I have bid adieu to the Edinburgh Fringe, battered and broken and looking forward to a few weeks of well earned holiday.
I have spent nearly half the Augusts of my life in Edinburgh, but this might be my last one for a while. I’ll miss it. It’s a city where I have fallen in love a few times, fallen in bed a few more and made some fine, life-long friendships.
One of the most unlikely began in the early 1990s, when I met Murray, the guy who sold the Big Issue in the Pleasance Courtyard. I was a happy-go-lucky young idiot, making my way in the comedy business, not long out of University. He was a recovering drug addict, with a young child, struggling to get his shattered life back into shape by selling the magazine. Somehow though, we clicked.
It was a fleeting kind of friendship, of course. I only saw him for one month of the year and I had my mind on other things even then, but we’d have a chat and a laugh. I once took his pile of Big Issues off him and ran round the courtyard selling them for him. For me it was a bit of a lark and the punters joined in the fun and bought them all from me in a matter of minutes. Murray happily took the money and in my youthful exuberance I felt like I’d done a good deed, but of course there was something a little unsavoury about it all. It must have been annoying to see how effortlessly I had done a job that would have taken him all day. I breezed in and out of his life without a care.
In one of our shows we auctioned tickets and whoever paid the most was crowned King of the Show and got double their money back. Murray turned up one day with his weekly take from the magazine, spent fifty pounds on a ticket and got a hundred pounds back. Again we’d felt delighted that the money had gone to someone so deserving, but less so when we found out that Murray had drunk himself nearly to oblivion with his windfall.
We felt guilty, but screw it, he’d had some fun at least.
He did once tell me that the month of hanging out with the comedians and actors at the Pleasance was all that got him through the rest of the year. So it genuinely meant something to him, even if life was mainly a game to us.
One year I turned up and noticed that Murray was not around. I had to hope that he’d pulled his life together and got another job and was back with his family, but I didn’t really ask out of fear that I might be wrong.
Then Cath from the Pleasance Caff asked me if I’d heard about Murray. My heart sank. I didn’t need to be told but Murray had died from a Methadone overdose.
I was desolate of course, but the detail that surprised me was than he was a couple of years younger than me. The ravages of his life had made him seem so much older.
What a damned, bloody shame and what a contrast with the jammy, charmed lives of the prancing fools who strut and fret on that city’s stages. Oh dear, did you get a 2 star review and didn’t sell as many tickets as you’d hoped?
I still miss you Murray. I am sorry I couldn’t do anything to help you and ashamed by my own lack of perspective.