© Colin McEwan

This Friday the Edinburgh Festival begins. For the first time for many, many years, I will not be there. Sob. In fact, I can count on the fingers of two hands, the number of Festivals I have missed since I was a student. Summer has been synonymous with that great outpouring of cultural endeavour ever since I went to see some mates at the Fringe and ended up staying in a hostel where a spooky woman used to stand by my bed and look at me while I slept. A play in itself.

My accommodation has varied since then; from a five-star hotel to a much-loved rented flat in New Town, to a lovely room with someone who became a friend while I stayed with her on the Meadows last year, spending our mornings writing and our afternoons racing from one show to the next.

The people I've travelled to Edinburgh with has altered over the years. I've been with my father and mother (when we managed to choose a performance where everybody paraded nude in front of us on the front row) and my husband and children (when I managed to subject them, once again on the front row, to the world's least age-appropriate show, which they naturally adored while I curled up in shame at my bad parenting). I've been alone, with work colleagues and I've been with mates.

Edinburgh is like a cultural shot in the arm

I have always, without fail, seen at least one thing that made me dance out into the street singing. It was at Edinburgh that I first saw the Berliner Ensemble and began to understand Merce Cunningham, as his company went through their rigorous manoeuvres in an old school gym. It was there that I realised John Tiffany was going to set the world alight, when I saw the first night of his production of ''Black Watch''. The memories are multiple.

But this year, I will not be in Scotland's capital. At the end of a long bout of illness, I simply do not trust myself not to rush round trying to catch ten things a day which would hardly aid my recovery. So I have consigned myself to self-imposed rest in London. And guess what? The world still seems to be turning. It is a shock. Those of us who spend August in Edinburgh become completely immersed in the bubble of activity; to discover there is a world elsewhere has thrown me.

Those of us in Edinburgh become completely immersed in the bubble

That doesn't invalidate the Edinburgh experience. What I have always valued about it, is that it is like a cultural shot in the arm. It's not just that you see many things that go on to resonate throughout the year and throughout your life, it's that a city where artistic activity never sleeps, where you can go to see a crusading piece of theatre at 9am in the morning before a classical concert, an art exhibition and a lot of fringe comedy, makes the case for such endeavour by attracting many different audiences who all seem to be having a good time. It is a yearly reminder that seen in the round, there are a lot of people who love the arts out there.

So I shall mourn my absence – and I particularly regret missing these top picks:

The Divide

King's Theatre, 8-20 Aug, various times

Could be a triumph, a disaster or something in between but the great Alan Ayckbourn's two-parter about a dystopian society has to be a must-see, promising an ambition and a scope that is rare even in much younger playwrights (he's 78 now). Luckily after a two week run at the King's Theatre from August 8, it comes to the Old Vic in London in the autumn. Can't wait.



© Michel Cavalca

Tutu: Dance in All Its Glory

Pleasance Grand, 2-28 Aug, 16:00

Parisian dance company Chicos Mambo present 20 classic pieces in ways that have never been seen before, performed by men in bright pink tutus. Classic festival fare that promises to merge slapstick with a serious appreciation of dance.


Meet Me At Dawn

Traverse, 6-27 Aug, various times

Some of my happiest days in Edinburgh have been spent in the Traverse Theatre and I'd probably spend the entire festival there, given half a chance. The play that most appeals in this year's programme is Meet Me At Dawn, a modern rethinking of the moment Orpheus descends into the underworld to find Eurydice, and one of three plays the prolific Zinnie Harris is seeing staged at this year's festival.



© Dan Wooller

Alexei Sayle

Underbelly, 2-11 Aug, 18:45

Pure '80s nostalgia would drive me to see Alexei Sayle, the comic who kickstarted the angry alternative comedy scene and in many senses paved the way for the huge boom in comedy that has shaped Edinburgh ever since. I hope he is as sharp and savage as he used to be as he returns to standup.



© Jane Hobson

Mark Thomas

Summerhall, 4 - 27 Aug, 18:00

If there's one person I'd like to listen to on the unfolding political events of the past couple of years, it's Mark Thomas. His solo show is a masterclass in combining deeply felt left wing principles and an abiding humanity. I love him.