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Edinburgh Fringe 2013

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Just back from this year's long weekend at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Not a classic, but some good shows in there - 16 in 3 days (and a couple of bits), not including the cafe. We got a a lot more different venues, some we hadn't been to before and hardly spent any time at the Pleasance (when previously we've spent almost whole days there). We also found it harder to work out what the "must-sees" were - perhaps because we normally go at the end of the festival when all the reviews and awards are out. None of our Festival faves (NIE, SpyMonkey etc) were there either to structure our schedule around. Also we saw hardly any posters for the shows we did see, adding to the feeling of being just a bit more in the dark.

Here's the shows in order:


Death By Murder* - We took a chance at using the half-price hut for our first night, just off the train seeing it was nearby. We go what we paid for. Sort of improvised comedy but not very well done and some pretty amateur acting. One of the cast played the inspector and had to work out who the murder was, but it just didn't really work and wasn't that well done.


Pussyfooting**** - Nice drama piece by a young theatre group we know via contacts in Birmingham. The neatest thing was the use of blackboards of all sizes to represent the set and props with drawings being hastily drawn as the play went on. Well acted and not a bad script around a fun plot about people's feet taking them over.

Seven Ages**** - flyered whilst buying tickets at the Fringe Ticket Office (saving us 90p a ticket vs iPad app purchases). 7 linked scenes about the 7 ages of pan, told and acted with wit and charm by Kevin Tomlinson, some with audience suggestions. Funniest was the "one word at a time" Clue style section with his assistant who couldn't remember that R came after E for the Queens initials, or that it was Great Britain and Northern Ireland (not ... and Scotland!).

Ballad of the Burning Star*** - history of modern Israel told Cabaret style complete with Drag Queen and gold spandex shorted Starlets. The Guardian had given in 5 stars but it just didn't really hold together. The play we say a few years ago consisting of monologues of cafe patrons each of whom gets blown up in turn as the end of their piece was far better.

Solfatara**** - Another that we'd been alerted to from friends in Birmingham, this time a Barecelonan production, in Spanish but with English subtitles. But it soon became apparent that the subtitle were part of the act as Annie-Hall style they started giving voice to the inner thoughts of the main characters (and even of the subtitler). The set-up was that a character in a mask (so very/only expressive eyes and mouth became the (evil) inner voice of the main character as the relationship between him and his wife went through volcanic (hence Sulfatara) outbursts. Really well done, really accessible, very nice piece.

Boredom***1/2 - Earlier in the day in search of a coffee we'd gone into Hunt & Darton's pop-up cafe just up from the Pleasance - without realising that it was actually an "event" - with Hunt & Darton curating a different ambience each day - today being "community" so we found ourselves at a large table doing a puzzle with a group of Australians. Really nice ambience and as good as many a show. SO in the evening we took in their Boredom show, which was prefaced by the two of them sat po-face saying "This is Hunt & Darton's show about boredom - good luck" and then proceeded with a variety of dead pan monologues, sketches, slideshows of food, a collection of model pigs and so. Well done and very amusing in a very dry way. Giving it **** would probably be wrong in principle, it wasn't meant to be that exciting. But **** for the cafe.


Voluntary Departure **** - Woefully poorly attended black comedy in a very small venue, it was nice to see a piece by more mature performers just acting their hear out - the woman in particular in this two hander was superb, the script really tight, sharp - just delivering that with a solid hour on stage at a brisk pace and some really wonderful wordplay was stunning. The plot was about a voluntary euthenasia clinic in a future state, the clinician advising the client how to die, and finding out why he wants to die. There was a 1984 watching security eye, and constant references to "our leader" - which for some reason kept making me think of Alex Salmond and a future Scotland. The the ending could perhaps have had a bit of a better build up, but overall really good.

High Plains **** - Really good simple (ghost) story of the modern American west told by a battered friendly drunk. Very simple, very effective.

Inspector Norse **** - Subtitled "The Girl with Two Screws Left Over" this was a wonderful mix of The Killing, Abba and the Ikea catalogue. A two hander from two mature women (Lip Service Theatre) and a set (and props) made almost entirely of wool. Just very silly but very good, highlights being the crisp-bread foleying of walking through snow and the woollen animal roadkills piling up on the front of the car. From the web site it looks like they make a serial habit of such popular culture send ups - must try and catch them again.

Humans Inc. A Sci-Fi Epic on Stage from anthony springall on Vimeo.

Humans Inc - ***1/2 - Every year I try and see something SF related, but am usually disappointed. Is it that people try too hard with Star Trek style sets, or that the plots are too cliched, or that the subject matter just doesnt attract good or inventive actors. Humans Inc almost broke the mould, but not quite - and a cavernous venue populated by a handful of SF geeks didn't help. The staging was really good, handheld LED frameworks for flying spaceships (or bits off), (real) lasers cutting through the smoke, white handheld screens being used almost balletically (?) to creating moving corridors, lifts and housings. It's just the plot was far too cliched and the acting (particularly from the lead) far too variable.

The Colour Ham - ***1/2 - Sketch and magic show delivered by three guys who were in perpetual giggles about what they were doing - some deserved some not. Well done but just a bit too much audience volunteer humiliation for my liking but they did appear to get their come-uppence when one volunteer turned out to be the neighbour of one of the performers and she had no idea what he did for a living!


Domestic Science **** - We made a conscious decision to see a bit more on the Free Fringe this year (having seen and enjoyed Austentatious last year), and along with the half-price hut on the first night, and generally lower ticket prices (earlier in the festival, not all weekend/bank holiday) we probably averaged a lot less per ticket than previously (despite still donating about £7 a head for the free shows we saw). This was a really good science show, lots of simple demos/experiments with household objects, smart and funny delivery, and a highlight of my wife being dressed up as the Hubble Space Telescope (image available on request!)

School of Night's Spontaneous Shakespeare **** - Jo saw this last year and really liked it. Four real "thesps" improvising around Shakespeare (and Chaucer), with some wonderful "study notes" style interjections to take the play in challenging directions. Great fun and well worth seeing again next year.

Ulysses Dies at Dawn ***** - You know that you've finally reached the real Fringe when you walk into a venue and wonder if a) you're in the right place and b) if you are whether you ought to turn right round and head back out. The WhyNot venue was a dark basement bar, the clientele sat on a motley collection of chairs and bar stools, and was dressed in a variety of fashions from punk to goth - Deb and I were initially the oldest people there - and certainly the straightest. But the guys with aviators googles on their hats, and the girl with a set of golden wings gave it away - this was steampunk and where we should be. From the description it had sounded the most like the wonderful grunge Beowulf we saw 2 years ago - and I wasn't disappointed. The Mechanisms do what can only be described as steam punk folk/blues music story telling, and do it incredibly well. The band members had their own be-costumed steampunk personas, a highly charismatic leader (first mate!) to propel the whole drama, and an audience (with no small number of devoted followers) which was rapt. This is what I come to the Fringe for. And of course interestingly despite the classical references of the plot it was SF, and well done steam punk SF.

Baby Wants Candy **** - Whereas as Ulysses was gritty this was slick and a bit manufactured - but great fun. Improvised musical, by a US group, in this case Oh Brothel Where Are Thou. The best bit was the rest of the cast trying to keep it together when the plot went off in a completely unexpected direction involving a Narwal horn and a toenail!


Aaand Now for Something Completely Improvised **** - We'd wanted to see this earlier but it had sold out, but decided we could just about fit it in before the train. Well worth it. Probably felt the most "improvised" of all the improv we saw (more than previous years), cant say it was "pythonesque" in the way described in the brochure (apart from one interjection), but again the fun was in watching in how other cast members dealt with the evolving plot and trying to keep straight faces. The two most glorious moments were one actor (supposedly with bird tendencies) regurgitating an opal fruit into the mouth of another, and one actors own mobile phone going off repeatedly - as the other actor said to him - "we'd have shamed an audience member mercilously for that", the miscreant got off lightly!

The Mom Song

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Never seen this before, but it had the family in stitches.


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Last day, last crazy activity, Having spent one day in wet suits and 2 days in climbing harnesses I suppose it made sense to combine the two. In our swim gear and lycra thermals and with wetsuits strapped to our backs we hiked for 1.5 hours up alongside the River Carol's canyon. Then we had lunch, kitted up - wetsuits, climbing harnesses, helmets and walked own to the river - sitting in it to acquaint ourselves with the 7.5 degree water! Then it was of down the canyon. Apart from just striding or swimming through the water there are 3 "moves". First is the abseil. We did 2, each about 10 - 20m, with via ferrata type traverses to get into position. Then down the abseil, usually alongside a waterfall. Only difference to a normal abseil is that the rope stops about 2ft form the bottom - you just let it run through the figure of eight and fall into the water! Next up is the slide, just cross you arms and just ride the water chutes down - usually with a dunking in the next big pool. The final move is the jump. In this case they ranged from 1m to 10m - I did two of the 5m jumps, Ruth did up to 3m. As you plunged into the pool you felt like you sank deep into the water until the bouyancy of your suit brought you back up to the top.

After about 1000ft of descent we got to the bottom of the canyon. The day is billed as the best of the week, but in some ways I, and I think a few others, thought it was a bit brief. Being in the canyon was wonderful and we had too many too long walks around the "boring" bits. It would have been nice to just stay in the water the whole way down, just wading or swimming or small jumps or chutes. Forget the macho jumps, just enjoy the canyon!

Via Ferrata

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Les Escaldilles - Llo

Probably the most physically demanding and un-nerving thing I've ever done (ditto Ruth). We had the options of the AD or D+ route (it goes F/PD/AD/D/TD/ED - although one web site I've found say the routes there are PD and TD!) - either way we did the hardest! The route climbed 259m in a length of 800m as it went diagonally up this big rock face. There were basically 4 types of terrain/pitches: a very few bits of walking/easy scrambling where you needed little protection, lots of traverses where you were using natural small rock ledges and grooves but with some sort of metal handholds, a few corners highly exposed where you had to step around to the next traverse, and finally a number of vertical climbs of 5m - 20m where you had metal rungs  which were sometimes obliquely spaced. The AD and D+ shared all the top 2/3rds. But the D+ start included a 20m overhanging vertical climb with a sloping wooden plank at the top - which looked flat from below but was a complete nightmare when you got to it. Ruth was pretty much pulled up this bit by the instructor  (she rapidly fell out of love with via Ferrata, but after about the 1/2 mark really got into her stride and enjoyed it). I thought I'd never be able to raise my right arm again my muscles felt so burnt out (and we were only 1/3 the way up). Protection was by two slings and carabiners - but you clipped these onto a fixed metal cable which was only attached (and so would stop a carbiner)
every 5m or so, so from the vertical climb you' slide 5m before the carabiner stopped, and then the sling had about another 5m of shock absorber built in so you'd then fall another 5m before you stopped!

Just to add to the fun most of the fixing points where you had to unclip and clip form the line (one carabiner at a time of course) where right on the crux moves! All this was about 60m above ground level - straight down. I thought exposure was going to be a problem, but you were so focussed on just trying to hang on and get up the only chance
you had to look around (and take photos) was on the easy bit. Needless to say we were all very relieved when we got to the top!

Once back at the town we soaked in the hot tub for an hour or two and had a cafe and crepe at the local Salon de The.

Canyoning tomorrow then home, but after today it should be a doddle
(assuming I've got my strength back and I'll be giving the water jumps
> 5m a miss anyway!)

Mountain Biking

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A really nice ride, 17km, a bit on road but mostly forest and hill tracks through horses and cows and cowbells, with just enough roughness to get the adrenalin going and put the training into practice. I'd guess about 1000m of descent (we started at 2100m). Lunch in the small Spanish town of Lilvia (there's a Spanish enclave around the town which is about 1/2 mile from the real Spanish border as apparently it declared that its town charter overruled the Treaty whereby this bit of Spain was ceded to France). We got back to the hotel about 3ish and all the younger kids have been sat in the hot tub (its now 5.20!), so Ruth's had a good afternoon anyway (mountain biking not really being her sport!).


65km/1h30m bus ride down to the River Aude for the white water rafting.
Wet suits, helmets, and lifejackets and a paddle. 6 to a boat, plus a
guide.First 5km were Grade 3 rapids, but obviously not exciting enough
for the guides so we played games like practising man (or in our case
Ruth) overboard, capsize drills and all being made to climb to the top
of a 10' rock and jump into the water and swim across the river. Then
we had 2 km of Grade 4 rapids where there were several 2-3' drops where
the raft just plunged down into the water - Ruth at the front squealing
with delight. We also rammed a good few rocks when the front of the
boat would just fold up and throw Ruth back! This last section was
canyoned with the high road wall on one side (the road about 20-30'
above) and a high natural cliff on the other side. Quite stunning.


Then we caught the bus back to the start point and had lunch. For the
afternoon we got thicker wet suits, bigger lifejackets, flippers and
our "hydrospeed" - a cross between a float, a board and the prow of a
ship. You put your arms into it and clench your hands then lie down,
most of your chest on the float. Then you do the same route as we did
in the rafts but with nothing else to protect you from the rocks. You
go in groups of 6 again with the guide leading the way - although often
when she fell back to check on people Ruth ended up leading the way
through the rapids once put on the right line. Needless to say you got
pretty battered as you hit or bounced off rocks- the worst being the
ones below the water line which passed under the float but caught your
knees! Also often when you tried to flip your flippers the water was so
shallow you just cracked your knees on the bottom. After the first 5km
about 1/4 of the group opted out of the Grade 4 section, but Ruth was
determined to do it. The second section
was a lot rougher, the big drops just pushing you right under water -
but we all came through it, tired and bruised. Ruth immediately
declared that she wanted to do it again - but luckily that wasn't an
option. My only real injury was right at the end when following Ruth up
a steep dirt slope to the car park she dropped her paddle and I stopped
to try and pick it up but slipped and came down hard on the top of my
leg - it still hurts!

For supper we went to one of the recommended cheaper resaturants
(generally everything seems expensive) but they did a good Prix Fixe
for Euro 13 with a salad starter, galette and crepe. Just right. Ruth
and I bought the french version of Harry Potter in the bookshop and
spent supper trying to translate it - I think we're four pages in!

Gorges de la Caranaca

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Nice first day. Simple continental breakfast then out to the boulangerie and charcuterie to pick up lunch, and a market stall was just setting up with fresh peaches too. About a 40min drive down very windy roads to the Gorges de la Caranca. We then did the 4km round trek climbing about 500m, mostly in the shade since the gorge is both deep and heavily forested. At one stop there was a small rockface which had been bolted. Simon (the guide) asked Ruth if she could climb up to the second bolt, which she did and then traversed across whilst he spotted her. Was good to see how confident and professional she was moving on the rock, running her hands over it for the holds. Then one of the older boys was goaded into trying it, he almost got to the second bolt but then fell off, Simon only just controlling his fall! Needless to say no-one else wanted to be shown up by a 12yr old girl! On the return leg the path is cut straight into the rock (in the photo of Ruth you can see it on the far side of the Gorge) with huge drops and no railings (just a rail on the inside to hold on to!). Then lunch and then on to the Bain de Saint Thomas, a thermal hot springs which feeds three shallow swimming pools and the water is 36 degrees. Very relaxing.


Virtual ROTW - Chilas

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Today they were pushing on to Chilas, probably only passing through Gilgit. From Chilas though they should be able to see Nanga Parbat in the distance.

Virtual ROTW - Karimabad

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eagles nest hotel

Actually not a Google Earth/Flickr photo but from the hotel web site where they are staying - the Eagles Nest, nestling in the hills above Karimabad/Baltit in the hamlet of Duikar. The hotel is just by the Ultar Glacier, and has a fine view of the Lady's Finger peak.

I actually spoke to Deb for 60 seconds on the phone to sort out a bank issue. She says that despite initial reports saying they may have to stay 2-3 days in Karimbad whilst the road is cleared from a landslide they should now be able to move on tomorrow.

Virtual ROTW: Karimabad

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Haltit Fort that Deb mentions is just visible on the side of the mountain.

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