On the run from Andi Peters following a misunderstanding about cruises, Melissa begrudgingly agrees to follow her friend Joanne (and Joanne’s 17th century throwback ‘life partner’ Fax) to the Edinburgh Fringe. While leafleting for Fax’s dreadful stand up show about faith healing and vegans, Melissa endures the highs and lows of pretentious student plays, ‘street typing’, and the knowledge that her shop has been left in the hands of someone who doesn’t understand tills…

Crap Comedy is the follow up to the 2018 novel Crap Holiday. Read it here.

After half an hour navigating through cagoules and avoiding other people promising ‘free five-star comedy’, I manage to duck into an alleyway. Fuck knows where I am now. But the alleyway leads to some sort of… place. Let’s have a look.

Ooh, a gin bar! This is a nice surprise; I’d been bracing myself for anything up to and including more Polish nudists. I’m still a bit on guard though, so I scan the area. Grass, some pub tables, a rickety temporary bar. No one trying to give me ‘free five-star comedy’. So far so good.

‘Artisan gins’, the sign says. Lovely. To be fair, I’d have stayed if the sign had said ‘artisan paint strippers’. I peer behind the bar, but I can’t make out many of the labels. Fucking hell, I hope I’m not going blind on top of everything else.

‘Hello, what can I get you today?’ asks a perky barmaid.

‘What do you recommend?’ She must notice me squinting, because she brings a couple of the bottles to the front for me. ‘These are our best sellers. We have Parma violet, and this one’s blood orange, or rhubarb and custard…’

Parma violet gin? I remember eating Parma violets when I was little. Everyone did, but no one ever really liked them as far as I can remember. I guess we only kept buying them because we were stupid. Might try a Parma violet gin though, for old time’s sake. I go to get a note out of my purse, but she stops me. ‘Sorry, we only do contactless.’

‘Oh fair enough.’ I swipe my card over the machine and take my gin to a table. Fuck, it really does smell of Parma violets. It’s like being eight again. Minus the gin, obviously. My parents weren’t that laid back. I take a sip, and I’m transported back to Mr Price’s corner shop, buying sweets and Garbage Pail Kids stickers, arguing with Laura-Next-Door over who has the bigger graze on their knee.

A group of middle-aged women bustle over to the table next to me. They plop down and start calling over their orders to the bar.

‘Double elderflower please poppet’

‘Ooh, I’ll have a gooseberry please’

‘I bet you will!’ screeches one of the women, and they all laugh. They sound like they’ve been here before, on their way back from bingo.

The waitress brings their gin over; I take the opportunity to order another Parma violet gin. This stuff is actually lovely. It’s much better than Fax’s shit plum gin ‘wine’.

‘On your own are you, poppet?’

They’re looking at me. ‘Oh, well not really. I mean I am, but… I’ve run away from my friends for a bit. Needed some peace and quiet, you know.’

‘Oh that’s alright then. We thought you’d been stood up, didn’t we Sheila?’

Sheila nods. I smile and shrug. ‘No, if you met my friends you’d understand. They’re promoting their show on the Royal Mile…’

‘Oh, drama types, yeah it can get a bit loud there can’t it? Never mind poppet.’

I feel like they’re trying to adopt me. I’m not entirely sure I want to be adopted by them. I try to do a half smile, half shrug as I turn away and root around in my bag for something to do. I wish I’d brought my puzzle book out with me, even though it’s stupid and shit and I can’t do any of the puzzles. I just want something to read or do with my hands so I don’t look like a weirdo who’s been ‘stood up’.

Oh, hang on, what’s this? Oh fucking hell, of course! Leaflets! Great! Well, not great exactly, but it’s something to stop me looking like a serial killer.

I turn my back on the bingo women. I’m sure they’re very nice, but I really don’t want to have to talk to a bunch of strangers right now. Instead, let’s study these leaflets I’ve been given, in great detail.

I – oh, my gin’s empty. I nip to the bar for a few more. It’s nice being able to just wave my card over the thing and not have to fanny about with coins. Right – leaflets.

SEX! A no holds barred look at all things erotic. Includes raffle.

Improv poetry accompanied by sackbut and crumhorn.

Not sure if those are musical instruments or a pair of Victorian solicitors.

Ian’s Wacky World – a zany-

I stop reading at the word ‘zany’.

Michaela Marshall: UNSTOPPABLE!

That’s all it says, above a photo of some fat woman. I hope someone does find a way to stop her, or she will surely kill us all.

My mobile goes. Oh fuck it’s Joanne. At least it’s not Saif, phoning to ask me my views on fucking time travel.

‘Where are you?’

I answer honestly. ‘I don’t know.’

‘What do you mean you don’t know?’

‘Well I don’t have a map or anything.’

‘But you’re still in Edinburgh right?’

I pull the phone away from my ear and look at it, like that will stop her being mental. She’s still talking when I start listening again.

‘…thought you’d been arrested.’

‘No, I definitely haven’t been arrested. I’m having gin. Don’t worry, I’m still doing promotion,’ I add. Not technically a lie if I give those women one of my leaflets.

She calms down. ‘So you’re in a pub? Which pub? We’ll come to you.’

‘It’s not really a pub, it’s more of… an area.’

‘For God’s sake!’

‘They sell all this gin.’

‘Wait, are you at the Artisan Gin Garden?’

‘Probably.’

‘K, stay there we’ll be there in a bit’ she huffs. I don’t want Joanne and Fax to be here in a bit. I was really enjoying them not being here. I should have lied. I should have told them I was in Aberdeen.

I manage to get in another couple of gins before Joanne and Fax get here. This Parma violet gin really is amazing, might see if I can get a bottle when I get home.

‘Yo, where are you?’

She’s looking right fucking at me.

I see the bingo women look startled when they catch sight of Joanne and Fax. I probably should have mentioned beforehand that Fax has decided to make, and wear, a ‘kilt’ made entirely out of his own leaflets. This wouldn’t be that bad, except he keeps picking leaflets off to give to people, and the result is suitably terrifying.

‘Oh brill, you’ve got rid of your leaflets. Ace.’

If by ‘got rid of’ she means ‘thrown under the table’, then yes. But she doesn’t need to know that.

‘How did you guys get on?’

‘Oh, it was delightful’ says Fax. ‘I played “Six Dukes Went a-Fishing”, but then one of the strings broke on my guitar, so I had to stop at five dukes. But people were very interested.’

‘What’s that you’re drinking?’ asks Joanne.

‘Parma violet gin. Do you want to try a bit?’

She takes my glass and downs the lot, the cow. When she sees me trying to stab her with my eyes, she offers to buy us all one. While she’s at the bar, Fax takes the opportunity to give the bingo women pieces of his kilt. I’m not sure if they think he’s a stripper. I try to stand up and stop him before one of the women dies from fright, but this plan is hindered by the realisation that I’m a bit hammered. Should probably have another gin before I try standing up again.

‘You’re not serious!’ screeches Joanne. We all look over to see Joanne whirling her skirt at the poor girl behind the bar. Oh God what now. My guess is that the gin hasn’t been infused with fucking Gaia energy or some bollocks.

‘A tenner? Are you seriously demanding that I pay a tenner for this gin?’

Oh for fuck’s sake. A tenner for 3 gins is pretty reasonable, considering where we are. Please God don’t let her and Fax stage another protest.

‘But I wanted three, that’s 30 fucking quid!’

‘I’m sorry,’ says the girl. ‘Those are our prices. It is artisan gin.’

It’s – hang on. Hang fucking on. I stumble over to join Joanne at the bar.

‘Did you just say these gins are a tenner each?’

‘Yes.’ She’s looking at me like it’s no big deal.

Joanne turns to me. ‘Didn’t you know these were a tenner?’

I feel a bit sick. ‘It was contactless,’ I mutter.

‘How many have you had?’

Before I can lie to her, she clocks the empty glasses on the table. ‘Melissa, you have just spent 80 quid on gin!’

I feel a bit more sick. Suddenly the thought of staging a protest doesn’t seem so stupid.

We both turn back to the girl, but she’s decided her part in this conversation is over, and is now on her phone.

The one silver lining to this is that Joanne has decided I’m a poor naïve idiot who’s been taken advantage of by the evil Scottish capitalists, so she’s sympathetic instead of mad. Although I’m not sure what right she’d have to be mad, it’s not her money I’ve squandered on hipster meths.

Joanne decides it might be a good idea to have some dinner. They drag me away from the gin place while I’m still in shock, and before it can occur to me to extract my money back from the girl by using any rudimentary weapon at my disposal. I guess that’s why all the glasses are plastic.

Well?

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