The Edinburgh Fringe is underway and I am alternating between enjoying my shows and panicking about how much money I might lose. It’s OK, I only have to write a weekly Metro column for the next five years and I should break even. As long as I don’t eat anything in that time.
Much has changed since I first came up to this beautiful and brutal Festival in 1987. The trams are finally up and running, after six years and going £200 million over budget (even though seemingly no one in the city actually wanted them). But by my estimates they will already have clawed back over £420 of the £776 million they’ve spent. And they can easily pay off the rest if they rent out every carriage at night-time for comedians to sleep in. You could go on a month long 5-star exotic holiday with the money it takes to rent a small flat here in August. In fact that’s exactly what the man whose flat I am in has done. I don’t feel resentful.
It’s the things that don’t change that provide comfort to the Fringe veteran. My favourite place in the city is a tiny baked potato shop on Jeffrey Street called “The Tempting Tattie”. Its combination of hearty carbohydrate packed meals at a budget price meant I would dine here every other day as a student. Now I find it a bit too much to stomach, but still aim to eat there once a year, for the Proustian rush of consuming my favourite: medium baked potato filled with orange Cheddar cheese and mango chutney. Sounds pretty awful right? But you have to give it a go. Just pop in and ask for a “Richard Herring” and when the owner looks at you blank-faced then say “Medium cheese and mango chutney.” My many years of publicising this takeaway (for no financial or potato based reward) have disappointingly not led to them naming the dish in my honour.
But that’s good. It gives me something to aim for. I only return in the hope that this will be my year. Some comics want awards. I just want a potato. Five years ago the owner finally worked out that I was the guy who kept mentioning his shop in newspaper articles – was this going to be my moment? No, he then sold the lease to someone else and the whole awful process had to start again.
I miss him. He was a reassuringly grumpy man who seemed to resent the fact that he had given up the best years of his life to baking potatoes (as if there could be a more worthwhile vocation). One year I tried to cheer him up, by persuading my entire audience to descend on the shop at the same time. A queue of over 100 people snaked down the street and it took him over an hour to serve us all. I had hoped he’d run out of ingredients, but somehow he coped with the demand. I thought he’d thank me, but when I rocked up at the end of the line for a “Richard Herring” he attempted to strangle me. Then he gave me a medium potato with cheese, mango chutney and pineapple. He still didn’t know my preferred spud. Pineapple? What kind of sick pervert did he think I was?
The new owners are polite and seem to love serving baked potatoes, which makes dining there much less enjoyable.
But one day I will get a potato named after me. I may be bankrupt, but my life will have been worthwhile.