The summer is always a strange time for academics. In amongst tying up loose ends from last academic year and preparing for the next, we cram in conferences, research, writing and – one hopes – the odd holiday. In Edinburgh it is doubly strange, because August involves a mass invasion of tourists and performers for the various festivals, including the world-famous Fringe festival. Many of the university buildings are transformed into venues for music, dance, theatre, magic or comedy.
Living in a tourist town is mildly annoying at the best of times. The walk from my office to the main university library takes me past the cafe that claims to be the “birthplace of Harry Potter” as well as a peculiarly famous statue of a small dog. I learned very quickly that if I refrained from walking through anybody’s photographs then I would never get anywhere! But in August I steer clear of the library altogether, if I can. And if I can’t avoid it, then I transform into my very own form of performance art: I am the “angry local trying to work” as I barge through the swarms of tourists, hands firmly in pockets as I refuse all the offers of flyers for shows. I manage to maintain this sour demeanour until someone asks me for directions, at which point my instinctive smile and British politeness take over!
For you should not misunderstand me: I am no misanthrope. I love Edinburgh and am happy to share it with other admirers. I am also aware that the festival is a lucrative opportunity for the city and the university, and that the money it brings can help support services that I value. But that said, I am challenged by the practicalities of working when there is a bar outside your office window and the building periodically shakes with the sound of a drumming group playing in what was the student canteen.
This year I thought I would try a new approach, to embrace August. I took time off and enjoyed some excellent shows as well as some peace and quiet at home. I am even allowing myself the odd show now I’m back at work. This afternoon I spent an hour in a shed with novelist Ian Rankin and three other members of the public participating in a continuous reading aloud of the twelve-volume Chilcot report into the Iraq war. Very sobering, though I’m not sure it helped with my ever-growing to-do list.
As well as the noise and the difficulty walking anywhere, It really is hard to work when everyone around you seems to be on holiday! I am not sure what the solution is, but I take some comfort from the knowledge that next year I will spend the second half of August attending conferences in Toronto. Maybe I can take holiday for the first half and join those folk in the bar outside my office window, or the crowds photographing themselves with the famous statue of the small dog…