Monday, December 05, 2011

Viivi and Esther

Beauty queen Viivi Pumpanen is the winner of this year's Tanssi tähtien kanssa. With her partner Matti Puro she got 36 for her samba, 40 for tango, and 39 for freestyle. The prize is not a glitterball (glitterballs may be unknown in Finland - I can't recall ever seeing one) but an old-fashioned sports cup, a bottle of champers, and a kiss from the head judge.

I have had a letter from Esther Rantzen. She wrote an article about loneliness in old age in the Daily Mail. I replied as follows:

The ballroom has always been the place for us babyboomers to meet people, and, if we are lucky, our soulmates. But, I hear you say, that day is gone: places like the Southend Kursaal and Hammersmith Palais are closed, and the Blackpool Tower Ballroom is frequented only by couples. But there is a place where the couple-dance culture is alive and well: and that is Finland. I have been there nearly 40 times since my wife died. The biggest event is the Tangomarkkinat, attended by about 100,000 tango-crazed Finns and a few foreigners; lots of couples, but more singletons than even the most dedicated socialite can hope to meet in the 5 days the festival lasts. The next Tangomarkkinat is in July 2012, but every Finnish town has its dance halls and countryside pavilions, open most evenings and some afternoons with live music by high profile easy listening stars. Not everyone has the money or the mobility to make the journey, but for those of us who do, the effort is well worth it. The dances are always well attended with plenty of singletons. You yourself have an advantage because Anton du Beke has already taught you all you need to know. It is true that the Finnish waltz, foxtrot, and tango are somewhat different from ours, and that there is also the humppa and jenkka; but all this can be picked up easily. It is perfectly in order for women to invite men: in fact sometimes it is compulsory. At the events described as Naistentanssit (ladies’ dance) the men have to sit quietly and wait for the women to invite them. It is true the Finnish language is not easy, and that people our age rarely speak English; but you don’t need much and in any case it is well known that learning a foreign language stops the brain from deteriorating. And nothing can give the brain a better workout than Finnish. I intend to be in Helsinki in December and if I see you in the Vanhan Kellari I will take you for a twirl on the parquet.

And I got a reply! At the bottom of what is clearly a form letter is the handwritten addition:

What a wonderful thought! Though it might just Finnish me off! Very best wishes, Esther Rantzen


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