NORWAY'S hosting of the Eurovision next Saturday is a heaven sent opportunity to show the rest of Europe that she is happy out of the EU. This is not for the sole benefit of the slightly rueful Swedes, still struggling with EU membership, but Oslo knows that Stockholm will be watching.

The lead up to the Eurovision has been lengthy and debate filled, with a weekly television programme, a spin off book, an exhibition and countless column inches devoted to the contest. The Grand Prix Melody, as it is called here, is held in the highest esteem and affection.

Norwegians hoped that their - unjustly earned "null points" - image has been banished forever after last year's collaboration with Irishwoman Fionnuala Sherry, and there are few who can't quote chapter and verse on all the Norwegian triumphs and near misses that have been wilfully overlooked by history.

So seriously is the Melody Grand Prix taken that Sweden's stingy award to Norway's entry last year almost provoked a diplomatic incident. A crisis was averted by the last minute intervention of the Swedish consul with a concession that the voting may have been less than neighbourly.

The traditional sibling rivalry with Sweden is entering a new phase, where Norway feels that she has at last got the upper hand. Sweden which has been seen as a kindly, older brother is now jokingly referred to as "sour grapes Sweden". This shift in the delicate balance of power became discernible after Norway beat the snowboots off Sweden at the Lillehammer Olympic Games.

Consolidate the gains

Norway is now keen to consolidate the gains of that severe, yet satisfying, winter by hosting the show to end all shows. The hope of winning two years in a row has even been advanced in some over achieving quarters. It is feared, however, that the Irish clement might rear its Eurovisionally gifted head again and dash this tremulous expectation.

Punch drunk on last year's victory the Norwegians have not seen fit to bring in any Irish sub contractors this year and they may yet live to rue the day.

Being beaten by Ireland is small potatoes compared to the horrors of a Swedish drubbing. Particularly, as the Swedish entry is dismissed as similar to last year's winner Nocturne. Memories are long on both sides but Norway, in a fit of Euro revisionist pique, is now overlooking the fact that a member of Bobbysocks who took Norway to victory in 1985 was Swedish.

"Last year's Swedish entrant's father was from Bergen" will come the swift reply should this be raised, thus proving that the intense rivalry is destined to last as long as the contest itself.

Eurovision historian Jostein Pedersen, who, in his History of the Eurovision, emphasises that beating the Swedes is much more important than winning. He admits that in terms of outright victories the Swedes are leading three two but Norwegians may take heart in the fact that there have been 11 occasions since 1960 when Norway, gave Sweden the "null points' treatment.

Last year, Sweden's Johan Johansen, the aforementioned son of a Bergenser, received oodles of points from Norway, while the Swedes were equally supportive of Bobbysocks in 1985. This makes Swedish miserly attitude towards Secret Garden and Nocturne last year all the more incomprehensible since alongside Fionnuala Sherry on violin and Norwegian singer Gunhild Tvinncreim, as Swedish harpist Aasa Jinder.

Perhaps the Swedes have finally taken their gloves off. The facts are indisputable but it is difficult for Pedersen to remain objective when it comes to the assessment of the relative excellence of the arch rivals' jokes about each other's entrants.

He comes down on the side of this fellow countrymen, whose scathing witticisms at the expense of Herreys, the "dancing ideodorants" who swept the board for Sweden in 1984 with Diggi Lo Diggi Ley, far outshines anything the Swedes could come up with about Norway's Jahn Teigen, who set out on his lengthy and profoundly unsuccessful Eurovision career in 1974. Jahn Teigen's idiosyncratic outfits now form part of a Eurovision exhibition at Oslo's folk museum.

The exhibition also houses a doll sized model of Aase Kleveland, Norway's Minister of Culture, who, in a pink pyjama suit, earned Norway a respectable third place in 1966. She now has the pleasure of viewing the pyjama suit alongside the elegant evening gown she wore to present the Eurovision from Bergen in 1986.

Still smitten

It has become fashionable in many competing countries to approach the entertainment with the appraising eye of the ironist. Thankfully, phrases such as "kitsch, tongue in cheek parody and Eurotrash" rarely roll off the Norwegian tongue. Norway has remained smitten by Melody Grand Prix mania. So much so, that there are many who would like to see the Minister of Culture herself once again don an evening gown to greet Europe and beyond, 30 years after she did her bit against the Swedes in Austria.

Unfortunately, ministerial dignity prevails and she had her turn in 1986. But the minister still knows her public. In the foreword to Jostein Pedersen's painstakingly researched History of the Eurovision she expresses herself thus: "May the best song win, as long as we beat the Swedes."