So this is the seventh year in a row that I’m heading up for a no-expenses-paid, energy-sapping, imagination-tickling Edinburgh festival. Or will it be just a bit like the other years?

I began working the fringe while a reporter on a local newspaper. To be brief, two years reviewing for ThreeWeeks, one festival with the Edinburgh Evening News and three years assessing for the Total Theatre Awards and writing for Total Theatre Magazine. (Let’s skip doing the music for a children’s play calledTales from the Trash Can in 1992.)

Common criticisms of the fringe… It’s commercial, formulaic, predictable and a mass burial ground for teenage dreams even in middle age. Big-name comedians lose thousands of pounds. Performances are crammed into 50-minute time slots. There’s a paucity of reflective, truly alternative work. Genres like circus, puppetry, mime or street arts are still dwarfed by stand-up. And you can’t walk properly.

Arguably, the pattern of venues and programming has hardly changed. If anything, the Traverse has become even more entrenched as the festival has grown. The alternative becomes mainstream. It’s a safe bet for any theatre professional to book shows mid-week at the Trav, then see them cluster bombed with prizes by Friday. The alternative may be self-consciously reinvented elsewhere. But it rarely plumbs the depths.

It’s been argued that this year brings reconfiguration. Pippa Bailey, who co-ordinates the Total Theatre Awards and is producing Biding Time, points to new venues like Summerhall alongside Forest Fringe. She said that with the Assembly moving to George Square Gardens, this opens up an alternative space in the New Town. It will be interesting to see what blossoms, but I’m not sold on it yet. That said, there’s also always a period of acclimatisation when you arrive in Edinburgh, and it’s best to avoid a public display of ignorance at this point.

Sorry for the lack of picture here, by the way.  Marilyn Monroe’s legs will be copyrighted, and just remind me of languishing cellulite while the computer takes my life blood. (It’s tempting to say that after seven years, I just have subscriptions to multiple internet dating websites to show for my work here. But of course Carey Marx has already done the show called Marry Me, and there was that free fringe one called I Kissed a Frog and It Gave Me Herpes. I put ten pounds in the pint glass and felt really sorry for her.)

Anyhow, I was going to upload a photo of some antihistamine cream (for prickly heat, sunburn, insect bites and nettle stings) on an east coast train, but have forgotten the vital piece of technology. It will of course be a privilege to do some blogging during the festival. Welcome to Edinburgh 2011.