Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The PP Diaries: Day 4 - Saturday 19th September 2015

Another day, and another day trip.  Today we're once again using the local bus service which will take us to Pollença town which is a short journey of 4 miles inland.  PP and Alcudia share the similarity of being coastal resorts with lovely inland old towns.  The weather is again a bit hotter today and I'm struggling with the heat after arriving in Pollença so it's not too long till we thankfully have a lunch stop on the main square which is anything but quiet today.  There's some kind of cycling event with a number of information stalls and there's also a BMX-style stunt display accompanying our lunch, which is a good old Spanish omelette!

After lunch we take a stroll around the old town.  I'm particularly taken with this old town street view.

Here is a plaque which I discovered on our travels which was dedicated to those who fought for democracy in the 1936 Spanish Civil War.

One of Pollença town's main attractions is a stairway of no less than 365 steps up to a chapel at the top of the hill, known as Calvary.  A few people were attempting this but we were not among them.  I managed a bog-standard 50 steps and that was all I could manage, what with the dodgy knees and carrying all this extra weight, :( coupled with the baking heat, anyway it is quite a challenge for anyone who is fit enough to manage it so good luck to them!

By the way, the shop on the left was a bag shop which caught my attention because the radio was playing "Regrets" by Mylene Farmer - a fantastic song which will always be very special to me.

So having abandoned the steps it was time to do some more exploring around this very pretty small town, where life is lived at a deliciously slow pace if this tapas bar is anything to go by...

Time for coffee and cake at a cafe on the square....

...during our coffee stop I received a text from one of my lovely old friends, the "ladies who lunch", who was also on holiday on Mallorca with her husband and having a very enjoyable holiday.

But time was ticking away and it wouldn't be long before we were heading back on the bus to PP, back to the hotel to get ready for another warm and pleasant evening in the resort.  Tonight we had dinner at an Indian restaurant on the main square, and very tasty it was too!

Of course there is a pattern developing here.... the restaurant was literally just a few yards away from the now-legendary Bony's.  No cocktails for me tonight though; but I thought this mini-wine bucket was pretty fab and worth a photo opportunity!

In the next instalment: a lazy Sunday in PP.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Puerto Pollensa Diaries: Day 3 - Friday 18th September 2015

Today brings the first of our 'day trips' although we're not heading too far out of PP as it's only a 15 minute bus journey to Alcudia town.  The local buses are very frequent but also get very busy. Alcudia is a familiar name to many British holidaymakers but the main tourist area is actually Port d'Alcudia and Platja d'Alcudia, which are different from Alcudia town, which is inland, and where we are today.

The first thing which greets you on arrival is the town's medieval wall, which we later walk a section of - I found it a bit scary though, and didn't last very long!

Time for a coffee stop at one of Alcudia's many outdoor cafes.  The weather is a lot warmer today and I guess that the fact that we are inland means we're missing out on those sea breezes.

Alcudia is a lovely old town with lots of little narrow winding streets.

Within the centre of the town there are lots of little shops and a good selection of restaurants.  Some cake shops too: unfortunately to this day I still haven't tried the Mallorcan spiral speciality Ensaimada for one reason or another - so here's a picture of some instead, from a cake shop in Alcudia.

One thing I must mention is that there has been a severe lack of Spanish hunks so far during this holiday.  Most of the waiters in PP have been a bit too old :((((  Finally though there is some hope as one of the waiters in the restaurant where we're having lunch today catches my eye!

After lunch we explore Alcudia further, including that very short stint on the town's wall.  We then walk around the perimeter of the wall around the town.  By late afternoon we have a very welcome stop where I enjoy one of my traditional holiday faves - a fresh orange juice.

A short journey back to PP on the bus and then it's back to the hotel to get ready for our Friday night out.  Would PP be jumping tonight?  Party central?   Umm....no.  But do you know what?  That's fine by us.  We are really enjoying this most laid-back of summer holidays.  And tonight it's tapas time!

After the past 2 nights trying and failing to get into this very small tapas restaurant on the seafront, it's third time lucky as we've pre-booked.   We have a lovely meal - so far we've really had good luck with our meals in this resort.

Dinner over and we have a stroll up the Pine Walk area where there are more posh and pricier establishments, before ending up at where else but Bony's. Now I don't drink cocktails in 'normal' life but on holiday I like to have the odd one or two.  In the absence of my old fave Blue Lagoon, I order this lookalike Bony's special which was called a Lady Gaga.  It certainly gets my "applause, applause, applause" and after a couple of these I guarantee you'll want to "just dance" and you won't have a "poker face" any more (right Laura - that's enough!)

It's after midnight, but you'd never know it was Friday night as the journey back to our hotel is as quiet as ever!

In the next instalment: we're off to Pollença town.  

The Puerto Pollensa Diaries: Day 2 - Thursday 17th September 2015

Our first full day in PP starts with a bright sunny morning and it becomes very hot very quickly, which scuppers my plan to get a bit of balcony time before breakfast, as the balcony gets the direct sunlight at that time of day.  After breakfast we go out to discover some more of the resort.  After our traditional coffee stop we check out the marina area, where there are lots of nice little boats moored.

Today we're lunching outdoors at a nice little pizzeria behind the promenade.  But the big question today is: "do you want flies with your meal?"  For the minute our pizzas arrive, an army of those pesky flies descend and it quickly becomes very annoying.  Since we arrived in this otherwise lovely resort, that is the only down-side.  Flies are absolutely everywhere.  But on a more positive note, they are not wasps.  Or mosquitoes.  Thank flippin' goodness.  Anyway it's time for my first sangria of the holiday....

 Some other sights from the prom today:

Over the week I would become quite fascinated by this very spooky tree outside a house on the promenade!

The layout of PP is also a little strange, as it is cut in half by a nature reserve/wetland called La Gola, which is home to rather a lot of ducks whom I would get a bit obsessed with as the week went on. Here are just a few of them.

After just 2 days the Gran Cafe 1919 - a perfect people-watching spot overlooking the promenade, harbour and bus station (OK it's a big bus shelter, but hey!) - has become one of our hangouts.  And on a hot day, what better than to chill out with a Strawberry Slush?  The cafe is at the very start of a long row of restaurants and hotels at the 'pine walk' side of the promenade.

If the one thing missing from your life is a cow-patterned wheelie bin, then feast your eyes on this!

Tonight we face rejection at dinner-time yet again :( and we eventually give in and book a table for tomorrow night at one of those highly-rated tapas restaurants.  In the meantime we end up with some very nice tapas at another restaurant, just across from where we had dinner last night.

I decide to try a local speciality called Pa Amb Oli (pictured below) which is bread with olive oil and topped with razor-thin slices of serrano ham.  Unfortunately due to my other very large tapas portions including mushrooms and patatas bravas, I don't manage to finish it off.   Faithful travelling companion offers me some kind assistance!

The very noticeable thing about PP is that there is not much in the way of traditional 'nightlife' - very few bars and little in the way of the 'British pubs' which you see in many a Spanish resort.  Which I'm quite glad about, as it means the resort has a more Spanish flavour than many.  But there is one particular legendary bar which ends up becoming our nightly hangout - the one and only Bony's Bar! Owner Jose Bony - who either wants to be Elvis or Shakin' Stevens with that hairdo (!) is a crazy character and his bar is truly unique.  He has a happy hour every day - lasting 6 hours no less!! - and has his own individual way of signposting a vacant table...

In the next instalment we're off to explore Alcudia town which is just a short journey from PP by bus.

The Puerto Pollensa Diaries: Day 1 - Wednesday 16th September 2015

Here, at long last, are my posts about our summer holiday from two months ago. Sorry for the delay, the last two months have been very busy but also have been a personally difficult time; I didn't really feel like blogging or any other hobbies which I enjoy, but time is getting on so I thought I'd finally publish these posts.

Our summer holiday destination this year was a place with an identity crisis.  In the English language it's known as 'Puerto Pollensa' but once you arrive there it's known as Port de Pollença - however for the purposes of these blog posts I will refer to it as 'PP'. Whatever you want to call it, PP is a resort on the north side of the island of Mallorca. Two years ago we spent a very enjoyable week in Palma city (on the south of the island), so it would be interesting to compare and contrast the island's capital city with one of its quieter and classier resorts.  For PP is certainly no Magaluf - it sells itself as a family-orientated resort with no 18-30 culture in sight.  After the dark and turbulent past few months, it was time to try something new - yes you may not believe this, but in all my years of travelling, I've never visited a conventional Spanish holiday resort.  In the planning stages - after Croatia and Portugal were ruled out due to financial and other considerations - PP ticked all the boxes.  A small, fairly quiet, compact and walkable resort by the sea, with good connections to nearby towns and cities, seemed like the perfect place to hang out for a week and unwind.

It's an early morning flight from Glasgow Airport to Palma.  Of course being the big Frankie and Benny's fans which we are, we don't need an excuse to pay a visit - and there's something wicked about eating hash browns and potato scones (pictured above) for breakfast just after 4.00am!

After a fairly quick flight, we arrive at Palma airport and passengers are then transferred to the appropriate coach for their particular resort. And it isn't long before we're enjoying the delights of the Mallorcan countryside, with its spectacular mountain backdrop.

After what seems like an eternity of dropping passengers off at the numerous hotels and apartments, we eventually arrive at our hotel.  The weather is bright and sunny, with a strong breeze - certainly very different from home where it's dull and typically becoming cool for this time of year.  PP has a long promenade stretching from the 'Pine Walk' at one side to the end of the resort at the other, before heading into Alcudia town.  But more about that later in the week.

It is wonderful to be here, and the healing qualities of a summer holiday quickly become apparent.  I wasn't really sure what to expect, but I'm surprised at how quickly I begin to feel relaxed.  The seafront is lovely, the beach is just minutes away and there are lots of little boats out at sea.

The seafront is packed with restaurants and shops, small supermarkets, souvenirs and clothes shops as you would expect from a resort.  My immediate impression of PP is that it is a very laid-back resort and the main categories of holidaymakers at this time of year would be either families with young children, young couples, middle-aged or older couples.....and there's one particular type of actvity which is very popular here.  PP is cycling-daft, professional and amateur cyclists come here to train in the winter months, and over the week the 'peloton' of various different cycling groups dressed in all their proper cycling gear is a regular sight.  There is one particular cycling-themed bar/restaurant here - but more of that later in the week.  

After getting our bearings, and my 'expert' navigation getting us lost in the back streets, we eventually find our way back to the hotel to get ready for an evening out.  

What we're not prepared for is the need to pre-book a table at many of the town's restaurants, particularly those in the top 30 on Trip Advisor (and I don't even mean the uber-posh ones).  SO just when our evening was turning into 'no room at the inn' we eventually find somewhere to eat.  It's Gazpacho time!!

Gazpacho is a cold soup which isn't to everyone's taste, but it's perfect on a warm Spanish night.  The other great thing about a warm Spanish night is being able to eat outdoors.  I was surprised at how early people eat out in PP compared to the traditional reputation which Spain has for eating out late at night.  Perhaps it's the 'family' nature of the resort which will also explain why the seafront is deserted by 11.00pm in September!  But back to dinner...

Yes we are doing some very cliched Spanish dining tonight - that's some of our vegetable paella pictured above.  Having checked out a lot of restaurant menus there is a great choice, something for everyone, lots of vegetarian options and tapas are everywhere.  We are going to love it here!

After a late night drink at PP's most famous and wacky bar, we make our way back to the hotel via a very quiet seafront.  We also quickly discover that although PP feels like a very safe resort, it's not always a very well-lit one, so the 'assistive light' on my phone comes in very handy to guide us home, once we leave the seafront!

In the next instalment: exploring the resort.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: September-October 2015

You didn't need to check the calendar to know that autumn had officially arrived - just check the TV schedules for that.  X Factor and Strictly battling for Saturday night ratings, and ITV wheeled out their reliable Sunday night ratings winner "DOWNTON ABBEY" for its 6th and thankfully final series.  This series was particularly notable as in a recent episode, Downton didn't only jump the shark but it leapt to an unbeatable Olympian world record in shark-jumping.  Who'd have thought it that we'd get a "distressing scenes" warning before Downton of all things, but that's what we got when where Lord Grantham's ulcer burst, with projectile vomiting and blood all over the place.  Yuck.  I'm posting this on 08.11.15, when coincidentally the final series of Downton will come to an end. Hopefully with no exploding ulcers.

I loved the first series of "EMPIRE" (E4) and couldn't wait for the second one to start.  Although if I'm honest, it took a little bit of time getting into its stride, complicating the story with just too many tangents and not one record company but two.  But otherwise it's as you were: everyone's battling for the 'Empire' empire, Cookie is as wild and wonderful as ever, and the music (masterminded by old favourite of this blog Timbaland) is still as authentic.

Remember "Wanted" - that very addictive Channel 4 show from the 90s where people went on the run and were followed by the 'trackers'?  Well it's now been updated with a more sinister twist.  The back story for "HUNTED" (Channel 4) is that we are now living in a surveillance society and every move we make in the real and the digital world is being monitored.  But can you escape the hidden lens of big brother?  (As opposed to "Big Brother" which remains one attention-seeking laughing stock of a TV show).  But anyway the  real hero - or is that anti-hero - of the early weeks of Hunted was Dr Ricky Allen, a G.P. who managed to outwit his hunters all the way up to the Highlands, laying false trails and putting them off the scent.  It was only when he got on a train from Glasgow to London that his time was up.  Several others tried and failed; but thankfully there was a happy ending for two of the pairs who in the show's nailbiting finale managed to get away.  There will be a second series but I can't help but think it'll lose the novelty and magic of the first one as potential runners will know how to act, where to go - and where not to go!

Daniel Radcliffe continues with his quest to prove that there is life after Harry Potter.  Looking like a slightly more puny version of Zach Galifianakis, he starred in  "THE GAMECHANGERS" (BBC2) which was the strictly unauthorised story of the guys responsible for the Grand Theft Auto game.  I am aware of this game and the controversy which follows it around with every new incarnation, but at the end of the day I didn't really see the point of this rather overlong drama.  But then I'm more Pac-Man and Space Invaders so it's not my demographic.

I really enjoyed "MUSIC FOR MISFITS: THE STORY OF INDIE" (BBC4) and my only problem with it was that it only ran for 3 weeks.  So what is indie music?  Is it about the indie labels or the sound or the ethos or the lifestyle?  Or is it all of them?  Or is it just a state of mind? Whatever, I loved this series but then I have always loved what is described as 'indie' music, particularly during the 1980s when I rejected mainstream music for most of the decade.  This was a wonderful nostalgic journey for me.

Hot on the heels of this came "GIRL IN A BAND: TALES FROM THE ROCK N'ROLL FRONT LINE" (BBC4) which was basically a potted history of women in rock bands.  I enjoyed this very much because (a) it briefly featured New Order's Gillian Gilbert, my all-time favourite female musical role model, and (b) the wonderful Lush were in it - but shock horror, Miki Berenyi is now a brunette and has ditched her blazing red hair.  (But then I couldn't possibly comment as I have done the same.....)

Back in 2007 the nation was horrified by the news of the killing of a young woman, Sophie Lancaster, who was murdered for no reason apart from looking 'different', for being a goth.  "BLACK ROSES: THE KILLING OF SOPHIE LANCASTER" (BBC4) was a compelling dramatisation, with a heartbreaking performance by Julie Hesmondhalgh as Sophie's mother, and the young actress playing Sophie narrating her story through a series of poems. The shock of this hate crime has not reduced. So why was this excellent programme hidden over on BBC4 at 10.30pm?  This should be compulsory peak-time viewing.

Due to my large telly backlog amassed while I was away on holiday, I missed the much talked about hell-hath-no-fury drama "DOCTOR FOSTER" (BBC1) but caught up with it due to good old iPlayer. Each episode cranked up the unbearable tension which resulted from the lead character (played by Suranne Jones) discovering her husband's affair.  The final episode delivered the dinner party from hell and several red herrings, but in the style of many recent television dramas, it didn't deliver the ending that we quite expected, and it all ended in surprisingly civilised fashion.  If the TV bosses had any sense they wouldn't bring it back for another series (three words:  Broadchurch series 2) but yes, such is the modern-day greed for ratings at all costs that one successful series inevitably leads to an inferior follow-up.

Finally, I want to mention "YOU, ME AND THE APOCALYPSE" (Sky 1) which is a genuinely original and inventive drama on Sky 1, cleverly weaving a number of stories from Slough to the Vatican (Rob Lowe excelling as a cynical priest) to the USA, with the world facing imminent extinction, and rattling along at a cracking pace.  It's one of the year's best, and most underrated series.  I feel sometimes as if I'm the only person watching this but it really is well worth sticking with.

NRJ Music Awards 2015

This year's NRJ Music Awards took place last night in its traditional home in the Palais des Festivals in Cannes.  It was the 17th edition of the awards.  Over recent years the NRJ Music Awards has attracted international media attention, although this is entirely related to the high number of international A-list artists who turn up on the red carpet, rather than a sudden interest in French music.

But here on this blog I only care about the French music and couldn't care less about those overexposed artists whose songs turn up on NRJ and every radio station, everywhere in the world, every day of every year!!

This year's winners:

French Newcomer - Louane
French Male Artist - M Pokora
French Female Artist - Shy'm
French Duo/Group - Fréro Delavega
French song of the year - "Conmigo" - Kendji Girac

International Newcomer - Ellie Goulding
International Male - Ed Sheeran
International Female - Taylor Swift
International Group - Maroon 5
DJ - David Guetta
International Song of the Year - "See You Again" - Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth
International Video Clip - "Bad Blood" - Taylor Swift

Special awards - Sting, Adele, Charles Aznavour, Justin Bieber

The thing you notice straight away in the French winners' list is the dominance and popularity of "The Voice".  Unlike the UK version of the show which has failed to produce a commercially successful artist (apart from Becky Hill who has been the featured vocalist on a few dance hits), France's "The Voice, la plus belle voix" started off the career of 18 year old Louane Emera who then went on to appear in the hugely successful film "La Famille Bélier" which in turn kicked off a solo career which has made her one of the biggest selling artists of the past year in France with her debut album "Chambre 12".

Above: Louane shows off her award.

The next winners rose to fame on the 3rd series of The Voice which was won by a certain Kendji Girac.  Acoustic duo Fréro Delavega went on to release a very successful debut album of bright and breezy tunes.  Now as you know I've never really been a fan of the 'acoustic' style of music which has been popular over the last few years but I find Fréro Delavega very agreeable as they seem to follow a more upbeat musical style rather than the dreary acoustic ballads which have me reaching for the off switch.  And even better, they do it in the French language!  Just one thing though....you do not turn up to such a glamorous occasion dressed like that!

Above: Fréro Delavega, who didn't get the 'dress smartly' memo.

Finally, it was another successful night for Kendji Girac, the 19 year old who's taken French music by storm over the past couple of years with his flamenco-flavoured pop with a modern twist.  After winning best newcomer and song of the year awards at the 2014 NMAs, his song "Conmigo" was chosen in a public vote as French song of the year.  I do love Kendji's music but "Conmigo" IMHO isn't really one of his best songs as it's more generic r'n'b than the flamenco style which I prefer. Nevertheless I predict a lot more success for him in years to come.  Kendji has just released his second album "Ensemble" which is packed with more latin-flavoured pop bangers and will soon be making its way to my record collection.  

Above: Kendji on the red carpet.

Who knows - he might even go on to be as successful as this year's top French male artist M Pokora, who's been winning NRJ music awards since 2006.  Matt's another artist with a talent show connection; those of us with long memories (!) will remember him from the French version of Popstars The Rivals in 2003 as a member of Linkup.  

Above: Another in a long line of awards for Matt Pokora.

Finally, there was also a rare appearance at last night's awards by the legendary Mylene Farmer, whose latest album "Interstellaires" was released just a couple of days ago.  The first single to be released from it was a duet with Sting on a remake of one of his songs "Stolen Car".  Here's Sting and Mylene on the red carpet:

There was some disappointment though for the fans eagerly awaiting Mylene's first live TV performance in a long time, as a) she and Sting pre-recorded their performance of "Stolen Car" and b) the vocals weren't live but were playback.

Nevertheless though it is great to have her back.  I haven't had a chance to listen to clips of the new album yet - I'll approach this one with some trepidation as the last couple of her albums haven't done anything for me and came nowhere near the greatness of her classic older material, from Cendres de Lune up to and including Innamoramento.  Everything after that has been a disappointment for me, mainly because I have compared it to those older albums; but then again I guess that even a relatively disappointing Mylene release is still better than most of the overhyped junk passing for popular music these days.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Eurovision Song Contest: The Grand Final, Vienna, 24.05.15

I don't know about the rest of you, but by the time Saturday night came round I was so excited that I could burst!  For viewers in the UK, the Grand Final was preceded by a Eurovision-themed edition of my favourite TV quiz show "Who Dares Wins" where the teams were Dana and Cheryl Baker versus Carrie Grant and Bruno Tonioli.  As it turned out, it wasn't as Eurovisiony as planned, although it gave Nick Knowles an excuse to put on a nice sparkly jacket.  The ESC-themed rounds proved that just because you've appeared in the contest (or a national final) doesn't mean that you know very much about it!

The 2015 Grand Final opened with an orchestra; no less than the Vienna Philharmonic, leading into a recap of the announcement of last year's winner.  And then a circle-themed intro VT.  Which was very long, and pretty pointless.  All circles and lights and balloons.  As ever, I am watching the Grand Final with mum, who has already told me that she's not going to have the stamina to sit through three and a half hours (little did she know that it was going to last just a bit longer than that).

Finally there is some music, a nice little orchestral tribute to Austria's first ever ESC winner Udo Jurgens, who recently passed away, leading into a brief "Rise Like A Phoenix" which then turns into this year's contest theme song "Building Bridges".  I quite like this song - it's bright and uptempo, although it does overstay its welcome after a while, and everything is a little busy and disjointed. The three hosts, Arabella Kiesbauer, Mirjam Weichselbraun and Alice Tumler are singing (ok, miming) and they really do look like a girl band, don't they!

Seeing the ORF radio symphony orchestra on stage brought back fond memories of the old Eurovision days when we had the orchestra.  There are kids singing.  And a rapper in a hat.

Mum: The Italian flag reminds me of the Irish flag.  Is the Irish song any good this year?
Laura: Ireland isn't in the final, they failed to qualify because their song wasn't up to much.  They need to start sending better songs! (triple underline!)

We're back to the Australia drinking game now: if you were to drink every time Australia is mentioned, well you would be wrecked by 8.30pm!

There's yet another unnecessary VT of fans across the world bridge-building, to the soundtrack of Russia's 2013 entry "What If".  The video includes a same-sex kiss (it wouldn't be the last one of the evening) and I'm guessing that the use of this song is either (a) a subliminal two-fingered gesture to Russia for their views on Conchita, or (b) a subliminal gesture to viewers to say 'vote for Russia'!

After the longest introduction in ESC history, the song contest finally begins in earnest at 8.21pm. Graham Norton has already mispronounced Maraaya.  Tut tut.

SLOVENIA: "Here For You" - Maraaya.

Two things: one is that I wasn't happy at all with the draw, because I wanted this either in the middle or towards the end of the running order, and the other thing is that there is still something wrong with the vocal mix.

M: Just what is that demented woman doing?
L: She's an air violinist!  By the way, I've never seen the point of the air violinist.  It takes away from the song, which is still one of my favourites this year.

There is something missing here though,  I can't quite figure out what it is - whether it's the sound mix or that Marjetka is coming over as a little strained, and I'm not picking up the right vibes. Everything is just falling short.  I still like this song, its very underrated but will not do as well as I once thought it would.

FRANCE: "N'oubliez pas" - Lisa Angell.  

There are macarons and a fancy tea set in the postcard.  But things don't look too good for France, even before Lisa has even sung a note, as no song placed 2nd in the running order has ever won.

M: I like French language music.
L: It was co-written by Jean-Jacques Goldman's brother.  (I then go on to tell her all about JJG)

The staging is quite spectacular; in the space of three minutes, the backdrop goes from destruction to reconstruction, and the arrival of the drummers on screen is the money shot.  Yes it's very old-school 'French ESC ballad' but she is vocally perfect and even if this is not going to do well at all, we liked it here.   

ISRAEL: "Golden Boy" - Nadav Guedj.

This is the first entry from Israel which I've liked in years.  (I didn't like "Same Heart" at the time of last year's contest but it later grew on me).

M: I like his boots.
L: Golden boots for a golden boy.

Once again mum spends the bulk of the song talking about Nadav's boots.  When she's not talking about how old he looks! The song is one of the very few lively numbers this year but Nadav's vocals aren't always as good as they should be, and he often relies on the backing singers to fill in the gaps. Nevertheless this is still one of my favourite songs this year, and one which I'll go on to play long after the contest is over.

ESTONIA: "Goodbye to Yesterday" - Stig Rästa and Elina Born.

This one has been killed by the draw.

Stig kicks off the song - his vocals have been better - and then Elina, the latest in my long line of Estonian girl-crushes,  walks in, and the magic happens. There are so many mixed emotions here - anger, sadness and regret to name three - and this is one of those songs which you should really play to a Eurovision-hater to change their mind about the contest.

M: What country is this?
L: Estonia.  Another country I would really like to visit in future.
M: I like this, I really do.  It doesn't sound like a Eurovision song.
L: There is no such thing as a Eurovision song any more.  This is great.
M: I'd like a song like this to win.

UNITED KINGDOM: "Still In Love With You" - Electro Velvet.

D-D-D-Dance!  This year the UK are represented by Bianca and Alex aka Electro Velvet, put together for the contest and once again chosen in an internal selection.

M: At least this one has a bit of life to it.
L: And wait and see what happens with the dress.
M: I like this, in a strange way.  It's lively.
L: At least they finally look as if they are enjoying it - in the lead-up I've thought that they always looked as if they'd rather be somewhere else.

And some good advice here, don't drink too much wine, just one or two will have to do.  I'm going to have a bit more than one or two tonight. I really hope that Alex and Bianca are not scapegoated for the UK's annual failure - they did the best they could, and the fault lies, and will always lie, with the BBC and the nature of our selection process.

ARMENIA: "Face The Shadow" - Genealogy.

L: That would be good old Don't Deny.
M: "Don't be nice!"
L: This isn't having as much impact for me tonight as it did in the semi final, although I like this effect where they all go to their countries on the map.
M: That guy's got a loose sleeve!
L: It's just too shouty.

It's all too shouty for us here at EuropeCrazy HQ.

LITHUANIA: "This Time" -Monika Linkytė and Vaidas Baumila.

Now time for our other old ancestral homeland.  Leaving aside the merits of the song and the performance, there is only one question.

L: Do you fancy Vaidas?
M: No, he's not really my taste.
L: He's been very popular with both the guys and girls this year!

Meanwhile there is that "one kiss!" which goes on and on, with the result that Monika and Vaidas actually miss the next line of the song.  Vaidas has also crossed the line of playing to the crowd, (although not quite at the level of Alexey yelling "Do you feel my heart beat Europe?"). Off-topic and no offence to the flag-waving fandom, but if I ruled Eurovision I would ban flags, ok then maybe not ban them totally but at least limit the number of them.  Rant over.

SERBIA: "Beauty Never Lies" - Bojana Stamenov.

Talking of flags, they're part of the staging of this song of course. After her outstanding performance in the semi-final it's no surprise to see that the audience is going mad for this body-empowerment anthem.  Could Bojana upset the odds and take the contest to Belgrade next year?  Well, no. Tonight's performance is not as good as Thursday's. And mum is not prepared for hurricane Bojana tonight.

M: This is completely overdone.  I'd go as far as to say this is hellish.  It's not a song, it's just all shouting.
L: It's not hellish, but I agree she's doing more shouting than singing tonight.

NORWAY: "A Monster Like Me" - Morland and Debrah Scarlett.

M: We will need to be calmed down after that last song.
L: I just hope she doesn't sing too weird.
M: Is she singing "bye bye the noo"?
L: (!)

We both love Debrah's hair, and she might just win our prize of best hairdo which is usually a default win for Estonia.  But just what did he do in his early youth?  Alas we shall probably never know, but all this mystery and darkness completely elevates this song and even though I have read some criticism that they don't know how to fill that mid-song instrumental break, I have no issues at all with this song and want it to do very well.  For the past three years, Norway have sent some cracking songs to Eurovision, and it's about time they were rewarded for it.

SWEDEN: "Heroes" - Måns Zelmerlöw.

M: I know this song.
L: Indeed you do.

I am doing his little 'dancing with the demons in our minds' dance. Mum is just looking at me as if I've lost the plot :)

M: This song is far too repetitive for me.  But I understand why it'll do well, with the distraction of the cartoons.
L: I think it's totally blown everything away so far.  Yes there are the visual gimmicks but I think the whole package is just superb.

By the way, at this point I'd just like to say that this producer-chosen draw is working very well so far, bringing some nice contrast between the ballads and the more uptempo numbers.

CYPRUS: "One Thing I Should Have Done" - John Karayiannis.

Aww, John!

M: Good!  No dancing, no stupid stuff.
L: No fancy lights, just lovely.

We both listen to the rest of this song in silence.

AUSTRALIA: "Tonight Again" - Guy Sebastian.

I have to explain to mum again about why Australia is appearing as a special guest in this year's contest.  And they've sent one of their best-known singers.  Watch and learn, BBC.

M: I've heard this one before as well - I know this.

L: I've played it a few times before. He is a very good singer. 

Guy and his backing singers dance and strut around the streetlight-themed staging.  The guy is a real star and he takes Eurovision up another level with his professionalism.  Imagine if the UK sent someone as good as this, with a real catchy song?  This is definitely one of my big favourites this year although I still can't see it winning for some reason.

BELGIUM:  "Rhythm Inside" - Loic Nottet. 

Mum is nodding her head to this one.L: This is very, very well staged.  And he has given us a new word for our vocabulary: rapapap.

M: He is very young.  This is different!
L:  And he does a great twirl.  I think he's really talented and has a lot of potential - I can't wait to hear how his career goes from here.
M: The lighting is hurting my eyes.  But he's done well.  Good job done son!

The staging of this could be described in Loreen's words as 'an everlasting piece of art'.  More than any other song this year, you could play this to someone who hates Eurovision and they would never guess it was a Eurovision song.

Right so I really need a comfort break but this will have to wait because the running order has determined that there are a lot of songs which I like, all in a row.  And here is another one.

AUSTRIA: "I Am Yours" - The Makemakes.

I've liked this song a lot since it was chosen to represent Austria.  It's the kind of retro-flavoured piano pop which we both like, and mum has decided who her favourite guy of the night is - the beardy, hat-wearing lead singer of The Makemakes.

M: He's nice!  I like him,  Best looking guy so far.
L: The smoke alarm will be going off any minute....now!  Fire! Fire!
M: Why did they have to set the piano on fire?

I explain to mum that this is not a particularly original effect as it had already been done by Ralf Gyllenhammar in Melodifestivalen 2 years ago, and I thought it suited that song much better.  As it turned out, this silly visual effect didn't make any difference to the song's score....

I really, really need a comfort break, so I skip Conchita and take some time out.

GREECE: "One Last Breath" - Maria Elena Kyriakou.

After a run of good songs, we're back to a boring ballad.  As I said in the semi-final, didn't the backdrop remind you of the old schools TV clock?

M: This is so mundane, it would put you to sleep.
L: They always do quite well though, but I can't see this one getting a great result.
M: Too many gestures.
L: Too much drama, and not in a good way.

It's a no from the EuropeCrazy HQ jury for this one.  I've enjoyed so many of the Greek songs over recent years, so can we please have something more uptempo next year?

MONTENEGRO: "Adio" - Knez.

I give mum a brief introduction about Zeljko Joksimovic and the type of songs he sends to ESC. Mum is more interested in the staging.

M: I hope that water's not real.
L: Don't worry, it's just an effect.  There was real water on stage last year though.
M: I don't want to hear about last year.
L: Big dancey bit!  Big Balkan drama.  Me like.
M: What language is this in?
L: Montenegrin?  Or is it Serbian? I'm not sure.  I'm only just getting into Balkan music so I have a lot to learn.

GERMANY: "Black Smoke" - Ann Sophie.

A.K.A. The one which isn't "Heart of Stone" by Andreas Kummert.  Andreas of course won the German selection and then controversially decided this whole Eurovision lark wasn't for him, so he defaulted the win to Ann Sophie who looks as if she could be Lena's big sister.   This song was written by Ella Eyre and a bloke who used to be in Ultra.  (Remember them? "Say You Do"/"Say It Once"/"The Right Time").  I liked those Ultra songs, but I don't particularly like this song.

M: I quite like the staging of this.
L: Her styling's much improved since the German final, but there is still something missing.  It's one of those songs which I don't listen to all the way through.

Torrential rain has just come on and we spend the remainder of the song talking about the weather. (See what I mean about not listening all the way through?)  I can't see anything other than right side of the scoreboard for this one.

POLAND: "In The Name of Love" - Monica Kuzynska.

I explain to mum about the wheelchair and the back story.  IMHO this was a major factor in her getting to the final, sorry but that's just what I think.  The song is nice, but not much more than that, and I can't see myself ever listening to this song again.  We are both agreed on the loveliness of the staging, though.

LATVIA: "Love Injected" - Aminata.

Graham Norton calls this "one of the worst titles".  By the way we've not really been listening to Norton's commentary tonight so I can't really comment on what he's been saying.  The staging is perfectly in line with the song - jarring and experimental.

M: This sounds like someone hammering a nail in.
L: My ears, my ears are bleeding. No, no, a million times no.

But if I can say one thing in its favour - it's unusual, original and like the Belgian entry, as far removed from the ESC stereotype as you'll get. So can someone please drag the British media's preconceptions of the contest out of the mid 20th century?

ROMANIA: "De La Capat/All Over Again" - Voltaj.

L: He still reminds me of someone but I don't know who?  Oh I've got it - Fabien Barthez!  That French goalie from years ago!  Doesn't look exactly like him but anyway...
M: This is quite a nice song.  I'd have preferred the full song in English though.
L: I disagree!  But then I'm just an old-school native language geek.

SPAIN: "Amanecer" - Edurne.

I miss most of this because mum's sent me into the kitchen to make her a hot chocolate, but the bits I do manage to catch don't convince me to change my view that it's all drama and ultimately empty with no substance.  Quedate Conmigo it ain't.  And not even a topless male dancer will make me change my mind.

HUNGARY: "Wars For Nothing" - Boggie.

Nice dress, clever staging but the song's just zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz......

M: This would put you to sleep!

GEORGIA: "Warrior" - Nina Sublatti.

M: Is she wearing an ostrich?
L: Whatever, you don't mess with Nina.

This is one of the best examples this year of superior staging boosting a song which I never really cared much about before the contest.

M: How many hours has this song been on?
L: You're a bit grumpy tonight.
M: No I'm not!  I'm not grumpy!

AZERBAIJAN: "Hour of the Wolf" - Elnur Huseynov.

For the land of fire it's an appropriately fiery postcard.  Unfortunately the choreography overshadows Elnur's impressive vocals.

L: If I ruled the world I would BAN CONTEMPORARY DANCE!! (goes into angry rant)
M: He is a very good singer but that dancing or whatever you want to call it just spoils the song.
L: Those dancers are annoying the life out of me.

RUSSIA: "A Million Voices" - Polina Gagarina

Another faultless performance from Polina, and some, er. enhanced applause/cheering - please please please, EBU, don't make a habit of this in future contests.

L: This is a serious contender to win, but I hope it doesn't.
M: I've had my fill of this show by now.  I don't care who wins.
L: Oh you know that's not true!
M: How many more hours to go?

ALBANIA: "I'm Alive" - Elhaida Dani.

And here's Elhaida in yet another new dress, slashed to the waist, trying to challenge Trijntjtjtjtjtjtjeje for the Barbara Dex.  Vocally she's crossed the line over to the dark side of shouty and screechy.

M: What is that she is wearing?  How did this song make the final?
L: I don't like the dress, and I don't like the song.  Her hair is awful too.  This is a complete no from me tonight.  Hope Albania make a better choice for next year.

ITALY: "Grande Amore" - Il Volo

And now....my winner.  The three guys who make up Il Volo get a very warm reception - and I think the applause is real this time and not fake!  And if Italy has developed a reputation for not really going that extra mile in the Grand Final, then they finally got the memo this year.

Il Volo certainly have stage presence, and even do something almost approaching choreography (if walking off and walking on counts).  And that little wink from Gianluca gets the EuropeCrazy douze points.  In fact everything about Gianluca gets our douze points :))

At this point I'm starting to speculate about Italy winning and what kind of contest RAI would produce, *visions of Toto and his clipboard being wheeled out just one more time*

So that's it for the songs then.  This year's interval act to entertain us is none other than Martin Grubinger and the Percussive Planet (nope - me neither).  Bongos are being, er. bonged.  Demented xylophonists do their thang.  There's a tuba duet.  They're building hearts and bridges in the green room.  IMHO this is not one of my favourite interval acts of all time, but it's a decent enough display of musical virtuosity and Martin himself seems to be enjoying it.

I guess though that I didn't give it my complete attention as I was too busy casting my votes - for Estonia, Sweden, Italy and Norway!  Very proud as ever to take part in the democratic process, in-between making some mighty fine home-made cajun spiced potato wedges :)

The countdown is on till the lines close.  The voting is over, the lines are closed and it's time for a Conchita mini-concert featuring "You Are Unstoppable" and "Firestorm". (I really like that song - it reminds me a little of "Dance With Somebody" by Mando Diao).

Vienna 2015 won't go down as the most memorable contest ever, although it was adequate enough. I was glad to see Conchita being such a big part of the final.  She means so much to Austria - after all they wouldn't be hosting Eurovision if it wasn't for her.

There follows an appearance by the current Junior Eurovision champ - Vincenzo from Italy.  Could it be an Italian junior and 'senior' double this year?

But the night is getting on, it's 10.30 already and mum has decided to have another little snooze and she's told me that she doesn't have much stamina for the voting marathon ahead.  Alice and Mirjam reappear in drab beige gowns.  Let the results begin!  But before that, there's a little montage of past winners.  Jon Ola Sand's also got an announcement - ESC has made the Guinness Book of Records as the longest-running TV music competition in the world.

As in previous years there are some ex-contestants as jury spokespersons: Andrea Demirovic (Montenegro), Julie (Malta), Krista Siegfrids (Finland), Helena Paparizou (Greece), Teo (Belarus), Basim (Denmark), Tinkara Kovac (Slovenia), Edsilia Rombley (Netherlands, wearing that infamous Trijntje dress), Valentina Monetta (San Marino), Suzy (Portugal) and Tanja (Estonia).

Montenegro kick off with a predictable 12 to Serbia.

Malta give 1 point to the UK and 12 to Italy.

Finland's shy, retiring and understated Krista slips in a 'ding dong' and announces 12 to Sweden. Judging by the look on Alice's face, she's not too familiar with the whole Krista concept.

But anyway it's on to Greece and the first shock of the evening.  Gasps in the hall.  No 12 to Cyprus - only 10 points with the 12 going to Italy!

Portugal - what the wawawe is going on?  Suzy makes a brief appearance then disappears.

Romania - after a display of her knowledge of German, the spokeswoman announces 12 to Italia! Presumably in the absence of Moldova.

Belarus - twerpy hamsters at the ready, cause it's Teo announcing the results culminating in a not entirely unexpected 12-points-go-to-Russia!  You can hear the booing in the hall.

Albania's jury spokesman has some, er, interesting clothing going on.  It's a 12 to Italy.

You'd expect Moldova to give 12 to Romania, and you'd be right!  This 12 lifts them off the bottom of the scoreboard.

Azerbaijan - 12 points go to "I'm not surprised at all" says the jury spokesman - Russia (boo-boo-boo-boo).  We're not surprised at all either, that they overlooked Armenia.

Latvia don't give 12 to Russia.  This is like breaking serve in a tennis match.  But it's early days.

Top 3 time: Russia, Sweden and Italy.

Alice gives a little speech about equal treatment and respect.  Presumably the subliminal message here is 'stop booing Russia!"

Serbia - 12 to Montenegro - quelle surprise!!  Yay for neighbour voting :)  This takes Montenegro over to the left hand side of the scoreboard.

Estonia - Tanja disappears.  Graham Norton: "are there tin cans and string connecting these countries?".  That's a major disappointment tonight - the number of connections lost to the various countries.

Denmark - 12 to Sweden.

Switzerland - with only 7 to Russia and 12 to Sweden, is this the game changer?

Belgium - 12 to Sweden.

France - Italy surprisingly voted down, only 8 to Sweden and a 12 to Belgium!

This is not going to be a runaway victory for anyone at this stage - it's very close and it's anyone's game.

Armenia - both Italy and Sweden voted down, and the 'Anne Hathaway impersonator' (says Graham Norton) announces 12 to the 'beautiful and talented young lady from Russia'.  And nul points to Azerbaijan.

Ireland - well hello there lovely Nicky Byrne.  Only 1 point to the UK but better than nowt.  We're desperate now, we'll even just accept 1 point.  8 to Russia, 10 to Sweden, and 12 to....Latvia!
Cat?  Pigeons?

Top 3: Russia / Sweden / Italy.

Sweden - Mariette Hansson announces the Swedish vote.  Both Norway and Russia are voted down and the 12 goes to Australia!  Their first 12 of the night.  It's clear they're not going to win but they're picking up votes from almost every country.

Germany - Italy voted down, and 12 to Russia.

At this stage both Austria and Germany are still on the dreaded nil points.  At the top end of the scoreboard it's all to play for.

Australia - cheers drown out the Aussie spokesperson giving those historic Aussie votes.  It's 12 to Sweden and nothing to the UK.  The Queen says: "cheers for that, Australia, you're off the Christmas card list and won't be invited back to the Commonwealth Games".

At this point Conchita's interviewing Polina, she's crying and it's all too much. What will she be like if she wins?  Polina is lovely but I do not want Russia to win tonight.

Czech Republic - the Italian victory slips away and it's a surprising 12 to Azerbaijan.  Hmmm...

Spain - 12 to Italy.

Top 5: Russia/Sweden/Italy/Belgium/Latvia.

Austria - they do what-do what-do what they want and award 12 to near-namesakes Australia!

Nil Points watch: Germany and Austria are still there....

FYR Macedonia: FYROM pull a not too surprising vote vote here: the top 3 are voted down and it's a 12 to one of their favourite recipients of 12s....Albania.

Slovenia - if we're talking game-changers here is another one.  Only 5 to Russia, only 8 to Italy and a big 12 goes to Sweden.

Hungary - both Russia and Italy are marked down here and their 12 goes to Belgium.

United Kingdom - it's a weird and wonderful choice for the UK's jury spokesperson this year - only the 'domestic goddess' herself, Ms Nigella Lawson, who shows off her multi-lingual skills and delivers 8 to Italy, 10 to Australia and 12 to Sweden.  A low mark to Russia makes it a real game-changer as Sweden finally leapfrogs Russia and takes the lead.

Georgia - further lolz here as they only give 5 to Russia, prompting a massive cheer.  And then she disappears.

Lithuania - it's bad news for Italy (1 point), 10 to Sweden and 12 to....Latvia.  And crucially, nil points to Russia.  The Swedish lead opens up.

Netherlands - both Italy and Russia are marked down whilst it's a not too surprising neighbourly love-in with a 12 to Belgium.

Poland - Russia and Italy marked down again and Sweden stretch their lead with another 12.

Top 3: Sweden, Russia, Italy.  By this point I'm hyperventilating, whilst mum's oblivious to all this
excitement as she is having a snooze.

Israel - 12 to Italy.

Russia - boo, boo, boo....Dmitry is not attention-seeking in the least, is he?  "12 points from Russia go to....Russia".  This might be remotely funny had Bjorn Gustafsson not already done this already, back in 2008.  (They actually give 12 to Italy, which is quite surprising).

San Marino - oh look, it's Valentina.  Well she had to be involved somewhere after 3 years representing her homeland!  Russia is by-passed here, and the UK even picks up 3 points.  Only 10 to Italy though, with their top marks going to Latvia.

Italy - like Russia, they're generous to their rivals giving 10 to Russia and 12 to Sweden.  Can we call it yet for Sverige??  Actually, Italy give votes to the top 9 countries apart from themselves so as voting patterns go, that's pretty accurate.

Iceland - a low mark for Russia and a 12 to Sweden, but according to Graham Norton, we still can't call it!

Cyprus - headlines of SHOCKA!!! as not only do they give Russia a low mark but they only give 8 to Greece.  Yes that's right.  Graham Norton: "That is unprecedented, I think".  Italy get the 12 from Cyprus.


Yes, in the great tradition of recent years the winner is announced before all the voting is completed. Sweden have won the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest!

Norway - a low mark to Russia and 12 to their "Heroes" from Sweden.

Now we're retrying the countries which 'broke down' earlier.
Portugal - there's only 3 points to Spain, and Suzy announces the 12 from Portugal to Italy.
Estonia - here's Tanja in Tallinn again, with 12 points to Russia.
And finally - Georgia - marking down both Sweden and Russia, with a 12 to Armenia.

Mum finally wakes up to discover that Sweden have won.  She seems pretty happy about this, although disappointed for Italy.  I tell her that the voting's been much more exciting and even dare I say unpredictable than usual.  She's annoyed that she's missed it, but thanks to recording the contest she manages to catch up the following day.  But before the show ends tonight I get a final "how long's this been on for? 4 HOURS?  4 HOURS????" Yes this year's contest was certainly a record breaker - the longest ever Eurovision night.  Now I know that we Eurovision fans can be very greedy and want as much of the contest as we can, but for me a 4 hour final is not the way to go.  From the far too lengthy introduction, to the interviews and unnecessary time-wasting, ESC seems to be falling into the modern-day TV trap of 'more is more'.

So that's it for another year. Måns Zelmerlöw has won the Eurovision Song Contest this year for Sweden with "Heroes".  It's Sweden's 2nd win in 4 years and their 6th win overall.  But the Swedish win hit a sour note as it quickly emerged that they only came 3rd in the televoting result behind Italy and Russia. As for the jury vote this was won by Sweden, with Latvia 2nd and Russia 3rd. When the split results were revealed this prompted the now annual calls for the reform of the voting system.
At the bottom of the scoreboard we had our first nil-pointers in 12 years - not just one, but two (neighbouring) countries, Austria and Germany, with an even sadder statistic as Austria is the first host country to score nil points. But before you get the hankies out to wipe away those nil-points tears, at least the Makemakes and Ann Sophie both managed to have a laugh about it, with their own versions of "We are the zeroes of our time" Makemakes - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAgcqZNwgb0
Ann Sophie - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTpZPwmu9P8

For post-final comments please read a post which I wrote on the day after the contest - http://europecrazy.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/eurovision-day-after.html


"Heroes" did very well indeed across Europe - hitting no. 1 in several countries, even making it to no.11 in the official UK singles chart and I'm proud to say that it did even better here in our Scottish singles chart, making it to no.7. Måns released his album "Perfectly Damaged" on the back of his win, and the follow-up single to "Heroes",  "Should've Gone Home" is getting lots of airplay on Swedish radio and is in the Swedish top 5 at the time of writing. Måns is also hotly tipped to host next year's contest which will take place at the Globen complex in Stockholm, with Petra Mede as another rumoured host although no announcement has been made yet regarding the presenter(s).

 SVT are promising a "cheaper" contest, half of the grossly over-budgeted Copenhagen 2014  but I'm sure they won't skimp on the production values which we expect of them by now.  There is one shocking potential change which will have all us old purists in an uproar though - SVT want to change the start time of the contest, to start an hour earlier.  I guess this is presumably an answer to the increasingly late running time of the show, which this year didn't finish until 1.00am central European time and even later the further east you go. Or is SVT planning a 5-hour extravaganza next May, and they're not telling us?

Meanwhile Guy Sebastian went on to enjoy success in the European charts with "Tonight Again" and all these months later, it's still a fixture on Swedish radio playlists. At this point there's no news from the EBU on whether (a) there will be a 'guest country' in 2016, and (b) who it will be.  I'd be very happy to welcome Australia back, if they keep up the standard of their debut.

Song submissions are now being invited across the continent, and the 1st September deadline has now passed, meaning that anything released from now on is technically eligible for Eurovision 2016. So on-season is....on!  We are also coming into that time of year when countries are gradually confirming their provisional participation.  Be gone PED (Post-Eurovision Depression), because ESC 2016 is on the way!!

So I finally got round to posting my backlog of ESC posts.  Hope you enjoyed them.  I'm now heading off on a long-awaited holiday and am hoping to get back into blogging after I return.  Really looking forward to getting this blog up and running again.