After many years abroad, it's my first year back home in Dublin and Ireland has made it to the Eurovision final. Finally! On Saturday I'll settle down to watch it together with my family of foreigners. We've never really followed the X-Factor or TV dance-shows, but every May we more than make up for it, wherever in the world we happen to be living.
This year we'll have the huge luxury of turning on the telly in the corner and being able to flick back and forth between RTE and BBC. We won't have to magically conjure up Graham Norton through the laptop, playing his brilliant commentary over the poor-quality picture of our local Norwegian or Italian TV, putting up with a two-second delay.
I loved to watch it as a child, and now it's even more fun with my own kids, though no-one enjoys it more than my husband: he grew up in Canada and once he finally caught on to it, he's been boring his nonplussed friends back home with explanations of its appeal.
The Eurovision works best if you surrender yourself to it completely, let yourself be immersed for four-odd hours in its fantastically entertaining daftness, a self-contained world where the quality of the music becomes relative to itself and not to anything in the real world, where one act is simply better or worse than the one before or after it and where you learn to expect add-ons like robots, vampires, or a chicken-clucking Israeli.
Back in the day, before I left Ireland all those years ago, there were no semi-finals and finals, or this fancy democratic way of voting (on smartphones), and the “Euro” word was a key part of who was meant to be in it. It was at student Eurovision parties in London that I first understood the competition’s appeal beyond the British Isles, seeing how each country had its own relationship to it.
The rest of the family have long been used to me reminiscing about the old days, and it really has been going on a long time: just compare Nana Mouskori’s 1963 entry (she sang for Luxembourg) with this year’s Beyoncè-wannabe from Cyprus. As I watch, the husband and kids will be well ahead of me in figuring out how some of those dresses don’t slide off, and anticipating the latest geopolitical blocs in a voting system that’s so complicated it should put off any Russian interference.
We were gutted in 2016 when the Australian pavlova dress lost out at the last minute (by popular vote) to the Ukrainian/Tatar genocide-song. Or, as it was summed up over breakfast next morning: “Mummy says that country only won because there’s a war going on there.”
While we watch we’ll have the iPad handy, to keep track of any brilliant quips on Twitter, and I’ll probably be chatting through Facebook with friends abroad, especially the Norwegians. Now, they really love their Eurovision! Our years of living in Oslo coincided with a golden age for Scandinavian entries, starting with Alexander Rybak’s ‘Fairytale’ in 2008. He’s back again this year, looking weirdly the same age, the smile firmly etched into his dimples. The song is not my favourite, though the rest of the household are doing their best to make it an earworm:
“Step one: Believe in it And sing it all day long Step two: just roll with it That’s how you write a song.”
I was amazed to see how seriously the Eurovision is taken in Norway, how passes to attend the main competition or junior version were like golden tickets among school friends. It's true that the patron saint of Eurovision, Johnny Logan, is still very popular - one year, we saw him and his leather jacket in person acting as grand marshal of the Oslo St Patrick's Day parade. There was some sing-along that year.
In contrast, the near-apathy we saw among our Italian friends during the two years we lived there, made me wonder if they’re even bothered about showing up for the final. But last year we were really excited to see how the amazing Italian entry did - the one about philosophy, with a dancing ape, ‘Occidentali’s Karma’. The song is beyond catchy, handy for learning obscure vocabulary, and so fabulously Italian that it didn’t do very well in the voting.
But it was a smash hit there all summer and the lasting anthem of our final months in Italy before moving to Ireland. The nine-year-old loved it so much that she wrote her own lyrics with her school friends: the result was no more ridiculous than the original and a good start for someone who, every May, really really wants to enter a song in the next year's Eurovision. As she has said, "it can't be that hard".
Like any Irish person abroad, I have carted around with me over the years an inherent pride in Eurovision, the fact that we’ve won more than anyone else sitting like a trump card up my sleeve. To be fair now, Ireland, this has been a long slump, and I was starting to wonder if we had the curse of the English. Our lack of success hasn’t stopped this family cheering on other countries, not just the ones we’ve lived in, though there’s no sign yet of Canada entering.
The country is definitely revving up now to support Ryan O’Shaughnessy and his adorable love ballad (with its romantic La La Land in Temple Bar video) on Saturday. If we even get into the top five it could well give a needed lift to the national spirits, again showing us and the world a piece of the tolerant, charming, modern Ireland we’re all so proud of.