Question 1.

Anna asked:
If you could write yourself into any novel and affect its outcome, which would that be?

I would dive into the middle of one of the early volumes of Armistead Maupin’s Tales Of The City series – maybe the scene where Michael “Mouse” Tolliver wins the “Hot Buns” dance contest at the Endup – and would introduce myself as Someone From The Future.

“Look! I can prove it! Here’s a magazine from The Future! Look at these photos of Cher on her Farewell Tour! OK, OK, bad example. Well, let’s see what’s in the news section. Look, here’s your state governor, Arnold Schwarzen…”

“No, I have NOT been at the Angel Dust. Actually, I need to have a word with you about that shit as well, but… oh, I know, look what I’ve got in my pocket! It’s a tiny portable phone! Isn’t that amazing? And you can type little messages onto it, and it will even guess what word you’re typing! And it can take pictures as well! Neat, huh? You believe me now, right?”

“What? Yes, of course it’s got a built-in pocket calculator. Why do you ask? What’s the big deal about… oh, right; pocket calculators are still the Big Thing round here, aren’t… look, can I just get to the point? There’s this huge epidemic just around the corner, and you guys all need to start wearing condoms every time you f**k – immediately, do you hear – or else many thousands of you will be dead within the next fifteen years. Including your new lover, Michael. Yes, I’m serious. Serious as a heart attack, baby. Now, what exactly are quaaludes? Are they fun? Do you have any?”

(Yes, I’m assembling one of those questionnaire thingies. More info below.)

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Not another bloody questionnaire thingy, surely?

That “You ask, I answer” questionnaire on my sidebar is now over four years old. This makes it about eighteen months older than the actual blog; it dates from my old Geocities home page, and was simply copied across.

As such, the questionnaire has now aged to the point where the merest thought of some of my replies makes me cringe with embarrassment. It has to go.

Which is where you come in. Yes, I know that it has now become standard practice for bloggers to ask this of their readers – but, if you’ll allow me a petulant A-List Blogger Moment, I DID IT FIRST. So there.

So, if you have any questions, then please leave them in the comments (up to a maximum 3 per person). I shall then endeavour to answer as many of them as I am able (there’s probably not much point asking me about the finer points of differential calculus, for instance). The results will eventually be copied into a replacement questionnaire page, and bunged on the sidebar for posterity (or at least the next four years or so).

Thank you. How kind you are.

Eurovision 2004 – act of closure.

Points arising from Saturday night:

  • Despite spending most of Saturday feeling Horribly Left Out, watching the contest on telly with six friends turned out to be almost as much fun as being there in person.
  • By the end of the evening, we had a few new converts to The Cause. One of them even wants to come to Kiev with me next year.
  • No, not K. Don’t be daft!
  • In fact, K bailed out early and went down the pub. No staying power.
  • He seemed quite sober when he left, as well. I repeat: no staying power.
  • Five of my predictions (see below) turned out to be accurate; fifteen were wrong, and four were “near misses”. And I have the temerity to brand myself an expert?
  • Nevertheless, I did at least predict the winner.
  • Although my own vote was cast for Sweden. Because Stockholm 2000 was the Best Fun Ever, and I fancied a reprise.
  • Sweden’s Lena Philipsson, those lyrics, and that microphone stand: she knew, didn’t she?
  • As I feared, most people in the room really did talk all the way through the German entry. It was with some relish that I pointed them towards my prediction on this matter.
  • Because – naturally! – I had already had printed copies of my predictions to hand. For the benefit of the group, you understand. Forewarned is forearmed, and all that.
  • What the blinking blazes was going on with all those votes for Serbia & Montenegro? (Literal translation of title: Oh My Fawn. Shades of Father Ted, we thought.) There were too many votes, from too many countries, for it be purely a case of “political” voting.
  • My take on the perenially thorny issue of “political” voting: it can get you so far, but no further. To get into the Top 5, you need to have attracted votes from right across the board.
  • Having said all that: why did Belgium’s One *punch* Life *punch* do so badly? We all thought it was great. Was this an anti-EU protest vote, directed at the mandarins in Brussels? It was all quite baffling; almost as baffling as Serbia coming second.
  • Actually, the Belgian chorus works even better if, instead of punching the air twice, you make two flicks of the head: first to the left, and then to the right. This works best of all if (unlike me) you have a floppy fringe.
  • Improbable hairdo of the night: France’s Jonatan Cerrada. (And let’s not even get started on the throat tattoo. Or the Interpretive Dancer on stilts.)
  • Or the Interpretive Gymnastics from Russia.
  • Lisa from Kent Cyprus blew it a bit, didn’t she? I’m putting it down to nerves; she was much better on Wednesday.
  • Not that this stopped the UK loyally awarding her 10 points, mind you. Funny, that.
  • Deen from Bosnia should have stuck with the tits-out costume from the semis; I suspect that his modesty cost him valuable points.
  • The First Annual Jemini Award for outstanding vocal performance goes to… Iceland’s Jónsi, who had us all howling in pain.
  • The Ruffus/Brainstorm Award (for songs/performances that would have stood up just as well in the “real”, non-Eurovision world) goes to… Spain’s Ramón. (Highly commended: Turkey’s Athena and Belgium’s Xandee.)
  • K and I were thrilled to bits when the “video postcard” between the UK and Polish entries showed the very same balloon that we flew in, four years ago, in Cappadocia.
  • That Russian spokesperson was a bit hoity-toity, wasn’t she?
  • Lorraine Kelly in Old Compton Street! Rah! Gay Pride!
  • Er… and didn’t the UK award maximum points to hunky Sakis “shekki-shekki-shekki” Rouvas from Greece? See previous point.
  • Did Wogan say anything funny? Because we weren’t really listening.
  • In Summer 1982, I studied in Kiev for a whole month. I can’t wait to get back there in 2005.
  • And that really is your lot for this year. Troubled Diva will now resume its normal, Eurovision-free service. Thank you for your forbearance.
  • Come on – why Serbia?

Eurovision 2004 preview: the finals. Part 2.

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12. Bosnia & Herzegovina – Deen – In the Disco
If one ignores Croatia (and sad to say it, but many will), we’re now in the middle of the Rump Shaker Section, with Albania & Ukraine closely followed by darling little Deen and his pert little Disco Tits. As the week has progressed, I’ve developed an enormous fondness for Deen, whom I now view as the Poster Boy for the entire contest. For those of you who didn’t read yesterday’s comments, let me introduce him further:

Bosnia & Herzegovina entrant Deen arrived at his second Press conference with his pet rabbit, “Gabbana.” If that isn’t enough, Deen told eurovision.tv, one of the Bosnian & Herzegovina Delegation has a dog called “Dolce.”

Ever the fashion victim, Deen showed off his new, exceedingly tight hot pink “Vote Me!” T-shirt. If the message wasn’t clear enough, his dancers’ pale pink T-shirts said: “Vote Deen!”

“Pink is my favourite colour!” says Deen.

Deen says he loves the music of Beyoncé Knowles, Mariah Carey, Donna Summer and Kylie Minogue. “Kylie’s so sexy,” said Deen. “She’s like me!”

Deen was asked to describe his personality. “I’m totally crazy, very happy,” Deen said, spinning on his chair.

The world is a happier place with Deen in it.
Prediction: 4 to 7.
Actual position: 9th. INCORRECT.

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13. Belgium – Xandee – 1 Life
Whoop! Whoop! Second Gay Anthem in a row! If I were DJ-ing at one of the big parties in Istanbul this week (one can dream), this would make a perfect segue, as Deen’s Moroder-isms yield to Xandee’s trance-lite synth stabs. Indeed, it is almost impossible to listen to the chorus of this song without punching the air in the gaps after “One” and “Life”.

Shall we practise that now?

One *PUNCH* life *PUNCH*, living together
In one *PUNCH* life *PUNCH* , let us be free
One *PUNCH* life *PUNCH* , you take my troubles away
Light up my dayyyyyyy….

The only trouble is: brutal, metallic gay anthems like this have a habit of floundering badly on the night itself. Unlike with Deen, there’s no redeeming warmth to win over everybody else.

The first time I play this out, it will be about one o’clock, and my dancefloor will instantly become one seething, exultant mass. The second time I play it, it will be nearly four o’clock; there will be about 15 people left, standing against the walls on their own, still forlornly trying to cop off with each other, but merely prolonging the inevitable solitary cab ride back to the hotel. The track’s throbbing energy will have frozen into a harsh, joyless echoing angularity, which…

Sorry. Where was I?
Prediction: early to mid-teens.
Actual position: a shocking, inexplicable 22nd. INCORRECT.

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14. Russia – Julia Savicheva – Believe me
As the sweat-drenched crowd settle back into their seats, the woman they’re all calling “Avril Lavigneski” strolls moodily onto the stage, ushering in The Dull Section (Apart From Greece). Feel free to talk amongst yourselves for a while.

Oh, the song? Well, it’s is a mid-paced plodder with slight soft-rawk touches, which never really goes anywhere.
Prediction: bottom five.
Actual position: 11th. INCORRECT.

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15. FYR Macedonia – Tose Proeski – Life
With Macedonia, it’s all about the scarlet ribbons. Watch closely, and you’ll soon see. Teen-goth Livejournal lyrics; a ruched cream creation which might once have graced minor Macedonian royalty; and no other points of interest whatsoever.
Prediction: 15 to 20.
Actual position: 14th. NEAR MISS.

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16. Greece – Sakis Rouvas – Shake it
OK, everyone – out of the kitchen, back to your seats, settle down and shut up – the totty’s on. Of the male and female kind, so everyone’s happy. The girls strip down to bikinis – Sakis tears his jacket off – and suddenly, there are more belly buttons than a man can shake a stick at. The “fire/desire” rhyme is merely the icing on the cake.

But – and I still feel that it’s a big but – the singing, my dears, is just all over the place. No breath control, that’s the main problem. As to whether any of Europe’s drooling millions will either notice or care – well, that’s quite another question.
Prediction: 6 to 10.
Actual position: 3rd. INCORRECT.

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17. Iceland – Jónsi – Heaven
A strapping young man with great shoulder definition and a finely chiselled face delivers another carefully wrought Fan Fave ballad which, superficial philistine that I am, leaves me completely cold. Apparently, he wants you to “blend your colours with my blue“. But won’t that just reduce everything to a nasty green/purple sludge? I can’t say I’m persuaded.
Prediction: mid-teens.
Actual position: 19th. INCORRECT.

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18. Ireland – Chris Doran – If the world stops turning
Now, as we all know, Ireland have been running scared from hosting Eurovision again for many years, following their financially crippling run of success in the 1990s. And so, yet again, they’ve shoved some well-meaning hopeful into a suit, plonked a row of indifferent backing singers behind him, squeezed everyone from his home town on a plane with unlimited supplies of booze (you should see the size of the Irish “delegation” every year), and saddled him with yet another turgid dirge which threatens to stretch three short minutes into five long hours.

(This one might be written by that guy who’s just left Westlife – you know, the one with the wife who won that I’m A Celebrity doo-dah – but that changes nothing.)

Yes, it’s a toilet break. Ireland, the emptying bladders of Europe will be serenading you tonight.
Prediction: bottom 3.
Actual position: 23rd. CORRECT.

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19. Poland – Blue Cafe – Love Song
Let’s play Consequences!
Esther Phillips met Men At Work in a tapas bar.
She said: “If I’m representing Poland, why do I have to break into Spanish halfway through?
They said: “Corazon! You forgot to sing Corazon! We’re doomed!
And the consequence was: bottom 5.
Actual position: 17th. INCORRECT.

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20. United Kingdom – James Fox – Hold on to our love
James Fox is, quite clearly, a thoroughly decent and personable fellow. Hold on to our love is, quite clearly, a vast improvement on last year’s Cry Baby fiasco. Bryan Adams is, quite clearly, a continuing major influence on aspiring young musicians the world over. And I am, quite clearly, smiling through gritted teeth.
Prediction: for once, let’s be specific. 14th.
Actual position: 16th. NEAR MISS.

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21. Cyprus – Lisa Andreas – Stronger every minute
In a strange twist of fate, the official UK entry is followed by a song written by a British composer, and performed by a 16-year old schoolgirl called Lisa, who lives in… Kent, actually. So, Cypriot in what way, precisely?

Let’s look it up. Lisa “lived in Cyprus for two and a half years as a small child“, and she “returns to Cyprus regularly to visit relatives“. So that’s OK, then.

OK for us Brits, that is. For I confidently predict that we will be queuing up to claim kinship before the night is through, as “our” Lisa sails effortlessly into the top three with a first-class performance. Streisand-esque, I think you’ll find. “With a maturity that belies her years”, they’ll all be saying.
Prediction: 2nd or 3rd.
Actual position: 5th. INCORRECT.

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22. Turkey – Athena – For real
Blimey, who let those rough-arsed ska-punks in here? An absolutely belting brassy opening – worthy of 2-Tone in its glory days – unfortunately gives way to a song which doesn’t quite live up to its early promise, topped off with a Bad Manners-style chant of a chorus which sounds suspiciously like “I wanna bring you off“. The home crowd are gonna go mental to this one.
Prediction: 4th to 8th.
Actual position: 4th. CORRECT.

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23. Romania – Sanda Ladosi – I admit
There’s something – well – a bit constructed about Sanda, isn’t there? Oh, but this contest is bringing out a side of me which I try so hard to suppress. You thought I was nice, didn’t you?

Although this might not be one of the more memorable songs, at least it has the virtue of paying a nod to contemporary trends in modern pop: R&B staccato strums here, Britney-style string skirlings there. Its late place in the draw will doubtless win it a good few extra points, provided that anyone can remember it after Turkey’s ska and the majestic brilliance which is to follow…
Prediction: 11th to 15th.
Actual position: 18th. INCORRECT.

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24. Sweden – Lena Philipsson – It hurts
At last! At last! The 36th song in this year’s event, and – counting the semis – the 46th performance, and we’re finishing with a good ‘un. Like Belgium’s One *PUNCH* Life *PUNCH*before it, It Hurts has Big Fat Gay Anthem written all over it – but where Xandee coldly rattles, Lena warmly embraces, with a singalong chorus that will have the queens beaming broadly from ear to ear.

As others have mentioned, this year’s Swedish song does appear to be a thinly disguised ode to an*l sex – especially in the chorus and second verse. I doubt whether this will exactly harm its chances. Lena, already a massive star in her own country, is promising to do all manner of suggestively charged things with her microphone stand, which she has brought over specially. I am also reliably told that she is… well… can we say “sex on a stick” here?

Ever since I first heard this, I’ve had it down as the winner. As far as I can see, its only serious rival is Ukraine’s Ruslana, with her Wild Dances. But when have I ever been right? (That would be 1998, then. Dana International. Bit of a no-brainer, that one.)
Prediction: definite top 3, possible winner.
Actual position: 6th. INCORRECT.

And that, patient reader, concludes this year’s previews. I earnestly hope they assist you in your viewing pleasure tomorrow night. Next week, we’ll be back to normal. Until then, Happy Eurovision!

Eurovision 2004 preview: the finals. Part 1.

(Preview videos can be seen here – then click on “Multimedia Lounge”.)

Er… you don’t think I’m in danger of doing this subject to death, do you?
Actually, perhaps it’s better that you don’t answer that.
On we plough!

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1. Spain – Ramón – Para llenarme de ti
You’ll need to get settled down fairly promptly this year, because the opening song is a sizzling Latino cracker; it’s well constructed, keeps its pace, and never runs out of ideas. Ramón is an undeniably comely young man, who has been getting certain people I know worked up into a right old lather. He also has the honour of being the first of this year’s contestants to intone the sacred words “mi corazon“, which come second only to “fire/desire” in the ESC lyrical pantheon. As the brass blares, and the invisible lesbian drummers swing into action at about the one and a half minute mark, you know that you’ve made the right decision in staying at home tonight.
Prediction: Top 10.
Actual position: 10th. CORRECT.

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2. Austria – Tie Break – Du bist
At which point, you may suddenly find yourself questioning that decision. On first hearing Du bist, I pegged it as the sort of leaden, dead-eyed ballad that is doled out to finalists in reality TV pop shows. Having said that, this would have struggled to make the grade on the Michelle McManus album. Hell, even Rik Waller would probably have turned his nose up at it. So hey, guess what? It turns out that this three-piece boy band were all finalists in the Austrian version of Pop Idol. Now, there’s a thing. Atrocious. Not even their spirited last-ditch attempt to corner the gay market can save them.
Prediction: Bottom 3.
Actual position: 21st. NEAR MISS.

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3. Norway – Knut Anders Sørum – High
Despite my pronouncement that Eurovision and soft-rawk make uneasy bedfellows, it has to be conceded that Kurt makes a much better stab at it than those unfortunate Latvian semi-finalists. A passable Bryan Adams facsimile, solidly delivered, which soars where it needs to soar, and basically makes all the right moves in all the right places. If you like that sort of thing.
Prediction: mid-teens.
Actual position: 24th (last). INCORRECT.

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4. France – Jonatan Cerrada – A chaque pas
Like Norway before him, the French song is all about healing your wounds, stepping forwards into a bright new tomorrow, the redemptive power of love, et cetera et cetera, and so we remain on similar emotional territory for a while longer. Like so many French singers before him, Jonatan (winner of the first French Pop Idol; is a pattern forming already?) is once again given an elegant, stately, timeless French ballad to perform. And as always, it is destined to languish in mid-table; admired by the “bring back the orchestra” fan brigade, ignored by the rest of Europe. Nevertheless, there’s a lot to like here.
Prediction: early teens.
Actual position: 15th. NEAR MISS.

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5. Serbia & Montenegro – Željko Joksimoviæ – Lane moje
Ah, the old pan pipes. Just thought I’d get that in before Wogan does. Because you know he will. The first song from the semi-finals to qualify – and, for me, quite a surprise to see it get through. This also means that it’s the third time I’ve had to write about it this week – and, frankly, I’m running out of inspiration. This was well sung on Wednesday night, and should finish respectably.
Prediction: just inside the top 10.
Actual position: 2nd. INCORRECT.

Now, here’s a thing. Of the opening five songs, no less than four are sung in their native language, with only Norway settling for English instead. Whereas from this point on, all of the remaining songs are sung in English, with only a brief snatch of Ukrainian in Wild Dances, and – bizarrely – a brief snatch of Spanish in the Polish entry. Apparently, this is the highest percentage of English language songs to date. I think we’re in danger of losing something rather precious here; don’t you?

So, as the Indigenous Authenticity Section draws to a close, we move into the Oh How Sweet Section, with a run of fresh-faced little ditties that, depending on your pre-disposition, will either charm your socks off or curdle your blood.

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6. Malta – Julie & Ludwig – On again…off again
In an unusually male-dominated contest, the Maltese entry marks the first female lead vocal of the night – although there is still quite a way to go before our first female soloist. Cheesy operatics are the order of the day, as a shuffling 125bpm beat almost makes you want to start wiggling your hips. But not just yet. Watch out for that extraordinary middle section, as Julie takes over the operatic role – and watch also for a rather smarmy peck on the shoulder at the end.
Prediction: just inside the top 10.
Actual position: 12th. INCORRECT.

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7. Netherlands – Re-union – Without you
Acoustic strumming, old-tyme Frank Ifield/Karl Denver yodelling, but unlike the semis, this is a poor place in the draw for the rather raddled looking Dutch duo, who will struggle to be remembered by the end of the night.
Prediction: mid-teens.
Actual position: 20th. INCORRECT.

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8. Germany – Max – Can’t wait until tonight
After three semi-final qualifiers in a row, we come once again to a new song, and one which divides opinion. Some will love it; some will loathe it; some will talk all the way through it and go“which was the German one again?” at regular intervals during the voting. Me, I love it: a genuinely soulful ballad, with something of the early Café Bleu era Style Council about it. Max isn’t exactly the prettiest of tonight’s contestants, I grant you – but remember, it’s a song contest, right? (It is axiomatic that every third or fourth posting to every Eurovision fan forum will haughtily remind you of this fact, palpably false as it is.) Minus five points for singing “my lady” with apparent sincerity, though.
Prediction: a very tough call indeed, but I’ll say just outside the top 10.
Actual position: 8th. INCORRECT.

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9. Albania – Anjeza Shahini – The image of you
After just one new song, we now have another run of three qualifying semi-finalists. I recently heard the original four and half minute version of this song, and cannot believe how much it has been improved since then. They’ve edited it down, speeded it up, added a gospelly backing, and turned a ropey old screecher into a miniature classic, which progresses from soft ballad to out-and-out belter in not much more than a minute. My big worry here is Anjeza’s vocal performance, which was dangerously ragged on Wednesday night. However, it’s the first song since the opener that will get the crowd on their feet, and as such will make a nice warm-up for the next act.
Prediction: 5 to 10.
Actual position: 7th. CORRECT.

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10. Ukraine – Ruslana – Wild Dances
Enough with the winsome sweetness; let’s ramp it up several hundred notches, with leather, whips and Big Big Drumming that would test even the toughest of lesbian drumming troupes. As for Ruslana herself: who says that Eurovision has no appeal for heterosexual males? Lads, she’s gorgeous! Possibly the most Total Performance of the night. If the rumour mill in Istanbul is to be believed, this was the runaway winner on Wednesday, and quite rightly so.
Prediction: definite Top 3, possible winner.
Actual position: 1st. CORRECT.

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11. Croatia – Ivan Mikulic – You are the only one
For many of us, this was the biggest shock result of the semi-finals. Those of you drinking pints might be advised to use these three minutes wisely. (The rest of you should try and hold on for another seven songs.) Undeniably well sung, and I’m certainly not averse to a bit of butch Balkan belting, but this resolutely fails to do it for me.
Prediction: 15 to 20.
Actual position: 13th. INCORRECT.

Now that she’s dropped the Bunton, does Emma go under E?

Buni came round last night to help us shift the furniture around (we’ve been having something of a re-vamp). While he and K did most of the heavy lifting in the sitting room, I sat on the floor in the hall, re-alphabetising various merged piles of CDs. Job finished, the three of us sat down to dinner.

“Well, that was a fair division of labour”, I chirped, tucking into my salmon. “You boys did all the butch stuff, and I filed my CD collection.”

“God, I hate that sound”, K snarled.

“What sound?”

“That constant shuffling of plastic. It’s like having to listen to you f***ing your lover in the next room.”

He’s good, isn’t he?

(My reply, though devastatingly effective, is sadly non-bloggable.)