Just another lazy afternoon in the Meadows. In circles and figure eights, cliques and coteries assemble in their groups, all gathered to pray at the altar of Helios and his fellow deities – Mary Jane and Tonic Wine. All are strangers, and yet all are mates just waiting to happen. Joints move purposefully to the left. Banter flies gregariously to the right. Drunk rappers spit freestyles; drunk freestylers spit profane ciphers back at them. Layers are peeled off to reveal strap marks and sleeve lines. Skin is red and parched, a product of the previous day’s obeisance to the great god in the sky. A scantily-clad Spanish girl gets her rat out. It scampers off into the crowd and seeks shelter under a cross-legged lee. Lighters are lit and smokes are smoked, yet there’s not a snout or a rollie to be seen. They’ve all been laced with a little something, a sticky sweetness that lingers in the air before drifting indolently towards the cherry blossoms.
Four weeks earlier, a similar gathering assembled on the shores of Loch Ness, to celebrate the summer’s inaugural festival. At Rock Ness however, there were police cameras and policemen; police dogs and policewomen. Sniffing and probing and analysing every roach and bank card. Here, in the Meadows, it’s different. The festival atmosphere mirrors that of its littoral counterpart in the north, but here there’s not a fluorescent uniform to be found. Not a five-oh in sight to spoil the fun. Even if the amassed ranks of Lothian & Borders were to march in here, they wouldn’t know where to start. Set a sniffer dog loose amongst the assembled hordes and it would thrust a nose in the air, inhale twice and then collapse, leveled by the potent perfume that is skunk #5. The only fate worse than being left in a police car on a hot day is to be left in the Meadows on a hot day.
Dreadlocked hippies beat languidly on bongo drums. A table appears and is lined with plastic cups; a lively game of beer pong commences. Everyone is deferring work in favour of swatching cider and sparking silver skins. Beer bottles are removed with teeth; t-shirts with gritted teeth. Sun-seared skin is slapped for comedic effect. Everyone laughs. Almost. While jugglers juggle merrily, toddlers toddle their way past Rizla-rolling parents who throw beach balls and frisbees for their progeny to chase.
Not everyone is horizontal in the Meadows however. Within the heart of Edinburgh’s great park, another gathering is taking place. It lies just a few yards from the de facto festival that is unfolding, yet it may as well be happening in another galaxy. Industrial wire fencing has been erected around the perimeter of this party within a party. The crowd queueing amiably to get in wave lanyards and ticket stubs at bored-looking attendants. It’s the Meadows, but not as we know it. This is Taste of Edinburgh.
Inside the arena, a different sort of festival is in full swing. There are no joints being passed, no drinks being thrown. Men don’t pee against fences. Litter is put in the bin. It is a civilised party within a party.
Women clad in ponchos and capri trousers totter by, half-cut on complimentary shots of toffee vodka. Men dress down for the day; blue shirts tucked into blue jeans, the top button left daringly open, but loafers still favoured over trainers. There are cookery demonstrations for non-stick saucepans and a stall promoting The Ultimate Garlic Grater. Children in designer buggies trundle by, calling out for more (organic) milk.
There’s a Waitrose. Naturally. This one isn’t a middle-class supermarket however, but a middle-class cookery school, a place where white-teethed assistants chirp pre-scripted punchlines into headsets. An audience of budding chefs belly-laugh politely from beneath their white aprons. The house band (old guy on guitar and vocals; old guy on keyboards; old guy on drums) strike up a song. It is tasteful music for the tasteful audience who have assembled to enjoy the tasteful entertainment laid on by Taste of Edinburgh. It must be love. Love. Love. Love. They even play Toploader.
There is a wine bar – Vin Caffè. Don’t forget the accent. At the various stalls, samples are dispensed on tasting forks and cocktail sticks, in shot glasses and tumblers. Tea is infused with clementine and vanilla; ice-cream with rosemary and chocolate. Everything is sustainable. Locally-sourced. Organic. Ethical.
I go for a piss. The toilets are so clean, you feel compelled to wash your hands afterwards. There’s even laminate flooring. Not a blue and grey Portaloo in sight. Here the shit don’t stink.
A man in a Gant rugby shirt passes clutching a wife in one hand and a Gant boutique bag in the other. A bolder – or possibly gayer – man is resplendent in a plunging v-neck t-shirt with a silk scarf knotted around the neck. A fat-arsed women in flip-flops waddles towards the cake stand. Slimmer versions flutter by in chiffon skirts, clutching flutes that fizz with Prosecco. A few of the men have sweaters tied around their necks; all have sunglasses pushed back on foreheads. Tweed jackets come with elbow patches. Straw hats are out in force, shielding faces that glow with the sort of tan that comes from summering in the Maldives and wintering in the Maldives. It’s Royal Ascot without the horses. And the royalty. And the bookies. Actually, it’s nothing like Royal Ascot.
Within this party within a party, there is another party taking place. Well-heeled guests line up to enter the VIP area, where they are greeted with a complimentary glass of cheap champagne. Their tent may look the same as all the other tents dotted about the concourse but it’s not – this is VIP. How can you tell? Well, there’s the white picket fence for a start. This is a gated community, albeit one that doesn’t look too hard to infiltrate. The slatted structure that depicts the American dream may only be waist-high and made of plastic, but it effectively delineates the border between the regular patrons and those of a higher calibre. The VIP DJ plays chilled background music, stepped at just the right level so as not to impose upon the idle chatter. The potted shrubs in the VIP area may be fake, but the Patek Philippe wristwatches are real all right, straight out of Geneva. The compere introduces – with bare-faced sincerity – a celebrity chef to the VIP stage with the words ‘because this is a special area for very special people’.
Adjacent to the VIP tent, a silver-haired man with a walkie-talkie guards the entrance to the Peugeot Hospitality Area. He may have last seen action during the fall of Saigon, but if anyone dares to start beef round here, he won’t think twice about administering a stern talking to. He cuts a dashing figure in his moccasins, beige chinos and navy blue shirt, tucked in above the belt – the uniform of every self-respecting gentleman approaching 60. If a riot were ever to break out in here, it would be coronary central. Thankfully, all is quiet on the western front.
We blaze up a joint. For once, it’s not even for the taste of that sweet sinsemilla – it’s just a petty form of rebellion against that which surrounds us. As the smoke rises into the air and mingles with that of our Meadows brethren on the other side of the perimeter fence, a man with curly Eton hair and over-developed biceps accompanies a leggy woman in heels towards the oyster bar. From the direction of Artisan Du Chocolat, an ample-bosomed lady flounces through the arena, licking clean the cocktail stick between her teeth. If Al-Qaeda were to nuke this place right now, half of Edinburgh’s tenants would find themselves landlord-less.
We leave the heart of the Meadows and return to the real heart of the Meadows. The party is still in full swing. They tip K onto digis and form wraps out of fliers. They pinch thumb and forefinger and crumble powder into the crevice. They snort and smoke and pass the tonic wine around, just one more time. And why not? It’s Sunday. Just another lazy afternoon in the Meadows.Taste of Edinburgh 1st – 3rd July Meadows Park