BBC Radio 4

    Today in Edinburgh

    Jim Naughtie presents Bookclub on BBC Radio 4

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    Editor's note: Jim Naughtie presented a special edition of the Today programme from Edinburgh on Saturday 11th August. He wrote this blog about the magic of the festival last week before travelling to Edinburgh - CM.


    Where else should Today be in August but Edinburgh? The festival city comes alive, and has a fizz of its own. Jugglers on the Royal Mile, young actors finding their feet in hard-to-find basements and silent church halls, the best story tellers and comics at the book festival and on the fringe and still, beating away, the heart of it all in the International Festival itself which, for more than sixty years, has thrown some of the best artists in the world together and told them to get on with it.

    Now, of course, there is more. The argument over the future of Scotland involves the whole of the UK, to make an obvious point that's sometimes forgotten. So when I present the programme from George Square on Saturday (August 11) we'll be diving into the arguments that are now being rolled out ahead of the referendum on independence, probably coming along in 2014. Although Scots have been dipping their feet in these waters for a long time, you can't miss a quickening in the pace. We'll talk about defence, about money and the economy, as well as the more generalized question of whether it's sensible to reconfigure the UK. But, fear not, Liz Lochhead will also be with us, Scotland's Makar, equivalent of the Poet Laureate, because we need a bit of her grit and fun, and Simon Callow will give us a bit of Dickens, because it is His year.

    In other words, it will be a true Edinburgh event. I'm told that hundreds of listeners are coming along - they're great folk in Scotland for free tickets - and we'll try to catch something of the spirit of an elegant and vibrant place, even if it is in the midst of a terrible kerfuffle about the trams that are on the way and have - how can I put this delicately? - brought some angst to a city that Voltaire once called the most civilized place in Europe.

    There was a time, in the heat of the eighteenth century Enlightenment, when a visiting English scientist said that you couldn't stand on the High Street outside the Kirk of St Giles for more than a couple of hours without shaking the hands of fifty men of genius. Festival-time always feels a little bit like that in the Edinburgh of today.

    I've had some of my happiest times in those weeks when all the rules are lifted, and anything goes. Brilliant musicians, surprising plays and one-person shows, daft theatrical enterprises that go wrong, fireworks and out-of-tune pipes. There's nothing like it.

    I hope we're a bit serious, and a bit festive. In August, Edinburgh becomes - how can I avoid the comparison? - an annual Olympics, fired up against the backdrop of Arthur's Seat, the Castle, and the elegant terraces of the New Town. I confess I bias - those BBC obligations always kick in - because I live part of my life there, as much as I can. I love it, and so do the people who zoom in from everywhere for festival month. I'll be at the Mass for Life by Delius in the Usher Hall tonight; I'll see some stand up comedy over the weekend; there are some shows I want to catch; and, above all, I'll surf the streets to find something new.

    • Listen again to the Today programme from the Edinburgh Festival.
    • Read Radio 4 Commissioner Caroline Raphael's blog post about finding talent in Edinburgh.
    • Visit the BBC's Edinburgh Festival website.

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