front of house



Author, comedian and stadium-filler ROB NEWMAN icks up his pen and recalls not-so- and memories of his last visit to the Festival.

The people you never meet in Edinburgh are your hosts, who have sub-let their flat to you during the Festival. The fact that we never meet these people has over the years been a regret to me as, lying in bed wearing three jumpers, I’ve felt a special affinity between me and my absent friends. And I’ve wanted to pay them back for the many, many thoughtful notices they’ve left around me: THIS IS AN ORNAMENT NOT A TOY; MAKE SURE THE DIMMER SWITCH IS TURNED FULLY OFF! ! !! (Guessing that I have a busy schedule and may only have time to run my eyes very quickly over this note, ‘OFF’ is underlined three times).

On my last visit to the Festival, however, it occurred to me that there was indeed a way I could reciprocate: I could sort out the Feng Shui of their flats for them. Other readers may wish to do the same and to them I offer the following.

There is a Feng Shui problem peculiar to flats in Edinburgh, but not perhaps unrelated to those of other cities. In Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow you get houses with two front-rooms. One is the front-room you actually use, the other is kept for best or for show and has a pristine, deluxe, three- piece suite used only on special occasions. In Edinburgh they take this one step further, adding a novel twist. Instead of the Faux Front Room the Scottish capital has The Locked Room. My Feng Shui book says a locked room is very bad, for it gives a tightly knotted feel as of something congested and secretive at the heart of the dwelling.

No sooner had I got the door off its hinges, however, and found a luxurious couch in The Locked Room, than I began to feel the effects of a beneficent Feng Shui. Once placed in the front room the large couch immediately seemed to fill out the space and complement the wall colour almost as if it had been chosen for that room all along.

My auntie in Liverpool has a bad back but still refuses to sit in the much more comfortable armchair of her Faux Front Room. So I understood how strong these traditions can be. All the same, it still grieved me to think of my Edinburgh hosts watching

56 III! usr 13—20 Aug 1998


that pokey, flickery black and white portable all year round when all along they have this superb Nicam digital TV going to waste in The Locked Room. While carefully wiping the dust from the vinyl of the signed Beatles LP with a damp J-Cloth (from which I‘d removed almost all the breadcrumbs) I once more cursed that Edinburgh mixture of Calvinism and Presbyterianism which has for centuries persuaded its folk to put off the pleasures of this world for the next.

Keeping our diary in A Locked Room sort of imprisons the person we were, prevents us from having a living, continuous. organic relation with our past. So I laid the dozen or so diaries around in neat. little piles here and there in the flat where they were easily to hand and my host might dip into them like trailing his fingers in the flowing stream of time. (I must emphasise that at no time did I violate the sacred privacy of a man‘s

personal journal by reading even one word of

said diary. Ditto the camcorder video—tapes.) Having placed the antique vase in the hall, and racked champagne flutes and bottles of twenty-year old port and single malt on the kitchen shelves, such was the infectious well-being of the flat that I

Rob Newman: probably not staying at the Johnstones’ again

became over—powered by the urge to invite lots ol~ people round for a party. Imagine my delight then. when, seconds later in the Locked Room I discovered we were on the phone after all! After the party. the flat seemed to have achieved a mature. lived-in ambience. ll' when I lirst moved in it had exhibited the banal. characterless geometry of a slice of Dairylea. now the flat was like a ripe. old Stilton.

And so. at the end of that summer. as I walked suitcase'in hand towards Waverley Station. I hoped that the newly harmonised Feng Shui would change the lives of Mr and Mrs Johnstone for the better. Perhaps the nights would be fewer when Mr Alec Johnstone would go to bed feeling ‘Nothing much achieved today. Forgot to phone the builder’. Rather. I hoped my contributions would return him to the same jolly soul who at PM l():()5/()l :95 had walked into the bedroom naked but for a plastic apron and proclaimed to Mrs Johnstone: ‘l lere‘s one feh Jeremy Beadle. eh Marjorie“? Now bend oovah. hen!’

I Rob Newman (Fringe) Assembly Rooms (Venue 3) 226 2428, until 31 Aug (not 18) 10pm, £10.50/£9.SOI£5 (£9.50/£8.50).