Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Edinburgh International Book Festival: a tale of two lucky bags

Update: 29 December, 2011

** end of update

The merits of the cloth bag

My Guardian cloth bag survived a return trip to London but has only been used once in the capital.  It is too impractical when used with a cane as the strings round the bag are a distraction.  According to the In Our Time programme which included Tony Ryan, Athene Donald and Charlotte Williams (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b018grhm ), a cloth bag has to be used a 130 times to justify the high energy inputs in manufacturing the fibres and making the cloth.  Given that a plastic bag can be used about 10 times before falling apart, this cloth bag of mine would have to be used 1300 times to make a fair comparison.  The cloth bag was not suitable in wet or windy Edinburgh and the Scotsman bag proved to be effective in the ‘Athens of the North’. 
The Edinburgh International Book Festival can be found in Charlotte Square at the west end of Edinburgh’s New Town.  This is a very attractive square and the facades of the buildings are well worth an inspection.  It is possible to visit the Georgian House on the north side of the square which is convenient for a visit to Mr Salmond’s official residence as First Minister in Bute House.  The gardens in the square itself are currently taken over by the book festival and this gives a chance to attend talks, get books signed and meet other bookworms. 

I was initially disappointed on asking about any specific talks on audio books or eBooks.  It may be that I asked the wrong person.  The location is primarily designed for book selling and signing and very heavy promotion.  On the day I visited there were talks by authors such as Jonathan Agnew and Orlando Figes, discussions by Katharine Birbalsingh and Justin Cartwright as well as book signings by Jim Johnson and William McIlvanney among others.  I didn’t quite have the brass neck to go up to an author with my ‘autograph book’ and say “I enjoyed your book which I listened to on the RNIB talking books list” or “I enjoyed your audio book which I borrowed from the library”.  I assume authors still get a cut of such publishing formats, though it is worth acknowledging that many publishers and authors waive fees when the books are recorded for the visually impaired or ‘print disabled’.  On the other hand, if you had enjoyed a talking book or you knew that a friend liked a particular author, this book festival is a good chance to get a signed copy and even a dedication for a present. 

It’s also quite a social event and caters for the Edinburgh weather.  The tents include signing areas, bookshops, bars and cafes, shows, talks and these can all be arranged on the day or booked in advance.  It was very pleasant to wander around within the gardens.  There is a covered walkway which protects you from both the mud and the rain and in case of good weather there are deck chairs to sit out and enjoy the sun. 

And now for the tale of two lucky bags …

A lucky bag was a tradition which I can remember from my childhood.  From memory, they cost 3d (three old pence) and there was an assortment of various sweets and toys, rather like the contents of a cheap Christmas cracker.  At one time, they would have been made up by the newsagent/sweetshop and were allegedly more hygienic than the ‘penny tray’ or ‘twopenny tray’ which other children had probably laced with all the germs one caught as a child.  The lucky bag was a commercial variant of the “soiree bag” (pronounced surree bag) which was something else.  The concept of a lucky bag has probably been usurped by such expressions as “a freebie” or a “goodie bag”. 

At the entrance to the book festival, both the Guardian and the Scotsman were offering ‘lucky bags’.  An analysis is made as follows:

The Guardian Lucky Bag
Cost: £1. 
Contents: copy of the day’s Guardian in a eco-friendly cloth bag with a quote from AS Byatt’s Possession: “Literary critics make natural detectives.”   
Comments:  bag not very practical for harsh Edinburgh weather as newly signed book would be liable to get wet and the signature ruined! 

The Scotsman Lucky Bag
Cost 85p. 
Contents: 1 thick plastic bag, copy of the day’s Scotsman, a small packet of Lavazza coffee, a small packet of Mile and Ike’s fabulous fruits (chewy candies) and a choice of book between Skinnner’s Festival by Quintin Jardine or Eat Well by Nell Nelson. 
Comments: This was in the true tradition of a lucky bag, so I bought two!  Enjoyed the sweeties, will enjoy the coffee, bag very practical and I now have two books for some unsuspecting friends to receive at Christmas time! 

Verdict: the Scotsman wins hands down in maintaining the tradition of the lucky bag, though in some parts of London my street ‘cred’ may be enhanced with the Guardian eco-friendly cloth bag. 

Tip: Charlotte Square is quite easily found.  Most of the buses going to Princes Street will drop you near it.  Buses going along George Street will take you there as well.  Make a point of visiting the Georgian House (a National Trust for Scotland property) as it gives a fascinating example of life in a Edinburgh townhouse.  Take great care when crossing into the gardens from the square as traffic will appear to come at you from several directions.  This part of Edinburgh is not particularly blind friendly as you have to climb stone steps to get from the road into the gardens and on and off the pavement as well.  Remember that the orientation of the New Town of Edinburgh is east-west with Princes Street, George Street and Queen Street being the east-west parallel lines.