I'm popping my Fringe cherry...

Toby Martin gets very excited

At the venerable age of 26, I, ladies and gentlemen, am a virgin. Sure, I can talk a good game, and my friends are always surprised when I tell them, but to be honest I just haven’t ever had the chance. You see, it’s not that I haven’t wanted to ‘do it’ up until now, it’s just that I never seem to have the courage or, let’s be frank, the cash.

But now, after too many years of ‘waiting until the right time’, I am finally going to the Fringe.

You see, I made you think that I was talking about sex when in actual fact I was talking about the Fringe. I had sex once years ago and, to be honest, it was no great shakes.

My first visit to the Fringe, however, is something that I’ve been mulling over for a long time. I had to question whether it was really worth it, considering how much it would cost me. I mean, I’ve seen comedians without having to go to Scotland, and they’ve been very good. Would it really add anything to the occasion by travellling all the way to Auld Reekie just to see the same comedians delivering the same shows?

As I edged closer to making the decision to ‘do it’, I began to feel a buzz of excitement, a tingling of adrenaline. Again, I retreated to last year’s Fringe programme, to my Rough Guide to Edinburgh and pawed over its contents, telling myself this is going to be worth it. Unbearably slowly, I convinced myself that this had to be done…

…and then, as soon as I’d made my mind up, all hell broke loose. First of all, there was a hotel to be booked up (my preference is incredibly cheap, yet unexpectedly luxurious. I was to be disappointed), travel to be arranged (I don’t fly. Planes are built by men. Men are confused by Ikea instructions, so I tend to avoid the planes.) and, finally, shows to be booked up.

That moment when the Fringe programme lands on the doormat is perhaps the second most exciting moment in anyone’s life, after seeing your first child born. As I’m haven’t yet made a child, this meant that it was in fact the single most exciting moment of my life.

A whole day passed of circling comedians I wanted to see, drawing glasses and moustaches on those I didn’t, and wondering why the Frank Chickens aren’t performing this year (I hear they’re very big right now). At the end of the day, I realised that I was planning to spend about nine tenths of my holiday in theatres, allowing virtually no time for sleep, food or visits to the toilet.

I would have to cut about half of the shows, given that I wanted to also have time to investigate Edinburgh itself. Heartache, tears and tantrums followed, as well as an attempt to hire a colostomy bag for the duration of the fringe. Finally, I settled on two bookings per day, apart from my final day when I went berserk and filled out pretty much every hour with various shows. My girlfriend then reminded me that, ‘It’s my holiday, too,’ so I quickly added a John Bishop show to the agenda.

And then I quit my job.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of going on holiday when you don’t have a job. You feel as though you haven’t deserved it, that you’re spending money that you just don’t have. And you feel like this because it is the absolute, unerring truth. Any sane man surely would have cancelled the holiday in order to recoup some of his much-needed cash.

But I couldn’t; not now. Having spent months flirting with the idea of the Fringe, and then a steamy few weeks indulging in a clandestine fling with it, I had already completely fallen in love with it.

Suddenly, I got why people trekked there year after year, I understood how its unique mix of romance and anarchy lured punters, year after year. It also offered enough opportunities to tempt any would-be obsessive compulsive: I had already started a folder of newspaper clippings on the Fringe that might be useful, sorting show tickets into envelopes marked with the appropriate day on the front and mapped out a diagram of the city with colourful stickers to show which venues I was visiting.

And I haven’t even got there yet.

Having got to first base with the Fringe, I now had to wine it, dine it and pick up the tab to ensure that I went all the way.

Festival veterans will probably read what I have written while wearing the wan smile of a jilted lover remembering their first passionate embrace. Or perhaps the thrill of the Festival never wears off, there’s no way of me knowing. But to those of you who are just as naïvely cautious as me, there is a smouldering seductress waiting to gobble you up here. Next year should be your year.

However, if my past record is anything to go by, I fear that it will all be over too fast and that I will be left merely wishing that it could have lasted longer.

Toby Martin will be keeping a daily blog during his visit to the Fringe. At http://edinburghvirgin.blogspot.com/.

Published: 2 Aug 2010

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