September 5th, 2016


Tuesday in Edinburgh

I went back to the Modern Art Gallery this morning to see the thing I didn’t have time for yesterday, Paintings 1963-2015 by Bridget Riley.  Although this was presented as an overview of her career (she was most famous in the sixties but is still working today) it was really about a dozen random pictures, all exemplifying the “op art” that she’s famous for - swirling repeated patterns of the sort that you often find in books of optical illusions.  I quickly discovered that you could cross your eyes in front of them and treat them as autostereograms, and went round the exhibition a second time watching each pattern take a physical form in the air between the wall and my eyes.  This can’t possibly be what the artist intended, but I have never been a respecter of artists’ intentions.  Nor of cartographers’, as I left the gallery by such a wrong route that it seriously called into question my ability to carry out any of my other plans for the day.
   Nonetheless, I made it to Radio Active, the revival of the eighties radio programme that I felt should go to as a kind of comedy pilgrimage.  Angus Deayton, Helen Atkinson-Wood, Michael Fenton-Stevens and Philip Pope made up four of the original cast - I’d assumed Geoffrey Perkins was too busy, but in fact he was too dead, and was represented only by a pre-recorded segment (I now have to question how hard “pre” was working in that word, but never mind).  I’d wondered how they were going to present a radio programme on stage, and the answer is, they pretended it was still a radio programme, with the four actors stepping up to the mike holding their scripts and switching from character to character at a dizzying rate.  The show was compiled from the fourth series, and I was struck by how their voices were the same as on the original broadcasts, even though they were all looking their age (Deayton didn’t look too bad actually, perhaps because I wasn’t that near the front).  They finished, inevitably, with a performance of “Meaningless Songs (In Very High Voices)” by the HeeBeeGeeBees, and I did wonder if it wouldn’t have killed them to write some new material and add a few jokes that acknowledged it was no longer 1985, but a lot of this stuff was as funny as when I first heard it as a starry-eyed teenager and I’m glad I made the effort.
   In the evening I went to Miranda Kane’s new show 07800 834030, as I‘d loved The Coin-Operated Girl and wondered if she‘d be as good without that subject matter.  The theory behind this show was that the show would be based on calls and texts from the audience, however as she pointed out, the Free Fringe guaranteed you a room and a microphone, but not a phone signal.  Instead she built the show around messages she’d previously been left.  She began by handing out social awkwardness stickers, two of which I grabbed - one saying “I’m not listening to you because I’m trying to think of something interesting to say, but I’ve got nothing”, the second saying “your face is too out of context for me to recognise right now”.  Her first voicemail was an inaudible one; when she rang him back via internet, he told a story in which he and his girlfriend had used mayonnaise as a substitute for lube.  I won’t tell the punchline, partly because it’s disgusting and partly because it was such an obvious urban myth that I had to question the veracity of the whole show (I googled it as soon as I got back, Snopes’ version dates from 1999).  In fact I think MK was innocent here, none of the other stories seem to be online and as she encouraged the audience to come back as the show was different every night, it would difficult to have plants in the audience.  It was just her bad fortune that the first person she rang was a liar - I sometimes forget that bullshit exists outside of Facebook.  Before we’d finished she’d managed to phone up a couple and convince them to move to Norway because of his sweating problem, and got the audience to tell her about their worst sexual experiences (remember I was wearing a sticker saying I couldn‘t think of anything interesting to say).  It may not have been the deepest thing I’ve ever seen at Edinburgh, but it was hilarious and filthy which is good enough for me.
   After this I succeeded in my second attempt to see Samantha Pressdee’s show Sextremist.  Pressdee’s thesis is that if men are legally allowed to show their nipples, so should women, and she put her money where her mouth was by performing topless (with the phrase “still not asking for it” written on her stomach).  I am a firm believer that one can be a feminist and like boobs, in fact I’d go so far as to say this is my life’s project, but an illiberal subroutine in my head suspects that the inequality would be better settled if men were forced to put them away.  I also feel that the problem might be less with the law and more with creepy men following her around.  She told a lot of stories about being a groupie with people I’m too unfashionable to have heard of, and had a lot to say about women’s control of their own bodies that I could scarcely disagree with.
   I called it a night after this.  On the way home I overheard a couple arguing.  “We could just look at a map,” he was saying.  I think he was puzzled by my attempt to hire him.  If anyone else wants to follow me around in Edinburgh telling me to look at a map every thirty seconds, I can afford about fifty pounds a day.
This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.