Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Stockport 2007

Finnish tango in Stockport? Yes, according to the Manchester Finnish language school. A "Finnish Friendship Day" was to include traditional sports such as Nordic walking, wife-carrying, and mobile phone throwing; but of more interest to me was live tango music in the evening, including a lesson. I rang the organiser, Jenni Viitanen, to get details of time and place.
The last Stockport-Bristol train would leave before the event finished. There was a late bus, but that would involve waiting for 7 hours at Birmingham bus station. Anyone who has been there will know why I didn't take that option. Accordingly I booked a room at the Britannia Hotel, Stockport.

A sign behind the desk said single rooms were £110 per night. As I had paid only £35 for mine, I was well pleased. Moral: always book over the internet. A large wedding party was staying at the hotel. I was asked if I was a member of it. As I was wearing a sports jacket that didn't seem very likely. Among the guests was a little boy of 2 or 3 dressed in full tails, and several attractive women displaying very impressive cleavages. Note for linguists: there is no word for cleavage (except in the geological sense) in Finnish. The concept, however, is very well known there. When I saw Kristiina Mäki a few years ago, it was a wonder she dared breathe, let alone sing.

The event was held in Vernon Park. This is allegedly within walking distance of the hotel, but I wanted to arrive fresh, so I took a taxi. Vernon Park is on the side of a hill and no doubt provided plenty of exercise for Victorian promenaders. There is a museum which has, as well as "proper" modern exhibits, a recreation of a Victorian museum in the basement. This is called "The Case of the Mummy's Hand" and shows all manner of strange objects, including the aforementioned ancient body part, crammed together without any attempt at classification. Much more interesting and entertaining than a modern museum.

There were two people there that I knew. The secretary of the Bristol language school, Carl Meyn, was there with his mother Irja, so I have now met three Irjas. Hanna Lähtevänoja of the Finn-Guild was also there. I met her in London last year, when I went to the embassy. I also made the acquaintance of Jenni Viitanen.

The tango lesson was a disappointment. A young couple from a Manchester dance school demonstrated Argentine tango, to Argentine music. They didn’t seem to be used to dancing on tarmac. They taught the 6-count basic, which is of no use at all in Finland, as Finns never step outside their partners. Anyone who tries, risks tripping his partner up. Afterwards I spoke to Jenni of my misgivings. She said she couldn’t get anyone who could teach Finnish tango. “I can” I said. “I’ve had lessons from Leena Blomqvist.” Well, if I don’t push myself forward, no-one else will.

There was now a gap in the music while another event took place. I think it was boot-flinging. I retired to the bar, where I had a Lonkero and made the acquaintance of two very attractive blonde ladies, Marjatta and Kirsti. I thought of the Marjatta in the Kalevala and asked this Marjatta if she too was a virgin. She said that she had never managed to finish the Kalevala. We talked about the Tangomarkkinat. A woman at the other end, whom I did not know, piped up and said she had heard about an English boy who went to the Tangomarkkinat every year. Either my fame is spreading, or there is another English tangofan out there.

Live music started at 19:30. Proper Finnish music at last. The band was called Ulkopaino. The members were British students at the Camberley language school. The singer, Andy Semens, had an impeccable Finnish accent and out-Finned the Finns with his mournful interpretation. Even the humppas sounded miserable. This is not intended as a criticism.

I spoke to Simon the bass player and suggested that they add Särkyneitä toiveita to their repertoire. “The cruel hand of fate snatched away my most beautiful dreams.” I think Andy could produce the definitive version.

Dancing was on the patio. The flagstones were very irregular and uneven, but that didn’t matter. Most people got up to dance, and I hardly sat down at all. At one point Hanna asked me if I liked Marjatta best. She is very observant. I had to admit it was true. The event ended at 22:00, though the band was persuaded to play several encores. The last waltz was Kultainen nuoruus, or Golden Youth. Hanna said we should return to her hotel, the Old Rectory, where the drinking and jollification could continue, although of course Lapin Kulta and Lonkero are not served there.

When I eventually returned to the Britannia, I asked if any sandwiches were available. The receptionist said the chef had gone home, but an efficient-looking young man said “just a minute”, disappeared, and came back with a large plate of sandwiches and snacks. It was left over from the wedding, and they didn’t charge.

After a leisurely breakfast and a read of the papers, I strolled back to the station. On the way I saw a car that looked just like Ugly Betty, a man on a tricycle with a dog in the trailer, a bus shelter with columns like a Greek temple, and an Art Deco fantasy of a theatre. What has this got to do with tango? Only this: if you want to wander around with your camera snapping architectural curiosities and tourist traps, you can do it anywhere, even in your own home town or the town down the road. Spending a lot of money and leaving your cat on its own to travel to another part of the world (I mean you travel, not the cat) is only worthwhile if you get to know the locals, communicate with them in their own language, and join them in whatever they do for entertainment. For me it's clasping a blonde ice-maiden in my arms to the throb of a beautiful tango - for you it might be downing litres of beer with thousands of German companions at the Oktoberfest. Or joining the Lithuanians or Slovenians in whatever it is they do on their time off.

Eurovision 2007

Well, the Eurovision Song Contest has been and gone. Did you see the crowds packing the streets of Helsinki? I would have loved to have been there. As one of the commentators said, there will never be another day like it. Finland had been waiting 46 years for a win. I suppose there might be something similar when Portugal wins. Portugal has been trying since 1964. Do the Portuguese take the ESC as seriously as the Finns do? Time will tell.

There were a lot of complaints about the voting in the British press. But if it wasn't for our own coterie of Ireland and Malta we would have got nul points. It might be unpatriotic to say so, but it was a rotten entry. Scooch wasn't a proper group and the song was a copy of Slovenia's entry of 2002. Complaints about bias in the voting are nothing new. I remember the audience jeering the scoreboard in 1966 when all the Scandinavian countries voted for one another.