One of my earliest memories. Piled into the living room, around our tiny TV. The rare chance to stay up late. The bright colours, elaborate displays and volume up high, occasional comments interrupting the music.
"I like this one - it's quite catchy"
"Too boring - it'll never win"
Sounds of shushing across the room. "I'm trying to listen...".
Finally, hours later and somewhere halfway between dreams and reality, the announcement made and everyone discussing if it was the 'right' choice, we'd move sluggishly up to bed, our favourite song still running through our heads.
The Eurovision Song Contest was always an important yearly event in our house growing up. No matter what else was happening in our lives, we all eagerly anticipated the evening for weeks beforehand. One year, a cry of outrage as our street experienced a power cut halfway through GB's entry. Another saw us laughing until our sides hurt as yet another bizarre German entry hung from scaffolding like a monkey. The outrage of the political voting, finally understood sometime during my early teenage years, eventually falling into humorous acceptance - it doesn't matter if we never win, think about the millions of people all watching the same event at the same time.
For those living outside of Europe, it must seem a bizarre throwback to days long gone. Countries entering some of their best, or possibly worst, but always entertaining, acts for an evening of entertainment. There are those who loathe the whole event - the huge amount of money it costs to host (or even enter), heavily subsidised by the original founding nations. Cringe-worthy singing and a distinctly euro-pop vibe. For the past couple of years there have been calls to end the tradition, mostly connected with the financial crisis - should countries be spending sums of money on such frivolity? I understand all the arguments and why some nations have made the decision to pull out. Personally, I would be sad to see it go. Millions still switch on their TVs to watch the contest, and thousands gather each year in the host country to witness the extravaganza.
This year, I was one of them.
I'd been toying with the idea of booking tickets for a number of years, but just hadn't been able to pull the trigger. Could I justify a trip abroad just for one event? Could I even fit it into a weekend? Finally, the stars aligned and when Malmo in Sweden was announced as the next host city, I couldn't say no. Copenhagen, just a 45 minute train ride from the stadium, was a short and cheap flight away, and I could combine an evening at the concert with exploring a new city. After our day basking under the warm sun, we changed and hopped on a train, packed with hundreds of other revellers.
I knew it was going to be a good night when our carriage filled up with men dressed in wedding dresses and people wrapped in their country's flag, tied like capes - an odd assortment of superheroes. As we stepped onto the platform in Malmo, I felt distinctly under dressed as the crowds swelled around us, a sea of colour and noise. The atmosphere was incredible - more jubilant and excited than any other concert I've ever attended. Strangers were singing and hugging in the queue, sharing distances travelled and fond memories of past events. We joined in, chatting to those sitting around us and swapping cameras to take photos.
The show itself was everything I'd hoped for, the winning act thoroughly deserving of the prize. It's odd - neither F or I are fans of the typical type of music performed, and I'm as far from extroverted as it is possible to get. Yet there is something special about Eurovision - something that was born during my childhood and has never left. Whatever it is, it leaves a smile on my face every time.
We're considering going back again next year...