take comfort in the free booze and canapés on offer. For a while I wallow in a blurry sort of nervousness, get lost in a babble of posh sounding blather, where projects are touted, deals are offered and I feel more and more like a newly formed stain on an otherwise spotless John Lewis rug, which everyone else is pretending not to notice.

Things get easier when I find myself talking to music biographer and novelist Zoe Howe, who also happens to be married to Dylan from The Blockheads. We spend half an hour talking about The Damned and The Jesus and Mary Chain before I’m led away to where I’m supposed to perform my set.

It’s less of a stage, more several planks of wood laid out on some grass, and it’s difficult to know how to pitch to this audience, an odd deck chair bound mixture, on first glance part Acorn Antiques, part Game of Thrones convention. In the end I stick to my plan and deliver sections from my one-person show God Save The Teen, plus some newer and older stuff. Thankfully the mixed crowd is very appreciative, seemingly not minding being shouted at by a lanky Notts mod poet, with a funny accent. Maybe they’ve just mistaken me for an aging Woody from This is England and are just going along with the motions, either way I am definitely having a nice time. I think.

That done, I return to the more important business of free whisky and closing night fireworks.  The display, it has to be said, though impressive, is the most drawn out series of explosions I’ve ever witnessed, a bit like watching an old episode of The World at War played out at half speed. It’s as if it’s all been planned with a book loving audience in mind; each new careful sparkle or glitter shower is teased out, in a lovingly built up tension worthy of long awaited sequel to a popular best seller, either that or the organizers have also been at the complimentary single malt. I make a few new friends, the type of friends I’ll probably never see again, it happens a lot at these sort of dos. I drain the last bit of wine from a cracked plastic cup and head off into the night amongst the weary looking crowds, the smell of gunpowder still heavy in the dying summer breeze.

Back at the apartment I’m staying in, I scoff a Sainsbury’s pre packed sarnie and fall asleep to a midnight bank holiday showing of Schindler’s List.

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If the train journey out was all rural landscapes, summer smiles and tartan tinned shortbread optimism, then the journey back was leaning much more towards the Irvine Welsh end of things, all heroin eyed train staff pushed to the breaking point, overheated customers, lost bags and stinking over flowing toilets.  Once planted back in lace city, crumpled, sweaty and done in, minus my luggage, which is still on its way to Matlock, I start to take in the previous day.

Like Stevenson’s creation, the event is a mish mash style of monster where you can feel over crowded and completely alone at the same time, awkward and comfortable, welcome and cast out. It’s a bit like the schizophrenic city which it inhabits, where it’s version of the London eye, dominates the vista, redder and more blurred than its English counterpart, where it’s cobbled shoulders tattooed with rain drops and leftover fringe flyers shrug off it’s visiting poets and performers, if only for another year. But when it does welcome them back I like to think I’ll be amongst them. Perhaps I’ll be shunned; perhaps I’ll be embraced. I’ll take my chances.

SARAH AND PAUL

In a freezing fog there

is a low-slung kiss,

leopard skin wrapped

around a bone sharp frame,

 

an embrace of mist

slopping tongues of spit

in a love as skinny

as a benefit claim.

 

A bent double lust

against a rusting swing,

street lamp roles

cast by god’s own night,

 

phone text souls

merged with rain sludge park

in a digital version

of Wuthering Heights.

 

In a shivering rush

to fumbling depths,

fingers pull

on ladders of skin,

 

hot breath trails

into Christmas lights

while midnight chimes

court the council bins.

 

It’s a dog end scene,

frosted year’s last gasp,

a hangover birthing

a broken time,

the dead beat dregs

cling to cracked dry lips,

unmouthing the words to auld lang-syn.
 

This poem is from the show and forthcoming book, God Save The Teen

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