Storytelling all around us
Living in Edinburgh in August, you get a sense of the human need to create. With festivals covering jazz, dance, film, books, theatre, photography, opera and any number of combinations of these individual elements, there is more than just something for everyone. And within the now huge programme for the Fringe events there will be a nice example of a bell curve of quality. But the fact that so many people want to participate – and do so – even if only one or two people end up coming to their performance is testament to a desire to express themselves.
I was struck this weekend by the breadth of activities which happen all around us. On Saturday, LoLo and I went on the train to North Berwick, a seaside town south of Edinburgh. The tickets were free, a consequence of a very delayed train last year when I was travelling up to a town north of Aberdeen and ended up arriving there long after all the shops were closed, having spent a cold hour on Aberdeen station en route. We had no particular plan for what to do in North Berwick other than eating fish and chips, but then saw a sign for the North Berwick Highland Games. The immediate reaction was that there would be highland dancing, so we decided to go along and experience what would, for both of us, be our first Highland Games. Ironically in the Lowlands. The dancing was certainly the highlight for LoLo.
For me, it was shared between watching caber tossing and seeing a pipe band whose kilts were all what for me is “McHaffie tartan”, which is really a version of Grant tartan (yes, we are Grants on one side of the family, we can legitimately wear it. I can provide evidence if necessary). This tartan had until Saturday been so obscure that I had never seen it other than on a McHaffie, and that in itself was only because it was the one which we chose for our wedding many years ago and everyone else kindly adopted it. It has the advantage of the family photos looking better. I kept taking pictures of these random men in kilts in what would have appeared to have been me in full tourist mode.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay long enough to watch them play, but hearing the various pipe bands practicing around the grounds was impressive enough, even if getting too close made me worry for our long-term hearing.
The reason we had to leave was because LoLo had a ticket for Sylvie Guillem. No, I confess I hadn’t heard of her beforehand either. But within the dance world, she is one its superstars. For example, she joined the Paris Opera Ballet aged 16 and was picked out even in that illustrious company by Rudolf Nureyev. Now 50 years old, this performance in the Festival was part of a final tour programme, and there was no question of LoLo not seeing it. Although I keep referring to it as ballet, it was in fact contemporary dance, an entirely different experience and form of dance expression. And of course the verdict was that there were parts which LoLo enjoyed more than others (as I understand it, if Sylvie was in the piece, it was amazing, if not, it was less so).
I spent the time in an upstairs corner of Starbucks, nursing a huge hot chocolate and reading a book while listening to music. And reflecting that these two, as well as dance and sporting competitions, were more forms of human expression which go back millennia. The technology of how we access and experience them might have changed somewhat over the years with iPods and e-readers now joining the ranks of the more traditional media, but the demand for new “content”, for more storytelling has only increased. And storytelling, through whatever medium, seems to be something which has stayed with us through our evolutionary history, providing us with a way to understand our world, our history, and ourselves. When it all comes together in a few weeks of festivals, the whole of Edinburgh seems to come alive. And walking down the Royal Mile, the whole world appears to have congregated in our little city.