Song for Eurovision

MalmoPack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile. Forget the worst recession since the South Sea Bubble, dust off that cracked glitter ball and drag out those tarnished bacofoil hot pants. It’s time to get crushed by the sequined juggernaut that is the Eurovision Song Contest, the rightful heir to the fall of Communism. This year, the travelling freak show has pitched the big top in Malmö (pronounced Malmurrrr), Sweden. Expect high camp, a blizzard of glitzy ticker tape and enough dry ice to halt global warming. Expect virginal visions in white, gay-bar strippers, fake blonds where collars and cuffs don’t match, notes as flat as the Fens and tunes once heard, never remembered. Don’t expect ABBA. The land of the midnight sun and real blonds is throwing an enormous street party like a UEFA cup final but without the drunken thuggery. The annual warble-fest costs so much to stage it attracts its very own IMF bail-out. Let’s hope nobody votes for the unkindly named PIGS (Blighty might be joining that popular club any day now). Winning will send them over the fiscal cliff.

Turkey has thrown a hissy fit and withdrawn from the competition. TRT (the Turkish broadcaster) does not like changes to the voting rules in recent years (50/50 between the public and a panel of music experts) which it claims disadvantages the Turkish entry by reducing the influence of the Turkish diaspora across Europe. That’s the point, silly. TRT also objects to the automatic qualification of songs from the so-called ‘Big Five’ broadcasters (the BBC among them) that pay the lion’s share of the costs. If TRT wants a free ride to the final, it’ll have to sign a much bigger cheque. After all, he who pays the piper calls the tune. To top it all, TRT got its pantaloons in a twist over a lesbian kiss live on stage. At the semis, Finland’s Krista Siegfrid landed a sloppy smacker on the lips of one of her backing dancers. Krista doesn’t actually drink from the furry cup in her day job, she just objects to the Finnish Parliament’s refusal to vote on marriage equality. Her song ‘Marry Me’ is through to the final where she’s threatening to repeat the tonsil-tickling outrage. Whether Krista has qualified because she kissed to be clever or despite of it is anyone’s guess. Overcome with moral indignation and shock, TRT has pulled the show completely. As we all know, watching a bit of girl-on-girl action turns you lesbian and there are no lesbians in Turkey, the land where men are men and goats are nervous.

Britain’s entry is an old-school power ballad sung by the gravelly-voiced Welsh chanteuse of yesteryear, Bonnie Tyler, she whose heart was totally eclipsed in ’83 after she got lost in France in ’77. The song’s not half bad (and half good either) but it hardly matters. We could put up Sooty for all the difference it would make. Mark my words. It’ll be a heartache for Bonnie. She’ll need more than a hero to fight the rising odds against a rout by the former Warsaw Pact.  Well,  I suppose it serves us right for Iraq. Poor old Auntie Beeb keeps wheeling out the golden oldies with their careers behind them, presumably because no-one with a career in front of them would touch Eurovision; it’s the kiss of death. Despite the parochial politics and regional gerrymandering, we’ll be waving our little union flags, raising a glass of bubbly to the campest show on Earth and hoping against hope that we don’t come last.

Here’s Bonnie at full gritty throttle:

Sweet Swedes and Wretched Russians

My faith in our distant Nordic cousins has been mercifully restored by the arrival of Joel and Mikaela, a sweet couple from the northern pinelands of Mother Svea. They own a Tepe house on the level beneath us. Joel is a tall, slim, handsome older man with silver hair and a laid-back charm. His wife Mikaela is the archetypal Aryan beauty, a blue-eyed blond bombshell. Their warm and kindly disposition is a welcome respite from the grumpy old Danes next to us. They invited us in for tea. Their grand villa is a picture of understated Scandinavian chic. We chatted away for hours, a delicious smörgåsbord of wit and wisdom.

I recalled my first visit to Stockholm when I was a hormonal adolescent. The little local grammar school I attended laid on the most incredible journeys designed to broaden horizons and expand the mind. One early morning in 1975 twenty or so sweaty boys boarded  a train at Victoria Station and headed for the coast. We sailed on the morning tide to Flanders where we began our grand passage across the great North European Plain.

First stop Berlin. It was the height of the Cold War and we spent two days exploring the cruelly divided city, escorted through the wall at Checkpoint Charlie. Onwards east, our carriages were pulled by an ancient steam locomotive that choo choo’d through a flat, monotonous landscape. As we neared Poland our party was raided by a detachment of East German border guards brandishing Kalashnikovs. The mean-looking, chisel-chinned troopers in tight beige uniforms rifled through our belongings and ransacked the couchettes. Perhaps they were looking for Levi jeans. Calm was quickly restored and we continued our incredible journey. A brief stop in Warsaw precluded an excursion to the city. We continued on across the Soviet border to Smolensk where the entire train was silently raised from its bogies and placed onto a new set of wheels to fit the wider Russian railway gauge.

Second stop Moscow. Tsar Brezhnev was on the Soviet throne and we were tightly chaperoned by an over-painted woman in cheap scent. She was tailed by the KGB. Shops were empty save for Russian dolls, and strangers approached us in Gorky Park wanting the clothes off our backs. Moscow was drab but the metro was palatial. The Kremlin was magnificent and Red Square was vast and windswept. Lenin in his marble tomb looked like a Madam Tussauds’ dummy. The comrades around us looked fed up and miserable as they shuffled dutifully past the macabre exhibit.

Third stop Leningrad that was. The Venice of the North was a more visually pleasing spectacle with imposing baroque architecture painted in multi-coloured delicate pastels. The majestic enormity of the Winter Palace containing the Hermitage Museum was too vast to comprehend. As if Peter the Great’s grand imperial capital wasn’t grand enough we embarked on our fourth stop, a day trip to Novgorod, one of the most celebrated cities of medieval Rus. This ravishing city is twinned with Watford of all places.

Fifth stop Helsinki across the Gulf of Finland. This picturesque and verdant city reminded me of a mini-St Petersburg. Our whistle-stop excursion was all too brief.

Sixth stop stunning Stockholm where we expected to see a sex shop on every corner. It was the sexual repressed seventies when buttoned-up Brits were convinced that emancipated Swedes were at it morning noon and night. We were disappointed.

We steamed back to Blighty across the cold northern seas in a Ruskie rust bucket that saw service in World War Two. We shared the wreck with a party from an all-girl’s school in Scarborough. I watched the boys chase the girls and wondered what all the fuss was about. Our teachers allowed us to take a drink at the bar. Perhaps this is where my gradual but certain descent into alcohol dependency all began.

Final stop Tilbury Docks and back to earth with a bump. Three weeks for 150 quid which my parents saved for months to pay. All in all a fantastic adventure that was a little lost on a bunch of post-pubescent fourteen year olds whose main preoccupation was masturbation.

PS Perking the Pansies has few followers in modern Russia but I spied a lone flasher in Novgorod the other day.