Fringe comedian Tom Allen’s Great Tramway Journey

Tom Allen. Picture: Comp
Tom Allen. Picture: Comp
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Stand-up Tom Allen returns to the Capital for his sixth Fringe and finds himself capitavated by the city’s latest attraction - the trams

IT was a freezing cold evening last November when I waited at a tram stop for an hour before realising that the trams were not yet operational. I wondered why people kept staring at me as they huddled past in their coats.

So in my excitement at seeing that they’re now up and running I decided, in the style of Michael Portillo (sort of), to take myself on a Great Tramway Journey!

My journey starts at Balgreen, which sounds terrible but actually is very scenic with rolling hills on one side and a Jenners Furniture Depository (which also sounds terrible, and painful, but is actually quite a picturesque) on the other.

Waiting at the ticket machine are English people doing what English people do best - stress.

“The machine won’t take a ten pound note. We don’t know what to do.”

“Have you looked to see if it’ll take a card?” I ask.

“No!” he responds, somehow now angry with me. The machine definitely takes cards.

The tram hovers up to the platform and we board. Two women are stood near the door talking: “I couldn’t imagine being lactose intolerant – can you still breast feed?”

“I could probably drive one of these” says the now much calmer, and more arrogant, Englishman. “I mean I’ve driven a boat, how different can they be?”

Very different I imagine.

The doors close and we’re off. The doors have an alarm which shocks everyone awake whenever the tram stops or starts. It’s the same sound that Alfred Hitchcock uses in the shower scene of Psycho.

I feel like if they were going to use audio from films, then Judy Garland’s ‘Clang Clang Clang went the Trolley, Ding Ding Ding went the Bell’ from Meet Me in St Louis surely would have been more apt.

“I was so sweaty – I went straight from the ice to a roller disco!” I overhear a woman with a German accent say to her friend.

Yes, the trams have been a project beset with problems and rising costs. Once dubbed ‘hell on wheels’, people’s attitude seems to have melted into civic pride. And compared to the Croydon tram I use, it’s bliss. The Croydon tram has one main flaw - it goes through Croydon. Its only saving grace is that there’s an Ikea at the end of it.

Haymarket is the stop now and a bus overtakes us. People don’t seem to mind, though. They’re enjoying this new adventure. It’s comfortable, spacious and modern.

“Tickets and passes please?” Maureen, our friendly conductor, asks a man using the hands-free function on his phone. While he thinks he looks very cool, executive even, he looks to the rest of us like he’s talking to himself. Maureen interrupts his delusion.

There’s a chatty woman I’ve noticed who talks to everyone who sits near her. “I said it’s either the horse or me” she informs her surprised new friend. We sidle up next to a bus.

“I saw a cyclist get crushed between two buses once. It was awful!” she informs her seat neighbour, unnecessarily.

“Sorry, can I just squeeze past – I’m off at the next stop.”

“I’m not sure about top-knots on men” says the German girl from before as the doors close at West End of Princes Street.

Two children are sat in the seats behind me “I think it’s smoother than a train. Do you think it’s smoother than a train?” she asks her friend in monotone. “Yes. It’s smoother than a train.” She responds, like they’re in a Beckett play.

The mother of one of them leans across the aisle “Shall I keep your ticket or do you want it as a souvenir?” There’s a sense of occasion about this new way of riding through the city that’s seems to be shared by visitors and residents alike.

The tram glides at a stately pace, appropriately it seems, as we now pass the Balmoral Hotel. At the height of the trams difficulties Welsh businessman Steve Rees rubbed salt in the wound by pointing out that the route could be paved with gold for just over a tenth of the cost of these new vehicles. However, I doubt a gold walkway would deliver nearly as much wonderment.

My journey concludes at York Place, where my show is on at The Stand. I ask Maureen, the conductor, if I can have a photograph taken with her. “No”. But she tells me her nephew has done stand up.

I settle for a picture by the driver’s cabin. He glances over, embarrassed, and then moves the majestic tram into gear.

The driver sounds the bell. Zing Zing Zing go my heart strings.

Tom Allen: Life/Style, Stand Comedy Club. York Place, until 24 August (not 11), 4.15pm, 0131-226 0000