Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Petunia the Poltergeist is as delighted as Samuel Pepys that the plague is past – Susan Morrison

At the height of Covid’s grip, grim-faced experts said that things would never go back to normal, especially events like Edinburgh’s festivals.

English diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) admires his wife Elizabeth's new dress which he said 'becomes her very well' (Engraving after a painting by Noble/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
English diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) admires his wife Elizabeth's new dress which he said 'becomes her very well' (Engraving after a painting by Noble/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

People would be afraid of those hot, sweaty rooms, and would steer clear of big crowded concerts. Folks would shun flyers, afraid of the chance of nasty infectious bugs lurking on that comedian's face, although I have to say that there are probably fewer bacteria on the flyer than on most comedians’ fizzogs.

Clearly these people never read the diary of Sam Pepys. Sam made it through the Great Plague of London, and his descriptions of daily life in a city choked with actual bodies in the streets are chilling, but it's what he says about life post-bubonic bug that gave us a clue as to how the world would react when the restrictions were lifted.

Sam Pepys’s people went nuts.

The theatres were packed, the taverns bulged and you could not get a sedan chair for love nor money.

Post-Covid Edinburgh could give post-plague London a run for its money.

It’s like it never happened, those two long years when the city sat empty in August like the The Shining’s Overlook Hotel, the castle stood Tattoo-free and nary a flyer was to be seen on the High Street.

The crowds are back, and in some ways I’ve missed them. I’ve missed telling people stuff. Even if they don’t ask. In fact, especially if they don’t ask.

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On one of those glorious hot sunny days, I passed an American couple standing on Castle Street. He was taking a photo up to the ramparts, but his good lady wife was not convinced and I heard her say “I don’t think that is the castle”.

They know now. Chased them halfway to Shandwick Place to tell them about the ramparts.

Of course the pavements are rammed and the buses packed and, for some reason, despite the ubiquitous smartphone complete with maps, tourists don't seem to be able to find the castle, the station or their hotel without asking someone.

It's usually someone who is walking past at just below ramming speed, at a pace which says quite clearly, “I live here and I’m in a hurry”. Top tip, if you want tourists to stop asking for directions, saunter, look around in a vague sort of manner and carry a map, doesn’t matter where it’s actually of, and wave it about ostentatiously. No-one bothers you.

Of course, the Fringe didn’t miss pesky Petunia, the poltergeist of the New Town Theatre, but clearly she missed the Fringe.

Yes, Petunia has maintained her reign of terror. Well, to be fair, it's more like a reign of mild irritation.

She’s been at the door slamming, curtain twitching again. Most insidiously, she set her sights on another performer. David Kay, lovely man, lovely comedian, had the temerity to mention her existence from the stage and his watch stopped minutes later, only to resume normal service as soon as the show ended.

She’s also extended her reach. A member of the audience also had her watch stopped. Had to have words with her about that, obviously. Can’t have the paying punters spooked, although it makes me wonder if Petunia has her eye on a potential solo show of her own next year.