Friday, 11 May 2018

Going for a song

Here we are then, on the eve of the 63rd Eurovision Song Contest. As I type, the twenty six finalists are rehearsing their socks off in the confines of Lisbon's Altice Arena. For me, it's my fortieth consecutive contest as a viewer. Fortieth. Good heavens.

My Eurovision 'journey' - and yes, everyone has to have a 'journey' these days - began in earnest on a Saturday night in March 1979. I was mesmerised by the song contest. Not so much the songs though. Checking the running order for the show, I notice the Ghenghis Khan singalong from Germany, three people playing garden implements for Switzerland and the UK's lovely contribution, Black Lace. No, I was agog at the idea of a TV show being broadcast live from Jerusalem. I remember thinking about what it would be like to actually be there, in the International Convention Centre. What the young me could never have imagined was that exactly twenty years later, I was stood in the very same hall at the 1999 contest. The 1979 me would have been stunned.

Jerusalem 1999 was also my final contest as an accredited 'journalist'. It brought to an end six years of fun and games, schlepping between concert hall and press centre. Lots of partying and official receptions too. Full marks to the likes of Iceland who, in 1993, got everyone horribly drunk on some potent embrocation called Black Death. 'Douze points' to the 1994 Finnish delegation for saving many of us from starvation with what appeared to be a hot buffet without end. Three cheers for the Belgians who plied us with beer, the Croatians who served up cocktails in test tubes and the Slovenians who tempted us with plates of cured horse meat.

Nowadays, anyone working on the contest has to be available for two weeks. I only just about coped with seven days. It's knackering. Quite often there wasn't time to take in the sights and sounds of the host country. In Israel I made an exception. With a military guard, toting machine guns, I headed off for the Negev desert. Was it warm? Yes it was - 44 degrees. I bobbed around in the Dead Sea and shuffled around a kibbutz with the Estonian delegation. The kibbutz proved to be an eye-opener in that one of the Estonians had once lived there and had less than happy memories of the place. Which he put to the manager. The visit was brought to a swift end and we were herded out of the compound.

Since 1999 I've only been to a couple of contests. 2010 in Oslo was an odd affair in a hangar of a venue that had little atmosphere. Being part of a 20,000 strong crowd made it difficult to follow what was going on, particularly with Armenian and Azerbaijan fans trying to outdo each other with oversized flags. The 2013 event in Malmo was fun even if the entries were forgettable.

As much as I've loved traipsing across the continent over the years, currently it seems to have come full circle and once again I'm in front of the telly watching from afar. If the bookies are to be believed, we are on our way to Cyprus next year. I've always fancied Limassol in spring.

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