“You know we just don’t recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they’re happening. Back then I thought, well, there’ll be other days. I didn’t realize that that was the only day.”
‘Moonlight’ Graham – Field of Dreams
One moment in time…
Back in the late 70s – maybe 1977 – or even 1978…
It is late summer – towards the end of August. The location is Edinburgh – somewhere on the south side of the city… a city that is buzzing because it is festival time and the official festival, the fringe, the book festival, the television festival and the film festival are all in full swing.
More specifically the location is the kitchen of a rented apartment, perhaps somewhere off the Lothian Road. During term time this is student accommodation and the space bears the scars accordingly. For the three weeks of the festival it is rented at a wincingly inflated rate to groups of young hopefuls – performers, actors, musicians, jugglers, acrobats, technicians… wannabees… all itching to make their mark on this most public of stages. They dream of discovery – though the chances of so being are little higher than of winning the yet-to-be created lottery.
This particular group of young thespists and musicians hails from the south east of England and they are all associated with a local authority youth theatre from somewhere not far outside London. Aged variously between 16 and 25 they have made the long trek up to Edinburgh largely at their own expense because… because… well… that really is the question. Why are they here – so full of passion and energy and ambition?
They are doing a show – of course – but why have they gone to all the trouble and expense of bringing it to the Edinburgh fringe where – no matter how hard they work on publicity, pounding the granite cobbles thrusting flyers into reluctant hands – they will be lucky to play to a few hundred souls in a week.
The kitchen is awash with excited chatter – of shows seen – clubs visited – contacts made – exotic beverages imbibed. Summer nights north of the border hold the light longer than they do down south and the evening has only just entered the gloaming. As more youngsters arrive back from their latest adventures mugs of coffee are concocted from a large tin of cheap ‘instant’ and endless rounds of toast and marmalade are churned out by willing volunteers. This – along with the baked tatties from the local ‘Spud-U-Like’ – comprise the essential diet for this week of living wildly.
Why are they here? There are many reasons. Some are just here for the adventure – some to escape home for a while. Some are here because it is a chance to explore the festival – some because they love performing… acting or making music. Some just want to be with their friends.
Some of them are serious in their intentions concerning their art. They are hoping to get into drama school or music college and will then to try to carve a career from these most fickle of occupations. Some of them will succeed – in some cases only until they grow weary of the constant rejection, or perhaps on discovering that this was not after all for them – but others will enjoy long and rewarding careers in music, TV or the theatre.
But how can they tell – crowded expectantly into this clammy kitchen with its hot sweet coffee, its toast and conserves – what might be the true significance of this moment in time? Their conversations are full of plans and dreams, of crazy inspirations, of ambitions and desires. They have not yet drunk of the well of cynicism and regret. For them this is but a staging post on the road to the dazzling future.
‘Moonlight’ Graham was right, though. As we look back now on our younger selves from some four decades on, might it be – for some of us at least – that we suddenly see clearly that what we once thought to be just an impatient foothill at the start of our ascent was in fact the summit itself – and that that night would turn out to be the truly significant one?
…that night and a hundred others like it…