Sunday, 14 February 2010

(I'm) just a puppet on a string

Only three and a bit months to go!  I'm seriously over-excited.  I expect you are, too.  How will you be celebrating this year?  Whom will you be with?  It's always difficult to know whose invitation to accept, isn't it?  A lovely dilemma, but a dilemma, nonetheless.  Or are you hosting?  A big do or a small one?

What do you mean, you don't know what I'm talking about?  I'm only talking about the cultural event (not to mention the gay event) of the calendar! 

Still no clearer?  Oh, for heaven's sake....  Alright, here are a few clues; British pride, British shame, block voting, musical clichés (especially key changes), intensely annoying television comperes and commeres, puppets, clowns, transvestites, stilt walkers, girls getting their skirts ripped off, hurdy-gurdies.  I'm talking Eurovision!

I have so much to say about this vast and ever growing, glorious, overblown, camp, insane, slightly out of tune celebration of the mediocre that I shall only scratch the surface in one blog, but here goes.

Let's start at the beginning; it's a very good place to start.  The first Eurovision you can remember dates you as surely as revealing which timelord is 'your' Dr Who.  If trees watched Eurovision, they wouldn't need rings in their trunks.

I lost my Eurovision virginity in 1967.  I was eight and watched with my mum and dad, nan, and godparents, Uncle Fred and Auntie Tit.  (I sense eyebrows shooting up.  Fred's last name was Titterton, and Auntie Tit was his wife.  I can't remember her first name because I always called her, in all innocence, by that abbreviation of her surname.  If the grown-ups used to smirk about it, they were careful not to do so within my eyeline).

Anyway, there we were, five grown-ups and little me, eating mum's ham and mustard sandwiches with whisky for the men, sherry for the women - sorry, ladies - and milk for me, watching Sandie Shaw cruise to victory in a mini dress and bare feet with Puppet on a String, a song we now know she couldn't stand.  Our hearts were in our mouths when the technicians forgot to turn on her microphone so that no-one could hear the whole of her first long note (the 'I' of 'I wonder if one day that/you'll say that/you care').  It didn't stop her winning by a landslide, though, scoring more than twice as many votes (47) as runners-up Ireland (22). 

The grown-ups, I remember, were mildly diverted by the spectacle and mildly pleased by the UK's success.  I, meanwhile, was thrilled and captivated in that intense way only kids are capable of.  I didn't scream or punch the air, though, however much I wanted to, as the UK's votes racked up; it was unusual for eight-year-olds to be allowed up so late in those days so the last thing I wanted to do was draw attention to myself, as it would have resulted in the familiar refrain: "What are you still doing up?  You should have been in bed ages ago!  Go and get your pyjamas on.  Now!"   

Anyway, it was the start of my lifelong love affair with Eurovision.  Like most relationships, it has had its ups and downs.  We broke up for much of the 80s.  You know how it goes; we'd been an item a long time and probably became serious far too young - I was eight and Eurovision was only 11 when we got together.  And both of us had stopped trying; Eurovision was tired and flabby, it wasn't a vivacious, attractive contest you could proudly boast of having a relationship with anymore.  I was a young man by this time; the world was my oyster and there were countless distractions to turn my head.

Of course, I now regret that decade of estrangement and I'm sure if Eurovision could talk, it would say the same.  We got back together about 10 years ago; I can't pinpoint exactly when or how.  As is the way of rekindled relationships, it just crept up on us until it became blindingly obvious we were meant for each other and would be together, come what may, forevermore.

How Eurovision has tested my fidelity since then.  There were the years when the UK's entires ended up near or at the bottom and sooo didn't deserve it (take a bow, Nicki French, James Fox and Andy Abraham), not to mention the years when UK entries did just as badly but richly deserved it (bow your heads in shame, Scooch, Daz Sampson and especially you, brain-searingly out-of-tune Jemini).

But, like many a faithless mistress,  just when Eurovision realised it might lose me again, it was all over me like a rash.  And of course, feeble, lovesick fool that I am, I fell back in love thanks to Jade and Lord Lloyd Webber marching proudly to fifth place with It's My Time (despite that unfortunate incident involving Jade's eye and a violin bow).  

What of this year?  Pete Waterman of Stock, Aitken and Waterman fame will write our song and, for the second year running, the televised competition will be to find its performer.  This is completely arse about face for a song contest, of course, but never mind.  There are those who assume we'll end up with a dance floor filler like Kylie's I Should Be So Lucky or Ricky Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up, and I can think of far worse outcomes than that.  It is true that Waterman ballads are thin on the ground - I can only cite Kylie and Jason's Especially For You off the top of my head - but you never know; people mature and develop, and that includes songwriters and producers.

One thing's for sure: whoever ends up singing whatever railway enthusiast Mr W comes up with will have a tougher job on their hands than Sandie Shaw did.  She only had to see off 16 rivals but there will be 24 acts in this year's final.  Still, at least a further 15 will have been eliminated in two semi-finals before we get involved (39 countries have confirmed their intention to participate as I write).  In case you didn't know, this is because the UK, Spain, France and Germany buy their way straight into the final by more or less bankrolling the event.  It's a pretty odious lesson for our young to learn, that being the richest, not the best, is what matters.  Still, that's the way the world works, so they may as well get used to it as early as possible, I suppose.  And, having said all that, the Big Four have languished at the bottom of the scoreboard so often in recent years, one can't help wondering whether the poorer nations aren't registering a protest by biting the hands that finance their extravaganza.  In which case, Eurovision sends out a very different message to youngsters about how the world works, perhaps a preferable one.

Anyway, roll on the contest to find a singer for Europe, not 'A Song for Europe' as it always used to be.  And even more so, by a factor of at least a million billion trillion squillion, roll on 29th May when our TV sets will transport us to Oslo for the inexplicably thrilling main event.  I've made my lifetime commitment to the Eurosong for better or worse, for more points or for fewer, and, as Sonia so wisely sang in County Cork, Ireland, in 1993, Better the Devil You Know Than the Devil You Don't (aha).

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