After the show tonight I had a couple of hours to kill before midnight when Michael Legge would be celebrating his birthday. My wife was busy with all her sophisticated friends from the book festival (where she had been doing a talk about her work) and I hadn't had any dinner. I was reminded of the many, lonely and awkward nights I have spent in this city. When you do a show alone there is no cast to hang around wiht afterwards and standing around in the Pleasance Courtyard in the hope of spotting a pal can be desperate and make it look like you're hoping your audience will come up and be your friend. In the old days I hated this feeling of hopelessness and loneliness, but now I can cope with it and actually enjoy my time alone. But there was the echo of past Fringes where I didn't like this feeling and when I would bail and go home rather than hang around to see who I bumped into.
I was really looking for something to eat, but also somewhere relatively quiet because I had realised with a start that I hadn't written this week's Metro column yet. My days are so full and busy that I had to try to start this at 10pm on a Sunday evening.
And I still find it awkward going to a restaurant alone, knowing that you are going to be silently judged by the other diners. It shouldn't be an issue and I have done it many times, but it's hard to shake off the stink of shame and failure. I couldn't work out where to go, places were either too full or too posh for the single diner. I ended up going to a dodgy looking Italian restaurant on the Grassmarket, where I was shown right to the back and put on a table with pasta sauce smeared on the table cloth and a piece of lettuce on my seat. I was too tired by now to even pass comment on this. The pasta sauce was mainly on the opposite side of the table anyway. I just wanted to eat some food and do some work and wallow in my single shame. It was nice that the staff had recognised that they should up the humiliation by hiding me at the back on a table that they couldn't be bothered to clean. It was perfick.
I got on with trying to work out what to write about, which is tough when my days are so filled with work that little else is happening to me, but plumped for documenting my meeting with Ian Lavender and my passing conversation with Clare Grogan. Another single diner arrived as I drank my beer and I feared that we'd be put side by side and have some obligation to converse, but luckily, the staff understand the rules of the tragic single diner and put him a few tables away. Whilst I chose to deal with the shame by staying silent and trying to pretend I wasn't there (the correct single diner attitude), this new solo eater chose another path. He confronted the awkwardness head on by talking loudly to the staff and trying to explain why he was alone as if this was natural and normal. Unfortunately this technique just highlights the fact that you (and they) know that there is nothing natural about this at all. "Just grabbing something to eat before I head off to see another show," he proclaimed in too loud a voice, demonstrating that this was not just for the benefit of the waiting staff. He wanted us all to know that he had an amazing and busy social life beyond this thirty minute window, but by pointing this out we all knew that he didn't. He might be going to a show, but he was going alone. He might be smiling and seem confident, but inside he was feeling as wilted and empty as I did. Perhaps it wasn't actually a show for the other patrons, maybe he'd just spent so much of the day alone that he had forgotten how to interact with human beings and got over-excited. I wasn't judging him or mocking him for this. I felt the same. And there's every chance that I was just projecting my feelings on to him and he was fine with the situation. Well some chance. But I don't think he was. He just coped with the awkwardness by expanding outwards rather than curling up like a flower in the night.
My ordinary pizza arrived, with a base that looked like it had probably come out of a pack of pizza bases in a supermarket freezer. It was meant to have pepperoni on it, but the circles were spread out so far that they managed to make five slices do for the entire pizza. It wasn't very nice. But at least I had only spent £15 for that and a beer... oh. At least I had behaved with the correct level of shame, unlike the theatrical man who continued to order his food and wine like he was Donald Sinden in a wind tunnel.
But who is the really sad person in this story? It is all of us.
Afterwards I wearily trudged up the hill to the Pleasance Dome. As I passed a rubbish truck I did a fart. The horrible pungent smell of Edinburgh rubbish hit my nostrils and I realised that had I not been alone this would have been the perfect opportunity to drop one and then blame something else for the stink. I made a mental note to use this subtle ruse in future. "You smell something unGodly and awful? Nothing to do with me, that's all the rubbish. Poo.....(aside) ha ha ha, I am a genius." In all likelihood the fart would in any case be masked by the smell from the truck so no one would ever know what you did.
A bit further up the hill I farted again and realised that the smell I had smelled before was entirely my own fart and not the rubbish truck at all. It was the exact same terrible stench whether the truck was there or not. That's not good is it? I've only been here two weeks and my intestines stink like a municipal dump.
I got to the Pleasance by 11 and had a nice chat with the men who run the venue about the good old days and the exciting new days - it's the Pleasance's 30th anniversary next year incredibly. I managed to stay up til midnight to wish Legge a happy birthday, but exhaustion overcame me and my wife (who had joined me by now) and I headed home. At least nowadays I go home because I am too tired to stay up rather than because I am too socially awkard to cope with my own embarrassment. Well, most of the time.
Both shows were fun today. The podcast was great fun with great work from Hannibal Buress, Lost Voice Guy and Greg Proops. Listen here. Think we're sorting out the sound issues, audiophiles. Do try to remember that we're producing 25 hour long shows in three and a half weeks and that the venue has a lot of other shows on, so we can't spend hours trying to work on this. It's also free. A couple of them are hard to listen to on a commute, but are audible enough on a computer. Apologies if this fact ruins your life.