Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Mark of a Parent...

...Is sitting in front of a computer for four hours hitting the refresh button in order to buy tickets for the EIBF.

While I am now completely disillusioned (more below) by the whole event and in serious need of a visit to my chiropractor as a consequence of being in the same position for hours and hours, I am glad that I got some of the tickets I wanted in the end. My life would not be worth living otherwise! I have taken A to the Book Festival since he was teeny and the same is happening with B.

The stress of buying tickets and attending the festival runs deeper than a desire to be seen to be swanning about Charlotte Square with my kids declaring to one and all that kids are uber intelligent and cultured and it certainly runs deeper than looking for a cheap entertainment option during the holidays. For kids with ASD (not Aspergers), lacking imagination, it can be hard to get involved with books. Kids can get frustrated that they peers are reading at an advanced level compared to them or simply find the experience boring. Having the festival at out doorstep means that we could turn reading into a more holistic experience for A. We could spend time prior to the festival reading the books, imagining what the author will be like, trying to imagine the author's motivation for writing the story. This has made reading more exciting for A and has encouraged him at times when he really isn't that interested. Through the festival he has found authors that he didn't expect to like, books that he would never pick up off the shelf. The incredibly hard year that he has just had at primary school has had an effect on his reading. Having to trudge through books that he didn't like as part of his assignments has had a knock on effect and stopped him reading as much. We've struggled to get him excited about reading again and have tried all sorts of strategies. Even getting him involved in B's book sessions and demonstrating to him how good it is for her development.

I love having access to such an event here in the city but over the years have watched it evolve into something I don't particularly like. You would think with all of these literary types hanging around and everyone coming together through  books that this was an enjoyable collective experience. No, it is not. It might be if you're sitting in the VIP section hobnobbing with Ian Rankin and the likes but the plebs who cue for hours just to get in to an event that you have already pad for, its torture.

Pushy parents of little brats make this a living hell. We're not all in it together. We haven't all come to celebrate literature and experience the wonders of the mind of an author has to show us. We are there to push in front of each other, to squabble with little people who are bored of waiting for something to happen having been torn away from their PC's or consoles. We are there to push our children to the front of the queue of the book signing. To elbow each other with the voracity of a professional wrestler. It's bloody insane, completely un-enjoyable and a ridiculous display to teach the future generation. In previous years, I've sat with A who was in tears because some little monster has taken his place in the queue (he can't cope with this) and it's parents actually ignored me when I asked them to move their child, staring at the ceiling of the tent. While the middle classes of Edinburgh can be a competitive ignorant bunch, this hysteria is actually fostered by the organisers. Signs are plastered everywhere about latecomers not being admitted (to a kiddies event). I've had someone shut the door in my face because there was a queue to the toilets and I had to change B's dirty nappy or that we got stuck in traffic, when we travelled over an hour to get there.

Year after year, the festival has become more popular meaning that now the demand for tickets is ridiculous and events always sell out within hours. After the torture of buying tickets, waiting in line with the spoiled brats of the city and elbowing our way into a seat, we then have to watch as 20 or so VIP kids are ushered to their seats after the plebs have sat down because they know a man who knows a man who kept them tickets aside months previously. I was interesting to watch the comments on their Facebook page in the first few hours of the booking lines open. Suddenly I discovered that a huge percentage of residents share my frustration and dismay. We came together in solidarity as we were disappointed and bored and angry. Some people were trying using both their telephones and three laptops to get the tickets they wanted!

I will be going this year. Not through choice but a desire to have my children experience something magical. All of this crap is forgotten when the lights dim and an author walks on stage. I love to watch them be mesmerised by the characters that appear on stage whether it is the truly wonderful Michael Rosen or the mental case that is Andy Stanton, or the motherly and loving Shirley Hughes. I sit through the event, stressed out by the impending book signing palaver. Wondering how I am going to negotiate my autistic kid and my toddler through the maze of elbows and toes...


  1. This book festival sounds amazing! I wish I had known about it earlier, it would have been worth a return flight London-Edinburgh just for the experience.
    Hope A and B both enjoy themselves!

  2. A book festival sounds like heaven...but I wouldn't be brave enough to take my autie dude to one! Hope it's fun XXX

  3. @ Triple Eff: Thanks! Have you checked out the Hay festival? Much closer to your neck of the woods (and much better, I hear)xxx

  4. @Jean: you know what it's like with crowds and sensory overload, it is so stressful but hopefully worth it in the end. xxxx

  5. We were very interested to read about your recent experience with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and of course pleased to hear how much your children have benefited from coming to the Festival over the years. It is those kinds of experiences that we are passionate about delivering for all our visitors.

    As I'm sure you're aware, we did experience some technical difficulties with our online booking system on the first day of sales this year. Whilst many customers were able to book online, the website did not run as effectively as it should have done, causing frustration and inconvenience for many people. We invested a lot of time, energy and resource into implementing a new online booking system to make the booking experience better for our customers and we were very disappointed that it did not perform as it was meant to, despite our best efforts. Whilst these issues have now been resolved, we care that customers are able to book smoothly at all times. We are very sorry both for the initial problems with the website and that, because of them, it was more difficult than usual to get through on the phone on opening day.

    You are correct to say that the Book Festival has changed over recent years. Having grown in size and popularity the site is busier and queues are longer than they used to be. I'm sorry to hear that you've previously had difficult experiences with some of our other customers. Our Front of House staff do their best to steward the queues effectively and are always on hand to help. As with any busy public space, managing the crowds is difficult and I'm sure we don't always get it right. That said, the majority of feedback we get about the experience on site is positive, and many people comment on the relaxed atmosphere and the sense of shared experience they feel.

    There are a few factual points in your post that I feel I must challenge. In almost every case the queue for an event starts no more than an hour beforehand. In general, and particularly for events in the RBS Children's programme, it's possible to arrive close to the time of the event and still get good seats. It is simply not true to say that some people get preferential treatment 'because they know a man who knows a man who kept them tickets aside months previously'. The only reserved seating in our venues is for customers with disabilities, and occasionally at some events for a small number of guests of the event's sponsor. This is because these guests usually come from another event on site, and crucially because without the financial support of sponsors we would not be able to run the Festival as we do, and we would have to increase ticket prices dramatically.

    While it is true that the first day of booking is very busy and events do sell out, it's not the case that everything worth booking goes on the first day. As of today there are still over 600 events with tickets still available.

    We review our ‘no latecomers’ policy frequently and, where possible, we do try to exercise more discretion for children’s events. We appreciate that there are times when it is not possible to arrive on time for an event, and that to be refused entry is frustrating and disappointing. However, allowing people into an event that has already started is disruptive for the authors and other audience members and the overwhelming majority of feedback we get supports this policy.

    Of course, I am disappointed to hear that you feel that your recent experiences of the Book Festival have not been as you or we would have wanted them to be. We continue to look at how we can improve, and welcome customer feedback. If you have specific suggestions on improvements we could make I would be glad to hear them - you can find our contact details on our website.

    We hope that you and your family enjoy the events this year, and we look forward to welcoming you to Charlotte Square Gardens in August.

    Best wishes

    Andrew Coulton
    Administrative Director
    Edinburgh International Book Festival


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