Nicola Barry

AIDS Awareness

Aids Awareness is crucial to fighting infection

English: The Red ribbon is a symbol for solida...

The Red ribbon is a symbol for solidarity with HIV-positive people and those living with AIDS.

 

December 1st – which is World Aids Day – tends to disappear in a fog of complacency bound up in pretty red ribbons. Let’s face it, AIDS is the forgotten plague. We seem content to ignore one unsavoury little fact, namely that HIV is still a killer. In 2011, Aids killed more than 1million people globally. In our haste to save lives in Africa, we have turned a blind eye to the situation here in the UK. Worryingly, recent research revealed that more than half of us are ignorant of how HIV is transmitted. AIDS awareness is at an all time low and our – albeit generous – desire to help other countries has blinded us to the threat here at home. Many of you will remember the brilliant and graphic AIDS awareness advertising campaigns of the early Nineties, the falling icebergs, the grey tombstones, the myriad of scare tactics. Well, they worked. There was never any doubt back then that HIV was the deadly, silent threat perched on every bed post. These days, however, so many people are, singularly, failing to hear the safe sex message. You only have to look at the number of teenage pregnancies to see that. This is bad news, mainly because the prognosis for those people who are diagnosed has changed dramatically. Having HIV is no longer the death sentence of a quarter of a century ago. Now people live with HIV, even if it is thanks to a cocktail of drugs. Make no mistake: we are still facing an AIDS crisis. Tragically, the general public is cooling towards the subject, becoming complacent about what they will and won’t do in relationships. There has always been a tendency to see HIV as someone else’s problem: it’s the fault of gay men, druggies, Africans, anyone but us. The truth is HIV can be spread by men to women, women to men, men to men, mothers to babies, as well as by sharing needles and contaminated blood products.

STIGMA

Most important of all, especially to those affected by stigma, no amount of kissing, hugging, crying, sneezing, sharing crockery or sitting on lavatory seats can give you AIDS. Not even casual everyday contact with a carrier can do that. The only known effective transmitters of the virus are, let’s try to be honest for a moment, blood and semen. Drugs are a huge problem in this country, yet we continue to turn a blind eye to the misery and suffering caused to the families of addicts. It seems there are always people ready to protect children from unsuitable adults – from paedophiles and child abductors, but not from parents who abuse drugs. Experts say such children suffer a great deal of ‘hidden harm’, such as poverty, ill health, neglect, poor educational opportunities, abuse of various kinds and, later, homelessness, institutionalisation and the ever-present threat of HIV infection. While there have been great advances in the treatment of AIDS and HIV, studies have shown that a late diagnosis accounts for some 35 per cent of HIV-related deaths among adults in the UK, an unnecessary statistic. People are dying because they never knew they were ill in the first place. And when they did find out, it was too late to have effective treatment. AIDS itself doesn’t kill anybody as such. What happens is that HIV compromises the immune system, decimates the white blood cells – the body’s principal means of protecting itself from infection. And, as the cells are destroyed, AIDS-related infections take hold. Nevertheless, without a test, the virus can take years to manifest itself. Its long incubation period means it moves invisibly so a lot of people don’t know they have it. Saddest of all, our progress in providing drugs to people who suffer has not really been matched by any accompanying change of attitude towards those infected. I wrote about AIDS thirty years ago, when Edinburgh found itself right at the centre of the outbreak. By studying stored blood from drug users, researchers were able to pinpoint the start of the virus in Edinburgh to mid-1983, a predicament caused by addicts sharing needles in what they called shooting galleries. Outside Edinburgh, AIDS was often known as the gay plague. Some people saw it as the wrath of God or the end of the world; others even thought it was a plot by the KGB or CIA – anything but take responsibility.

AIDS AWARENESS

Even now, in 2013, when it is everybody’s plague, some people still shy away from behaving responsibly where sex is concerned. Despite the increase in heterosexuals with HIV, most people allow themselves to be lulled into believing that AIDS is “dying out” – and the irony of those words will be lost on them. We need to work much harder on prevention, yet some charities and members of the medical profession are struggling to raise awareness. Few people take into account the huge effort made by gay men when AIDS became a problem back in the 80s. All over the world, homosexuals changed their lifestyles. And no, they were not to blame for the virus spreading. Have you ever heard of anyone being blamed for spreading flu? And yes, it is exactly the same. One day, historians will one day record that homosexuals were the heroes of the 80s and 90s. It was they who alerted the world to the disaster of AIDS, the disease which had already killed off thousands in Central Africa. These same historians will hopefully also record that thousands of lives could have been saved had heterosexuals also changed their ways. They will ask why straight people kept pontificating about the evils of homosexuality while failing to do anything about their own practices. This is not a good time to climb onto the moral high ground – because AIDS shows no favours, not to black or white, rich or poor, male or female.  AIDS could probably be eliminated within a generation or two, if everyone took the dreadful lessons of the past 30 years to heart. Of course, Africa matters. But the rest of the world needs to set standards so that we can all live safely. There are already too many people out there desperate to kill us off, terrorists and the like. Surely the last thing we want to do is aim a loaded gun at ourselves?

 

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Halloween Mental Patient

Severe Mental Illness

Severe Mental Illness (Photo credit: homelesshub)

Asda Halloween Mental Patient Outrage

Such outrage over the supermarket Asda selling a fancy-dress outfit featuring a character covered in blood as a”mental patient costume”.  Asda’s doomed prank was brandishing a meat cleaver and billed as a “mental patient fancy dress costume.” The outfit, designed to look like a blood-splattered straitjacket with ragged edges, was on sale for £20 through the store’s  clothing arm, George, has now been withdrawn.

A perfect case of people in glass houses not throwing stones if ever there was one. How many times have you looked askance at somebody in the past week? Perhaps they looked as if they were not quite right – one sandwich short of the full picnic, the lift didn’t go the whole way up. You know what I’m talking about. We have developed far too many slang words for mental illness: ‘Psychos, wierdos, nut-jobs. Try counting the number you pass on an average day. The result is very revealing. It says a lot about the person counting as well as those being counted. And you have to include every oddity you meet in this particular ‘mental’ tally: smelly street beggars, drunks staggering home, road-rage drivers, mothers screaming at tantrum-prone toddlers, stressed executives. The list goes on and on. After all, statistics dictate that one in five of us is potentially mentally ill.

STIGMA

Like it or not, in this country, most people are prejudiced against the mentally ill. You probably know someone who has been depressed lately or even been in a psychiatric hospital. How did you respond when you first heard the news? Did you back away, mutter a few words and quietly put the person to the back of your mind, at least until he or she was better? Even more revealing – how would you react if the house next door to yours was earmarked as a future home for long-stay patients coming out of hospital – in other words if community care were to come to your back yard. Of course, you thought the concept was brilliant when it was first mooted. It’s great to have people who have been institutionalised for years and years move out of hospital into a home of their own. Then you receive a letter saying they are going to move into the house next door to you. Hey, wait a minute, you thought. What will these neighbours be like? Will they start molesting my children? Will they turn the neighbourhood into a modern-day Bedlam with their mad shouting and screaming? Most important of all: will the value of my house plummet? So, you sign a petition. You tiptoe around it at first. You don’t want to be nasty and say you’d rather they didn’t live next door. That’s a bit much. So you couch it slightly differently. You say the area isn’t suitable for that sort of person – whatever that means. Guess what? You’re prejudiced. You’re discriminating against a group of people because they are ill. What business is it of yours who is moving in next door anyway?

I have never understood why so many organisations consult residents in a street about people who are mentally ill moving into the area. What has it got to do with anyone else? When I move house, I would dearly love to have a survey carried out of the people next door beforehand. Are they noisy? Do they have a stereo blaring all day and night? Do they drink a lot? It would be wonderful to know in advance. That way I wouldn’t waste money on an unsuitable house. But I can’t do that because it would be a travesty of human rights. That is the difference between physical and mental illness. You wouldn’t mind a man with a broken leg moving in next door. But a broken mind, no thanks.

At least Asda has had the decency to apologise and withdraw the Halloween outfit. In a statement on Wednesday evening, Asda, which is owned by US retail giant Walmart, said the sale had been a “completely unacceptable error”.

A step in the right direction.

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Gareth Bale

Gareth Bale, Welsh footballer for Tottenham Ho...

Gareth Bale,Tottenham Hotspur (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The only word for it is obscene. Real Madrid has paid Tottenham Hotspur 100million Euros – £85million in old money – so that Gareth Bale can kick a football, albeit well, up and down a rather plush field. The obscenity is that Spain is in the grip of a recession which, frankly, makes ours look like a Sunday school picnic. I wonder whether the Spanish have a phrase as ironic as David Cameron’s, “We are all in this together”. Utter nonsense. And Spain, like the UK, is a land of haves and have-nots. As one of Real Madrid’s Galacticos, Gareth Bale will feel right at home among the haves, earning between £170,000 and £300,000 – depending on which paper you read. The other obscenity is that the gap between rich and poor has never been wider. Being poor is a question of not having power over yourself, of not being able to make your own choices about the life you want to lead, about what you want to do, where you want live and with whom. Any measure of poverty has to be one of inequality within a society. It’s not fair. I can’t think of any better way to say it.
It might shock you to know how many British children sleep on a thin mattress on the floor, under an old blanket, in the same room as their brothers and sisters. These children don’t have new toys, never go to the cinema or eat out in a restaurant. They rarely eat fresh fruit and vegetables. How can anyone find real happiness living such an impoverished existence?

WEALTH

Being as rich as your average footballer means being able to dream of a better life and having the opportunity to realise that dream. Being rich gives you self-confidence. No one in their right mind would choose to be poor. Most of us believe poverty means not having enough food or warm clothing but the poor themselves often say that the worst aspect of their lives is poverty of expectation – the idea that deprived people do not have the same aspirations as everyone else. Instead, they are socially excluded and lack opportunities in life because they are discriminated against for some reason. They are left out of things most of us take for granted.
The poor have exactly the same aspirations for themselves and their families as the rich. They want to live in a beautiful home, determine their own destinies, and enjoy all the basics most of us take for granted. They want more than just the basics though. Most people who live in poverty also dream of being a pop star, a doctor, a famous footballer. But what good are dreams when you don’t have the money to pay for those singing lessons or when your education has been so irregular that university is out of the question? You can’t achieve what you want to achieve because you are too poor. On the other hand, you know that your hopes and dreams are the only thing to keep you from sliding into an abyss of despair, so, you hang onto them. At least aspirations don’t cost money.

NOUVEAU PAUVRE

These days, those who are relatively well-off have been extremely vocal about their plight. They are trying desperately hard to keep pace with what is happening to the things they have always taken for granted like savings, investments, credit and long-term prosperity. The credit crunch is everywhere – rising food and fuel prices alongside plummeting house values. The perpetual coverage of the credit crunch has told us one thing loudly and clearly: it is the suffering of the people with money in the bank which matters; not the suffering and hardship of those who have nothing. I like to call them the Nouvea Pauvre. A bit like the Nouveau Riche, people who acquired a lot of cash unexpectedly, the Nouveau Pauvre are finding out, rather suddenly, what it is like to go without, but not in any real sense. These are people who THINK they are poor, who are having to cut down on expensive facials, on bottles of champagne and holidays in the South of France. This is the haves pretending to be the have-nots. Nothing more.
Footballers like Gareth Bale are fortunate enough to be recession-proof. Tragically, the people feeling it most are those who have to pay at the turnstyles to see their wealthy heroes play the beautiful game. Even in the world’s lower leagues, players earn a million times more than the wages of Joe, or even Jose, Public.

All in it together? Don’t make me laugh.

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Naturism

Naturism en France: Never mind les bollocks…

Repression is a state of which the British are particularly proud. We do so like to be prim and proper, so much so the phrase ‘No sex, please, we’re British,’ perfectly sums up our puritanical spirit. I mean – why would anyone in their right mind want to take off their clothes, especially in this freezing country, other than to get into bed or step into a hot bath? The relationship the Brits have with their bodies is an offshoot of our Puritanism. Any excuse to keep our clothes on is more to the point. We tend to think we look ghastly in the buff. We have been brainwashed into believing we don’t have big enough muscles, tight enough abs, that our breasts are too small or too big, and our backsides too flabby. Like it or not, most of us do look better with our clothes on, with bellies firmly inside the pants and the love handles concealed by thick belts. But naturism is growing in popularity.

Now, France’s Nudist Federation has begun a drive to spruce up the image of naturism, countering claims that naturists are only there to ogle each other. Naturists say going nude puts people in touch with their bodies, allows them to let it all hang out. As far as activities go, naturism is cheap and offers social interaction for everybody, regardless of who they are.

naturism

Feel free to get YOUR bits out!

In the interest of duty, I once bared all myself and have never really recovered from the shock. It happened, one not-so-sunny day on Inchmurrin Island on Loch Lomond. One cold drizzly day in October, I arrived on the island, without an umbrella. I considered that a bit superfluous. I was given a pep talk by an experienced naturist who told me that the first few minutes were the worst. “After that,” he said, “You’ll find you begin to relax. We’ve even got two tennis courts.” Well, the mind positively boggled. Leap about naked on a tennis court? No way. The first time I warmed to the naturists on Inchmurrin was when they decided it was too cold for us to take our clothes off. Joy. Unfortunately, this only meant my editor insisted I repeat the experience elsewhere, in the warmer climes of a swimming pool where the group met during the winter months for a sort of naturists’ happy hour.

Suffice it to say, baring all was one of the most unpleasant experiences I have ever had. One minute I was in the cubicle at the side of the pool, heart pounding against my heaving naked bosom, oh sorry, got a bit carried away there; the next I was standing starkers amid a sea of gawping strangers. Only they weren’t gawping. It was just my imagination. The first few minutes of revealing all is a bit like smashing your car into something. Your whole life flashes before your eyes. To be blunt, the absolute truth is that I wasn’t that worried about exposing my private parts. It was the bits in between I was worried about. How long could I hold my breath?

I eventually sat down among a group of naturists, trying desperately hard to look relaxed, as if I did this sort of thing all the time. I chatted to a friendly man beside me, taking great care to stare straight into his face, afraid my eyes would accidentally drop. This, I can assure you, is an exhausting pose to strike for any length of time. When I spoke, my voice came out all high pitched, like a neutered fairy. Horror of horrors, I suddenly let out a loud snorting noise and the charming man recoiled in fright. There was no way I was going to add to my humiliation by explaining that the effort of holding in my stomach had finally proved too much. God, the air tasted so good. Needless to say naturism was not for me. But each to their own.

NAKED RAMBLING

Certainly the naked rambler, Steve Gough, was almost driven insane by prudes on his protest tour of Britain. He believes the laws prohibiting nudity in Britain are archaic. To say Steve met with resistance from the public is an understatement. At times it seems people actually sat and waited for him to come moseying into their town, starkers, just so they could phone the police and be offended. Mr Gough, from Hampshire, imagined he was blazing a trail against antiquated British indecency laws and establishment attitudes, wearing nothing but boots, hat and sunscreen; a flag poking out of the top of his rucksack reading “Freedom to be yourself”
Naturism is actually quite a serious pursuit, a way of life. It usually takes place in designated areas. In parts of America, where else, certain communities are naked all the time, everywhere, even in the supermarket. Imagine people’s bits hanging over the frozen food sections? A bit off-putting, I think. At least it’s understandable in places like Florida where the sun is visible most of the time. The sun tends to bring entire neighbourhoods out into their gardens. You have naked sun-worshippers in the all-together having drunken barbecues, bare men mowing their lawns and nudies driving their cars, their sweaty, naked thighs stuck to their hot leather seats.

But if other people want to strip off, why shouldn’t they? Just don’t ask me to join in.

Article focus: naturism

 

Referendum Poll

George Horace Gallup, founder of the Gallup polls.

George Horace Gallup, founder of the Gallup polls. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Predicting the unpredictable: the referendum poll

No one likes a smart-ass, a know-it-all, a clever dick. Or, for that matter, no one likes polls which pretend to predict how we will react to everything from whether we eat our five-a-day to whether we’ll buy holiday insurance or not. Their favourite subject seems to be our voting intentions, with today’s from Nate Silver, predicting that the Yes campaign has “virtually no chance” of winning the 2014 referendum poll on Scottish independence. Oh, really. Who, exactly, did he ask? Certainly not me or anyone I know. And, if he did ask, would we tell the truth or just mess with his head? You can’t pick up a newspaper these days without reading smart remarks about opinion polls. You read a story which says “according to a public opinion poll …” on the next line the story will say: “And we all know what a large pinch of salt you can take them with”.

It all started with the pollster of pollsters, George Horace Gallup, who died in 1984. He was a statistician, originator of the Gallup poll. The poor man will be turning in his grave at the things people say about polls, yet Gallop was no fool. He founded the American Institute of Public Opinion (1935) and the Audience Research Institute (1939), both at Princeton. His polls tend to be best known for pre-election surveys and the 1936 presidential elections brought public attention to his organisation because of the accuracy of its predictions. Since then the Gallup poll has had a good record, except for its prediction in 1948 that Thomas Dewey would defeat Harry Truman. I would love to know what exactly is so wonderful about opinion polls and why we rely on them so much. For a start they are incredibly expensive. If a newspaper commissions a poll, for example, it costs thousands of pounds. Alas poor Gallop, sorry to make you turn in your grave once more but why can’t untrained people carry out polls? Experts like Nate Silver say it’s difficult, that you have to be highly skilled to break people down into the right group, class, age etc.

I find that hard to believe. All you have to do is walk down any main street in any city, town or village and someone will thrust a clipboard in your face and start asking a load of stupid questions. In Edinburgh, you can never walk in Princes Street without being stopped. And pollsters are always so pushy. They come barging up, shouting the dreaded words: ‘Excuse me, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” At one time you could just wave a hand dismissively. Things have changed. There is almost a sense of desperation. These people practically pin you up against the wall to ask their infernal questions. As for being experts in their field, ahem: don’t tell me they have assessed my age, class and which end of the bath I sit, all in the space of two seconds? Any fool can ask questions and write down answers. There’s no need to pay thousands of pounds. These power-dressed nuisances, who stop you in the street, rush off to their offices with your answers, stuff them into a computer and come up with naff results such as Scots will vote no at next year’s referendum poll. They never report don’t knows. The pollsters might ask 100 people whether they intend voting yes or no at the referendum and only three will answer. Two say no, one says yes, the rest don’t know. The next day someone like Nate comes along and announces that 66.5 percent intend voting no and 33.5 percent will vote yes. It’s farcical.

EXCLUDED

Then there are all the people against whom market researchers discriminate, like us, poor journalists. We are supposed to specialise in unbiased opinion. Yet pollsters don’t want to know. A friend of mine was walking down Oxford Street in London when a large woman approached him to ask whether he liked lager. “Stupid question,” he replied, “you might as well have asked whether the Pope is a Catholic.” Totally unfazed by his cheek, the woman asked him if he would blind test a lager she was developing. He thought about it then agreed. This guy would do anything for a free pint. She then asked if he was in any of the professions on her list. Like a fool he confessed to being a journalist. The woman was aghast and said: ‘Sorry, you’re no good.’

The methods used in the early polls made no claim to being scientific. Polling was usually done by canvassers hired to go out and question people or by “straw ballots” in newspapers, which readers were asked to fill out and mail in. A more scientific method of polling called sampling was developed in the mid-1930s. This method enables the polltaker to question a small percentage of the group whose opinions he wishes to ascertain and to analyze from their responses the opinions of the whole group. The superiority of this method over the old straw-ballot system was demonstrated in the 1936 presidential election when the Literary Digest poll, which based its predictions on the older technique, produced a staggeringly inaccurate forecast, while the poll of a newer group organised by George Gallup predicted the result of the election correctly. By the 1940s the polls were concerned with social and economic questions as well as with political issues. But as the misguided defeat of Harry Truman proved, inaccuracy is the pollster’s watchword. If you don’t believe me, go out and ask 100 people.

 

 

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Health & Safety

The blight that is health & safety

You can't take pictures in here

You can’t take pictures in here (Photo credit: sardinista)

The phenomenon of overzealous Health & Safety officials is nothing new. It is not the modern blight we all make out it is, according to Dr Mike Esbester, of the University of Portsmouth, but is, in fact, a century old. He describes some of the early Health and Safety advice, with their exaggerated posed photographs, as “unintentionally hysterical”. One shows a man lying under the wheels of a train beneath the legend: “If you happen to slip”. Doh! We seem to have learned nothing in all that time and over-cautious is still the name of the game. The zeal of PC officials to protect us from life’s knocks and bruises, which previous bureaucrats took for granted, just makes them look stupid and petty.

A few years ago, the grand burghers of Dundee City Council, or, more precisely, the Education Department’s grandly titled advice and conciliation manager, forbad its schools from providing home-baking stalls at summer events. Given that baking of such a kind is usually to raise money for the school or provide the staff and pupils with much needed treats, the decision was cruel as well as fatuous. Every single edict from central or local government becomes more ludicrous than the last, proving that the Nanny State is not just some figment of your wildest imaginings but a grim reality. The Governments, of both Holyrood and Westminster, keep telling us we are a bunch of fat, lazy consumerists, who attempt to thrive on sugar, salt, fat, alcohol and wheeze-inducing smoke.

The Nanny State says that, as a nation, we eat so much we can barely get though our own front doors without a crowbar. Nanny offers little compassion and a scolding finger, the ubiquitous jabbing forefinger – even if the facts she keeps pointing out are somewhat obvious, such as sugar makes you fat and too many gins make you drunk. Nanny’s rules go on and on. You shouldn’t play conkers at school. Rugby is too tough for small boys. No pictures of children must ever be taken at the school panto. You name it, some idiot from health & safety has outlawed it. If home baking isn’t good enough for a school fun day how come it is good enough to eat round the kitchen table? Why has it not been banned across Dundee as a whole? Why have the supermarket shelves not all been cleared of flour, baking soda, currants and those dainty little paper cups in which the cakes are served?

JOBSWORTH MENTALITY

It’s difficult to comprehend the mindset of a true jobsworth. It’s a term usually used to describe a council official or parking attendant; a person whose favourite line tends to be, “Its more than my job’s worth to let you off, mate,” while enforcing some petty regulation or other. They are always people with very little authority. In fact, being a jobsworth gives them the only power they are ever likely to enjoy in their dull little lives, which is why they relish every moment of it. In 2013, there are more jobsworths out there than ever; little people hell-bent on doing what they can to prevent Joe and Jill Public from being happy. So, what exactly is a jobsworth? He or she always has a pinched, suspicious face, sour nature, and an aptitude for refusing to contemplate stepping outside the rules by even a millimetre. The true jobsworth is one who knows the rules backwards, realises that there is plenty of flexibility and chooses not to use it.It is important to distinguish them from someone who really has no flexibility and would lose their job if they acted in a contradictory way.

Where did all this start? How did people ever begin sticking their noses into business which did not concern them? Local authority and government employees, people who say they are public servants, who are paid with our council and income taxes, seem to think they know what is best for us. And, that is what a nanny is for, isn’t it?

Before they invent their little rules, there is no consultation, no deliberation – just this hard-and-fast diktat which makes absolutely no sense to 99 per cent of the population it affects. Political correctness has become the bane of our lives. It would be better if we just stayed indoors, didn’t go anywhere or do anything. Everyone, especially, schoolchildren has to take risks. It is part and parcel of growing up. But biting into a home-made scone in the school playground? I can think of a better use for an oven than baking – and it involves the advice and conciliation manager.

That just takes the biscuit.

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Edinburgh Festival

Edinburgh Festival Out of Control

I never believed I would turn into one of those people who moaned about the Edinburgh Festival; a Philistine, in other words.But, lo and behold, that moment has arrived.I have never been indifferent or hostile to artistic and cultural values, always loved theatre, cinema and books. It’s this packing people into a small city until it is, quite literally, bursting at the seams I hate.I would join the Edinburgh Complaints Choir, some locals who have become part of the Festival and are voicing their disapproval of the city’s most annoying features. Their complaints were collected and set to music by two local composers. Top of their pops are the trams – a £776m project due to begin running next July, years behind schedule and hundreds of millions over budget.Another complaint is The Edinburgh Festival, which is now out of control. The Fringe, for example, is far too big. Why can’t we have quality, not quantity? Nine times out of ten, you end up paying to see a load of rubbish. So much of the so-called comedy is not funny and many of the plays are badly acted and boring.

Ian Rankin, writer

Ian Rankin, Edinburgh’s top crime writer

ELITIST

Please don’t bring up the old chestnut about the Edinburgh Festival being elitist and inaccessible. If only. It isn’t elitist. Anyone can come: the more people trampling over the locals, the better, apparently. Money, not art, is the big draw. Tourists can only be good for Edinburgh’s coffers. There is nowhere to stay since hotels and bed and breakfasts are booked up months in advance.If you happen to live in the city, long-lost friends always seem to manage to track you down – people you haven’t seen for thirty years or more. You will be familiar with the old adage: a friend in need is a bloody nuisance? Well, never were those words more apt as during the Edinburgh International Festival. The call always comes in July: someone you haven’t seen for years.“Hiya. It’s Judy. Remember me?” You have absolutely no idea who she is.”We were at primary school together. I’d love to see you again. My husband and I are going to be in Edinburgh for the Festival and wondered whether we could pop in and, er, well, stay for a few weeks?”Long silence during which you try to say no. However, instead of saying ‘no’, you hear this other charming voice say: “I’d love to have you, of course, no problem. Stay as long as you like.”Yes, it WAS your voice saying all that. You replace the receiver and try to calm down, even forget about Judy.Then, a couple of weeks later, the phone rings again. It’s Judy. Again. No, of course you don’t mind driving out to the airport at 8 o’ clock in the morning to pick them up. No, of course, you don’t mind getting the theatre tickets. Two shows every night for four people, certainly? They’ll pay you back. Of course, they will.”Just one little problem,” she goes on. “My husband, Roger, is a vegan, and, er, he only eats organic meusli.” They arrive. Would it be too much trouble if they both had a bath and a meal early because they planned on taking in a couple of shows straight away?Fine.At two o’ clock in the morning, they come staggering home, waking the whole street in the process. Everyone hears them coming into YOUR house, everyone knows they are YOUR friends. The next night they stay in, so you immediately decide to go out. You come home at midnight to find your so-called friends absolutely legless, having drunk all your booze. They let slip that they have invited a Danish juggling troupe to stay as well for a couple of weeks. Before you know where you are, your house has appeared in the Edinburgh Festival brochure as venue 143. When the Festival is finally over and your awful guests leave, your houseis a tip, your cupboards are empty and you are flat broke. You are not the only one. This happens to a lot of people who live in Scotland’s capital.

TOO MANY FESTIVALS

One wonders how long Edinburgh will be able to go on sustaining all these festivals. There are so many: there’s the Big One, on now, and The Fringe. There’s the Science Festival, The Television Festival, The Children’s Festival, one for jazz, books and films. There is even a Festival of Politics.As soon as these horrors are over, the wretches start preparing for the Hogmany Party, the biggest in the world, I’m told. Could council worthies not have come up with something more imaginative than a lot of pigs in kilts getting drunk, vomiting and urinating all over Princes Street? Scotland was once a country where, every New Year, people wandered into their neighbour’s house with a bottle of whisky and something black for an impromptu get-together. Not that difficult to re-invent, you’d think. It surely beats standing in Princes Street for five hours, knee-deep in people, staring vacantly into the sky in the vague hope of seeing a firework.It was a Labour Government who decided to lift the post-war gloom by creating an international celebration of the Arts, selecting Edinburgh as the prime location.And why not? Edinburgh is, after all, a literary city. The list of writers is impressive: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Muriel Spark, Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin, Alexander McCall Smith and J K Rowling. The Book Festival is selective and does bring in good names. That isn’t true of the Fringe, however. You are far more likely to see Joe Bloggs from Neasden’s Amateur Dramatic Society than any respected actor.

Unfortunately, downtrodden residents who dare to criticise The Festival are the pariahs of this 21st century; written off as ignorant Philistines. There’s more stigma attached to a Festival basher than someone in the advanced stages of leprosy.Yet, thousands upon thousands of people descend on our small space. They deposit all their rubbish, and, three weeks later, they go away without it.By September, Edinburgh looks as if five major hurricanes have swept through it. The city is deserted, bereft, like a former war zone. The battered residents cautiously crawl from beneath the heap to see if the space invaders really have gone.The Festival used to be a showcase for real talent: comedians such as John Cleese and Michael Palin. It was never a midden for endless talentless drivel. Not an infestation of comedy, if you can call it that. Comedy, I mean. You can certainly call it an infestation.Still, I do have a solution to the vast numbers descending on Edinburgh. Move them all to Glasgow and let us, for God’s sake, reclaim our city.

 

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