‘Sunday 4th May
Something amazing happened.’
So begins my blue colouring-pencilled diary entry, unearthed from a box of yellowed notebooks, faded cinema tickets, and dusty photo albums (remember those?). The writing is uneven, stretchy, but perfectly spelled. And what was so ‘amazing’ I felt compelled to commemorate it with such intensity? Great test results at school? A medal at sports day? A new baby in the family? Don’t be ridiculous. It was May 1997. What else would a normal twelve-year-old boy be celebrating at such a historic time?
‘We won the Eurovision Song Contest!’
Katrina and the Waves had let Love Shine a Light across Europe (about seventy points ahead of Ireland, or so twelve-year-old me notes) and belted the UK to victory! This had to be recorded in my special A4 Cambridge Refill lined paper diary. I was elated in big messy blue writing! Eurovision was magic; my annual version of the Olympics shining onto the TV with colourful flags, spotlights, a points table, a trophy, and, this year, an 80s pop-rock British-American comeback band who probably couldn’t believe their luck. As a kid, Eurovision was an epic tournament of nerves; a sequined tentpole holding the year up between Christmases.
I hadn’t watched our triumph at a loud Eurovision house party or with giddy friends who shared my passion. Instead, I’d listened to Terry Wogan punctuate the point-strewn path to the top of the leaderboard while I was curled up under a duvet beside my parents in a foldout caravan bed. Every Friday after school, we’d bundle the car up with walking boots, outdoor coats, fresh bedsheets, groceries, my ‘diary’ and, seemingly, colouring pencils, and drive north for an hour to Comrie. Don McLean sang to us on the journey there; Pam Ayres rhymed us back home on a Sunday. Sometimes ABBA would whirl into the CD player – my Europop fixation obviously stemmed from some familial influence.
I was the youngest of five, but my siblings had all outgrown such trips, leaving me posing as an only child in the white-cottaged rural village. Our caravan park was small, set at the foot of thick, wooded hills with a little shop that opened on request – ringing the doorbell of the park owner’s house was a novelty I never grew tired of. Our tourer van was nestled in a grassy corner, hooded by pine branches; a den that smelt of holidays and dew.
It was cooried in my curtained-off "bedroom" that I chronicled my week. And what a week in May 1997 I was having. My wobbly blue handwriting reveals that two days before our Eurovision victory, Labour had won the general election - ‘Everyone is happy and things are going great’, I was ‘brilliant friends with Sean now’ (whoever Sean was), I’d just entered a public speaking competition at school, and the much-anticipated Jurassic Park sequel was ‘said to be AMAZING’ (where was I getting this pre-internet insider movie gossip?). All this scribbled down at my countryside hideaway. Nowadays, people pay a fortune for such writers’ retreats.
A recent drive through Comrie was nostalgic and bittersweet. Gliding along the country road towards the village main street, I recognised the caravan park entrance; the tops of static vans peeking over the hedges; the moss green bridge crossing the river; the gravelled path leading down to the Catholic church; and the grocers with the slim video rental shelf – our main entertainment on non-Eurovision weekends. But the town doesn’t match up perfectly with my memories. The book shop is empty, with polythene sheets covering the windows, the sweet shop replaced by a business consultancy, and stepping into the grocers, I noticed, of course, that they don’t rent videos anymore.
Eurovision has had a costume change too. The basic elements are the same: the happy pop songs, the power ballads, the wild outfits, the endless assignment of points. But (Ooh Aah) just a little bit of the naïve magic has faded. It’s still camp and ridiculous, but back then, when there was a real chance of actually winning, I didn’t know it was camp and ridiculous.
Maybe the seclusion of our caravan was an apt symbol of my closeted Eurovision celebration. Yes, Mum and Dad watched too. But were they as jubilant as me? Would they be cheering with their colleagues come Monday morning, reliving their highlights of Saturday night’s event? Or was it contained in the caravan? A celebration kept just for us? I’m still making my mind up.
Now, though, I can celebrate aloud. It’s fun to say you like Eurovision, accepted as "a bit of a laugh". People throw themed parties, bringing dishes to represent competing countries, placing bets on their winners, even if it is all a bit tongue-in-cheek. Back then, my shabby diary was the only outlet for my excitement. I had to scrawl it down in writing – something I’m sure no other boy in my year was doing. I couldn’t tell people at school that confetti-covered Katrina and the Waves was the highlight of my weekend. I was in First Year. It wouldn’t have been big messy blue ‘amazing’ to anyone else.