Walking home from work along George Street in Edinburgh’s magnificent New Town on a sunny Fringe August afternoon, those are two words that sum it up. Framed as a question? Even better.
The good fortune of landing a few days corporate work in central Edinburgh is always going to be a boon, but during the Festival? WoopWoop. (I believe youngsters might say.) The magnificent Georgian terraces are now filled with many a contemporary business, but one had modern Pennyfarthings lashed to its railings. It was these that I paused to peruse and the host – standing on the front steps, resplendent in lavish waistcoat and ludicrous moustache – was quick to snare me.
“Indeed I am.”
Inside was like stepping through a portal into an alternate Edinburgh. Imagine the Victorians still rocked it? Only with the surrealism of Monty Python, with a dose of Hipster, a splash of foodie, a dusting of self-deprecating satire, a drizzle of excellent service and the whole thing deep fried in cool-as’. I found myself perusing the gin cocktail menu in a bang up to date bar from two centuries ago.
“A Savoury Collins please.”
A little later I returned with Mrs B on my arm. This time our genial, wild eyed host – Kitt – bid me welcome and rose from his reception desk. (I noted the stuffed meerkat with fez on and drank in the various period paraphernalia.) He eyed Mrs B up and down, then regarded me with a stare. He then eyed Mrs B again, lingering on her shapely form for an indecent few moments too long.
“Sir is punching above sir’s weight.”
And with that we were in the bar together. Sat by the pianola, roused by a Gin Martini, it seemed churlish not to join in with the song the gentleman was singing. At this point it was suggested to us that we might benefit from the treatment that was on offer that evening. You see we were not in a bar, we were in the ante room for Hendrick’s Emporium of Sensorial Submersion.
Of course we were.
Intrigued by our plight, we made arrangements to see the doctor at 21.00 for a course of treatments. There was hardly a moment to lose.
At the appointed hour we were received into another room at 91 George Street. On hand was an ex-Military gent with Hugh Grant hair and the sharpest of beards.
“Hello, you can call me Todge. And this? This is the Doctor.”
Then a battery of tests began as our clearly very professorial host encouraged us to take a glug from our first libation: a long G&T with cucumber. Eager for the treatment to commence, we complied. He was clearly a very good doctor because in no time at all we had finished our first treatment. Now things were to become serious and we were given white gowns: there were nine in our party.
On the first floor the next room was without colour. Every feature of the room was a brilliant white. You’ll recall the Willy Wonka “Mike TV” scene? This was like a Georgian house version. All so very white. Aside from the barkeep. Dressed in the sharpest of white threads, white bow tie: a cool black dude. In our white capes we took our seats, ear-defenders issued – white ones – and no sooner had we affixed them to our noggins the next treatment began. The libation was a clear, generous gin martini. Instructions on breathing now came via droll prompt cards and the medication did its magic.
Now it was time for science. Our next room was a crazy Victorian laboratory with all manner of experimental beakers, jars, stands, tubes and liquids. We took our places at the bench stools and affixed stereophonic headphones. As the sounds changed we sampled the different colour ice-cold liquids. Gins. We made notes, received a lecture, drank more and learnt a valuable lesson in that lab.
Either I can’t remember it or I was sworn to secrecy. One of the two.
Next was “THE MACHINE!” We were to respect THE MACHINE. Not to touch THE MACHINE. To wonder, to marvel at THE MACHINE. Then we were led into the room which was walled with deep crimson floor to ceiling curtains studded with very expensive high fidelity speakers. THE MACHINE looked curiously like a deeply polished wooden bar-top. Viewed from above, it would resemble a letter C. Maybe a capital G? No matter, upon it’s surface were steel cocktail ‘glasses’. They contained our next libation: Gin, lemon juice and cucumber juice.
The Doctor strode forth in a frenzy of awe for the potency of the machine and that we were to master it’s powers using the elements: FIRE, WATER, EARTH, THE OTHER ONE and synthesise them to create – whisper it – a fifth element.
He conducted our movements to rouse THE MACHINE and by jingo every vessel on shining surface made its own sound. With fevered conducting our Doctor bade us to unleash a cacophony of choral melee, chord and discord, whoosh and swoosh, snap, crackle and – for all I know – pop. Until….
Then we necked our drink. (Mrs Beer and I – being ardent health fanatics – noticed a neighbour was avoiding their treatment. So when they weren’t looking we self-medicated their potion as well. Just to ensure the treatment took hold.)
And now was our zenith. The final treatment room was of an oriental theme with paper lanterns, a bark-chipping walkway – for which we removed our footwear – and a series of futon mattresses. We all lay down and closed our eyes. Then our sensei began to beat on the enormous gong suspended at the head of the room. What an instrument! It rang and sang and crashed and hummed. It then sounded like a firework display (although I s’pose that might have had summit to do with the Tattoo finale across in the castle).
Were we there for moments, hours, days? I know not, but when I was roused and fed a delicious final libation I noticed something very, very different about it.
We had completed our treatment and were released into the Edinburgh night. The world seemed different than when we went in. Our bodies were somehow lighter. We had trouble walking. Everyday things seemed more humorous. I even insisted we stop at a tavern to administer another, local tincture. A curious brownish fluid that smelt like industrial grade medicine served as a shot and tasting like a peat bog. Now what was it called…?
The photos below show the aftercare instructions. I’d say that our course of treatment must have worked because I had a tell-tale headache the next morning, but didn’t have a thing for Liberace.