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When you’re sitting in Scotland for a month, South Korea, Taiwan and Lesotho may seem rather remote. But these countries are just three of many represented here at the Edinburgh Fringe; you can tour the world without leaving roughly one square mile of the city. I’m intrigued by the level of representation of the former colonies – Australia has 79 shows here, while the US has 185. Zimbabwe, though, has just one, as does Nigeria.
I had to leave the festival epicentre to visit a little bit of Scandinavia, helpfully located on the city ring road. Yes, Edinburgh has its own Ikea, and I went to buy some furniture for my chat show set. I had decided that I wanted the audience to participate in a challenge. As this column appears on the day of the second of my three chat shows, I can’t reveal what form it will take. I can say though that it requires three wooden kitchen trolleys and I had to travel from EH1 to EH20 to buy them, at £35 each.
Mr M deigned to come and pick me up from Ikea, and even drove me to drop off the flat-pack furniture at the loading bay of the Assembly Rooms. This caused him to break into a cold sweat because it involved negotiating some access-only roads – something he was convinced would see him arrested. Is it just me, or as men get older, do they get far too risk-averse?
Then, while Mr M stayed in the car worrying, I lugged the packs up to the second floor, before returning the next day with the Cost Centres and some of their friends to assemble them. We did this backstage and, if we needed reminding how international the fringe is, we began our task just before a Russian troupe of acrobats and circus artistes started their show. They passed through our improvised workshop a few times and as our Russian is non-existent we communicated by mime. Maybe the Russians spoke English but mime seemed completely normal as they were made up with white face paint, Marcel Marceau-style.
Mr M did not assist, but then he has refused to have anything to do with flat-pack furniture ever since he failed to assemble a TV stand in 1987. I have always held that Ikea products are easy to put together and usually include the tools you need, frequently just an Allen key. Not on this occasion. Once we got the packing cases open, and after we were stranded on the far side of a Russian circus with no access until they came offstage, we found we needed all manner of screwdrivers and spanners.
To match the international flavour of the festival, I also gave my show an international theme in the shape of one of my guests, Ali Velshi, the new face of business on Al Jazeera USA. He turned up in a very smart, very new kilt, in a Black Watch tartan. All these international visitors are doing great things for the Edinburgh economy.
But of all the nationalities appearing at the Fringe, for my money, the funniest by far is a German – the comedian Henning Wehn. The description German comedian may sound like an oxymoron but, I promise you, the Germans can be very funny. There are only eight German shows here (out of 2,871) and only two of those are comedians but both are playing to packed houses.
I mentioned this to the Edinburgh-based author Alexander McCall Smith when we appeared on the same radio show last week and he agreed that the perception of Germans as humour-free was at least a century out of date. If you don’t believe me, go and look at Henning’s show No Surrender, which is available online, and the films he made a while ago for the BBC on how to learn German. Not only did they make me laugh, they even made me want to learn German. And made me feel very international, even if grounded in Scotland.
Mrs Moneypenny will be at the Assembly Rooms in George Street. ‘Mrs Moneypenny’s Money Clinic Live’, 12.30pm, August 17 and 24