Eurovision In Austria

Our four day stay in Vienna did not start off well. We had arrived on the Thursday afternoon and found our rented flat easily enough, but access to our abode was through a courtyard protected by a shuttered roll up door. Of course, the key got stuck in the keyhole. No amount of turning and twisting freed the key or gave us access to the courtyard. To cut a long story short, we eventually got into the flat and reclaimed the stuck key, thanks to a friendly neighbour, contact with the flat owner, and the arrival of someone to disassemble the lock barrel.

Debbie, an English friend from Luxembourg residing in Berlin (phew) joined us, and so our evening preparations for the second semifinal began. We had secured tickets for the five of us (eight actually, because of a stupid four ticket per household purchasing restriction, but we managed to sell the extra at the last minute), which luckily enough meant that we would see Sweden’s song being performed. And we did, though from the back of the stadium, which gave Zelda enough room to lie down when she became tired. Of course, it was a fantastic show, with Sweden going through to the final.

We did not have tickets for the final. Similar to two years previously in Malmö, we had gone to Vienna for the weekend despite only being in the audience for one of the semifinals. We wanted to explore the city as tourists, take in the Eurovision atmosphere and see the final at an outdoor screening somewhere. As it turned out, Vienna offered much, particularly in the form of vegan food and graffiti.

The run up to Saturday’s final caused us a certain amount of anxiety and apprehension. Not only had the forecast for the evening adamantly proclaimed a downpour through the entire event, but we had also failed to come up with a reliable plan for such weather. The indoor places that were screening the final were already booked; standing outside for many hours, unable to sit and with the risk of Zelda falling asleep before the end result, seemed an unpleasant proposal. Worst of all, and unexpectedly, the flat we were renting had no television.

On Saturday, we made our way into town to eat lunch and check out the main outdoor showing area next to Rathaus, the City Hall. The rain came and went (mostly came), something which benefited Zelda and Freya, who both received wellington boots to replace the inadequate footwear they had taken with them. When we arrived at Rathaus, we were pleasantly surprised to see few people meandering around with umbrellas and ponchos. Jo cunningly went to check out the entrance to one of the two undercover stadiums that flanked the main stage and screen; a few minutes later we were standing in a very short queue to one of the stadiums with just ten minutes waiting time until they let us in. Although it was still five hours until the show was to begin, we had secured the best seats from which to view the final, protected from the rain. All thanks to Jo.

The final was, needless to say, fantastic. Everyone was in a good mood the entire night. It was expected that Sweden, Italy or Russia would win, which became obvious as the voting proceeded. And then, sometime probably after midnight and with a number of countries still to cast their votes, the result was decided: Sweden had enough points to take home the victory. The family, along with Debbie, rejoiced. It was a magical moment amongst the tens of thousands in the audience, who were much drier than anticipated, due to forecast being wildly inaccurate.

Vienna was an interesting place. We were unsure of its appeal until when we found the city centre on the last day. Unfortunately, we did not have the time for exploration, but we had explored many other parts of the city. Our overall impression was a good one, especially when it came to food. Within five hundred metres of our flat we had a vegan supermarket, vegan ice cream shop and a fast food place that offered decent vegan meals, such as burgers, hot dogs, wraps and nuggets. The waiter we spoke to guessed that 80% of their sales came from the vegan menu, which was interesting considering, for example, that seven vegan burgers competed with seventeen meat burgers.

Outside of our neighbourhood, we experienced a vegan sushi restaurant (with mango, daikon and beetroot being among the ingredients used in a colourful, varied, though somewhat bland menu). It would have been rude of us not to have eaten at Vienna’s self proclaimed best falafel and hummus restaurant, and it did not disappoint. With the ability to buy alcohol at the same time, it certainly deserved a visit.

It was difficult to come back to reality. Stockholm, with all its qualities, is far removed from the bubble that is Eurovision. This year was even more special because of the controversy of bearded drag queen, Conchita, who had won the year before. But return we had to, and the fact that Sweden is to host next year’s final is still coursing through my veins.

Inspired By A Book

For the last few days I have been strumming my current favourite song on the uke: It’s A Long Way To Tipperary. My usual method of gaining new songs is via the various ukulele song sites or, because of the instrument’s popularity, searching guitar tab and chord sites. This time, however, my initial interest came from reading a book.

The First Casualty is the tenth novel by famous writer and one time stand up comedian, Ben Elton. The book is a World War 1 historical drama played out during trench warfare in Flanders. I read the book for a second time recently and, despite the very different style of writing Ben Elton uses compared to his nine previous novels, I really enjoyed it. Probably more than the plot, I was moved by the vivid description of trench life at that time. So much so, that it gave me a very different feeling for the conscripts that were forced to give their lives in the most tragic and macabre ways.

Anyway, one of the popular songs of the war amongst the soldiers was It’s A Long Way To Tippereary. I had to transpose the key to F in order to be able to sing the higher notes without straining the voice. I have also only concentrated on the chorus thus far, and probably won’t learn too many, if any, of the verses. Favourite part musically? The chord change in the line “Farewell Leicester Square”.

There are some choice songs to be found if one spends the time looking for them. Especially so if one concentrates one’s search on the 1920’s – 1940’s. My first gem came from that era, the wonderful I like Bananas (Because They Have No Bones) from the Hoosier Hotshots.

My First Ukulele Composition

After spending quality time this weekend with the ukulele, I was ready to start the week having learnt a new song, the Spiderman theme music from the original cartoon series. It wasn’t a difficult tune (the lyrics took a while to get right), but there were some nice chords, sounding similar to something that Cornelius Vreeswijk might have penned.

Fuelled with enthusiasm, I arrived at school early this morning and came up with the beginning of an untitled children’s song. By the end of the day it had become a two verse, one minute ditty now known as The L/eg/g Song. Because the risk was big that I would forget some of it by tomorrow, I videod myself playing the song. The benefit of this is not only a personal one, but in the future my children will have a film of my doing something creative, and I am sure it will mean as much to them as it means to me to have actually made up a song.

It was many years ago I last composed anything, and at that time it involved computers, synths and other electronic bits and pieces. Now I am completely unplugged, just a man and a uke. This simplification of technology may well see a number of new songs being produced in the near future.