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Taking The High Road: Dispatches from the Edinburgh Front Line

Robert Cohen’s High Vis has enjoyed a colourful history at the Fringe, being one of only a very few shows to have had the privilege of moving venues twice since the start of proceedings. Now comfortably installed at the King James Hotel (venue 438) and performing at 12.30pm daily, the veteran traffic warden Kevin ‘Quint’ McBride continues here to share his thoughts and his experiences of the Fringe (though Robert Cohen wishes to make it clear that all views expressed are those of Quint and Quint alone; he wants no trouble). 
15th August
That Quentin Letts, he done a review in the Mail. Four stars. Brilliant. Mind, I don’t know about the reference to Ricky Gervais. He could “make millions from such an act,” says yer man Letts. What’s he saying? Ricky Gervais should play me in a film or a telly show? No, mate, I don’t see it; he’s too irreverent; no respect. No, if anyone plays Quint, it’s Quint – Quint, or, at the outside stretch, Mel Gibson. That Ricky Gervais, he wanna try his hand with me? I’d deck him. Anyway, it’s here, if you want to read it.
14th August
People say to me, “Quint, mate, we’ve not heard so much from you lately; what’s been going on?” And d’you know what I say? I say, “What’s going on, mate? I’m going on.” Harold Wilson – that’s right, I give ’em Harold Wilson (I’m a Labour man, and proud); I say, “I’m going on, every night.” Cos I am. Except that now, as a matter of fact, it’s not every night, it’s every lunchtime. 
Aye, we’ve changed venues again, but not only venues – this time it’s timescale an’ all; first it wa’ 6 at night, now it’s 12.30. 
Now, to my mind, the Mall was alright. Granted, there was a bit of noise pollution – the food hall, the rattly air conditioning, all that – but, y’know, as I said to Robert, that’s the Fringe – the spirit of the Fringe, that’s what it is.
“Spirit of the Fringe?” he says.
“Aye, the Spirit of the Fringe. All the tribulations, it’s part of the whole showbiz tapestry.”
“Yes,” he says; “I know what it means, I’m just wondering where you picked up such a phrase?”
“Where’d I pick it up?” I say. “Just along the way; talking to folk, that’s all, having fun, enjoying meself  – making friends while you’re busy moping and groaning about the size of the crowd.”
Cos that’s the thing: apart from the audiological shortcomings of the “space”, we weren’t exactly packed out. Hardly surprising, mind, with 30,000 other shows vying for the minds and eyes of the great Scotch public – and, let’s face it, with most of the trade swarming around up there on the hill by the castle. Down in the Mall, there’s less a thirst for culture, more a thirst for chips. No offence, like  – and it’s not like I wa’ bothered; far as Quint’s concerned, if I can spread my gospel of justice and wisdom and fair play to just one person, then that’s worth the candle. Mind, there was a night, that first week, when we couldn’t find even as much as that ­ – not so much as one person to spread the candle to.
So, it wa’ probably just as well that “slot” came up at the hotel. King James ­ – King James Hotel, one of them Thistle places. Appropriate, like. Thistle. Scotland, y’know. Nice place, an all. Granted, from outside it looks like a big car park, but it’s cosy enough on the inside, and the staff are real nice. As for the space, that’s a real step up; it’s a little conference room – cosy as you please, and great acousticals. I feel a bit detached, mind, from me natural constituency – I like to think I’m the people’s friend – but Robert’s happier, and so’s his missus, so, y’know, as the Yanks’d say, what’s not to love about that?
And hey, guess who we had in at the first show? That’s right: Quentin Letts, from the Daily Mail. I’m more an Express man, meself, but still, it wa’ good to see him there, for all the way he wa’ smirking at me tales of woe.
Takes all sorts, though, let’s face it.

2nd August

So, the show’s up and running. Brilliant. It’s going real well. In fact, to be honest, I’m having a great time all round.

It’s alright, this festival lark. You just wander round town, relaxing and taking in the general multi-national bonhomie an’ that, then around 5.30 you wander down to the Princes Mall and do the show. Least, that’s how it is for me. Robert’s had it a bit firmer. He’s been having to muck in with a load of stuff he wa’n’t expecting to have to muck in with. Seems the Freestival – that’s the organizers, the fellers providing the performance spaces – they got let down by people – aye, that’s right, over and above that business with the phone company whipping our venue out from beneath our feet. They’ve had to get on the case with people they paid to do stuff and who, basically, ain’t done it – least, hadn’t done it in time for the start of the festival, which, frankly, is the point of the whole thing.

So, short story: Robert’s had to do a bit of work towards the setting up of the venue, and he thinks himself all hard done by.

I said to him, grow up, mate – them Freestivallers, they’re running round like headless geese, solving all these problems in all sorts of different places, and all you can do is bitch like a lass just cos you have to scrub down a coupla dirty chairs. “Enjoy yerself,” I said: “you’re in the most beautiful city in the world!”

Beautiful?” he says; “How d’you know it’s beautiful? You spend all day in the pub. The least you could do is get out there and flyer while I’m doing all this other stuff – but no, all you want to do is sit around boozing.”

I swear, before this festival’s done, I’m gonna smack that lad.

For now, though, I just content meself with pointing out that, against all odds, the show’s up and running, and folk are coming to see it. Aye, real people through the door – and, it might be noted, in spite of the fact that, as the little creep says, Quint’s not done a whole lot to promote the thing.

Well, to my mind, that just goes to show: the system works.

The numbers are small, mind, but growing ever upwards. Had four in the first night – two Australians, two genuine Scotchers. Good that, the Scotch thing – feather in the cap – the Scotch seal of approval. Course, I only know they were Scotch cos of the badge; there wa’ a husband-and-wife team, and the feller wa’ lapelled with a “Yes” badge. Granted, it’s just possible he wa’ mebbiz a fan of that prog rock band – the one from the ’70s, the one with Rick Wakeman and the guy from Jon and Vangelis. Or mebbiz it was just an Englishman wanting to suck up to the Scotch – “Ooh, yes, have yer independence, like.”

Scots,” says Robert.

You what?”

The word is ‘Scots’, not Scotch.”


Anyway, like I say, we had four the first show, six the second (don’t know the nationality). By my reckoning that means nine tomorrow, and so on till the end of the festival. Exponential!

31st July

Can’t believe it. Moved on. I’ve been moved on. Quint McBride has been moved on. Like the young’uns’d say, ‘Ironical or wha’!?!” Me, a civil enforcement officer, hoist with his own hook. Moved on.

What d’you mean, Quint? How d’you mean ‘moved on’?”

Well, it’s like this: we wa’ gunnu do the show at Phones4U on Princes Street; only, what happened, last night, just as I wa’ getting finished with the packing, I get a call from that Robert; he’s just heard from the Freestival – that’s the folk organizing the venue – turns out there’s some kind of problem with the “space” – health and safety, that’s what they say – and, bottom line, we’re gunna have to do it somewhere else.

All I need!” says Robert. “That’s all I need! All I effing need.” (Expletive amended)

Calm down,” I said. “Just calm down.” I put on me professional voice – the one I use when folk are getting uppity over tickets. “Everything’s gonna be fine,” I said. “You’ve already told me – you said the new venue’s just over the road, just a hop and a skip across that Princes Street. That’s what you said they said? Just across the road?”

True, he says, we’ve got a venue, that’s fine, but what about all the other stuff – new publicity – new flyers and posters, or, at the least, new stickers to stick on the flyers and posters.

So what?” I said. “You’ve got to roll with the punches, that’s all – you’ve got to improvise – that’s what your Jenny’d say.” She’s an improviser – his young lady, Jenny – does improvising, with a thing called The Maydays – she’s heading for Edinburgh an’ all. “You’ve just got to improvise,” I said. “Think on yer feet – just like I’ve had to do every day of me life – I tell you, whether in Ireland with the Forces, or dispensing parking justice to our fellow citizens, if I couldn’t think on me feet I’d be dead meat.” Poetic, that. “And besides, count yer lucky chickens. So you’ve got to print a few leaflets. Just think: you could be Eastbourne Pier. You could be on fire, with tugboats hosing you down.”

Bit poignant, that. He’s from Eastbourne, is Robert. Went all misty at talk of the pier. Says he used to go there, when he wa’ a little lad, him and his brothers and his old man. “Every Sunday,” he says. “Every Sunday before lunch we’d go for a walk on the Pier, then we’d go home and have lunch with Mum.”

He’s quiet now. We’re on the train, heading north – me and him and that Jenny.

Yeah, all’s quiet. They’re both on their phones, and I’ve borrowed a computer to write this. They’ve plugs on this train – dead posh. Tragic, though, when you think on it – all that gorgeous countryside hurtling by, and all we do is stare at screens. Mind, it’s Lincolnshire right now; flat as a pancake. Not what you’d call dramatic. Stare out the window long enough, you get to pining for a computer screen. Ironical, no question.

New paragraph, new hour, new county. Don’t know which county, precisely – I’m not a bloody “app”, am I? – all I want to say is, we’re nearly in Scotland, and we’re training on along the coastway, and it’s bloody great – all that sea! I’m looking out the window, I can’t see any land at all – we’re that close to the edge. Fantastic. Everyone should do this, all the time – leave the car behind, let the train take the strain, that’s what they say.

Course, if everyone gave up their cars, I’d be out of a job, and then what?

30th July

Packing. Packing and goodbyes. Out on the streets, doing a few last-minutings, I bump into some of my colleagues.

Day off, Quint?”

MONTH off, mate. Going to Edinburgh, with some of them people from showbiz.”



I’ll miss ’em, for sure – real characters – but I put a brave face on it; so did they.

Pick up a copy of the Daily Mail. Two-page spread on “parking cowboys” – dodgy contractors running car parks for supermarkets, hospitals, all that. They give us all a bad name, these people; tar us with the wrong stick. Ticketing the sick? The dying? Yes, of course – obviously – but there’s ways and means. Do it with love, that’s what I say.

Mind, it’s the Daily Mail – pinch of salt. Give me the Express, any day.

27th July

Sunday. Four days to go. Feeling conflicted. Deeply ambiguant. Three and a half weeks – near on a month – that’s how long I’ll be away. A month away from the streets – from the lines and zigzags, from the signs and, y’know, the other stuff. Yes, of course, I’m looking forward to the campaign, being part of the great theatrical pageant, but I’ll be homesick, no question, homesick for the streets.

And d’you know what? That moment – as if by magic, as if to accelerate these thoughts – at that very moment the FTP tow-truck goes by the window.

Sunday. A day of rest for some – aye, a day of rest for the rest! – but not for our brave boys. There they are – Sunday morning – scooping up the golden eggs of parking-offensive religiosos. Total dedication to the cause.

26th July

Robert’s place. Rehearsing the show.

Mind, I say “rehearsing”. It’s mostly him sitting at his computer, whining about the Twitter. Trying to raise his profile, he says – raise the profile of the show; social media, he says, it’s dead important – only people don’t follow back, least not enough of ’em.

He says, “We’re following 700” – gurning at the screen, he is, all sulky – he says, “It’s not fair; we’re following 700, but there’s only 131 following us.”

131. I remember the number; he said it so many times – over and over.

131. It’s been stuck there all day – yesterday it got up to 133, only then it went down to 131 – two unfollows! Finally it creeps back to 131, but today, nothing. I wish I knew who unfollowed us. I can’t keep track.”

I said to him, “Grow up! No offence, but grow up. You’re 50 years old, near enough – what d’you expect? It’s for young people, is the Twitter – young, trendy people, not the likes of you. Jon Snow, that feller on the telly – on the commie news.”

What about him?”

People like him. That’s the Twitter. Stephen Fry, an’ all.”

Stephen Fry? He’s older than me. And Jon Snow? He must have a bus pass.”

Alright,” I said, “he’s old but he’s trendy. Key fact. Socks, ties, all that. Fashion guru.”

Anyway, I got him off the Jon Snow and into a bit of work. We run the show. Went alright. Phenomenally hot, though, in that flat. Had to take me jumper off. Pleased as mustard when we got to lunchtime at last. Prawns. We had prawns. Nice. He’d got some reduced at the Co-Op – posh ones, in their shells.

Hope they’re alright, he says. “They’re on the cusp of the sell-by date.”

I told him, don’t fret about that. For one thing, sell-by dates, it’s voodoo – it’s just moral blackmail, make you buy stuff. For another, I can eat anything. I wa’ in Ireland me, in the Forces. I’d eat ’em with the shells on if I had to.

That won’t be necessary,” he says. “I’ll peel ’em. Shells? Not at all necessary, not in this establishment.” Try’n’a be witty – a bit gay and debonair. Shouldn’t bother.

Anyway, so he peels ’em – and as he’s doing it, I notice summat interesting. Every time he peels a prawn, he’s having to scoop up and discard hundreds of little pink eggs.

Blimey,” I said, “all them baby prawns that never were!”

Yeah,” says yer man. “Sad.”

Sad?” I said. “Sad? Never mind sad. That’s a golden opportunity wasted.” I said to him, them prawn farmers, they’re missing a trick. They want to let ’em live a bit longer – go full-term – deliver their babies, then kill ’em. Millions more babies to scoff. It’s like the French Revolution. If there wa’ some woman – I said to him – if there wa’ some toff-lady, up for the chop, and she wa’ pregnant, they’d let her alone just long enough to have the baby, then they’d cut her head off.

Should do that with the prawns,” I said.

Yeah,” he says, “good thinking.”

Funny, though: after all that work, he said he didn’t fancy ’em after all, the prawns. Fine, I said. Brilliant. It’s like the 3 Musketeers: all for me and all for me!

25th JULY


Bleed”. It’s the word of the day. On and on he goes – yer man the playwright – “Bleed,” he goes; “Bleed.” 

I say, what’re you on about? 

The publicity, he says. He’s been working on the publicity; the posters, the leaflets, all that – multi-talented, like. I’ve a problem with the leaflet, he says. Turns out it’s the picture of me – there’s a picture on the leaflet of me – of Quint; he wants it to bleed off the side, only it’s not wide enough to do it.

So…?” I say. “Just biggen the picture.” I don’t know much about design – Quint’s no designer, that’s for sure, but to me it’s obvious: if a thing’s not big enough, just biggen it.

No, he says, he can’t do that; there’s writing round me head – nice reviews, all that – he don’t want the writing to fall off the side of the page. So what he does – dead clever this – he jumps on his computer, and bugger me down if he doesn’t build me a new shoulder! Takes some bits of another picture and – Jingo! – new shoulder, just like that.

Brilliant,” I say, “well done.” 

He says, “Thanks 

You’re welcome,” I say.

Real moment, like.

Only of course he has to spoil it. 

New shoulder,” he says, “– like Pelops.”

Pelops? What’s that?”

He says, “Greek mythology – the boy with the marble shoulder.”

This lad, it seems – in the Greeks – he wa’ cut up by his dad and served to the Gods. Like that Tallentino again. Wanted to play a trick on the gods, show how clever he was, so he cut up his son and give him them for their tea. Anyway, they were real mad, the gods, so they made him drink water or summat – summat with grapes an’ all – but meanwhile, the little lad, they put him back together – just built him up again from the left-overs – only they give him a marble shoulder, dunno why.  

So you see,” says yer man – all smug like he’s on the telly – he says, “that’s where you get ‘chip on yer shoulder’”.

Y’know what?” I said. “You think you’re so special.“

I never,” he says. 

You do, you do; you think you’re real special; you think you’re better than me, just cos you went to some posh school. Well, y’know what? You’re not: you’re nothing special at all. You’re nothing. You’re bugger all.”

Interesting, mind: chip on yer shoulder. Remember that.


It’s a week away now. Edinburgh – the big Reeky. A week away from the kick-off. Heading north next Thursday with Robert Cohen. He’s the playwright. Southerner. Nice enough.

Apparently Robert – so he says – he’s not been to Edinburgh since 2001. Says he played Mr Pink in Reservoir Dogs – adaption, like, of the film. Quentin Tallentino.

Saw it once – the film, I mean.


Ooh, all that violence, it’s so violent”. Violence? Violence, luv? What violence? That scene with the ear – yer man Mr Blonde, he’s gonna slash off that copper’s ear, only that Quentin Tallentino, bugger me if he doesn’t cut away just at the key moment – just before you see the actual slashery!

Yer man the playwright – Robert – we’re talking about it – he reckons that’s OK. It’s not a cop-out, he says; it’s more powerful. Much better that way – leave it to the viewer’s imagination – “Far more powerful than if they actually showed it.” 

Bollocks. Feller just chickened out, that’s all. 


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