Capital of carnival and pipes

11th August 2006 at 01:00
The usual hum of traffic is gone, replaced by a vibrant snake of music, dance and colourful costumes, as Edinburgh's annual festival cavalcade parades its way through the city centre streets.

Forget all the performers; how am I supposed to find my friends amongst the 175,000 people lining the route? It is like hogmanay on a summer's day, except the drunken revellers are replaced by children atop their parents'

shoulders and beers by balloons.

Our rather vague plan to meet "at the foot of the Mound" is rapidly revealed as rather unwise and I resign myself to solitary viewing. Forget mobile phones: any hope of holding a conversation when the 848-strong cast of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo is marching by, belting drums to the nasal drone of the pipes, is nothing short of madness.

From one end of Princes Street to the other, mothers, fathers, babies, toddlers, schoolchildren, young adults, grannies and grandpas are clapping and cheering as floats pass. As pipers pipe, drummers drum, dancers dance and twirlers twirl, that unique buzz of Edinburgh during August reverberates.

I do find my friends, thanks to the superior merits of text messaging while pipe bands are passing. The throngs of people, assortment of accents and variety of cultures reminds me of what is best about the festival. If nothing else, the cavalcade gets people out, in carnival mode, and the world's biggest arts festival begins.

The Lady Boys of Bangkok cause quite a stir, dancing seductively in sparkly leotards, filling some of the male spectators with horrified fascination that young Thai men can pass so convincingly as alluring women.

The pacifist spiritual group Falun Dafa preach the value of truthfulness, benevolence and forbearance and a poignant moment of quiet descends.

Gruesome, blood-spattered skeletons from the Edinburgh Dungeon grimace and dance, while break-dancers embrace the tarmac and cyclists show that Edinburgh is bike-friendly.

The running commentary from two women to my right is as much a staple of the cavalcade as the formal entertainment. As a troupe of belly dancers jiggle their rather munificent midriffs, one says she would "like to be able to belly dance: it makes you really fit".

"But look at them; they're all fat," retorts the other.

Red-headed Louise Fort, 3, is rather more complimentary as she watches the festivities from her mother's shoulders. "I like the pipe bands the best,"

she grins.

"Since she was born, we've always brought her to the cavalcade," said her mother, Gillian Fort. "She loves it."

Sorry? Didn't catch that. Those pipes again.

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