The Eurovision Song Contest plays a strange role in my, Eric's, life. It was, in fact the start of my now decades-long Scandinavian quest. In 1968, a few months before the Russians crushed the Prague Spring (which I also saw live on TV), one Kristina Hautala sang a song in a language I had never heard of: Finnish. Nor had I heard of Scandinavia.
The song, which can be listened to on YouTube here in Finnish, or here in Swedish (the latter of which I have heard for the very first time this morning, 17th May 2009), was called "Kun kello käy" and "Vänta och se". At the Eurovision, held that year in London, she only sang it in Finnish, hence my initial interest in that language. But observant people will notice that she is called "Kristina" not "Kristiina". The Christian name or forename is an almost infallible guide to whether someone with a Finnish surname is a Finland-Swede, or at least has one Finland-Swedish parent. Although in Hautala's case, she spent her childhood in Sweden, so that may have had more to do with her forename.
What fascinated me was not so much the singer, who, after 41 years looks strangely childlike there rather than sexy, but the Finnish diphthongs. It led me to borrow my first ever Finnish primer from Shirley branch library, a small and very ordinary public library in the Midlands, UK: "Finnish For Foreigners". There was no degree course in Finnish at the time, so when I had to choose, a few years later, I chose Swedish instead. These two languages have played a role in my life to this day, not least because when it came to doing my year abroad to practise the language for my Swedish course at the University of East Anglia, I ended up in Åbo (Turku), not in Sweden. The rest is history.
Last year, several of us sat in a small room at the Writers' and Translators' Centre on the Swedish island of Gotland watching the Eurovision Song Contest. One of those present was the Finland-Swedish novelist Kjell Westö. I would never even have heard of Finland-Swedes, were it not for, indirectly, the Eurovision Song Contest, forty years previously.
After that piece of self-indulgence, back to 2009. Well, the Finns did catastrophically, coming last. The big Swedish blonde didn't charm voters despite her powerful opera voice (I voted her top, along with the British singer). And the young Norwegian with the Alastair Darling eyebrows won the day. So whether that talk with the Russian that David mentions did the trick, we will never know.