Edinburgh 2012 – Day Six

[spb_message color=”alert-info” width=”1/1″ el_position=”first last”]This post turned out longer than I expected. The first part is about comedy, whisky tasting, and a museum full of money. The second part is about how we were “outed” as being in a nonmonogamous relationship, and how it went really well. Click either link to jump to that section, or just start reading to get the whole thing.[/spb_message]

Another Day Of Edinburgh

Our sixth day at Edinburgh was perhaps the booziest. Realising that we still had a significant amount of wine that we bought earlier in the week that we hadn’t yet consumed, we started early: Ruth and I poured our first glasses at a hair before 11am, to go with our breakfast.

The set of Eight Worldly Winds.
The set of Eight Worldly Winds.

Our first show of the day was Sam Brady and the Eight Worldly Winds, a beautiful and subtle piece of observational comedy based on the life of the comedian, a “failed Buddhist monk”, thrice married, interspersed with “mildly adapted” readings of 11th century Chinese poetry. It was sedate and relaxing, as comedy shows go, but still funny and enjoyable, and I could have happily have listened to him for longer.

JTA and Ruth head along the path to the Mus£um On The Mound.
JTA and Ruth head along the path to the Mus£um On The Mound. Don’t be fooled by the glorious sunshine: it was drizzling again only a few hours later.

We had a little while before the next item on our schedule, and we opted to divert from our original plan to waste half an hour in a bar to instead explore the Mus£um On The Mound. This museum chronicles the history of money and banking, with a special focus on Scotland, and it’s remarkably interesting. We learned about early banking computers, quality assurance processes in banknote printing, and the evolution of the Building Society. If you think that all sounds terribly dull, then screw you.

JTA mints coinage.
JTA mints coinage. The lady in front of him jumped when he struck the trussell (that’s the bit you hit), as if she somehow expected that when she told him to “hit it as hard as he could” that he’d perhaps be more gentle than that.

JTA tried his hand at striking faces onto metal disks to make his own coins in the way that coinsmiths used to before about the 16th century, and I used a remarkably modern-looking computer to issue myself a remarkably old-style life insurance certificate (covering me for everything except death by duelling, suicide, or execution by the state).

My new life insurance policy form.
My new life insurance policy form. I put my occupation down as “landowner”, because apparently “web application developer” wasn’t a valid choice 150 years ago, and put down that I’d lost an arm as a preexisting medical condition, because I felt like that field ought to be used (I hadn’t made much use of the name field, after all).

Next, we made our way back to the Whiski Rooms for our second whisky tasting session of the week (our first was on day two). This time around we were drinking Jura (10 year old and 16 year old, and Superstition – one of my favourites) and Dalmore (12, 15, and 18 year old). We learned a lot about the different production processes for each, caskings and recaskings and still shapes and all kinds of things. We also tried the Dalmore 15 with some orange chocolate that complemented one another very well, and tried our hand at identifying different refined flavours by smell, from a set of numbered vials.

JTA and I drinking one of the selection of whiskies we've been offered the chance to taste.
JTA and I drinking one of the selection of whiskies we’ve been offered the chance to taste. Fun fact for those of you reading all of the captions: American brewing laws disallow the reuse of wooden casks; this is part of the reason that second-hand bourbon casks are so popular in the Scotch whisky industry – the Scottish, always looking for a bargain – can get them cheaply.

Next up, we watched The German Comedian (exactly what it says on the tin!), followed by You Are Being Lied To, by David Mulholland. The former provided a hilariously funny (and somewhat racist, although only in a very tongue-in-cheek and mostly in a self-deprecating way) commentary on European relations, world travel, and cultural differences in a brilliant and compelling way. The latter – by a comic who was formerly a journalist for the Wall Street Journal – ran a show with a far more serious message, about how media like The Daily Mail, The Sun, and The Telegraph (in particular) spin stories in a way that the kernel of truth in them is just about impossible to find. It was amusing enough, especially to hear him read, in a serious voice, genuine headlines and snippets of stories from those publications, and let us spot the bullshit.

Polyamory Comes To The Fringe

Me with a chap called Daniel, who grabbed me outside the show and asked me a string of questions about my relationship structure.
Me with a chap called Daniel, who grabbed me outside the show and asked me a string of questions about my relationship structure.

The other thing that was remarkable about these two comedians is that they both  independently asked about Ruth, JTA and I’s relationship structure. And what’s most remarkable about this is that it took so long before it happened. We’ve been here six days, at dozens of different comedy shows, and virtually always sat at the front. But today was the first day that the topic came up, and it came up twice in a row. What are the odds?

Polyamory is both your girlfriends ganging up on you.
Polyamory is both your girlfriends ganging up on you. Just when you thought it was safe to look at the Internet again, LOLCats are back.

The first comedian had asked if Ruth and JTA were a couple, and, upon getting an affirmative (which would usually be as far as the conversation would go: we’re not in the business of hijacking comedy shows with our relationships, I’d hasten to add), he asked “What’s the relationship between you two?”, gesturing to Ruth and I. So we answered. He asked for clarification a number of times, looking quite stumped and lost for words the whole period, but he was fluffy about it in general, which was nice.

The second really did just walk into it when he asked Ruth “So which of these two men are you with? Or is it both?” “Yes, both,” she replied, and, in the period of silence while the comedian was still trying to comprehend what she’d said, added, “We’re polyamorous.”

I was so very proud of her in that moment.

For me, adopting the out and proud approach of the gay community is an important part of “poly activism”: it almost feels like it’s my duty to make sure that people can see that we’re just another group of people in just another relationship, completely normal except for the fact that there are three of us instead of two. Talking openly and frankly about this stuff is the only way to normalise it and break the taboo, so I feel like my mini-activism helps all people in nonmonogamous relationships, even if just a little bit.

Ruth. I'm proud of her.
There’s the woman I love. And I’m ever-so proud of her.

Ruth, however, is more-reserved, and less-inclined to put herself in the public spotlight by putting the fact that she’s got a “bonus” partner “out there”. So to see her take the lead in saying, effectively, “Yes; I have two partners. Here they are. Yes, really. Is that okay?” – especially when she was sat sandwiched between a room full of strangers and a comedian (a very precarious place, as anybody who’s been picked on by a comic knows) – made my heart swell.

Later, a man called Daniel asked me some reasonably well-thought-out questions about “how it works”, and Ruth and JTA were approached by a woman who mentioned a similar arrangement in her own life. People in the same position are often delighted to “come out”, but only if somebody else does so first.

Had it been me that each comedian had spoken to first, instead of Ruth, I’d have certainly been as bold. But I might not have simultaneously been so frank and straightforward, so clearly-honest and approachable as Ruth managed in this, one of the most brave acts of poly-advocacy I’ve ever seen.

Nice work, Ruth.

Edinburgh 2012 – Day Two

Our second day at the Edinburgh Fringe brought new opportunities for fun and merriment. Once we finally dragged ourselves from our beds.

A view of Arthur's Seat, over the rooftops, from my bedroom window.
A view of Arthur’s Seat, over the rooftops, from my bedroom window.

First up, we insisted that Matt joined us in watching the show of Young & Strange, a talented pair of magicians we first saw earlier this year, at the Oxford Fringe. Their act wasn’t quite so magical on a second viewing, and some of their tricks wear thin on the closer-inspection made possible by the tiny venue and the orientation of the lights, but they’re still remarkable showmen and real masters of their craft. Matt was invited on stage to assist with a trick involving separating all of the different denominations of currency into twelve numbered envelopes (1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1, £2, £5, £10, £20, £50). I tell you this because it’ll be relevant in a subsequent blog post. Seriously.

Matt R joins Sam Strange on stage to assist him with a magic trick.
Matt R joins Sam Strange on stage to assist him with a magic trick.

Later, we watched the incredibly disappointing Computer Programmer Extraordinaire, by comedian Raph Shirley. For all of his good ideas (and he certainly had enough of them to fill a  15 minute set, but 45 minutes seemed like far too long), his delivery was sorely lacking. Maybe we went in expecting something that we wouldn’t get – his “geeky” computer programmer persona didn’t really cut it for those of us who were genuine geeky computer programmers in the audience – but even if we put that aside, there weren’t enough laughs in the show to have been worth the time it took to “get there”, even at no cost.

Whisky and cheese tasting at The Whiski Rooms.
Whisky and cheese tasting at The Whiski Rooms.

Ruth, JTA and I then disappeared off to Whiski Rooms for a “Whisky & Cheese Tasting” event. This was really quite enjoyable, and I was surprised to be able to, under a little guidance (and with the inclination to pay particular attention to the subtler facets of what I was drinking), find entirely new flavours even in whiskies with which I was already familiar. Pairing whiskies with cheeses was also a new experience for me, and – even for somebody like me, who enjoys cheese in moderation but doesn’t have the palate for the full spectrum of cheeses – provided some fascinating opportunities to find new flavours.*

JTA and I have had quite a lot of whisky in the last hour or so.
JTA and I have had quite a lot of whisky in the last hour or so.

This – coupled with the drinks we’d already had and those we had later – left us rather tipsy. Although thankfully still nowhere near as drunk as Claire was, here in Edinburgh, when six years ago she did the most embarrassing thing in the world.

Matt, JTA and I at Peter Buckley Hill And Some Comedians.
Matt, JTA and I at Peter Buckley Hill And Some Comedians.

Finally, we reconvened with Matt for a dose of Peter Buckley Hill And Some Comedians. I don’t remember his name, but I was particularly impressed with the dry, deadpan delivery of the dutch comedian. If it comes back to me, I’ll come back and write his name in here: ____________________. Look, I’ve left a nice long gap and everything.

* For anybody who’s interested, the whiskies we tried (and the cheeses they were paired with) were: Tobermory 10 with Keens Cheddar; Jura Superstition with Old Smokey; Bruichladdich 10 with Adrahan; and Bowmore 12 with Dunsyre Blue.

Douglas of Drumlanrig

This is the very definition of a first world problem. The other week, on the recommendation of my favourite whisky shop owner, I bought a bottle of particularly spectacular whisky:

A 21-year-old Miltonduff from Douglas of Drumlanrig.

In fact, it turns out to be the best whisky I’ve ever tasted. It’s moderately smoky but with a subtle caramel-like sweetness, and it’s simply beautiful. At 46% ABV, it’s no lightweight, but an ice cube (filtered water only, please) or two sets it right.

But there’s a problem: on closer examination of the box and bottle, it turns out that it is, this year, one of only 421 bottles produced.

tl;dr: Find best whisky ever. Discover it’s one of only 421 bottles. #firstworldproblems

Argh! It Burns! Night 2012

Building on the success of last year’s Argh! It Burns! Night, we Earthlings once again hosted our “alternative” Burns Night this year, last weekend. Yes, we know that’s a little late for Burns Night, but many of us have been away touring Scotland or on honeymoon or otherwise busy.

The hallway whiteboard welcomes the guests. Why doesn't everybody have a hallway whiteboard in their house?

Again, the idea of the night is loosely based on Burns Night: we eat a meal of haggis, neeps, and tatties, accompanied by a dram of whisky (or Irn-Bru – Scotland’s other national drink – in the case of Paul, who doesn’t like whisky). But instead of making readings of classic folks literature and poetry, we put a twist on it by performing readings of really bad fan fiction.

At the appointed hour - five minutes to five - the whiskies are opened and drinking commences.

We got off to a late start because Liz and Simon got caught up in the heavy snowfall that poured down across this end of the country. But that wasn’t a problem, because the rest of us – Ruth, JTA, Paul, Matt P and I – just had longer to drink and catch up with one another’s lives while we waited.

As the snow began to fall, Ruth and I went out to make snow angels. So excited by the snow, Ruth didn't even bother to put her shoes on first.

To start the evening, Ruth – as last year’s winner – performed a reading of Garfield: King of Liberty, another Garfield-themed fanfic from “ShakespeareHemmingway“, the author of her winning piece from last year. I’m still not convinced that he’s not a troll, but he is pretty damn funny.

Highlight: With these words Garfield and his Liberty Ladies made love of passion that sparked skies like fireworks as they rubbed their bodies liked sand on water. Garfield delivered pleasure into their bodies like manly post office man delivering package of love explosion. Their love exploded like cannonball shots into night and went on for hours and days.

This year's prize - a can of premixed Famous Grouse whisky and caffeine-free cola.

First among this year’s competitors was Matt, reading Misadventures Of The ‘Tragedy’ Dorm, a 20%-homoerotic, 80%-creepy attempt to bring a variety of Shakespeare’s characters into the modern age.

Highlight: Romeo having a rant about what coloured board shorts to wear. “Which colour should I weeeeaaar!” Yep. All the usual stuff. 

JTA performs his reading.

Second was Simon, reading The Death Of Vince Noir, a Mighty Boosh fic, apparently (hampered by the fact that many of his audience have little to no experience of The Mighty Boosh). I hate to spoil it for you, but the twist is that it’s all a dream.

Highlight: When Mick Jagger stepped into the strange Daulston second-hand shop he was greeted by an odd sight. Instead of the screaming trendy fan who he had expected to meet, he was greeted by a giant ape comforting a man in the corner. Specifically, a bald man wearing last month’s leopard skin catsuit, wailing mournfully into handfuls of raven-black hair in a puddle of his own tears. The whole thing looked freakily fucked up.

Liz tries to explain why her story makes sense, and fails. Miserably.

Third up was Liz – strange that the random order put the three “new” players first – reading the first of two chapters of PokeAccident, a first-person perspective on a long bus trip with a pokémon with a full bladder. It reads like it’s been written by an austistic young teen with a urination fetish. And no grasp of geography.

Highlight: Charizard looked bored, and we were past Londen and into Edinbrugh, where it was raining. Now Charizard is used to rain, but he was now horrified to see it raining, it increased his need heavily by 15%, 38% of his meter were full , Charizard really didn’t see this coming at all, he tried to ignore it, but the rain was loud, making it hard to do so.

Ruth & JTA brace themselves for another piece of fiction.

Paul provided us with Halflife: Fulllife Consequences: the story of John, the brother of Half-Life‘s Gordon Freeman. It’s littered with awful spelling and abysmal grammar, all wrapped around a plot that makes no sense whatsoever.

Highlight: John Freeman had to go faster like the speed of sound and got there fast because Gordon needed him where he was. John Freeman looked at road signs and saw “Ravenholm” with someons writing under it saying “u shudnt come here” so John Freeman almost turned around but heard screaming like Gordon so he went faster again.

Matt, Paul, and Ruth listen as I read my story.

Ruth had settled on Frosty The Snowman!, an unusual take on the classic story, featuring lots of swearing and an Iron Man crossover, all in just over 200 words.

Highlight: With the power of magic, the snowman came to life and started to dance a bit, scaring the crap out of the children. “Hi there children! I’m Frosty the Fuckin’ Snowman! Follow me!” He said happily as he marched down the road. 

Simon & Liz listen to JTA's story. For some reason, they're not crying.

When it came to his turn, JTA has selected Legolas, now best known as “Legolas by Laura” after its author (who just coincidentally shares her name with the main character of the story – always a good starting point for a piece of really bad fanfic). With incredible run-on sentences and a complete disregard for any semblance of continuity, this is truly a work of epic failness.

Highlight: Mean while Legolas got to the cell where Laura is.Legolas said”Laura are you in there”and then Laura said”Oh Legolas you finally came”and then Legolas said”are you alright”and then Laura said”no I am not alright”and then Legolas said”they bet you up and raped you also the Dark lord gave you the posion”and then Laura said”how did you know that”.Then Legolas said”when I was your age they did the samething to me”.

An unfilled ordering/voting slip from Argh! It Burns! Night 2012.

I came last. This year, I’d chosen what is probably the only piece of fanfiction ever to be set in the universe of one of the worst video games ever made, Desert Bus. The story is Desert Bus Ride #1 – A Romance Story and for Ladies, and it makes about as much sense as actually playing Desert Bus in the first place.

Highlight: When they arrive, boyfriend was got shot. “He am hit by bullets!” Margaret thought very loudly. “This is all because terrorists!” Mr. Oakland punched fist into air with angry. He was angry.

Liz is awarded with her "prize".

After what turned out to be a remarkably close competition, Liz just barely beat JTA and won herself the “prize”. In accordance with the traditions of Argh! It Burns! Night, we passed the drink around and all suffered in it together: a metaphor for the experience of the evening.

Having performed a reading of "Legolas" earlier, the winner's drink is the second-most disgusting thing JTA's had in his throat all evening.

For some reason, Simon actually enjoyed the drink, and finished the can on Liz’s behalf. Maybe he enjoyed the fanfiction, too. Maybe he’s a replicant. It’s just impossible to tell what we know for sure about him, after a revelation like that.

Simon "enjoys" the "beverage".

All things considered, a spectacular second Argh! It Burns! Night. If you’d like to come next year, let me know and we’ll try to arrange for it. Just remember: if you don’t suffer, you haven’t had enough fun yet.

Oh; and the following day was Matt's birthday, so we forced him to celebrate a little before he got back on the road.

Argh, It Burns! Night

This weekend the other Earthlings and I celebrated Burns Night. Of course, we’re just a little bit eccentric between the four of us to celebrate it like normal people, so we decided to apply a little bit of a twist to a tried-and-tested theme.

A traditional Burns Night consists of a hearty meal of haggis, ‘neeps and tatties, drinking of whisky, and the recitation of songs, poems, and stories (with a particular emphasis on works by the poet himself). We all enjoy a nice haggis – albeit a veggie one, which I dubbed a vaggis, for Ruth and Paul – and a dram or two of decent whisky – with the exception of Paul, who substituted a series of Irn-bru-themed cocktails – so these aspects were kept intact. But we decided to swap out the traditional songs, poetry and storytelling for something a little more contemporary…

In our newly-invented, “Argh, It Burns! Night”, attendees each perform a reading of the worst piece of fan fiction that they can possibly find. There’s a wealth of truly awful fan fiction in the world, and we wanted to do justice to it by performing readings and voting on which was the most awful, or most entertainingly terribly. I suppose this was inevitable: after Troma Night gave us years of watching the worst films imaginable, the next step had to be to expand to other media.

After finishing our supper and fortifying ourselves with a drink or two, we drew lots to determine who was to go first. JTA began.

JTA begins his reading.

JTA had chosen to read Guywars, by Josh Vandergriff, a strange crossover between the Monkey Island and Star Wars franchises, with an embarrassing number of “jokes” stolen verbatim from Spaceballs. Depite lurching between the past and present tense and riddled with humour a little immature even for the playground, we couldn’t help but laugh out loud at some of the accidental moments of literary genius, like this gem:

Guyvador [a Darth Vader-like character] breaths like someone breathing out of a paper bag might breath, only without that great lunchy smell.

Paul and Ruth appreciating the... umm... "art?"

Next up was Ruth, who shared with us all Garfield: First Blood, the first in a two part series of stories in which Garfield repeatedly rescues Natalie Portman from vampire gangsters. And I’m ashamed to say that I really enjoyed this piece. Not because it was good – far from it – but because it was so beautifully awful.

“HAHA Garfield!, We demand the blood Bank of USA give us 600 million gallons of blood, all in one hundred dollar bills or else we will be making evening breakfast out of Natalie Portman!” Said the head Vampire Gangster with menace.

I’m honestly not convinced that the author  is even aware of who Garfield is, because instead of being a lasagne-eating, lazy feline, the Garfield in this story carries a handgun (difficult with paws), drives a pickup truck (very difficult when your knees are backwards), and woos movie stars. I would love to see somebody make a comic book of this story.

But although the author – the optimistically-titled “ShakespeareHemmingway” – may not know who Garfield is, he certainly knows who Natalie Portman is. The story ends with a postscript to let her know, if she’s reading this, that if she would like to date him, that would be okay.

Ruth performing a reading.

Paul took the chair next, giving us a reading of the first six chapters (they’re miniscule, although one gets the feeling that this is perhaps because large chunks of them are missing, based on the continuity problems) of HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH – yes, that’s really it’s title.

Listening to this story is like going to Azathoth‘s house and dropping acid. While outwardly it sort-of appears to be Harry Potter fanfiction, I’m convinced that it’s something more: I’m not sure what. Perhaps it’s a chant to summon demons of insanity, or perhaps it’s a piece of neo-Dadaist genius, but there’s something there. What I can tell you, though, is this: hearing it makes you feel like your brain is at risk of melting out through your ears.

Harry vomited steam and summoned a great meteor from space to smash into Hogwarts and kill everyone there, for no reason at all… He encased the entire meteor in a wreath of holy fuckfire and flew through Mercury, killing the fuck out of it. Then he sent Mercury’s carcass into Venus, killing the fuck out of it and making every vagina in the galaxy explode, and inside every vagina a booby sang of mortal life’s fleeting precipice.

Seriously. You can’t tell me that doesn’t mean something?

Paul and JTA listen and prepare for the voting...

For my story, I’d selected QUAKE THE EPIC FIGHT!, which is – I hope – probably the only piece of Quake-themed fanfiction to have ever been written. It’s starts – and finishes – with Chapter One, which kind of makes me wonder why it bothers with a chapter title in the first place, and tells the story of old schoolfriends Bill and Norman as they fight together against the, and I quote, “evill strogg robot alien things who kill humans”.

It’s pretty dire, and remarkably hard-to-read on account of it’s random tense changes, spelling (both awful and inconsistent), and the absence of punctuation. Let me share a sentence:

ther vas loud boom when bills ship crash but ther vas louder more BOOM when normans did. “oh no is he ded!” bill sayed lik sad but ther vas body who climed up from shp and they ran to others in happy!

Ballot papers.

Finally, it came time for the voting – by STV, of course, because we’re not savages. After a run-off round between tied winners Ruth and Paul, Ruth finally came out on top! Garfield had it!

The prize! Jack Daniels and ginger. In a can.

JTA has decided to provide a prize that fit with the theme. Fanfiction is a good way to ruin a perfectly good story… so what happens if you ruin whisky? You get this, it turns out: Jack Daniels and ginger, in a can. Ruth was less-than-delighted by her prize (it didn’t taste too bad all by itself, but the soapy aftertaste was pretty grim), but managed to gulp down the whole can with minimal help from the rest of us.

Ruth with her "prize".

Ruth mentioned that there existed a sequel to the piece of fan fiction she’d read, and we insisted that she give us a reading of this, too. And so, we got the dubious pleasure of a live reading of Garfield: First Blood Part II: The Legend of the Warrior of the Forever Fist, feature fantastic paragraphs like this closing moment:

Garfield and Natalie Portman went on her bed and embraced for love makings. They rubbed eachother with oil and perfume and touched eachother all over. Their bodies then joined like peanut butter and jelly and created delicious loving all night long.

Wow. The author even updated his postscript to let his admired Natalie Portman know that he’s still single (shocking, I know, that a talented author like this can’t get a date) if she’s interested.

All in all, the first ever Argh, It Burns! Night was an amazing, hilarious, and only sometimes painful, success. We’re totally going to have to do this again next year.