If you’re an Edinburgh native, you train your eyes not too see properly in August. Otherwise you’d never get anywhere. Unlike the tourists, actors, promoters and performers, us locals actually have to get to places. Like work. Or the pub.
So we walk that bit faster than the shuffling crowds. We weave and jostle; sometimes, much to our annoyance, we have to bite the bullet and step onto the road when our path is blocked by a solid mass of binbag-attired, camera-clutching Germans.
But we always keep our eyes down. If we didn’t, we’d have to stop and try to rationalize all the weird and nonsensical sights that infiltrate our city for a month. And then we’d never get anywhere.
It’s only when we know we have some time to kill that we catch sight of these abnormalities. Last week, I was walking home in the afternoon when in the corner of my eye I noticed a semi-naked young woman trying on clothes in the window of a Marie Curie charity shop. I have no idea what, if anything, she was trying to publicize, but she was certainly turning heads – especially those of the old men wandering between the pub and the bookies on their daily rounds.
Anywhere else in the world, if you saw a man approaching you on a busy street who was made-up to look like the Devil with red face-paint and prosthetic horns, you’d probably feel the need to register this sight in some public way – with a comment, a smirk, a pointed finger… whatever. But in Edinburgh during August it’s unlikely you’ll even notice this Satanic pretender.
There are many valid reasons to gripe about the annual arts jamboree – the influx of golly-gosh-Henrietta-types, the pleading posters that cover any spare square-inch of wall, the fact that the majority of Edinburgh people are effectively exiled from their own city – but one thing it does bring is the unexpected.
And surprises can be good – if we see them.