Reviewed today: Shortcuts - Views From The Four Nations.
Sorry to break the news to you so suddenly, but yesterday's A Toast To The People was the last show we'll be seeing in Edinburgh this year. It was always going to be a flying visit: when The BBG and I first booked our hotel and trains following the gradual collapse of our original week-long stay with the Pals, we had no idea if there'd be any sort of festival worth speaking of, so we limited ourselves to four nights away. By the time you read this, we'll be literally back home in London. Sure, it's been a surprisingly good festival given the circumstances, and we can't help feeling now that another couple of days might have been nice. But what's done is done. We're not seeing anything else in Edinburgh this year.
That doesn't mean we're not seeing anything else at Edinburgh this year, though. But more on that later.
Nevertheless, despite the unprecedented times and all that sort of thing, this is going to be fairly similar to the final days we've spent in Edinburgh in previous years... in that we're going to be spending quite a bit of the day in somewhere other than Edinburgh. Well, you've read the title up there, you knew this was coming. So after a quick breakfast and checkout at our hotel, we dash to Waverley Station with our bags, not for a trip to London, but for a trip to St Andrews instead.
This is the third time I've ever been to St Andrews. The first was back in the mid 1980s, when I came up by overnight bus to spend the weekend with a schoolmate who was now studying at the University. Three decades later, I was back at the University on business, and my route was a train to Dundee followed by a taxi the rest of the way (on expenses, obviously, I'm not daft). There are two conclusions you can draw from this. Firstly, the lack of a train station in St Andrews itself is a real bugger: and secondly, if you're not visiting the University - or, I'll admit grudgingly, playing golf - then there aren't many reasons to visit the place casually.
It turns out that if your starting point for the journey is Edinburgh rather than London, then it's not too difficult to get there at all - an hour long train ride to Leuchars, and then a 15 minute hop on a bus to get the rest of the way. Once you arrive, though, there's still the matter of what you can do there. We have a short list of three things - the museum, the cathedral and the castle - and a limited time before we have to head back to Edinburgh and on to London.
So we start our flying visit with a trip to St Andrews Museum, which turns out to be a good call. Located in a lovely mansion house just a few minutes walk from the bus station, it's got two interesting exhibitions on display. Downstairs, you have St Andrews A-Z, which presents the history and artefacts of the city in a nifty alphabetical format. Upstairs in the Kinburn Gallery, there's currently a show called Art-Tastic, which displays a few of the artworks from their collection and combines them with related activities for the young folk. And it's all free (though currently you still have to book a timed slot to keep the attendance numbers reasonable), so it's a perfect way to spend an hour or so.
With our lunchtime visit to BrewDog St Andrews, we're now tantalisingly close to having visited all of the brewery's Scottish bars - there's just Inverurie to go, which we could theoretically tick off if they ever have an AGM in Aberdeen again. This bar opened around the summer of 2019, although it had been on the cards for quite some time before that: notoriously, James Watt showed a picture at an earlier AGM of a location they were haggling to take over, and the current owner took offence at him announcing it early and pulled the plug on the deal. They subsequently found an old ice cream parlour and bought that instead, and they've now spent two years in it, albeit two of the weirdest years the brewing industry's ever experienced.
BrewDog seem to open two types of bar nowadays: the gigantic Beer Palace, and the smaller sort that could easily act as a neighbourhood pub. Many of the newer bars we've seen in Scotland tend to go for the latter approach, and this is a perfect example of one: a small, easily navigable room with all the usual trimmings applied. As such, the lunchtime crowd is a strange mixture of young hipster types and what The BBG amusingly refers to as Gen Pop: for once, we're not the oldest people in the room.
For lunch we have the usual burgers and beer (The BBG going for the monthly special burger, a vegan combination of fake chicken, fake bacon and fake cheese which she enjoys quite a bit), finished off with an incredibly cheeky pudding beer (Mad Scientist's Berry & Cherry Trifle, 10% ABV, just a third shared between the two of us). Our primary entertainment comes from the family sitting in the booth next to us, who obviously aren't quite sure what sort of pub they've stumbled into. You have to sympathise with them when one of them asks the bar staff if they have any cheese and onion crisps and are told "no, sorry. We've got jalapeno?" Still, the family stays without running off, so the bar appears to be covering all its bases successfully. Good for it.
It's another scorching day outside, so we decide to get in a little more wandering around town before heading back to Edinburgh. We get to stand outside the Cathedral (currently closed because of structural issues, though delightfully you can still see the social distancing advice to 'stand five mitres apart'), and outside the Castle (which is open, but we haven't got time to properly do it justice). With all the items on our list ticked off, we feel we can happily get the bus back to Leuchars and the train back to Edinburgh. For those of you who are here for the Edinburgh stuff rather than the beer, feel free to skip the next paragraph of necessary admin.
[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kungsholmen, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern†, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, Dog Eat Dog/Angel†, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome†, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg, Södermalm, Turku†, Helsinki†, Gray's Inn Road†, Stirling, Norwich, Southampton, Homerton†, Berlin, Warsaw†, Leeds North Street, York, Hong Kong†, Oxford, Seven Dials, Reading, Malmo, Tallinn, Overworks, Tower Hill, Edinburgh Lothian Road, Milton Keynes, Canary Wharf, Brixton, Paddington, Dalston, Aberdeen Union Square, Peterhead, Itaewon, Le Marais, Outpost Manchester, Perth, Edinburgh Airport, Carlisle, St Pauli, Old Street, Cambridge, Ealing]
We get to Waverley and find that our train back to London's been cancelled. No, you fools! The George IV Bridge fire was meant to be this holiday's third act jeopardy, not being unable to get back home!
To be fair, the staff from LNER do a speedy job sorting out our problem. As the 1700's been cancelled, they allocate us seats on the 1630 instead. That's got its own problems and ends up leaving 15 minutes late, which is still 15 minutes before when we were originally meant to be leaving. However, because of various other problems along the way it gets in 90 minutes late. These things are never straightforward.
We end up being on a train for around six hours, which gives us time to start thinking about the rest of our holiday. Because you've probably noticed by now that many arts festivals currently have a real-world component and an online component running side by side, and Edinburgh is no exception. The International Festival is the awkward one of the bunch, as it's filmed several of its performances this year but won't be putting them online until the Autumn. But Fringe, Book and Film all have content you can watch online right now, a combination of livestreams, prerecorded material and stuff that has to be watched within a specific time period before it's deleted forever. So the second half of this week, we'll be back in London ploughing through some of that online content and telling you how it looks.
And why wait until tomorrow? We've access got some time-limited shorts packages from the Film Festival (which they gave us free towards the end of the fest as a present for buying tickets from them earlier), and we're stuck on a train for several hours. So for part of our journey, we attempt to stream two hours worth of short films via my phone. It kinda sorta just about works, but if I'd thought about it I could have plotted a handy map of all the 5G coldspots between Edinburgh and London.
The programme Shortcuts: Views From The Four Nations has an interesting backstory, as it wasn't programmed by Edinburgh at all: it's been borrowed from the Dinard Festival of British Film, who've assembled it as a showcase of new British talent to show to French cinemagoers. As such, it's a pretty diverse programme: and as it's intended as some sort of greatest hits set for UK filmmaking, it's not surprising that we've already seen two of the eleven films on offer. So we get another look at Danielle Swindells' sardonic look at Troubles tourism, Stop Nineteen (previously seen in Sheffield), and Dawinder Bansal's jolly tale of 1980s video piracy, Jambo Cinema (previously seen in London). Both of those count as documentary, or at least non-fiction, so we can file them together with Zillah Bowes' Allowed, a simple sequence of shots of weeds in the urban landscape which would have had more impact if if had been made clearer we're looking at Cardiff in the middle of the 2020 lockdown.
We can move on from there to the narrative shorts, although the narrative behind Izzy Gibbs' animation Keith Water is rather slight - it's more of a mood piece, whose use of found materials and frequent fades to black are very reminiscent of the Quay Brothers, but with a slightly more whimsical edge in the form of a shoal of cutout fish. The majority of the dramatic films selected here are female centred, both in front of and behind the camera. Kirsty McLean's Opal tells the story of a teenage girl boxer and her relationship with her abusive father, while Luna Carmoon's Shagbands is a slightly queasy tale of a teen sex culture so alien that it almost feels like science fiction. For some reason, the films based around older women work better for me: Eileen Tracey's One for the Road is a moving tale of a mother and daughter forced to uproot themselves as the town they live in literally falls into the sea: and Laura Carreira's The Shift is built around a terrific lead performance by Anna Russell-Martin as a woman who has to make a whole series of difficult decisions in a single morning.
The funny films always come off best in programmes like this, and that's the case here. Joe Carter's Bound is a cheeky farce about two people who wake up the morning after a stag party, both handcuffed to each other: there are a few great pull-back-and-reveal gags that justify the slightly cliched setup. David Proud's Verisimilitude has a few choice things to say about able bodied actors who take on disabled acting roles, but does it in a quietly amusing manner. But if you were looking for the single most entertaining short in this set - acknowledging people have different interpretations of the word 'entertaining' - then the Northern Irish short Rough (by Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn) takes the concept of paramilitaries carrying out a punishment shooting on a dog, and has all the dark fun with it you could hope for. It made The BBG laugh out loud five hours into a six hour train journey, so you can't do much better than that.