Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen?

It’s here again, and I am ready. I have chocolate, I have paracetamol, I have a barf bag, and I have a clear run between where I’m sitting and the nearest bathroom. If you are going to face the Eurovision Song Contest without alcohol, it’s best to be prepared. To that end, while I am watching this completely stone-cold sober, I am not, as usual, watching it live. We all need a little something to help us get through this; if you don’t like tequila, the only thing left is the fast-forward button.

Anyway. So. This year we’re in beautiful Copenhagen, home of the Little Mermaid, a lot of knitwear, and some really good TV drama. We open with – according to Graham Norton, providing snarky commentary again for the BBC – a snatch of last year’s winning entry, about which I remember absolutely nothing. Said winner – Emily – is seen making her way over the Oresund Bridge from Malmo, where the contest was held last year, to the disused ship factory that’s been tarted up to serve as tonight’s venue. This opening sequence is like ‘Mission Impossible’, only boring, but fast-forwarding this early in the show would be cheating.

Oh, sod it.

OK. Flags of all nations being carried onstage by demented-looking black-clad dancers. Let the insanity begin. This year, we have indoor fireworks right at the top of the show. This is Eurovision; it’s just about the only place on television where a full minute’s worth of pyrotechnics counts as minimalism. Opening parade of contestants across the stage; this year, not all of them look like escaped mental patients, which is nice. But some of them do, and we wouldn’t have it any other way, would we?

Aaaaand here are our perma-grinning hosts, cueing the audience to set off 10,000-odd party-poppers. Again, around here, this is what passes for subtle restraint. Mr. Pilou Asbaek, Ms. Lise Rønne (and that’s the first and last time I will be using that special ASCII character this evening), and Mr. Nikolaj Koppel. Mr. Asbaek is a Serious Actor (and was brilliant as the duplicitous, tormented spin doctor in ‘Borgen’); he told the Guardian the other day that he took this gig because he felt he couldn’t turn down a party. I’m sure most of us feel the same way – that’s why we’re watching, and it’s also why we bought painkillers before tuning in. Mr. Asbaek is wearing a very-definitely-NOT-clip-on bow-tie (oh yes, and a dinner suit, obviously) which he couldn’t quite get straight before the show started, Ms. Ronne is in beige-ish gold with a tulle skirt and lots of diamanté, accessorised with a metal butterfly in her hair, and Mr. Koppel seems to be dressed for a funeral. Given that music is about to be pushed to the edge of death and possibly beyond, this is not an inappropriate choice.

Their scripted banter is awful, but that’s par for the course. Voting lines will not open until all acts have performed; this is an innovation that was only introduced a couple of years ago, which should tell you all you need to know about the integrity of the voting process.

So. Performance number one. Mariya Yaremchuck, representing Ukraine, with a song called ‘Tick Tock’ whose title has absolutely no subtextual symbolism when considered in the context of recent events in her home country. Each song is preceded by a short film in which the singer attempts some kind of novelty recreation of their country’s flag; Ms. Yaremchuck chooses to perform this task by sticking blank post-it notes to the platform of a Metro station in Kyiv, and I suspect it’s probably better not to ask why. She’s got long black hair, a generic voice, a flowing purple gown, and boobs, and there’s a guy in a hamster wheel behind her. The song is bland, well-produced Eurodisco – not good, not terrible, and not even slightly memorable, which is probably why she’s using a blinding light show and the wind machine. Oh yes, and there’s a bit in the middle where she looks like she’s about to dry-hump the hamster wheel, which is tasteful.

We’d all love to see the contest staged in Kyiv next year, wouldn’t we? That would be special.

Number two. Teo, representing Belarus with ‘Cheesecake’. He and his four male backing singers look and sound like insane Slavic cheesy-listening clones of Take That, only (hopefully) without the tax avoidance scheme headlines. Teo’s bow tie is untied, presumably because all his pre-show prep time was spent getting his hair to stand up at precisely 90 degrees. Mr. Norton informs us that no song in position two in the running order has ever won the contest. This one isn’t going to buck that trend.

Three. Azerbaijan – we see more footage of those gas-flame skyscrapers before her song. Dilara Kazimova, ‘Start a Fire (But Don’t Mention Human Rights Abuses)’. Ms. Kazimova is allegedly singing in English, but seems to be not entirely familiar with consonants. ANY consonants. There’s a trapeze artist behind her. It’s a drippy, overwrought piano ballad, and… bugger that, a minute of it is all I can stand.

Four. Iceland. Footage of men with beards walking towards a waterfall in snow. One of the backing singers apparently is an Icelandic MP. ‘No Prejudice’, by Pollaponk. Bright coloured suits, big drum-beats, guitars, beards… this is nearly as macho as Eurovision gets (so, um, not very macho, then). It’s basically the Hipster Teletubbies. The song is catchy, completely demented, and great fun. And… oh. Now they’re line-dancing. This won’t win, but it should. It’s fresh, fun, and there’s an eight-bar bit near the end where the audience is invited to clap along. They end in a pose, and I think their yellow-suited bassist might have just dislocated something.

Five. Norway. Their singer has a Very Serious Tattoo on his arm, but apparently no experience as a singer. Carl Espen, ‘Silent Storm’. Sound is coming from his mouth – at least I think it’s coming from his mouth – but I’m not sure if it’s singing or just the sort of noise you’d make when you were coming round from an anaesthetic. The song is a really, really boring piano ballad. I miss Bobbysocks. And I am NOT going to watch this to the end. So there.

I fast-forwarded. It started quiet and boring, and now it’s overwrought and boring. Fast-forward again.

Mr. Norton thinks Mr. Espen must be delighted that’s over, “as are we”. Word.

Six. Romania. Paula Seling & OVI, with ‘Miracle’. Mr. OVI looks and sounds a bit like a Carphone Warehouse salesman, and Ms. Seling reminds me of nothing so much as a cross between Amanda Lamb and a gerbil. They have no chemistry at all, which isn’t exactly a surprise given that they also have no charisma. They do have a completely circular piano; it’s way more interesting than their song, but so is being in a coma. We’re back in the land of Generic Slabs of Eurodisco, and it’s fast-forward time. Again.

Seven. Armenia. It’s possibly an ominous sign that the pre-song filmlet shows a guy melting metal down. He’s making a lovely brooch in the colours of the Armenian flag, then photographing it with his iPhone, presumably so he can cover the fare back home by flogging it on eBay after he doesn’t win. Aram MP3 – I assume that’s not his legal surname – with ‘Not Alone’. Another drippy piano intro, which so far seems to be this evening’s recurring musical theme. He has shiny leather boots, a nice tailored grey coat, and no personality. The song is obviously Very Meaningful to him, because he’s singing with his eyes closed. And now it’s getting overwrought, and he’s bellowing and grimacing like he’s giving birth while constipated. Lovely. Sorry, Mr. MP3, the pyrotechnics behind you won’t disguise the absolute dreariness of your dreary, dreary song. But then, Armenia often score surprisingly well; at Eurovision, entering a crappy song isn’t necessarily any barrier to success, as long as you have the right kind of crappy song – and that was the right kind of crappy song.

Eight. Montenegro. ‘Moj Svljet’, sung by Sergej Cetkovic. Wispy folk intro, ballerina on rollerblades, Very Sincere singer, projections of trees and flowers behind him. The floor lights up behind the dancer as she rollerblades across the stage, which is cool; the song unfortunately mutates from its charming, folksy intro into a far more generic soft-rock ballad in triple time. The high notes aren’t very high, but Mr. Cetkovic does manage to hit nearly all of them. It’s rather charming, and it won’t win.

Nine. Poland. Donatan & Cleo, with ‘My Slowianie – We Are Slavic’. They’re in yoof versions of folk dresses, one of them has a milk pail, there’s a stomping beat, and their hair is in unfeasibly long braids. The milk pail lady churns butter on the edge of the stage, and seems to be constantly on the verge of getting her tits out. Aside from the accordion break in the middle, it – bizarrely – reminds me a bit of Toto Coelo’s ‘I Eat Cannibals’. It isn’t good – at all – but it’s very entertaining. It’d be even better if it had any kind of tune, but you can’t have everything.

Ten. Greece. Freaky Fortune featuring RiskyKidd, with ‘Rise Up’. A Greek rapper, rapping in English. The chorus is insidiously catchy, but we’re back in Eurodisco land AGAIN. Someone must have spent, ooh, minutes programming this backing track. They have a trampoline onstage, because their backing track wasn’t bouncy enough already. Next week, this will be in every bar and disco in every resort on the Mediterranean… and the week after, the staff in every bar and disco in every resort on the Mediterranean will lose the will to live.

Eleven. Austria. Conchita Wurst, ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’. Mesmerisingly-staged bearded-lady drag act. Arresting stage presence, fabulous gown, dramatic song – you could imagine Shirley Bassey singing it. Her voice is only OK, and frankly a little underpowered for this particular song, but the performance is so compelling that it doesn’t matter. It’s not necessarily good music, but it’s great television, and at Eurovision, that’s what counts. She ends to a huge ovation, and is probably the favourite to win.

Twelve. Germany, Elaiza (that’s a trio, not a girl’s name), ‘Is It Right?’ They have an accordion onstage with them and one of them is actually playing it, so no it isn’t. Oom-pa-pa verse with a big drumbeat that kicks in for the chorus. They’re performing very enthusiastically, and they’re mostly doing a very good job of demonstrating to the world once again that there are vast areas of German popular culture that anyone who isn’t German just. can’t. understand.

Holy shit, she went into head voice a bit near the end. Someone please make her never ever do that ever again. Presumably Germany really don’t want to pay to host the contest next year. I hope there were no low-flying aircraft nearby. Or seagulls.

Short break. Mr. Koppel – still in his funeral tie – is explaining to us rubes at home what a hashtag is, because apparently none of this show’s 180 million viewers are on social media. Somebody got paid to write his links. That’s profoundly depressing.

There’s a Eurovision Book of Records, apparently, if you don’t have a life. Whoopee. Quick flash of last year’s Romanian Vampire and his big falsetto note, which – unlike the lead singer we just saw in Germany’s Elaiza – he hit dead on, because of course we all need to relive that particular trauma over and over again. I mean really, who doesn’t have that video clip bookmarked?

Lise and Pilou are back. Back. BACK!!! Yay.

So is their scripted banter. Boo.

Apparently when the venue was a shipyard, it was full of beautiful men with big sweaty muscles. Mr. Asbaek did not sound entirely convincing as he delivered that line.

Back to the songs. Thirteen, Sweden. In the pre-song filmlet, she’s blowing up yellow lilos in a swimming pool, which of course is the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Sweden, isn’t it? Sanna Nielsen, ‘Undo’. Elegant black sequinned dress, better-than-decent voice, and the song is a full-on power ballad complete with a cheesy key-change into the climactic refrain. This is a formula that has won several times before, and she does it very, very well indeed. Even if it doesn’t win, she’s going to sell a lot of records.

Fourteen. France. Twin Twin, with ‘Moustache’. Two of them really are twins, apparently.

Oh. My. God. It’s like someone took the worst elements of Jedward, Weird Al Yankovic, the Village People, and every middle-class white-boy rapper who ever lived, put them in a blender, and dumped the resulting mess onto a stage with a load of day-glo lighting effects. This is extraordinarily awful, even by Eurovision standards.

No, France. NO. Go and sit on the naughty step until you’ve thought about what you’ve done.

More twins, this time from Russia. Fifteen. Russia. The Tolmachevy Sisters, with ‘Shine’. They start the song back-to-back with their hair intertwined, grinning like loons, standing at the centre of a giant seesaw, each holding a perspex rod for no apparent reason. All of these things are more interesting than the song itself, which sounds like an offcut from an 80s Bond soundtrack. They have nice matching dresses and a hunky male backing singer, and they’re singing in tune, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of love for Russia in the room this evening, apart from among the actual Russians in the audience. Gosh, I can’t imagine why.

Sixteen. Italy. The pre-song filmlet shows her arranging tomatoes, mozzarella slices and basil leaves on a platter. She’s a big star already in Italy, but if this whole music thing doesn’t work out, a career in salad awaits. Emma, with ‘La Mia Città’. Lots of eyeshadow, fake gold laurel leaves in her hair, white dress, gold sequins, and she’s here to RAWK. Someone in her band has a keytar. This is straight from the early 80s – the song, the attitude, everything – and I love it. Of course it won’t win.

Seventeen. Slovenia, Tinkara Kovac – I love typing that – with ‘Round and Round’. At this performance, Ms. Kovac will be playing the role of a spasming flautist in scary gold eyeshadow. Sludgy ballad, and now she’s brandishing the flute like she’s about to hit someone with it. On the whole, being knocked unsconscious by her flute would be better than having to listen to the rest of this song. Moving on.

Eighteen. Finland. Softengine, with ‘Something Better’. After that last sorry excuse for a song, it would pretty much have to be. It’s a proper uptempo guitar-drums-and-piano-driven pop/rock song. I’ve no idea what they’re singing about – and yes, they’re singing in English – but the music is terrific. It’s somewhere between the Killers and what Coldplay would sound like if they weren’t crap, and at least – unlike Coldplay’s Chris Martin – they have an excuse for the English-as-a-second-language lyrics. Great chorus, and they perform with absolute conviction, without relying on any tacky staging gimmicks. This isn’t going to win, because stuff like this never wins, but it’s the best song of the evening so far.

Nineteen. Spain. Ruth Lorenzo, who was apparently on X-Factor a few years ago and just wrote a song for Dannii Minogue, with ‘Dancing In The Rain’. It starts with rain effects on stage – I had to look twice, because it’s also peeing it down outside right now. It’s not a bad song, but her high notes in the chorus are truly unpleasant. And when she goes to belt the big notes in the bridge, she looks uncannily like Sporty Spice, if Sporty Spice was a vampire. Veins in her neck start to bulge as the music gets more and more overdramatic, and if she doesn’t calm down soon there’s going to be blood – either hers or mine. Fast-forwarding now before my ears try to throttle my brain.

As Mr. Norton reminds us, that’s Spain’s strongest entry in several years. Let us not dwell on any of the previous ones.

Twenty. Switzerland. Sebalter, with something called ‘Hunter of Stars’. In which a gaggle of overeager hipster waiters attempt to do rockabilly. They’re very energetic, very nice, and almost completely plastic. On the bright side, their lead singer can sing in tune, and it’s fun. Given that there is a banjo onstage, that’s quite an achievement.

Twenty-one. Hungary. ‘Running’, sung by one András Kállay-Saunders, who seems to really want to be Seal. He can sing, and it’s a pretty good song, but he might be better off without the slightly ridiculous interpretive pas-de-deux being performed behind him as he sings. Apparently it’s a song about child abuse, but the lyrics are almost completely unintelligible. Score one for the sound system.

Twenty-two. Malta. More hipster beards. Firelight, with ‘Coming Home’. Yep, hipster folk pop, which is a slightly bizarre thing to take to Eurovision if you have any expectation of actually winning (given that the ‘prize’ is the chance to host next year’s very expensive show, and pay for it, I imagine Malta is not praying for the top spot). They’re great – everything the Swiss act was pretending to be but wasn’t, and with a better song and better voices and music that clearly is authentically who they are – but they seem to have wandered in from a different concert. It’s like watching Mumford and Sons do Sunday Night at the London Palladium: entertaining, but somehow wrong.

Twenty-three. Denmark, our hosts. Basim, with ‘Cliche Love Song’ (don’t yell at me about the missing accent, I’m just copying what’s on the caption). He’s like Glenn Medeiros on crack. This is so peppy that it’s almost frightening. Basim is also not the first performer this evening to be wearing an untied bow-tie. I know he’s very young, but surely someone backstage could have helped him with it.

Twenty-four. The Netherlands, ‘Calm After The Storm’ by the Common Linnets. Eurovision goes country-and-western. If Johnny Cash and June Carter had ever done Eurovision, this is what it would have sounded like. The song is lovely, and the performance – the singing, the playing, the projected-highway staging concept, the costume design, and all the rest of it – is absolutely impeccable. They’re great, but like the Maltese band, they seem to have parachuted in from a different, much classier show.

Twenty-five. San Marino, which has a population of about three, with a song called ‘Maybe’ sung by Valentina Monetta. The song and the performance are both straight off some second-rate 80s TV variety show. It’s lovely that San Marino got this far, and Ms. Monetta is obviously very, very pleased and excited to be here, but when the voting starts this’ll be toast. Still, at least Ms. Monetta got to indulge her obvious passion for ruched fabric on a global stage, so that’s nice for her.

Twenty-six. Last. Us. Molly, with ‘Children of the Universe’. Mr. Norton thinks this could be our year, so I’m guessing we’re going to place in the bottom ten (voting was over hours ago, and I know who won, but I don’t know yet how the rest of the scores panned out). The song has a big catchy hook and a stomping beat; I’m afraid there’s just something about it that I really, really dislike. Between the bombastic beat, the fauxspirational lyrics, and Molly’s nasal voice, the result is more irritating than uplifting. Still, it’s better than our last several efforts – but really, given that you could do better than Englebert Humperdink simply by showing up on time and having a pulse, that’s not much of an achievement, is it?

So that’s the songs done with. I think there might have been a couple of them that didn’t begin with a warning about strobe lights, but I lost track.

The presenters are back, and Mr. Koppel is STILL wearing his funeral tie. The scripted banter hasn’t got any better; the funeral might well be for his and Mr. Asbaek’s dignity, which died less than ten minutes into the show. Mr. Asbaek is now trying to joke with Graham Norton in Chinese. You know how funny that sounds? Precisely. Now someone is showering Mr. Norton with confetti, some of which has gone in his wine glass. That’s just cruel.

Voting open. This means one thing for the TV audience at home, and one thing only: interval show. Recap of all the songs so far = fast-forward time. Mr. Asbaek introduces the interval act, which involves people in white suits on big ladders singing ‘Ode To Joy’. One of them has a harmonica, which in a less liberal country than Denmark might be grounds for arrest. It’s deeply strange and slightly pointless, and the original version was apparently much longer and stranger, but it got cut way down in rehearsals. Thank the Lord for small mercies.

Now Mr. Koppel – STILL wearing his funeral tie – is at the piano. We’re treated to a video of him, Mr. Asbaek, and Ms. Ronne singing a song Mr. Koppel wrote about Eurovision. Mr. Asbaek throws himself into it gamely enough, but singing – let’s be kind here – isn’t really his strength. The lyrics are about the number 12 – the highest score in the voting process – with an excursion in which they discuss the Chinese calendar, whose leap years have thirteen months instead of twelve. Plus, obviously, chopsticks and opium. It’s three minutes of WTF, performed by the three presenters with all the grace and subtlety of a car crash.

Next, we have the 11-year-old Maltese winner of Junior Eurovision, whose BIG voice, God help us, seems tailor-made for belting out ‘Tomorrow’ in a revival of ‘Annie’. She’s charming, though, and better than some of the adult contestants.

Voting over. Mr. Koppel introduces a segment about a ‘Museum of Eurovision History’, in which Mr. Asbaek once again gets to show off his immaculate comic timing.

Part of that last sentence may not have been meant entirely sincerely.

Sorry, Denmark. Any fifteen seconds of the Swedish Smorgasbord number in last year’s interval act was funnier than the whole of what you just gave us.

And we’re back onstage. Ms. Ronne is still wearing the dress she was in at the beginning. It’s not a proper Eurovision unless at least one presenter wears a succession of hideous gowns. It doesn’t absolutely have to be one of the women, but Mr. Koppel seems strangely attached to his funeral tie. But she’s just delivered a full English breakfast to the Maltese lead singer, whose mum is from Yorkshire, so that’s nice. And now she’s talking to Molly about cake. They’ve just given Molly a curly-wurly cake from Borough Market. Molly thinks it’s ridiculous. Molly is right.

Ms. Ronne knows an awful lot about Molly’s family. If I was Molly, I’d be looking for the webcam.

Now Ms. Ronne is talking to France. Fast-forward time, because those people are scary.

Shut up about China, Mr. Asbaek. Now we’re back to last year’s winner, whose winning song I still don’t remember. This may or may not be it, but she’s singing it backed by a chorus-line of dancing trees. It looks strangely like a choreographic representation of Birnam Wood removing to Dunsinane. I wonder who is going to die in the final portion of the show? Apart from my sanity, obviously. That died half an hour ago, how else do you think I’m still able to watch?

And the scoring begins. Thank God I can fast-forward through a lot of this. If you watch it live, it seems to go on for about four days.

Holy shit. Albania gave Spain 12 points. Are they deaf?

There’s booing from inside the theatre as the Russian presenter gives her scores. And then big boos whenever Russia gets one of the top four scores. Again, I can’t imagine why.

It is unfortunate for the Russian contestants, who are very young. They did their best, and the audience’s outrage at Russia – the mess in Ukraine, the appalling and indefensible anti-gay legislation and all the rest of it – is nothing to do with them, and it can’t be easy to sit and smile while their country is being booed. The reception Russia is getting tonight, though, is entirely understandable.

No, Mr. Koppel, I don’t particularly care which Eurovision entry contained the most repetitions of the word ‘la’.

Back to the votes. Once again, the UK is doing really badly. Guess a lot of other people liked our entry about as much as I did, then.

The Finnish presenter is rapping his introduction. He is very, very white.

Ukraine gave Russia 4 points. Wow.

It’s clear with a few countries still to go that Conchita Wurst has won this for Austria – and so it proves. There were better songs in this competition, and better voices, but not a better performance. Very popular winner – and thank God, the scripted banter from the presenters is almost over.

So, as Ms. Wurst – no sausage jokes, please – gives us her song again, a recap. There were some genuinely surprising acts in this year’s competition, and some of the music was actually good. More surprising still: some of the good stuff scored surprisingly highly. And speaking of surprises, this year’s roster of acts included surprisingly few flaming camp catastrophes. Nobody got five feet taller during the final verse of their song, or performed suspended above the stage, or walked out wearing a swan. Depending on what you’re looking for from Eurovision, that’s possibly disappointing. And the Danish-scripted parts of the show, even by Eurovision standards, were lame. The presenters were stiff, the script wasn’t even slightly funny, and the interval act was dismal, and paled in comparison to the show Sweden put on last year.

So next year… presumably Vienna. The odds are at least even that this will be in the show somewhere. In the meantime, I think congratulations are in order: I got through the entire show on only four squares of chocolate and two paracetamols. I think that might be a record.

This year’s winner:

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You’ve seen the news. Now would you like some cheese?

 

Yes, in case you hadn’t heard, there is a royal baby. Or should that be Royal Baby? Since I don’t really approve of the concept of ‘royalty’, my personal response is somewhere between ‘that’s nice’ and ‘meh’, so I’m not one of the people dancing in the streets outside Buckingham Palace wearing coordinating Union Flag underwear. I think everybody is relieved about that. I know I am. ANYway… along with a royal baby, of course, we’re inevitably going to have a long line of people hopping on the marketing bandwagon in the hope of making a quick buck by flogging cheap tat with the baby’s name on it. Most of the stuff they’ll be peddling will be crap, just about all of it will be completely tasteless – but some of the ads, it goes without saying, will be hilarious.

Step forward Pizza Hut, who emailed me this gem today:

pizza hut prince

 

Yes, this is absolutely real. It is not photoshopped or otherwise altered in any way. And it’s tacky beyond belief, obviously.  The £8.60 price point (£8.60 – 8lbs 6 oz, geddit?) is a particularly lovely touch. In a week in which ten thousand entrepreneurs are all going to do their level best to stretch the definition of ‘crass’ to breaking-point, we may already have a winner.

 

…and brought a lotta schlock home

Ibuprofen? Check.

Barf bag? Check.

Crackers? Check.

Everybody ready? OK, we’ll begin. It’s time, once again, for the year’s biggest onslaught of televisual cheese. There will be sequins, there will be glitter, there will very possibly be blood, some of which may be mine because before this is over my eyes and ears will very likely start bleeding. Yes, it’s Eurovision night. Whoopee.

A disclaimer before we begin: I am not witnessing this live, because I don’t drink – since I can’t use alcohol to dull the pain, I lack the testicular fortitude to put myself through this without the ability to resort to the fast-forward button if necessary. And I got new glasses last week, and the new ones don’t have the anti-glare coating (most of the time, it doesn’t seem to make a lot of difference for me, and it starts to rub off if you have the habit of absent-mindedly cleaning your glasses on your T-shirt), so I reserve the right to hide behind a cushion if things get really dicey. The secret to surviving a Eurovision telecast, remember, is to prepare in advance for every eventuality. Including, possibly, your own death in a tragic and horrible sequin/wind machine accident.

Anyway. So. Last year’s winner, if you’re lucky enough to remember, was the fabulous Loreen. No, not Soreen, Loreen. I remember her name, but not her face or her song, which at Eurovision is par for the course for acts that don’t dress like Rosa Klebb after a glitter explosion. Loreen is Swedish, so this year le concours Eurovision is coming to us from beautiful sunny Malmö, capital of Scania and home of the Twisting Torso. That’s a tall building, not a corpse in a Henning Mankell novel, Ystad is 35 miles away.

Our host – in the UK, at least – is Graham Norton. Again. We open with a montage starring a caterpillar, which appears to be touring Europe by boat, train and moped. I think it’s supposed to be cute. It’s not. And of course the caterpillar is now turning into a butterfly in front of the Oresund bridge. A Swedish footballer welcomes us to Malmo (I found the right accent once, I’m not going to do it again) from the side of the Twisting Torso, and now a big choir starts off the proceedings by singing something tuneless. The music is by Benny Andersson, the lyrics are by Bjorn Ulvaeus, and one of the ladies in the choir has a very large gap in her teeth.

Ooh. Now people carrying the flags of all nations are entering via a catwalk over the audience. One young woman seems to be wearing a swan and pink hotpants. These are either the contestants, or a glimpse of Vivienne Westwood’s Primark collection.

Yes, Mr. Andersson, we know you know what a pedal point is. The choir are singing something about a legacy in song. It is, shall we say, statistically unlikely that any of this evening’s victims contestants will end up leaving us a musical legacy that in any way approaches that of Mr. Andersson and Mr. Ulvaeus, but hope springs eternal. That’s why we’re all watching.

Synchronised flag-waving. It’s like ‘One Day More’, without the knowledge that nearly everyone on stage will be dead by the end of the second half.

Here’s our Swedish hostess. And a lot of animated butterflies. She’s wearing what looks like a fuschia replica of the Shard. Her name is Petra Mede, and I’m not going to attempt a pronunciation. She’s talking about Bjorn and Benny, and three lines in she’s winkingly referred to ‘Dancing Queens’. Abba were sadly unavailable, so we have to make do with bb. Agnetha and Anni-Frid seem to have elected to stay home. Probably wise.

Ah, I see. The base of her pyramid dress is wide because it has to hide the tug-o’-war team pulling ropes to keep her smile in place.

Lines do not open until all acts have performed. Seems sensible, but this is only the second time they’ve done this.

May the best song win, Petra says. It usually doesn’t, but what the hell.

Aaaand we’re off. Song #1. Amandine Bourgeois, representing France with the charmingly-titled ‘L’enfer et Moi’ – ‘Hell and Me’. We’ve just seen a montage of Amandine shopping and having her hair done. Hell, presumably, is what happens next. She’s wearing a leather feather duster that’s cut well above her knees, and she seems to want to be a cross between Amy Winehouse and Courtney Love. Team France have possibly put more effort into artfully smudging her eyeshadow than crafting her song’s melody. It’s not bad, and for Eurovision it’s refreshingly rough around the edges, and… oh. Now she’s screaming. Possibly she’s already seen this.

Song #2. The next performance contains flashing images and strobe effects, says the caption on the screen. Don’t they all. Lithuania, Andrius Pojavis, ‘Something’. His favourite part of his body, according to Mr. Norton, is his arms. He wrote the song himself. It’s a sort of u2/early-era The Killers mashup. He’s terribly sincere – white T-shirt, black leather jacket, zombie poses, closes his eyes a lot – but not terribly charismatic. Again, not bad, but pleasantly inoffensive and not really memorable for either the right reasons or the wrong ones. This isn’t what we’re here for.

Now the butterfly is taking us to Moldova, represented in the montage by horses, dancing, and flying lanterns. Song #3, ‘O Mie’ by Aliona Moon. Piano intro, musclebound dancers dressed in white, she seems to be standing behind her dress rather than wearing it, and Emeli Sandé wants her hair back. It’s all Very Meaningful. She’s got a nice voice, and it seems to be about to get very overwrought. Her skirt, strangely, is glowing red as if lit from within, and lightning is being projected across it. And she’s getting taller. Ooh. A lift. And flames projected onto her skirt as the music approaches – please, God – a climax. She ends the song four feet taller than when she began it. At least she didn’t sing ‘Defying Gravity’.

Finland. Song #4, ‘Marry Me’, Krista Siegfrids. I’d rather not, Krista. Thanks anyway. Ah, she’s the lady who was wearing the swan with the pink hotpants in the opening procession. Her backing singers are wearing red frilly rubber aprons, and she’s being carried around by three Inigo Montoya wannabes in Batman masks. The song is generic Eurodisco, and not even good generic Eurodisco. Nicely trashy choreography, but this won’t win. Oh – now she’s got a wedding veil, and a lot of fireworks are going off. That’s what I love about Eurovision. The subtlety. She ends by snogging one of her backing singers.

Song #5. Spain. Y viva Espana. She’s got a Polaroid camera. Who still has one of those? ‘Contigo Hasta El Final’, by ESDM.  Not BSDM, ESDM. Don’t get your hopes up. It starts with a Spanish bagpipe. It’s folksy, the singer is wearing what looks like a courgette flower with gold shoulder trim, and they’re using the wind machine. The guitarist in the brown suit with the shaggy hipster hair has to be on drugs. You possibly would be too, if you’d rehearsed this a few times. Particularly since staying on – or, really, anywhere near – the note is not one of her better skills.

They travelled to Malmo by boat, apparently, and it took a week. How lovely they made it in time so we could all see this.

Belgium. Song #6, ‘Love Kills’ by Roberto Bellarosa. He’s only 18, apparently. Bless. He’s in a dinner jacket and no tie, standing in front of what looks like a selection of IKEA floor lamps, and I think he’s singing in English but I can’t quite tell.  Now the lamps have flown out, and the choreography begins. Oh, bloody hell. Dire sub-Michael Bolton ballad, and the dancers seem to be doing some bizarre cross between a Robert Palmer video and the Funky Chicken. Love kills over and over, apparently. If I don’t fast-forward this, they’re in danger of taking me down with them, and there’s a whole shitload of songs still to go. Moving swiftly on…

…to Estonia. Song #7, ‘Et Uus Saaks Alguse’, by Birgit. Hi, Birgit. A restrained, sweetly sad piano ballad, judging by the first verse. Oh – no, the drums and guitars have kicked in. It’s a 70s MOR knockoff, and I can’t take any more.

Song #8, Belarus,  ‘Solayoh’, by Alyona Lanskaya. The pre-song film montage featured carrot juice and monkeys. This has to be a step up from the last one. Alyona emerges from a six-foot glitterball, her dancers are wearing… well, something white that words can’t really describe, except you can see their bare chests most of the time. The song is a full-on onslaught of Eastern Europe disco WTF, and they seem to have borrowed a bouzouki from Greece. Jets of flame shoot up from the front of the stage, presumably to burn away the shattered remnants of everybody’s dignity. Including mine, for watching. This is pure Eurovision.

Song #9. Malta. He’s a doctor, apparently, and in the pre-song montage we see him walking down a corridor with a stethoscope around his neck. His name is Gianluca, and his song is called ‘Tomorrow’. Hopefully, it’s not that ‘Tomorrow’. He doesn’t appear to be a 10-year-old-girl with red curly hair, but you can never quite tell where the costuming with these things is going to go. We’re back on the folksy side of things again. He’s grinning a bit too much – seemingly with his very prominent eyebrows as well as his mouth – and it would be more charming if he grinned a bit less. Fast-forward time.

Next, Russia. No grandmas this year. Song #10, Dina Garipova, ‘What If’. I think we’re heading into Céline territory here – possibly not a bad tactical move, since Céline, once upon a time, actually won this thing. The song is adult-oriented pop sludge with uplifting/inspirational lyrics, there are four very cleanly-scrubbed backing singers behind her, there’s a melodramatic middle eight, and she’s selling it with absolute conviction. She’s also – and you have to have watched a few of these things to know how unusual this is – hitting all the notes dead-on, even the big ones. Not bad.

Germany. We are again warned about strobe effects, which is redundant at Eurovision. Song #11, ‘Glorious’, by Cascada. It’s an odd cross between full-on Eurodisco and full-on power-ballad, and the strobe effects are more interesting than the song. This is many things, but Glorious is not among them. You can barely hear her singing over the programmed synths. From what I can hear, this is not a problem. From Germany, this is a disappointingly by-the-numbers entry. Better luck next time, Deutschland, this won’t win.

Song #12, Armenia, ‘Lonely Planet’ by Dorians. Generic stadium rock, and yes, they’re using the wind machine. The keyboard player looks a bit like John Goodman. The guitarists are scowling. The song is Not Very Good. Still, the singer has a good, raucous rock voice, and they’re certainly giving it their all. Oh, look – those jets of flame again, accompanying the obligatory post-bridge key change. I have no idea what they’re singing about.

Well, at least that was mercifully short. Back to Petra, who’s still wearing the Pink Shard. She’s got better English than a lot of British presenters. Break for a short “comedy” film featuring Linda Woodruff, a Janet Street-Porter soundalike played disturbingly convincingly by a Swedish actress called Sarah Dawn Finer. She’s better than her script. Long, laboured joke about Abba being the Swedish Royal Family. Oh dear.

And we’re off again, this time to the Netherlands, who haven’t even been in the grand final for a while (no, I did not watch the heats myself – what do you think I am, a masochist?). Song #13, ‘Birds’, by Anouk. We are warned that if you don’t like Lana Del Rey, you’ll loathe Anouk. Noted. I like the idea of Lana Del Rey better than I like Lana Del Rey… and better than I like this. Minor-key music-to-slit-your-wrists-by in 3/4 time, delivered with what’s supposed to be a knowingly gloomy smile. I lasted almost two minutes, I hope you appreciate it.

Song #14. Romania. Again with the strobelights warning. Mr. Norton tells us it’s going to be special. I have a cushion ready. ‘It’s My Life’ by Cezar. Black sequinned Wicked Witch coatdress, overwrought music, dancers writhing under red satin, a falsetto chorus drawn from the very lowest circle of Dante’s Inferno, and the dancers seem to be wearing only flesh-coloured loincloths. This is, indeed, special, and it’s getting more and more special by the second. Cezar looks like a male Dynasty-era Joan Collins who has prepared for an audition for a vampire movie by modelling his vocal stylings on a drunk Kiri Te Kanawa and his facial expressions on a bilious attack. ‘Special’ doesn’t begin to cover it.

And it’s us. Song #15, the UK, Bonnie Tyler. Love Bonnie Tyler. Love, love, LOVE Bonnie Tyler. She is fabulous, and ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ is a genuine pop classic. This song – ‘Believe In Me’ – unfortunately is not. She’s as charismatic a performer as we’ve seen so far, she’s selling the song with everything she’s got, but the song is sludge and she won’t win. Shame, because she’s obviously having a good time, and if anyone deserves another moment in the spotlight, she does.

Home entry. Song #16, Sweden, ‘You’ by Robin Stjernberg. He’s sort of Gary Barlow-ish, until it gets unhinged. OTT chorus, five dancers on a red flying saucer doing choreography that seems to be the result of a collaboration between Twyla Tharp and the Muppet Swedish Chef, and a barrage of fireworks as we enter the final chorus. If you were trying to stage an aneurysm, this is possibly what it would look like.

Hungary. Song #17. ‘Kedvesem’, apparently in the Zoohacker Remix, like that means anything to any of us viewers at home, performed by ByeAlex, and yes, that is supposed to be all one word. He looks strangely like French Nouvelle Star (= American Idol) winner Christophe Willem, his song is slightly folksy hipster-ish pop, and it’s refreshingly low-key and rather charming. He’s toast.

Song #18. Denmark. The favourite to win, apparently. ‘Only Teardrops’ by Emmelie de Forest. She’s very pretty, it’s a perfectly attractive Europop song with a slightly military drumbeat underneath and a penny whistle solo in the intro. Pleasant, cute, but not terribly memorable. She can sing, though, and she’s having a lovely time singing her lovely song, which is nice. Huge cheer at the end, but I’m not sure what for, although it’s got a catchy chorus.

Iceland. Song #19. Montage film includes, yes, lots of snow and ice, and heavy sweaters. ‘Eg a Lif’, by Eythor Ingi. Sung in Icelandic. His look is lounge-singer-goes-RAWK, the song is a dull, rather old-fashioned pop-rock ballad that’s positioned somewhere between Abba and Meatloaf, and he’s got a terrific voice. It’s not unpleasant, but it isn’t going to win.

Azerbaijan. Song #20. ‘Hold Me’, by Farid Mammadov. Oh dear God, this has STAGING. He’s grinning like an evil doctor on an American daytime soap, perched on top of a six-foot perspex box that has a dancer in it mirroring his moves – yes, upside down. For the second verse, Farid jumps off the top of the box and they do an old-fashioned side-by-side mirror act. Then a woman enters in a red dress whose train probably stretches the entire length of Azerbaijan, and the perspex box fills with petals, and everyone grimaces meaningfully until it ends, two choruses later. The song is the sort of overwrought rock ballad people slow-dance to in every disco in every Mediterranean resort, which means it won’t make your ears bleed and you won’t remember a note of it two minutes after it ends. This could do well, although the staging is possibly too batshit insane for it to win.

And now, Greece. Song #21, ‘Alcohol Is Free’, Koza Nosta featuring Agathon Iakovidis. Greece, clearly, didn’t even try this year, and have just kidnapped a cheesy folk band from a backstreet bar in Piraeus, then force-fed them amphetamines to make them play at double speed. I lasted a little over a minute.

Ukraine. Song #22, ‘Gravity’, sung by Zlata Ognevich. She enters carried by a man who is apparently 7’8″ tall, and proceeds to sing a song that starts as a drippy ballad, and turns into a full-on festival of WTF – thumping beat, showy high notes, but it just sort of meanders in search of a point. Still, she’s gorgeous, and she’s got a hell of a voice. It’s wasted on this, though.

Song #23. Italy. ‘L’Essenziale’, Marco Mengioni. He’s probably very nice, the lapels on his suit are very shiny, his song is really boring, and he just stands there. This could really use some half-naked dancers and projected lightning forks. Or a pulse, even, because I’m not sure Mr. Mengioni’s got one. Has the doctor from Malta left the building already? Please, someone check. I’m not sure everyone is going to make it to the end of this song alive.

Another warning about strobe effects and flashing lights. If there weren’t strobe effects and flashing lights, we’d want a refund. Song #24, Norway, ‘I Feed You My Love’, sung by Margaret Berger. It’s a battle sequence from Star Wars with a techno beat underneath, coyly sung by Hayden Panetierre’s twin sister, who is wearing a dress so tight that it had to be put on in hospital under a general anaesthetic. She really goes for it, but it’s not quite demented enough to be a Eurovision classic, and it’s probably too bombastic to win.

Nearly the end of the songs now. Song #25, Georgia, ‘Waterfall’, by Nodi Tatishvili and Sophie Gelovani, whose song is a huge power-ballad duet about how their LUUUUURVE is LIIIKE a WATERFALL. There are fireworks, there’s dry ice, the wind machine is going full blast, and every time they hit a big-ass high note they look like they need to poo.

Ireland. Last song, #26. Not Jedward this time, but there will be flashing lights and strobe effects. Ryan Dolan, ‘Only Love Survives’. Camp Celtic drummers who’ve been sprayed with cooking oil, a big anthemic chorus, strained high notes – this is a slab of toxic Eurodisco that’s sung, apparently, by a computer-generated Danny Zuko wannabe. It’s awful – less awful than Jedward, obviously, but possibly awful enough to do well.

And that’s all the acts. I’ll spare you the pre-voting recap because I’m fast-forwarding past it myself, obviously – I mean, really, if I couldn’t even make it through some of those songs once, I’m not going to stick around for the recap.

Petra’s back to announce the interval act – last year’s winner, Loreen, singing a medley of her biggest hit and wearing a black-and-white feathered thingy on her shoulders that could potentially poke out the eyes of several of her dancers if they get too close. ‘We Got The Power’, she’s singing. She looks quite angry. Possibly she didn’t choose that outfit, or possibly she’s just pissed off because she knows that if she moved a little to her left, the wiring in her shoulder-feather-thingy would pick up a much better TV show from Denmark.

Ooh. There are acrobats on wires, and the music just got worse. She’s taken off the feathers now, and replaced them with a black-and-white copy of Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The stage lifts her back into the air, the end of the coat stays on the ground, she finishes the song 15 feet above the audience to a wall of cheers. Not a tough crowd, this.

Another recap. Fast-forward time.

Petra has now changed into the colours of the Swedish flag, and before we start in on the points we’ve got film of Bonnie Tyler’s lovely week in Sweden. What this mostly reinforces is that yes, she’s great,  but why couldn’t we find her a better song?

Interval act #2 – Petra, leading us in a song-and-dance celebration of Swedish kitsch, complete with dancers toting elk antlers, nods to the Muppet Chef, ‘The Seventh Seal’, vikings, IKEA,  and ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’, and thirty seconds of choreography about recycling. It’s even got a chorus-line of high-kicking footballers and a woman writhing in a martini glass full of milk.  It’s utterly cheesy, and possibly more completely fabulous than nearly anything else we’ve seen this evening.  And Petra, amazingly, knows how to sock a big production number across the footlights.

Voting now. I’ll be skipping a lot of this, because who cares? Oh, wait. No, we’ve got Sarah Dawn Finer as herself, giving us her self-consciously arty cover of ‘The Winner Takes It All’. Ms. Finer clearly does not feel compelled to stay too close to the song’s actual melody. No wonder Agnetha stayed home.

So, yes, the voting. This hasn’t been a banner year – even the camp kitschfests were fairly subdued, there was nothing as demented as last year’s Russian Grandmas, and we can all predict which countries will vote along which nationalistic lines well in advance. And getting through this part of the broadcast takes about forty minutes, and I can’t be arsed. We all just want to know who won, and who got nul points. Denmark have an early lead, Estonia are bottom, Bonnie Tyler is also near the bottom of the board.

Now Ireland are bottom, nobody has nul points – shame – and we’re still languishing in the bottom half of the bottom half of the board.

…and with four countries still to vote, Denmark have won. We are still in the lower half of the board, so the battle now is a race for the bottom. Rather like the whole competition, if you’re cynical. And who isn’t when they’re watching this?

Oh. That catwalk over the audience is supposed to represent the Oresund Bridge.

Ireland’s bottom. Surprising, even given the blatantly nationalistic voting – he was far from the worst. So next year we’ll be in Denmark, and now we get another blast of Emmelie de Forest, with an extra glittergasm on the last chorus.

Overall: B-, apart from the Swedish Smorgasbord number, which was a knockout. Let’s hope Denmark can bring back the kitsch next year.

This year’s winner:

Isles of…

It’s here. The opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. I’ll say upfront that I’m more than a little cynical about the games, and particularly about the relentless, neverending marketing of, well, seemingly everything to do with the games.

The team putting together this spectacle, though – headed by Danny Boyle – is intriguing, and it’s the biggest show this country will stage this year. So… liveblog, slightly edited, first, then commentary afterwards.

9.01pm  Opening credits – oh Gawd – start with a parody of EastEnders, mixed with Lloyd Webber’s Paganini variations and a snatch of Muse.

9.03pm Bradley Wiggins can cycle really fast for a long time, but can he ring a bell? Oh, yes he can. Good.

9.04pm Three minutes in, and we’ve got a choir of children singing already. Solo treble singing ‘Jerusalem’. He’s very good. Choirs of children from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – they’re ordinary kids, not choral scholars, and they’re excellent. Rural scenes – grass, fields, farmers, peasants, geese. This might be who we were, but it mostly isn’t who we are today.

9.05pm – Is that Kenneth Branagh in a top hat? And look, there are some less famous actors dressed as poor people. And the choir is back to singing ‘Jerusalem’.

9.06pm – Yes, that’s Kenneth Branagh, and my God, he can mug to the cameras. There’s none of that in ‘Wallander’. Thank God. Apparently he’s playing Brunel; he’s delivering a speech from ‘The Tempest’, and clearly having the time of his life. Good job there’s a lot of scenery, because he’s leaving bite-marks in most of it.

Since this is directed by Danny Boyle, of course, the first thing I want to know is when someone is going to dive head-first into a toilet?

(Our national dignity already did that several days ago, so no, you’ll have to bet on something else.)

9.08pm – Oh, goody. Now we get a tableau vivant depicting the coming of the Industrial Revolution and the subsequent decline of rural Britain. No room in these three hours to go back through more than 250 years of our history, then.  Evelyn Glennie hammering the percussion dressed as a peasant, actors dressed as more peasants walking over turf… it’s huge. Drummers in the aisles, rising mill  chimneys… it’s undeniably impressive. And loud. Mill chimneys rising out of the ground; I’m from the middle of the area where the Industrial Revolution began, and it’s a part of our history that we don’t often show to the rest of the world. For better or worse, what happened here then changed the world, and it’s far more important, in terms of the makeup of our contemporary society, than the bucolic rural scenes we saw at the beginning.

9.13pm – As set-changes go, this one is pretty good. This section, apparently, is called ‘Pandemonium’. Here come the suffragettes. Goodness, we’re moving through history quickly here, aren’t we? The music is loopy, bombastic electro-dreck. Interesting, though, that what we’re seeing is mostly presented from the point of view of workers, with the industrialists/capitalists sidelined in a little group, apart from the main action.

9.14pm – There must be something wrong with my TV set. I can’t see any corporate logos.

9.15pm – Poppies. We’ve reached 1914.

9.16pm – Awww, cute. The Industrialists are pretending to be cho0-choo trains.

9.17pm – it’s the cover of ‘Sargeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’! So two-thirds of the Twentieth Century can be summed up by a war memorial, industrial machinery, and the Beatles.  There’s a parade of (actual) war veterans walking through the middle of this, and it is, yes, entirely appropriate to put them centre stage. It’s a quick skip through history, from which the aristocracy and the Royal Family, so far, are conspicuously absent.

9.19pm – The grass that covered the – pitch? stage? – at the beginning is mostly gone, replaced by what looks like an iron foundry. This, actually, is interesting – a billion people around the world are watching this, and this is not the image of ourselves that we usually sell abroad.

9.21pm – The factory chimneys are sinking into the ground now, because the Tories killed our industrial base in the early 1980s.

9.22pm – and the massive iron foundry has brought forth the Olympic Rings, forged from the blood of peasant workers and Kenneth Branagh’s sweat. Or something. I think this is supposed to be moving as well as breathtakingly spectacular.

9.23pm – Film – ‘Happy and Glorious’ – about the Royal Family’s arrival at the ceremony. Couldn’t they have found something – anything – other than ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’ to play behind the video sequence inside Buckingham Palace?

9.24pm – Yes. the Queen did just address Daniel Craig as Mr. Bond. She’s doing quite a nice job of not giggling at the absolute ridiculousness of it all.

9.25pm – Awww. Corgis.

9.26pm – Oh, bloody hell. The statue of Churchill just waved at HMQ’s copter (well, she’s not in it herself, obviously, it’s her body double and Daniel Craig).

9.28pm – the James Bond Theme. Heralding the Queen’s entrance into the Royal Box. Of course. NOT via parachute, that was a stunt double. And she’s introduced in French first. Like everything else.

9.30pm The Union Flag, brought in by servicemen and women. Flag raising accompanied by a performance of ‘God Save The Queen’ by a choir of deaf and hearing children. And they’re genuinely lovely, and it’s wonderful that they were given such a prominent moment in the ceremony. They get two verses of it as well. They could have gone for the usual suspects – a cathedral choir, trained choristers – and they didn’t, and the show is all the better for it.

9.33pm – ‘Second to the Right and Straight On Till Morning’. Mike Oldfield and a bunch of NHS staff, plus patients and staff from Great Ormond Street hospital. The title – the directions to Neverland that Peter Pan gave Wendy. I can think of plenty of worse things for us to celebrate here than literature for children. We’ve produced a lot of it, and a lot of it is justly celebrated throughout the world.

9.35pm – I’m a little less sure about a big dance number celebrating both kids’ literature and the NHS. The two themes don’t quite hang together. It’s very nicely staged, though. And I’m not sure whether spelling out GOSH in lights – Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital – will make sense to the rest of the world.

9.38pm – J.K. Rowling reading from Peter Pan. This is genuinely moving. If anyone shows that dreams can come true, she does.

9.39pm – Bad dreams, and things that go bump in the night, rendered via dance and puppets, with actors playing Voldemort and the Child Snatcher from ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’. The flying work is terrific; this sequence is surprisingly dark, particularly given the number of kids involved.

9.40pm – and here’s a team of Mary Poppinses (what is the plural of Poppins?), chasing the bad dreams away… which unfortunately leads Mr. Oldfield to begin playing his terminally twee version of ‘In Dulci Jubilo’.

9.44pm – And the children are all safely tucked up in bed. So that’s that. It’s great that we’ve just spent nearly 15 minutes of this paying tribute to the NHS. It would be even greater if our current government wasn’t so hell-bent on dismantling it piece by piece.

9.46pm – ‘Chariots of Fire’, conducted by Simon Rattle, with Mr. Bean on synth.

9.47pm – two minutes of Mr. Bean is about as much as I can stand, and the parody of the beach scene from ‘Chariots of Fire’ is not particularly funny.

9.51pm. Gosh, a red New Mini. Which is manufactured by that well-known British company, BMW. I wonder what’s going to happen next?

Oh. A flashback to the most infamous moment of Michael Fish’s career. The 1987 hurricane that he didn’t forecast. Oops.

9.52pm. British pop music, in the form of OMD’s ‘Enola Gay’. No lyrics. Then a verse of ‘Food Glorious Food’. And was that a brief clip of ‘The Cosby Show’?

9.54pm – we’re celebrating four decades of pop music, apparently. And we’re celebrating it with black-lighting and dayglo tights and leg-warmers.

9.56pm – musical segue from ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’ to ‘My Boy Lollipop’. Ouch.

9.57pm – Glam rock. Spandex jumpsuits. It’s like the finale of ‘Mamma Mia’, only bigger and with less of a sense of restraint and decorum. It’s wildly silly, but also infectiously fun, and a good deal more tongue-in-cheek than these things often are.

9.58pm – Better musical segue: Bowie to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. There are dancers playing air guitar in the aisles.

9.59pm – Punk Rock is apparently being represented this evening by a gaggle of dancing leather-clad radishes.

10.00pm – New Order. ‘Blue Monday’. Then Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Relax’. This is the quick-fire 80s musical nightmare. Musical chronology is off – the Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’ was two years before Frankie’s ‘Relax’.

10.02pm – the dancing radishes are now pogoing on spring-loaded stilts. There, that’s not a sentence you expect to write every day, is it?

10.03pm – a clip of ‘Trainspotting’, followed by everyone singing  ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’, followed by Huge Grunt saying ‘I love you to a walking hatstand Andie McDowell in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’. Whatever this means, it’s something to do with drugs.

10.05pm – quick flip from hip-hop to Bollywood and back. Gosh, we’re multicultural, aren’t we? Then the obligatory Amy Winehouse clip. No, it’ s not ‘Back to Black’. Then Muse’s awful ‘Uprising’, entertainingly being used as part of the soundtrack of the biggest corporate shindig this country has ever thrown.

10.07pm – and the commentators remind us that the soundtrack will be available to download from tomorrow. Good. We’d gone almost an hour without anyone trying to sell us anything, I was beginning to get worried.

10.09pm – footage of the torch relay. Lots of footage of the torch relay. Because obviously none of us have been watching the news at all at any time in the last seven weeks. I suppose they need the film clips to cover a set change in the stadium.

10.11pm – You know what’s great about this? (Oh, wait, as I typed that there was a brief clip of Camoron. Oh well). It’s about our diversity, and our urban culture. That is to say, it’s about who we really are, and not about the mythical version of this country that we usually wheel out when we try to market ourselves abroad. It’s also a singularly un-Tory vision of Britain (to the point where I suspect that some of the bigger lighting effects might be powered by the spontaneous self-immolation of Daily Mail readers). It’s easy to be cynical about what is essentially a spectacle designed to market us to the rest of the world, but a lot of what I’m seeing is genuinely surprising, and refreshingly unlike the stereotyped version of Great! Britain! that we package to tourists.

10.15pm – memorial section, which apparently means dancers in black leotards writhing to what sounds like an Enya cover of ‘Abide with Me’. Only it’s not Enya, it’s Emeli Sandé.

10.18pm. Still not convinced by the musical arrangement, but her voice is gorgeous, and this is absolutely stunning to watch. It’s even better when the backing track cuts out and she sings the last verse acapella. And I’m impressed by what this is not leaving out – this choreography is about 7/7, and it’s absolutely right that the show is acknowledging that part of our recent history.

10.20pm – and now we’re into the entrance parade of athletes of all nations. This’ll take a while.

10.22pm – Greek kid with a collection bowl. Ouch.

10.23pm – need the loo. Back in a moment.

(Move on, there’s nothing to see here.)

10.26pm – I’m back. That’s better.

10.28pm – the part of me that occasionally had to walk in processionals in church services when I was in choirs as a child/teenager/undergraduate slightly frowns on the sight of athletes filming the audience in the stadium on their smartphones/cameras as they parade in. But this is the biggest thing they’ve ever done, probably, and why the hell not? I’d want footage of it, if it was me.

10.30pm – nice matching cream suits for the Belarus team.

10.34pm – 14 minutes in to the parade, and we’re still only on Brazil. I needn’t have rushed to finish loading the dishwasher before this started.

10.38pm. The Canadian team all appear to have been shopping at Roots.

10.39pm – ooh, ‘West End Girls’. Accompanying the entrance of the teams from Chad, Chile and China.

10.44pm – Did Costa Rica recycle Belarus’s outfits?

10.46pm – the Czech team have chosen to accessorise their very smart blazers with incredibly camp shiny blue wellies and umbrellas, because it always rains here. Ha. I’m actually smiling.

10.50pm – just a reminder: the people who created this spectacle BEGAN THEIR CAREERS IN SUBSIDISED THEATRE. I know I’m shouting. Arts funding is important, and you only develop the kind of imagination you need to do this sort of thing well by learning the ropes away from the commercial arena.

10.52pm – Finland, Finland, Finland… the country where I quite want to be… pony-trekking or camping… or just watching TV… sorry, spaced out there for a moment.

10.54pm – So glad we have Aidan Burley MP’s twitter feed to lend comedy to the proceedings. What. A. Maroon:

10.55pm – Germany: campest outfits so far. Team Germany looked like a gaggle of off-duty dancers from a road production of ‘Footloose’.

11.01pm – the Queen looks like she wants a cup of tea. Can’t say I blame her.

11.05pm – Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Usain Bolt! Finally.

11.10pm – those drummers must be getting very tired.

11.13pm – Team GB won’t be up for another 45 minutes or so, apparently.

11.17pm – couldn’t Team Montenegro iron their jackets?

11.20pm – Bloody hell. It’s like the voting in Eurovision, only longer. And without the actual voting.

11.27pm – ELO in the background, irritating commentary in the foreground. The BBC’s presenters seem to feel they should deliver a constant voice-over discussion of the procession. They shouldn’t, less would be more.

11.31pm – on the one hand, the sheer number of countries involved is fascinating, and this is probably the only opportunity to show the global reach of the games. On the other hand… a parade this long is not great television, particularly coming after the first hour and a quarter of the show.

11.40pm – those poor sods from countries beginning with ‘A’. They’ve been standing now for an hour and twenty minutes, and there’s a good half-hour to go.

11.45pm – Bonsior, Tunisie!

11.47pm – quick, just time to get a drink before Team GB comes in.

11.48pm – Team USA. They, of course, have had their jackets pressed for the occasion.

11.50pm – Placing Team GB under ‘U’ in the alphabetical procession of nations obviously just a dastardly plot to get us all to watch the whole sodding show.

11.51pm – “Let’s hear it for the drummers, they’ve been at it now for hours.”

11.53pm – Oh. We’re not under ‘U’. Presumably, as host nation, we’re last.

11.55pm – Team GB. White tracksuits with gold lamé armpits. Seven billion bits of biodegradable confetti, representing everybody on the planet. It’s numbingly kitsch, absolutely staggering, and oddly moving, all at the same time.

11.56pm – Dear BBC, please stop showing us David Cameron. You get enough opportunities to do that on the News.

11.59pm – Team GB look very, very happy indeed. That’s because they got there via the Olympic VIP lanes rather than the Central Line.

12.01am – and we move from the procession to the Arctic Monkeys, and fireworks – none of which, unfortunately, are loud enough to drown out their lead singer.

12.03am – someone on Twitter just pointed out that most of the teams looked like airline cabin crew in their uniforms. Yes.

12.04am – Oh my. Cyclists with glow-in-the-dark wings.

12.06am – they were doves. Obviously. Because doves are noted for their love of cycling. It’s… odd, but also oddly lovely. One of them flies over the middle of the stadium, looking strangely like ET on his way to Phone Home.

12.07am – enter Seb Coe. In glasses. Enunciating carefully. Unfortunately he has the charisma of a bowl of Shreddies.

12.11am – Ooh. Platitudes. A bland speech, boringly delivered. Sorry, Seb. You worked very hard to make this happen, but public speaking is not your greatest strength.

12.16am – Speech #2 from Jacques Rogge. Not as good as Coe’s, and in French as well as English. It’s getting late.

12.17am – the Queen looks very, very tired. Not surprising.

12.19am – Doreen Lawrence is the first of the flag-carriers. Brilliant, and having her, of all the people who could have been chosen, lead the entrance of the flag is incredibly moving – cynical as I am about all of this, I have a lump in my throat. She’s a remarkably brave, dignified lady, and she’s absolutely the sort of person who should represent us to the world.

12.20am – and Muhammad Ali, battling Parkinson’s Disease and accompanied by a carer. Powerful.

12.23am – Lord, they’re raising this flag slowly.

12.24am – Becks. Speedboat. Canal. Meeting the final torch-carrier: Steve Redgrave. And quite right too. If anyone deserves to do this, he does.

12.27am – the oaths. These people look very nervous as they read. Huge audience watching all over the world. That can’t be easy.

12.28am – and, yes, the Olympic Torch is introduced in French.

12.30am – no, even better: Steve Redgrave is not the final torch-carrier. He’s handing the torch off to seven young athletes from this year’s team. Quite right, too.

12.33am – OK, yes, this is magnificent. There’s been a lot of insanity surrounding the run-up to this moment, but I doubt anybody has ever staged this part of the proceedings better than this. It’s a dazzling spectacle, and it has real emotional weight. And the flame in the stadium – lit by multiple young athletes, rather than one VIP –  is extraordinarily lovely.

12.37am – and that’s quite a fireworks display.

12.40am – Paul McCartney. Lip-synching, badly. For the first verse of ‘Hey Jude’, his mouth movements and the vocal track are a good four bars apart.

12.43am – at least the crowd are singing live. Unlike Sir Paul.

12.45am – na na hey Jude. Milking it a bit. Particularly since he’s mostly not singing. When so much of what has gone before has been so striking, this is a let-down. It’s a very, very bad performance.

12.47am – aaaand that’s all, folks.  Show’s over.

So… I was expecting a full-evening version of a Debbie Allen Dance Number from the Oscars. This was better than that, often much better, and some of it was genuinely remarkable and surprisingly moving. The stage-management was faultless, the lighting design was superb, and above all else it’s very clear that Danny Boyle and his team have thought long and hard about precisely how they want to present contemporary Britain to the rest of the world. This was mostly not the tourist-board, chocolate-box image of Brand Britain that we peddle abroad. This was very British (and not just English, either), to the point that some of the nuances probably aren’t going to travel abroad terribly well. It very deliberately presented nearly everything from the point of view of everyday people, and it put forward the best version of what we are: a hard-working, secular, multicultural society with a rich history and a vibrant cultural heritage. Of course there was a certain amount of schlock – that’s inevitable – but this was, overall, a far more thoughtful presentation than I think anyone was expecting, and while it was sombre when it needed to be, it was carried off with a genuine sense of fun.

It’s also, of course, important to note that – a few name actors and significant figures aside – the cast was almost entirely made up of volunteers. The performances – apart from Mr. McCartney – were faultless, and the message throughout was very clear: this is for everybody (a slogan that, at one point, was actually spelled out in lights in the stands). My cynical side notes that this of-the-people-for-the-people approach stands in stark contrast to a sporting event whose financing and marketing appears to have been designed mostly to benefit multinational corporations rather than the ordinary inhabitants of the very depressed area of east London where it’s being staged, and the presence in the stadium of Bahrain’s Prince Nasser bin Hamad al Khalifa, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Alyev leaves a rather sour taste in the mouth, but it’s still very heartening to see that the directors make a very deliberate choice to place volunteer performers and people who have made a significant contribution to society front and centre, rather than a parade of celebs, politicians and pop stars.

So no, not perfect – but striking, surreal, often gripping, occasionally very moving, and far, far better than we had any right to expect (for one thing, Wenlock and Mandeville, thank God, were nowhere to be seen). I’m surprised and genuinely impressed. This wasn’t simply a by-the-numbers retreat of a series of tired patriotic tropes. It at least attempted to show who we are and where we come from. I expected to giggle, and I mostly didn’t, and some of it was genuinely extremely powerful. By the end, my cynicism had mostly dissolved – at least, in relation to the opening ceremony. This was remarkable television. For once, we really did present our best face to the rest of the world – and it wasn’t quite the face I was expecting to see.

Get Baku! Get Baku! Get Baku to where you once belonged!

Yes, people, it’s here again! It’s the event we’ve all been waiting for! It’s the year’s most glittering televisual extravaganza! It’s a breathtaking transnational celebration of human rights abuses the very best in popular music! It’s an occasion so exciting that by the end of it I may very well have run out of exclamation marks! It’s! It’s! It’s…

…oh, right, the ibuprofen and the antihistamines just kicked in. It’s the Eurovision Song Contest. Again. And I’m not live-blogging it because jamming red-hot pokers into my eyes and ears would make a mess of the carpet. I recorded it earlier, and while I have managed to remain spoiler-free I reserve the right to make judicious use of the fast-forward button because, really, how much trauma can one person reasonably be expected to take in a single evening?

Also, I don’t drink, so I can’t numb the pain by doing a shot every time something ridiculous happens. Yes, folks, just for you, I am watching this sober. I hope you’re impressed.

And no, before you ask, I did not watch the semi-finals. What do you think I am? A masochist?

ANYway. So. We’re in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku. And yes, I can find it on a map (Caspian Sea, left-hand side, about a third of the way up). Azerbaijan has vast, vast quantities of petrodollars. Unfortunately, Azerbaijan doesn’t exactly have an unblemished record when it comes to basic human rights, but never mind. They won Eurovision last year, so here we are. We open with a panning shot across Baku’s skyline, a prominent feature of which is a trio of skyscrapers that are designed to look like gas flames, just in case anyone was in any danger of forgetting where Azerbaijan’s money comes from.  Don’t mention the torture, or the intimidation of journalists, or the… no, really, don’t. There’s bound to be lots of glitter, so who cares about basic concepts of freedom as enshrined in all manner of international conventions and treaties?

There’s a four-hour time difference between Azerbaijan and the UK, so the show began at midnight local time. Given that Eurovision usually involves a level of kitsch that could not be brought forth without someone on the production team calling on the dark arts, this seems oddly appropriate. We start with fireworks, then ten seconds of a traditional singer, and then… oh my. It’s a troupe of male dancers in floaty white rainwear, some of which glows under a black light. And two of them fly over the audience.

Clearly, this year’s telecast is going to be even less restrained than usual.

Now there are traditional dancers. They’re elegant. They’re graceful. They’re obviously doomed. This section of the opening is tasteful, and yet it’s been allowed to go on for more than twenty seconds. That’s disappointing. And we haven’t even met the presenters yet! Well, apart from Graham Norton, snarking in the background.

Things kick off in earnest with a repeat performance of last year’s winning song, ‘Running Scared’. There are two people on a trapeze over the singers’ heads. Fortunately, we only get one verse before the number ends with big jets of flame shooting out of the sides of the stage. The subtext we’re meant to take away from this, presumably, is that any act unlucky enough to score Nul Points will  be barbecued.

And now, finally – Finally! – it’s time to meet our hosts. Leyla and Nargiz. Nargiz, apparently, is a lawyer. She should sue whoever measured her for her dress, which seems to be squeezing one of her boobs out like toothpaste from a tube. And they’re joined by the faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaabulous Eldar Gasimov, last year’s winner. He’s a bit like Nick Jonas, only bland.

Ooh. Change in the rules. Phone voting doesn’t open until every act has performed. You’d think this would be the sensible way to do things, but no, it’s a first.

Aaand we’re off. And Britain’s first, represented by a face off Mount Rushmore Engelbert Humperdinck. The outside of the hall is lit up with Union Jacks. The song is in 3/4 time, and magnificently cheesy, and Mr. Humperdinck – who really does sing ‘luurve’ – looks a bit like a chipmunk in a black single-breasted suit. There’s a pair of black-clad ballroom dancers behind him, and Mantovani wants his string section back. The song’s not bad, but Mr. Humperdinck’s big money notes at the end, I’m afraid, are a bit approximate. He’s 76, maybe he should have dropped the key a tone. It’s not embarrassing – which puts it several steps above our last few entries – but it’s also, I think, not a winner, and performing first won’t help his chances.

Now we’re off to Hungary. And yes, the outside of the hall lights up in the colours of Hungary’s national flag. Compact Disco (geddit?) with ‘Sound of our Hearts’. Power ballad, sounds like an odd cross between early Boyzone without the harmonies and late Ultravox, sung by a less charismatic Marti Pellow clone who’s wearing an oddly rigid black leather coat. Competent but uninspiring, nicely sung, could have come from any country in Europe at nearly any point in the last twenty-five years. Move on, there’s nothing to see here.

Albania. She’s a ‘devoted experimental jazz singer’, apparently. Mr. Norton tells us that she can ‘do extraordinary things with her voice. Not pleasant things, but extraordinary’. And she seems to be wearing a cruller on her head. Rona Nishliu, she’s called, bringing us ‘Suus’. The tinkly piano intro isn’t bad. Her singing, however, certainly is, although it pales next to her astonishing gown, which seems to be modelled on a British Airways club class seat circa 1993. She seems to be simultaneously channeling Bjork, Enya, and Edvard Munch’s ‘Scream’, with some startling high notes thrown in, presumably to bring every dog in Azerbaijan to heel.

Now. Lithuania. Donny Montell. ‘Love is Blind’. We’re in Mathis territory. He’s wearing a sequinned blindfold. I’m kind of hoping he’ll lose his footing and go crashing over the front of the stage, because the song he’s singing is stunningly boring. Oh – no, wait, a beat has come in, he’s ripped off the blindfold, and now he’s started dancing. He’s about 22, and he dances like… well, imagine Zac Efron impersonating Miss Piggy while receiving electroshock therapy.

Five. Bosnia-Herzegovina. Maya Sar, singing ‘Korake Ti Znam’. Big shoulder-pads, grand piano, pretty voice, meaningfully tortured facial expressions. As the song gets more and more overwrought, she gets up from the piano and a wind machine kicks in. At Eurovision, this is what passes for restraint.

Six. Russia. The grandmas. Buranovskiye Babushki, bringing us ‘Party for Everybody’. Oh dear Lord, there’s a prop oven onstage and they’re wearing traditional dress. Yes, it’s a novelty act. They look like they’re having a nice time, and the oven is spinning behind them. Perhaps it’s Satanic. As the number approaches what – please, God – I hope is the climax, they pass a tray of pastries around. It’s simultaneously completely horrendous and absolutely irresistible. This, I’m afraid, is the kind of moment that makes us watch Eurovision.

Iceland. Greta Salome and Jonsi, with a song called ‘Never Forget’. According to Mr. Norton, their song is possibly more suitable for a musical than for Eurovision. Jonsi might be a vampire – he seems to have fangs – and Greta is toting a violin and grinning like she’s under hypnosis. The song reminds me a little of ‘Which Witch’, the Norwegian Operamusical, which I actually saw, and which I’ve spent the last twenty years trying to forget. It’s bland, bombastic, and not bad enough to be memorable. Unlike ‘Which Witch’.

Ooh. Cyprus. I’m going there later this year. Ivi Adamou, with ‘La La Love’. Standard-issue Mediterranean-resort Eurodisco, for some reason performed on and around a pile of books. It’ll go down a storm in the beach bars, but it won’t win this evening.

France. Anggun, singing ‘Echo (You And I)’, performing with the French Gymnastics Olympic team, whose shirts seem to still be in the suitcase they forgot to pick up at the airport. Anggun is wearing a bronze breastplate with matching net curtains (by Jean-Paul Gaultier, apparently), and she’s wasted on this song, which is another slab of white-bread Europop.

Italy. Nina Zilli, ‘L’Amore e Femmina (Out of Love)’. Nice bluesy beginning. She’s sort of like a clean Amy Winehouse. She can sing, the song isn’t bad, and she and her backing singers are clearly having fun with it. In fact, I think she might be having Albania and Iceland’s fun as well. This is about as classy as Eurovision gets, and I hope she does well. Which means she’s obviously doomed.

Estonia. Ott Lepland, with ‘Kuula’. You know what’s nice, Mr. Lepland? Singing with your eyes open. It’s terribly, terribly sincere and meaningful, and he does, at least, hit his high note dead on… oh, wait. No. He hit his first high note dead on, but not the second, third or fourth. Never mind. I feel less bad about fast-forwarding through the rest of his very, very boring song now.

(Who am I kidding? I don’t feel bad about fast-forwarding through the rest of his boring song at all. I recorded it specifically so I could fast-forward through the boring songs.)

OK. Norway. Tooji, with ‘Stay’. Norway have won a couple of times in recent-ish memory, but they also gave us Jahn Teigen, who scored nul points in 1978. This could go either way. Ooh. Acrobats. A guy in a hoodie with big rings on his fingers. Synths and a drum machine. He’s so… clean. It’s like watching Justin Bieber trying to cover the Beastie Boys. I lasted twenty seconds, I hope you’re grateful.

A momentary pause. Nargiz – whose boob is still trying to break free of the side of her dress – is interviewing Mr. Humperdinck. He had a great time and sang from the heart, apparently. That’s nice.

Now it’s the home team. Sabina Babayeva, ‘When the Music Dies’. This is Eurovision, so that title is probably redundant – music died here in rehearsals, long before we tuned in. She’s wearing a pair of dead swans as reimagined by Dynasty-era Joan Collins, and her song sounds like every power ballad you’ve ever heard. She can sing, but she doesn’t quite have the power to slam it home in suitable melodramatic style. Fortunately, there are lighting effects that can do that for her.

Oh. I just found out precisely when the music died: at the beginning of her big high note at the end of the song. Ouch. Well, to be exact, it didn’t die so much as commit hari-kiri. You can actually see the note’s entrails flailing across the front of the stage. Someone get a mop before the next act comes out. There could be a nasty accident.

Romania. Mandinga – apparently, a Romanian-Cuban combo – with ‘Zaleilah’. The singer is gorgeously curvy, the song is a giant slab of Latin-tinged Euro-cheese, and her backing band look like a gaggle of flamboyantly gay Energizer Bunnies who have somehow stumbled into the Pet Shop Boys’ video for ‘Go West’. One of them is carrying a set of toy bagpipes. Another has a bright red accordion. It’s… amazing. More like this, please.

Denmark. Soluna Samay, ‘Should’ve Known Better’. Yes, than to dress like Captain Sensible. The song is competently-executed guitar-driven indie-ish pop. Fast-forward time. That’s not what we’re here for.

Greece. Eleftheria Eleftheriou, with ‘Aphrodisiac’. There are bouzoukis – or a bouzouki synth setting, at least – along with hyperactive dancing and a catchy aa-aa-aa oh-oh-oh chorus. It’s bonkers, but possibly not bonkers enough.

Ah. Sweden. A favourite, apparently. Loreen – not Soreen, Loreen – with ‘Euphoria’. She’s like a cross between Kate Bush and Kate Ryan. No, really, she’s obviously seen Kate Bush’s dance moves from ‘Babooshka’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’. The song is another slab of by-the-numbers Eurodisco, and the performance ends with her getting felt up by a dancer. It’s not completely horrible, but if this is the favourite to win, it’s a bad year.

And now Eldard’s back, introducing Turkey. Turkey’s entries are often very, very special, so I have high hopes. Can Bonomo, ‘Love Me Back’. The choreography resembles an international breakdancing class taking place in an iron foundry, flying sparks and all. The dancers have bare sleeves and grey cloth bat-wings attached at their wrists. No, I don’t know why either. It’s camper than Butlins, and the homoerotic subtext would be off the charts if the performance wasn’t so completely sexless. It’s like watching six Ken dolls do the expurgated version of a Turkish-themed disco medley. You can’t get this anywhere else on television.

Spain. Pastora Soler, ‘Quédate Conmigo’. It’s power ballad time again. It starts very soft, and builds to the pitch of a declaration of war. They’re getting a lot of use out of the wind machine this evening, or maybe her top notes caused an earthquake. She did, at least, hit very nearly all of them, which is more than can be said for several of this evening’s contestants. I think I liked the quiet bit of her song better. It was very short.

Germany. Song co-written by Jamie Cullen. Roman Lob, ‘Standing Still’. Pleasant, boring pop song. No staging tricks, just the singer, drums, piano, bass and guitar (and, um, the orchestra in the background). Where’s the cheese? There’s nothing distinctive about it at all – good or bad – which means it almost certainly won’t win.

Home stretch now. Malta. Kurt Kalleja, ‘This Is The Night’. More Eurodisco, but it’s fun – this is a very entertaining slice of disposable pop music with a catchy chorus, performed without any kind of pretentious concept by people who can actually sing, and who look like they’re having a good time on stage but don’t grin like they’ve hoovered up every illegal substance within a half-mile of the stadium through their noses.

Macedonia. Kaliopi, ‘Crno i Belo’. Another quiet, emotional beginning with a tinkly piano in the background – that and cheesy Eurodisco are this year’s two recurring musical themes. She can sing – really well – but the song goes to hell when the guitars and drums come in. What started as a pretty piano ballad very quickly descends into something that Bonnie Tyler would have rejected for being too unsubtle. Shame.

Aaaaand they’re back. Yes, it’s Jedward, the Irish entertainment industry’s joined-at-the-hip punchline, assaulting the senses with a ditty called ‘Waterline’. They entered last year as well. This year, they’ve ditched the vertical hairdos, and seem to be dressed as gold toy soldiers off a Christmas tree. The song is written-by-rote Anglo dance pop, they can’t really sing, the choreography is ridiculous, and – just like last year – they do it with magnificent conviction, even though I think I just saw the word ‘tacky’ get redefined. And yes, that’s a real fountain in the middle of the stage. They get soaked at the end, which given their costumes brings new meaning to the term ‘golden shower’. Unfortunately, the water doesn’t short out their radio mikes.

Serbia. Zeljko Joksimovic, ‘Nije Ljubav Stvar’. Everybody looks terribly serious, and he’s not the first singer this evening to start singing with his eyes closed. This is, however, the first performance tonight to feature a man in a skirt playing the clarinet. As for Mr. Joksimovic, I’m sure his mother thinks he’s wonderful, but it’s fast-forward time.

Second-to-last song now: Ukraine, Gaitana, ‘Be My Guest’. She’s dressed entirely in white tassels (OK, apart from the flowers in her hair), men in day-glo dresses break-dance behind her (sometimes they have trumpets), the video projections are a bad acid trip gone wrong, and the song is the evening’s worst contribution to the Eurodisco canon. It’s completely, magnificently deranged. Possibly more deranged than the Russian grandmas.

Last country. Waaaaah!  Moldova, Pasha Parfeny, bringing us a gem called ‘Lautar’. There’s some kind of accent on that first A but I can’t be arsed to go and find the right ASCII character. He’s dressed as the woodcutter in a fairytale – yes, including a leather toolbelt – and his backing singers appear to be five big-breasted extras from ‘The Flintstones’. The song is very… Moldovan. He’s selling the song as if his life depends on it. It possibly does. The choreography is insane – at one point he does strong-arm poses while the backing singers writhe on the floor. It’s the most ridiculously kitsch performance of the evening so far, including the grandmas.

So that’s it. The presenters are back to explain the voting rules. Nargiz’s boob apparently finally escaped from the clutches of the white ballgown somewhere in the later part of the show, so she’s had to confine the girls in something a little more restrictive. Her current dress – flesh-coloured, the better to disguise any escaping boobage that might occur later –  is basically underwiring with a skirt attached. Eldar looks like he’s auditioning for the role of Billy Flynn in a non-Equity road company of ‘Chicago’.  The voting is now open, so we get a recap of all the songs, so it’s now time for me to fast-forward. A lot. Unfortunately, I’ve just had another snatch of Ms. Albania’s public primal scream therapy. Don’t ever say I’m not prepared to suffer in the name of writing.

The presenters are plugging the CD and DVD of this year’s songs, because of course this is music you’ll want to take home and treasure forever.

And now we have another quick reminder of all the songs. Whoopee. More Albanian shrieking.

And the voting lines have closed. This year, you only got fifteen minutes to make your futile gesture.

Interval act. Lots of lasers, a parade of torches (no pitchforks, which is perhaps lucky for Ms. Albania), traditional Azerbaijani instruments. In an astonishing coincidence, Mr. Norton informs us, the pop star who will sing the lead vocal in this interval act just happens to be married to the Azerbaijani President’s daughter. Gosh. How… coincidental. This is the sort of Big Production Number they used to do on the Oscars, only twice as big. In case you might be wondering why I put myself through this crap every year: this. This bit. There’s nothing else like it on television. Dancers, drums, exploding fireballs, singers entering suspended on a wire from the flies, a light show that makes Las Vegas look like something you’d get at Wal-Mart to put on a Christmas tree. It’s amazing. It would be more amazing this year if it wasn’t being fronted by Mr. related-to-the-President-by-marriage Azerbaijani pop star, who is – how can I say this nicely? – a bit crap. Golly, I wonder how he got this gig?

And now Nargiz is terrorising people in the green room. She’s nice to the Azerbaijani singer, who seems to be chewing gum. She doesn’t really speak to anyone else much, although she does say hi to Norway. No nationalism here, then. Oh no, not at all.

I’m going to fast-forward through a lot of the scoring, because really, who wants to sit through an hour of this? Sweden takes an early lead. The voting, as usual, at least partly plays out along weirdly nationalistic lines. Jedward got a point before Mr. Humperdinck did. Given the nature of this contest, that’s not a surprise. Belgium threw him a bone, though – he doesn’t have nul points.

Nargiz has changed dresses again – black, with everything between her neck and her knees chained rigidly into place. Probably a good idea. A spillage could have proved fatal. Not to her, obviously – I think she’s remote-controlled – but perhaps to a cameraman or a member of the audience. We’re still in the bottom three, with one point; Macedonia gave Albania twelve points. That’s utterly terrifying. Denmark, after 25 countries have voted, still have nul points. Somehow I don’t think they’re going to win. Then Iceland vote, and the tables turn slightly. The UK is now bottom, nobody has nul points.

The woman announcing the Swedish vote is amazing. She has an Estuary accent and big glasses, and looks a bit like the middle-aged love-child of Kate Copstick and Giant Haystacks.

Gosh. Now we have six points. We’re still bottom. Oh, no we’re not, we’ve got another two points from Latvia. But there’s ten more countries to vote, so there’s still plenty of time for us to hit bottom again.

Nail-biting, isn’t it?

The Finnish vote, announced by Lordi (if you don’t know already, go to Google). He’s dressed as some kind of demon from the final season of ‘Angel’. And he keeps doing things with his tongue. Why is there never a giant anvil when you need one?

And the winner is… Loreen. Not the best song in this year’s contest, and not the best performance either (come to that, it’s nowhere near as good as either of the last two winners); the UK came second-to-last. Loreen, to her credit, has apparently spoken in the press about Azerbaijan’s human rights record, which – as Mr. Norton points out – is a topic that most other contestants have avoided. So Loreen gets to do her song again, and next year’s show will come from Sweden. Lucky Sweden, they get to pay for most of it.

Overall: not a vintage year. Too much bland sludge, not enough catastrophic kitsch. No dresses that sprout butterfly wings halfway through a song, no perspex pianos, no bondage gear, and a seemingly endless succession of Eurodisco songs that all sounded pretty much the same. Disappointing, although the jaw-dropping opening number and interval act slightly redressed the balance.

Still, at least we didn’t come last ( which we did two years ago). I’ll be tuning in next year, because even in a bad year there’s nothing else quite like this on television; in the meantime, here’s Loreen. No, I don’t know why she won either.

Weather 1, UK 0

It snowed a bit here today. And I do mean just a bit – three or four inches on high ground, maybe half that lower down. That’s a light snowfall, as far as I’m concerned. Judging by the news here, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s Armageddon. More fool me, I went out in it… and it took me pushing three hours to travel about ten miles to get home.

I probably shouldn’t be surprised. This was the scene in Manchester city centre at about 6pm:

That’s a light dusting of snow, nothing more (to be fair, there is more here, ten miles to the north-east). Note the complete absence of salt or grit on either the road or the pavement. This was far from the most treacherous place in the city centre – the pavements in front of Debenhams in Market Street were slick with ice and very slippery (and no, neither Debenhams nor Manchester City Council had put any salt down). The Market Street Metrolink platform was just as bad – there had been no attempt to clear the lying snow, which had been compacted to ice under passengers’ feet, and nobody had put grit down.

Where I live is fairly high up, a few hundred feet higher than the city centre, and it’s not all that unusual for the public transport system here to experience some disruption when snow falls. I grew up here, I know what the weather can do, and I have the bus and train company websites bookmarked on my BlackBerry so that I can check for service updates if I go out when there’s snow on the ground (it slightly irritates me to do this, given that I’ve spent a big chunk of my adult life living in Toronto, a city that deals with far larger snowfalls every winter, usually without anything like the level of disruption snow causes here). I checked First Manchester‘s service updates page regularly; for most of the day (until some point after I got home, in fact) it showed only a bland message saying that there may be some weather-related delays. In the past, when there have been problems, this page has carried a fairly extensive list of specific services that are cancelled or diverted due to the weather. Since no such list was displayed, I assumed I was OK, and didn’t rush to come home.

The fun started when I went to catch a bus out of Manchester. There were no departing buses to be seen at my stop. Inbound buses (it’s the terminus) were dropping off passengers then going out of service, which isn’t a good sign (there’s supposed to be a bus between Manchester and Oldham town centre every ten minutes at that time of day). Rather than wait, I went to catch a train. The train departed exactly on time, and arrived at my station exactly on time. The station, however, was a mess:

That’s the platform, stairs and footbridge at Greenfield station. Nobody had made any attempt to clear the snow. No salt had been put down anywhere, even on the stairs. The station is staffed on Saturdays until 3.30pm, and sees one train an hour in each direction, timetabled to leave at more or less the same time. Aside from a window of about 15 minutes before both trains depart, it’s never that busy, so the lack of any salt anywhere on the platforms, staircases and footbridge basically comes down to laziness. It’s not as if this snowfall was unexpected. It was forecast 72 hours in advance, and arrived more or less exactly on schedule – and yet, obviously, the station’s staff (and their managers) didn’t bother to take even the simplest steps to mitigate the effect of the snowfall. I don’t know why this surprised me – I use Northern Rail regularly, and they’re committed to excellence in customer service in roughly the same way as the Communist Party of China is committed to promoting democracy – but it did. They usually make at least some effort, but they didn’t today.

The fun, for me, was only just beginning. The road outside Greenfield station is on a steep hill; it’s treacherous in ice, buses are often diverted away from there when there’s snow or ice on the ground, so I walked up to the main road (by now it was about 9pm, and the snow had long since stopped falling in any quantity). There was perhaps three inches of snow on the ground; usually, OMBC does a reasonably efficient job of clearing snow from the main roads, and you’d expect one of the borough’s major routes to be reasonably clear nine hours after the beginning of a snowfall that left an accumulation of only three or four inches. Not tonight:

It had probably been gritted, but not for several hours, and it hadn’t been ploughed. First Manchester’s mobile website still – again, nine hours after snow had begun to fall – showed only a bland message about possible snow-related delays, so I waited. Half an hour after my bus was due to arrive, I caught another service into the next village (easier place to pick up a taxi, and the bus shelter there has a seat). I asked the driver whether the service I was waiting for was running or not, and he didn’t know; he couldn’t be bothered to use his radio to try and find out. It wasn’t that cold, and the road was clearly open, so I waited… for three quarters of an hour, at which point a bus came along that would deposit me within a mile or so of home. Rather than ring a taxi, I caught it and walked. This bus ran more or less exactly on time; there was no sign at all of the service I’d been waiting for. The driver of the bus I caught thought it probably wasn’t running, but didn’t know for sure (and, again, couldn’t be bothered to get on the radio and find out); First finally got around to updating their website with a list of services that weren’t running at some point after 11pm, and the service I waited for for over an hour and a half is not listed there.

The walk home – mostly uphill through uncleared streets – was lovely.

And all of this for three or four inches of snow! It’s pathetic. More than that, it shows the management of a mostly privatised transport system on which the bottom line is corporate profit holding their paying customers in absolute, unyielding contempt. This was a minor snowfall, forecast days in advance – but the snow was forecast to fall at the weekend, which means that deploying additional personnel to clear platforms and bus stops of snow, put grit down, and keep passenger information systems properly updated with details of service disruptions would have meant paying overtime, which would eat into profits (never mind that we’ve had above-inflation fare increases on both the buses and the trains within the last month, in both cases without even the hint of a promise of any improvement in services in return). The snow falling at the weekend probably accounts for the state of the main roads as well – to be fair to the council here, on weekdays, with this amount of snow, they usually do a better job than they did today. Presumably they too wanted to avoid paying out too much overtime.

Beyond that, the prevailing mentality here does seem to be that clearing snow is somebody else’s problem. Toronto has a fairly strict bylaw outlining when and how snow must be removed from sidewalks, pathways etc following a snowfall, and this level of snow clearance is the responsibility of the owner or occupant of each building. We don’t have any such law here, so nobody bothers – including city centre businesses (and, really, it’s not as if putting salt down on the pavement in front of, say, Debenhams would have eaten up more than about 20 minutes of someone’s time – I repeat, we did not have a major snowfall today, and there was far less snow in the city centre than there is here). The snow on the pavements either piles up to the point where it gets into your shoes, or it compacts into ice, because nobody takes responsibility for clearing the pavement in front of their own property. Indeed, there’s an obnoxious perception that clearing snow and gritting in front of your home or business can get you sued if someone slips and falls on the section you cleared. And no, don’t worry, I’m not going to list every single revolting thing this says about British society.

And then there’s the private cars. When snow falls here, it’s as if parking regulations suddenly no longer apply. People bring their cars down from side roads (which, admittedly, are often steep, quickly become impassable, and are never the first to be cleared) and park them on the main road – anywhere on the main road, including on double yellow lines, around blind bends, and in front of bus stops, reducing two-lane roads to a single car-width of carriageway. Since that’s too narrow for two buses to pass, the result is severe disruption – like I experienced this evening – for anyone trying to get around by bus, even after a relatively minor snowfall. These cars, of course, are never ticketed or towed, despite being parked illegally. If we put in place a system of designated snow routes that became absolute no-parking zones after a snowfall in order to facilitate snow clearance and enable traffic to move freely in both directions, and enforced it, an awful lot of this disruption would be avoided.

Unfortunately, that would require planning, and common sense, and when snow falls in this country both of those things magically disappear. We had three or four inches of snow, and it was forecast days in advance. Some delays are understandable; letting chaos result from such a minor snowfall is not.

And the Northern Rail and Metrolink managing directors – I’m looking at YOU, Ian Bevan and Chris Coleman  – who failed to put protocols in place to ensure that station platforms would be gritted ahead of a snowfall should be fired. Even given the generally pathetic way we deal with snowfalls in the UK, that takes a special kind of incompetence.

She was only a grocer’s daughter, but she taught Sir Geoffrey Howe

I never voted for her.

No, not Meryl Streep. Margaret Thatcher. I wasn’t old enough to vote until the last two weeks she was in office, but I was certainly old enough to be aware of politics. I read newspapers, I had opinions, I wouldn’t have voted for her had the opportunity arisen. I didn’t vote for her successor, I’ve never voted for her party, I can’t imagine any circumstances in which I might be inclined to vote for her party, and my impression of her in what I suppose we must call her prime (an impression that was strongly reinforced when I worked at one of the book-signings for her memoirs and saw the haughty, dismissive way she treated her staff) was of a single-minded, imperious, ambitious, arrogant, generally rather unpleasant person whose wrong-headed social and economic reforms caused a great deal of damage.

I say this upfront because I’ve just seen The Iron Lady, Phyllida Lloyd‘s new film about Thatcher, and my response to it was not at all what I was expecting: I was moved.

That’s partly because the film presents us with a rather selective account of Mrs. Thatcher’s reign of terror. Screenwriter Abi Morgan shows us Mrs. Thatcher in present-day old age, struggling with memory lapses and the onset of dementia, never quite sure of the distinction between reality and recollection. The film offers a fractured chronology from which we piece together the influences that drove the young Margaret Roberts towards public service, the drive that propelled her into Downing Street, the defining moments of her terms in office, and, yes, the vicious arrogance that brought about her downfall.

Framing her political rise and fall in the context of the recollections of an elderly lady in less than complete control of her faculties has the interesting effect of ensuring that this is determinedly not simply a standard-issue one-woman’s-triumph-over-adversity biopic. Indeed, the film is written and directed by women, and takes great pains to position Mrs. Thatcher’s ascent as something other than a purely feminist narrative. Mrs. Thatcher famously disdained feminism, and during her years in office she surrounded herself almost entirely with male colleagues, promoting only one woman to the Cabinet; whatever your opinion of her, it’s impossible not to admire her achievement in breaking through the male hierarchy as she worked her way up through the party ranks, but she was not a feminist pioneer. She paved the way for herself, and only for herself, and women who have risen to the Cabinet after her have tended to find very different, less visibly combative ways of interacting with their male colleagues.

The use of this framing device also allows Lloyd and Morgan to give us what is probably the closest thing possible to an apolitical film about a woman who is now remembered as the single most divisive British political figure of the second half of the Twentieth Century. There is, for the most part, little sense of what Mrs. Thatcher’s platform was while she was in office, beyond election-stump soundbites about giving people the resources to help themselves/pull themselves up by the bootstraps/administer medicine to a sick economy and all the rest of it. We see rioting miners banging on the windows of her ministerial car, we get a brief explanation of the policy fiasco that was the Poll Tax, but we see little of, for example, the origins of the devastating 1984-5 miners’ strike, or of Mrs. Thatcher’s instigation of the wholesale privatisation of most of our nationalised industries, or the impact of the 1986 deregulation of the London stock market (a central strand in her programme of policy reform). We do see her decision to go to war with Argentina over the Falklands, and her giving the controversial order to sink the ARA General Belgrano, but there’s only the barest hint, here, of the massive fissures opened up in British society by legislation enacted by her government. Perhaps that’s as it should be in this particular narrative: Mrs. Thatcher once famously commented that “there’s no such thing as society”; in a film presented entirely from her point of view, it would be difficult to show the impact of her policies on something she was barely willing to perceive. And while the film certainly does not shrink from showing her almost messianic haughtiness, we are not shown the full extent of the irritable, demeaning way in which she treated her cabinet colleagues until very late in the film, in the bloodbath of a Cabinet meeting that prompted Sir Geoffrey Howe‘s notorious resignation speech.

What we do see, very strongly, is the root of Mrs. Thatcher’s steamroller-like ambition in her lower-middle-class upbringing, the single-mindedness with which she pursued her career, and the devastating, almost King Lear-like sense of loss that sinks in as she moves from a position of great power to a condition of great frailty. Meryl Streep‘s central performance is everything you’ve heard and more; she captures that distinctive voice eerily well, but her work here moves far beyond mere impersonation, and is considerably more than a simple above-the-title star turn, although it’s certainly a charismatic star performance. Through (or perhaps despite) the film’s fractured chronology, Streep offers an unflinching, astonishingly multifaceted portrayal of both the private and the public Mrs. Thatcher, and her performance, while appropriately cold where it needs to be, is surprisingly moving. She doesn’t act Mrs. Thatcher so much as inhabit her, there’s no sense at all of either caricature or satire (difficult to avoid when playing a controversial political figure whose vocal and physical mannerisms are as, let’s say, defined as Mrs. Thatcher’s), and the overall effect is quite breathtaking. Alexandra Roach as the younger Mrs. Thatcher matches Streep gesture for gesture; the best compliment I can give is that they are giving, essentially, the same performance, and that between them their performance has a depth that Morgan’s screenplay, strong as it generally is, sometimes slightly lacks.

But then, the rest of the performances are equally faultless. Aside from Streep and Roach, the acting honours go to Anthony Head‘s quiet, subtle evocation of Sir Geoffrey Howe,  and to Olivia Colman‘s shrewd, surprisingly sympathetic, slightly resentful take on Thatcher’s daughter Carol. Jim Broadbent, appearing entirely in flashbacks and as hallucinations as Mrs. Thatcher’s husband Denis, is absolutely charming and possibly slightly misused; he’s the closest thing the film has to comic relief (aside from one big laugh that comes in a scene in which Mrs. Thatcher rips US Secretary of State Alexander Haig a new asshole over his reluctance to support her Falklands campaign, then smilingly offers to pour him a cup of tea with the words “Shall I be mother?”), but the flashback structure means that there are limits to how far the film can explore the dynamic of their marriage, which I suspect had to have been considerably more complex than the picture we’re given here.

Overall? It’s an impressive film, but not a perfect one. Phyllida Lloyd, in only her second film, gets superlative performances from her large supporting cast as well as from her star. The camera moves far more confidently than it did in Mamma Mia, and she handles the transitions between the present, the flashbacks and the elderly Mrs. Thatcher’s confused hallucinations quite stylishly. If there’s the occasional directorial flourish too far – the carpet of rose petals and operatic soundtrack as Mrs. Thatcher leaves Number 10 for the last time as Prime Minister are a little much – this is still, overall, a very strong piece of direction, far stronger than I expected given her rather rudimentary work on her first outing behind the camera. The screenplay is occasionally a step or two behind what a British audience already knows about the events it portrays – when we see Airey Neave drive his car up the ramp of the Palace of Westminster’s underground car-park, we know exactly what is going to happen next – but that’s probably inevitable in any film about such a well-known political figure, and it does a far better job than, say, the BBC’s perfectly fine TV film Margaret managed in showing the astonishing inner force that enabled Margaret Roberts, chemistry graduate from Grantham, to turn herself into an iconic world leader. And while there are certainly significant omissions in terms of how much the film  chooses to show of the effect Mrs. Thatcher had on her country, that’s probably inevitable: there’s far more material here than could ever be packed into two hours or so of screen time, however talented the people involved. Lloyd, Morgan and Streep never sugar-coat their subject; they didn’t exactly make me like their Mrs. Thatcher, but their sensitive, compassionate portrayal of her plight in old age is certainly moving, and Streep’s amazing, possibly career-best performance must be seen by anyone with even a passing interest in screen acting.

Still wouldn’t vote for her, though. I mean Thatcher, not Streep. After this – I’m not always a fan – I’m prepared to believe Meryl Streep can do very nearly anything. If only she’d been in power during the miners’ strike.