As the 1997 Edinburgh Festival drew to an end, our own correspondents Alex and Jodi Schajer returned from an exhausting three days at the heart of the Edinburgh Fringe. Despite much excitement and anticipation, the Schajers learn that you can't plan everything and that the humour-fuelled array of Fringe acts can range from turbo-charged to permanently stalled. But no matter what's thrown their way, it seems that nothing can dampen the spirit at the 'world's largest arts festival.' If you're already planning your festival trip for 1998, take heed.


Day One - Monday

Our Edinburgh excursion started in a rush that was to set the pace for the next three days. The train pulled in to Waverly Street Station at 10.15am and, according to our schedule, we were meant to be checked into our hotel and enjoying a Short Story reading by 11am. On arriving at our hotel, however, we were informed that we couldn't check in until 4pm and that there was no room for left luggage. This inconvenience played havoc with our day and was just plain annoying. Surely hotels should make some sort of left luggage concession, if only for the duration of the festival. (Tip, if you're planning a festival trip next year, you should check this out with your own choice of accommodation.)

After sorting the luggage debacle and a jaunt around the packed, Princes Street shops, we went to see comedian Adam Bloom at the Pleasance (pub?). Although over a hundred people turned out eagerly to hear him, Bloom got off to a poor start. Too preoccupied with what the reviewers would write, he seemed panicked and nothing flowed. It was a chance exchange with a member of the audience that really showed how funny he could be and, consequently, turned the tide of the show.

Afterwards, we made our way to the Old Town where, overwhelmed by the crowds, colourful street entertainment and whole, infectious festival mood, we almost lost track of time. Hurriedly, we grabbed take-away spuds and raced to our next engagement at the Palladium. Comedian David Baddiel had cancelled the previous night due to gastroenteritis but was definitely going to perform tonight - to a full house no less. He was his usual excellent self, covering topics from football, sex, pornography (for which we were treated to a viewing of David's own racy material), parents, drugs and religion.

Our sides still aching after the show, we opted for a little night music. We dropped in at Marco's, a sports club, which had the Tarantinos powering away in the back room. Dressed up in black as characters from Pulp Fiction, the band played a medley of music from Tarantino films which induced audience members to strut their stuff. The show finished after midnight when we crawled into a well-deserved taxi that took us back to our beds.

Day Two - Tuesday

We started off the day back at the Pleasance with another attempt at making it to a Short Story. Today's enjoyable story was written and read by Johnny Meres, creator of the Radio Four spoof documentary series 'My Booze Hell by Little Johnny Catilege'. The Short Story programme changes each day, with all readings recorded to be broadcast the following week. It's great value (especially for no money!) and you even get a complimentary tea or coffee. However, as it is recorded, segments are inevitably repeated to get the performance looking and sounding perfect on film. This can lengthen the time of the reading significantly, but bear with it as these re-takes can be very amusing in their own right.

At mid-day, we headed to Waverley Bridge to eat a packed lunch in the park and browse through the craft fair. There were many stalls selling all manner of goods, from clothes, hats, mobiles, paintings, stone coasters and jewellery to 'services' such as massages, henna tattoes and hair wraps. Live musicians on the bandstand allowed us to toe-tap to an equally wide range of music while we shopped.

The next show on our itinerary was titled The MC of a Striptease Act that Fails to Turn Up. We should have known by the wordy title that this was a show to be missed! It was pure sleaze from the start. Only a handful of people turned up and four of them walked out halfway through. When his act fails to show, as billed, the MC tries his hand at titillating the audience on his own. The situation has potential, but the MC just couldn't pull it off. He was the only one salivating at his own lecherous imitation of the stripper. Thirty minutes later, after enduring his relationship confessions, three crap, unfinished gags and a flash of nipple, we were ready to leave. Imagine, then, having to sit through such mindless twaddle for well over an hour! Every time I thought the end was in sight, he carried on, culminating in flinging his G-string into the audience and, if that wasn't bad enough, flashing a flabby white arse!

An hour and a half later, finally released from our misery, we were soon captivated back in the Old Town by the incredible outdoor entertainment. An entire street is closed off and crammed with an abundance of punters and performers - juggling and acrobatic acts, human statues, magicians, and the like. Also making the rounds were the theatrical 'walking advertisements', groups of actors performing sequences from their productions as an enticement to pay up to see the full goods.

We tore ourselves away to queue for the much talked about Shopping and F***ing, or just 'Shopping!' as the timid stewards shouted out. The play was well acted by the five cast members but contained a bit too much superfluous sex for our liking. Leaving a bit to the imagination might have been more effective.

After the play, we found a bargain place for dinner. Hendersons, a vegetarian restaurant, situated near the Assembly Rooms have a wide choice of wholesome foods such as lasagne, pasta, moussaka and salads. Dinner for two including salad, a pot of tea and drinks came to just £10.00.

Once again, we were lured back to the Old Town to watch the street entertainment. Have I mentioned how marvellous it is? This is one of the most excellent aspects of the Fringe and you don't even need to pay to take part. Just have a coffee in a street café and enjoy the passing spectacle. Seeing these 'tasters' is also a great way to decide what you pay to see the following day. We were fortunate in this instance to catch the cast of DIY Musicals performing some of their songs and dances - a great pull for many punters. Further along the road there was a Spice Girl wannabe dance troupe called Nice Girls. Decked out in brightly coloured plastic dresses and trousers with bikini tops, they attracted a highly vocal following.

At 11:30pm, we moved on to the Courtyard to see a clever cabaret ensemble called The River Merchant's Wife. The performance encompassed mime, dance, song, poetry and story-telling. The atmosphere also added to this sensual, theatrical experience. Our 'seats' were perched atop bales of hay in an outside courtyard surrounded by burning joss sticks. We could still smell the hay-and-joss concoction later in our sleep.

Day Three - Wednesday

Our last morning was eaten into by a new luggage ordeal - checking out of the hotel and getting our bags to the airport. Despite this, we did manage to see another enjoyable Short Story reading.

In the afternoon, suffering slightly from spectator fatigue, we decided to play tourists for awhile. One of the greatest aspects about this festival is the city that plays host to it. What better setting to spend a few days' break but beautiful Edinburgh? There is so much to see and do here in addition to the festival activities. As usual, we were pressed for time so we limited our tourist run to grand-daddy attraction, Edinburgh Castle. For an entry fee of £5.50, you gain access to the castle and all its grounds as well as a choice of free audio or guided tours. We found the audio tour, available in several languages, quite adequate on its own, with plenty of history and commentary.

Edinburgh Castle is really absorbing - it absorbed five hours of our day alone! During that time, we also managed to visit the Scottish War Museum and the Scottish Crown Jewels, housed on site. And we left feeling much better educated about Scotland and the city that plays host to the 'world's largest arts festival'. A very pleasant and informative way to spend our last hours in Edinburgh before dashing off to the airport to catch our plane and a much needed nap!