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Michael Coveney: Dining at the Top Table

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It's always good to have a break from the hurlyburly. I spent most of yesterday cooped up inside the Assembly Rooms, so I felt entitled to accept an invitation to dinner with my wife's cousins, Jack Livingstone and Nan Bloom, and Jack's wife Janice.

The trio's collective age must approximate to the number of shows on the fringe, yet they've been gadding about for a couple of days like spring chickens.

They had booked a table at the Olorosa, a really fine restaurant on the top floor in Castle Street, with magnificent views of the city. It was perfect, a real treat, an escape from all the festival madness.

Or was it? At the very next table was none other than Linda Marlowe being similarly "treated" by none other than the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, with her daughter Ella.

So of course we all swapped notes and exchanged news as if we were all still in the Traverse bar or the Udderbelly.

Carol Ann and Ella are performing at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, accompanied by the brilliantly versatile musician John Sampson, who is one of the very first performers I remember seeing in the opening season of the Assembly Rooms thirty years ago.

And in addition to playing My Hamlet with Georgian puppets, Linda is giving two performances next week of Carol Ann's wonderful poetry cycle, The World's Wife, featuring Delilah, Penelope, Mrs Freud and the mutinous spouse of King Kong.

Latest news is that Carol Ann is also writing a new play for Linda which should be ready any time soon. Once Linda's got that one under her belt, she'll have an unrivalled repertoire of seven solo shows to share with us in perpetuity.

So I'm glad I got away from it all. Earlier in the day I'd asked Bill Burdett-Coutts, Assembly supremo, if I'd match up to the Olorosa's dress code. "Well, they let me in," said the self-deprecating smooth operator, who is always impeccably shirted and booted. "But," I replied, "they once threw John Byrne out."

"Ah, well, he probably wasn't wearing any shoes," said Bill, lining up for his umpteenth photoshoot of the morning.


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