My time at the Herräng Dance Camp 2013

This trip did not start well. I got as far as Regent Centre Metro station when I noticed that my carry-on luggage bag had split. Was anything missing? I might have been bleeding socks onto the pavement. I know from experience that if people see me dropping stuff accidentally, they say nothing. At the airport, I asked for some tape to repair the bag, but they gave me some new-fangled low-tack tape with the adhesive power of a Post-it note. I then consulted two staff, while holding the bag clearly in front of them. I was told that I should buy a replacement bag from a vending machine. I examined the machine and its contents and was sceptical, but why would they lie? In went my £10 and out came a bag which was not even a third of the size necessary to do the job. Annoyed, I taped this bag over the end of my split bag to effect a repair.

My -2 bag of unholding did not pass through security. Thinking myself wise, I had packed in it everything I would need upon immediate arrival at Herräng, in case my hold luggage got lost. It therefore had my tent in it. I was told that tents are not allowed in carry-on luggage. I doubt that many people have tried to hijack a ’plane with a tent, but apparently the authorities feared this possibility and the security team would not let it though. The pegs in the tent were fat, aluminium, and with rounded ends. The biros in my pockets, and indeed my hands, were far more effective weapons. I pointed out that I had read the list of prohibited things, and had accordingly left out all the fireworks, bleach, and oxy-acetylene welding equipment I would otherwise normally carry. The list did not mention tents, and therefore I felt within my rights to board with a tent, however deadly it might prove. They merely plead that they did not make the rules, and that the rules, though hidden from the people playing the game, had to be obeyed. It was another £40 to check the bag in, and I would have no packed lunch with me at Heathrow. Despite being legally obliged to do so, they did not accept cash either.

At Heathrow, I bought a new video camera – a high-definition one with which to make more YouTube videos, and clog my hard drive. I even found a way to charge it up.


My hand-luggage, on arrival, photographed in widescreen on my new HD camera.

My ’plane was delayed. It was then delayed a lot more. By the time I got to Arlanda, it was looking doubtful that I would make it to Herräng that night. Sticking with tradition, I asked at the airport information whether or not it was possible to get to Herräng by public transport, and airport information played its role magnificently by giving me incorrect information. I was told that it was possible, and so I took buses to Rimbo.

Unfortunately, the bus I needed left Rimbo a quarter of an hour before I got there. As I waited for the final bus to Hallstavik that day, I saw a man who was behaving strangely and annoying people. As I ate an Asda pork pie, I saw that a police car had arrived, and a policewoman of no great size was struggling to force him into it. It was clear that she stood no chance of success, but she didn’t give up. I wondered if I should l lend my services. Eventually, a policeman got around the car, and dragged the man into the car from inside, but still the man hooked one foot outside the door and the struggle continued. It was reasonable entertainment, and I finished the pie. They drove off. A short while later, two security guards turned up and looked around. I went over and told them what had happened, and they were grateful, because no one had told them that the matter had been dealt with already. I then had my first piece of luck. The wait at Rimbo was so long that my bus ticket bought at the airport was no longer valid, and in Sweden there is, amazingly, no way that a foreigner can buy a ticket for a bus outside shopping hours. The male of the pair sold me a strip of bus tickets for 20 SEK. This would get me back to Arlanda again, but then become obsolete in August. Perhaps by next year they’ll have worked out a way for tourists to pay. Apparently, the Swedish bus drivers’ union had demanded that no cash be kept on buses, for fear of violent robberies. This doesn’t seem to be a problem in Newcastle.

I arrived in Hallstavik at midnight. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a deader-looking town. There was not a soul anywhere on the streets, nor sign of occupation of any building. All the bars and restaurants were shut. I saw just two cars moving. I found a road sign saying ‘Herräng’ and set off on foot. I passed the steaming paper mill, and moved along the forest-lined road, my torch in hand to alert passing cars.

After longer than I would have chosen, one car came along. I deployed the thumb. Despite this being Sweden, renowned as a bad place for hitching, the car stopped. The driver was a teenage lad with an American rounders hat on, and his bottle-blonde girlfriend next to him. Fluffy dice swung from the rear-view mirror and rock music tish-tished from the radio. He considered offering me a lift, for the fee of 100 SEK, which he demanded in advance. I wasn’t even sure if this was the right road to the camp, but I took his offer. During the swift ride, he told me that at this time of night, the only people on the road were bored local teenagers.

I was dropped at the top of the road to the Folketshus. It was half past midnight. I walked down, bought an evening pass, and left my luggage at reception while I went to see the cabaret. On the way there, I heard a massive cheer. I had clearly just missed something great. On the screen in the dansbanan, I saw a man doing some Indian dance with two orange hankies to a bhangra number. Other acts included instructions for the granny shim sham (the Shorty George was particularly funny, with the upper body swaying violently left and right), a tap dancer, a poem that few could follow, a monologue from a girl who was for some reason very keen that we all knew that she was eighteen, a talk about how we are all made of stardust, a tribute to Tempest Storm (a burlesque act which got laughs, but the audience wasn’t sure if it was meant to be funny), a rather painful violin solo, a dancing dog, and at the end, a ballet dance by Frida Segerdahl (cancelled for lack of time).

I was then in Herräng, a place where people hug me.

I pitched my new (and now extra-expensive) tent in the area where the caravans park. I was later warned that I would have to move it to make room for more caravans. Sure enough, the ‘Camping Mom’ with her tiny black poodle did gently ask this a couple of days later. Help arrived, and soon I was in a shady spot between two trees, and even provided with a tarpaulin for my porch and an extra foam mat to lie on, or entertain a guest. My new neighbour told me that everyone who had camped where I did had become engaged [as a direct consequence?]. I was to break this run of course.

Why did I not buy this tent years ago? Because I didn’t strictly need to, and because I’m a bit thrifty. My new tent was better in every way, and a massive improvement. I had ample room for me, for all my kit, and a massive porch for my smelly socks and shirts. All it needed was a means of heating it. The first nights were cold, and I was left stiff as a result. Three women, one on either side and one on top, would have done the trick. Less impressive was my new solar-powered torch from Clas Ohlson which died every time I needed it.


Here we see my new tent, in which I can sit up comfortably, and my neighbour playing his electric piano, which he did most days at about 3 p.m. I usually rose after this. No caravan ever arrived to take up the spot I had vacated.



Mosquito Report

I put this near the top of this year’s account for the simple reason that it is a great importance and rarity. Mosquitoes were not a problem this year. The Swedes, like the Brits, had endured an uncommonly long winter, and perhaps as a result of this there were very few mosquitoes about. There were so few that I never bothered to wear repellent. I never saw any horse flies, nor a single wasp. My hope is that a lack of mosquitoes this year will lead to a lack of them next year too, but I suspect that the few that were there probably laid a lot of eggs.



Badges

One of the first things I did was to take my badges to the Lindy Hop Shop. I had 97 designs, but only about three copies of each made up. In my tent I had the badge-making tool, print-outs of designs, and a smallish number of components for making new badges. I had imagined, wrongly, that the badges might create a bit of a buzz, and people might want me to make them specific designs. I had even found a Stockholm supplier of badge components. In the shop, I sold nine badges in the time it took to count them out and sort out the paperwork. Clearly, they were going to fly off the shelves. I had wanted to have as scale of prices going from something like 20 SEK for one, to 100 SEK for 10, but the computer system they used could not cope with more than one price for the same item, and so in the end they were put at a flat rate of 15 SEK each. The shop would take a 30% cut of this.

At first, the badges went up on two beige T-shirts. Later, I noticed that few of the badges on the second shirt were selling, so transferred them all to one shirt. I was disappointed with total sales, and with which designs sold out first. I sold about 180 badges, gave a few away, six were shop-lifted, and that about covered the cost of the machine to make them, so I about broke even.

Top-selling badges

I was a bit disappointed in my fellow swing dancers that this was a top seller. It strikes me as obvious and cheesy. This is a better version. Hardly a design challenge for me, but nice at last to be earning something from this much-stolen image. I'm glad this sold. Didn't see anyone wearing it, though.
From a photograph I took years ago of a wall covering in the Folkets hus. The original slogan of the Newcastle University Swing Dance Society. This is just smut.
A surprise hit. A girly design, and lyrics taken from a Shirley Bassey number. I suppose there were plenty of nerds at the camp. Not my original idea, alas, although I may have been the first to make it a badge.
Another surprise. This was actually an afterthought after designing the far less successful "I'm just here to listen to the band... oh all right then." A practical badge, I suppose. Obvious, but I think reasonably well done by me. More work in this design that you'd guess, probably.
I thought that this design was a bit ugly, but people bought it. I thought this might sell well. It is an old problem to get the levels to mix. I gave it a rainbow background to appeal to the wannabe guru type. I think this one deserved to be a top seller.

Good sellers

I came up with this slogan many years ago, and used it at the 2003 Woodstock party. We shouldn't have to declare this. We should just do it. The perfect gift!
I did four versions of this, and they all sold, eventually. I feared that people would be too foreign or young to get the reference (a different Frankie suggested that we relax, and he did it in this fount). I have nothing interesting to say about this one.
A badge of desperation? A badge of feigned modesty, or simple boasting? I disliked this design and wasn't going to sell it.
A slow but sure seller. I thought that this would appeal to Swedes and non-Swedes in Sweden alike. I was surprised that this sold so well. Not sure why it did sell.
Were there justice in the world, this would be the top seller. A reference to This is Spinal Tap. A slow seller, but it was amusing to see Daniel Heedman wearing it, despite being the only person on Earth who shouldn't need to ask the question. A minor surprise to me, but I am perhaps not one of nature's badge-wearers.
I think I'll do a Stoke Mandeville badge saying just "BRACE YOURSELVES!" A slow seller. I think word got about that it was a hospital for venereal disease, which put some off. A slow seller, but it sold out in the end. Suggested by Hannah, but not, I think, bought by her.
Based on the famous review of Wagner's music: "Not as bad as it sounds". Vague but simple. Not sure I like the fount. It reminds me of modern jokey greetings cards.
The number of badges that sold well did not divide by three.
Mr Photogenic. I was very happy with this idea. It's just a mathematical fact.
Nothing to see here.
This sold better than expected. People must have liked the idea. It reads the same upside down.   Do not see above.

Poor sellers

From the Ginger Rogers quote. This should have done better. This has so many potential meanings (which is perhaps a commercial problem with it). It is also a reference to The Prisoner. Did I pick the wrong band leader?
I expected this to be a top-seller, but people didn't seem to see it as a practical tool for getting lots of partners. Okay, so not that many geeks at the camp, then. Confidently and wrongly predicted by David Vrensk to be a top-seller. Perhaps I should have sold them in the cafe.
Perhaps people thought that it would have to be true to be worn. In a more mosquito-infested year, this might sell better. I thought that this was a very practical badge, but the customers didn't seem to agree.
I made the writing dark lavender in colour. I had a mind to add a sprig of lavender as well. Perhaps wearing this would be too much of a commitment. I thought that this was a rather nice image.
Possibly I should do a companion badge with the words 'Lindy' and 'Bal' swapped around? Perhaps beginners hope to out-grow this badge too quickly. One of the badges designed very definitely for the Herräng market.
  Bland, but simple. I find the dead trees at the camp both unusual and beautiful. For others, the association with the camp is presumably much weaker.
  This is the man who made me want to start dancing in the first place. He did have a strangely-shaped head, though. I'm not proud of all my designs.
Made for the Herräng market, but applicable in other contexts. Rather a niche market, I suppose. A badge for strange people. Perhaps there weren't enough strange people there.
How was this not a top-seller? It even looks pretty. The world is still not ready yet for this one. I'm mildly surprised that this sold at all. It was one of my earlier ideas when I was just spewing out whatever popped into my head.
Not enough Bonzo Dog fans were there, alas. Perhaps there is an ambiguity in this that unnerved people. Might it seem to some that the next words could be "I won't dance with you regardless"? This was bought for someone as a gift. He did wear it, but perhaps wouldn't have bought it for himself.
I thought this would do better. Frankie's old count-in. A more successful (but dangerous?) badge might have been "Please feel free to dip me".
Do DJs feel the need to label themselves? One for aspiring DJs, perhaps, rather than the DJ establishment. Like many badges, people looked at it, laughed, praised it, and then didn't buy it. Perhaps intermediates with an uncommonly good attitude might have bought this.
My badge making tool disapproved of this design, and screwed up a few copies of it. The less succesful ambigramme. It was a satisfying challenge to design, at least. I wanted to use a very different fount from the usual styles chosen for this craft.

Bottom sellers and non-sellers

The tap badges did not sell well. Not well at all. I think I prefer the power of the silhouette, but no one bought this one.
This one made me laugh, actually out loud, when I thought of it, and so I felt that I had to design it. It works for me because it questions why anyone would dress or dance like that, and because it echoes a poster that students used to have on their walls. Another tap design that didn't sell. Perhaps I should have gifted one of these to Lennart.
None of this design sold, and I doubt that I will ever get rid of them now. This was a play on "Do you play requests". How did this image not sell? The person (Elise Hopper) may not be famous at the camp, but I thought that this was such a strong badgeable image that this wouldn't matter. I need to know more about why badge-wearing types wear badges.
Perhaps no one wanted to boast, or to tempt fate. I designed this one because I came across a copyright-free image that was circular and colourful, and so thought up a slogan to go over the top of it. Not the best of the tent names to have picked, I suppose. I had shots of the others, but this one was the best quality photograph I had. This was designed by request. Trouble was, the word 'ambidancestrous' is so flipping long, that it is difficult to make it clear and big on a small badge. Possibly it was a bit of a boastful badge too, because almost no one is truly equally good at both roles in the couple.
A surprise failure. A problem with the joke badge is that for the wearer the joke grows old, and for the viewer it may make the wearer seem tiresomely wacky. I had four different shades of beige available (one pictured here) and NONE of them sold! Would you believe it?
This space left unintentionally blank.
I suppose that, while it works as a mild joke to read, there isn't really a type of customer suited to wearing this. It was almost as though the camp was not filled with subscribers to this YouTube channel. Could this really be?  

Ideas that came up for new badges included "I shag (it's a dance)"; "I swing both ways"; "I dance TWO dances with each partner"; "I speak dance"; and pictures of Skye Humphries, Frida Segerdahl, and Dawn Hampton. I had put out a request on Facebook to anyone with images to contribute of people like this, but got no response.

One idea I had was that I should be standing by with my badge maker during an evening meeting. When something clearly unscripted happened, I would make a badge referencing it, and then a short while later Lennart could ask a question of one of the teachers, and the spotlight and camera could go on the teacher, who would then be wearing the very up-to-date badge. The idea won some approval with the ‘Dream Factory’ but was never acted upon.


My badge making tool, in my clean and spacious tent.


Winter Wonderland – Friday week two party

The day after I arrived, I volunteered to decorate the Folkets Hus for the party. They had a helium cylinder and many balloons, and I was tasked with using these to float large paper snowflakes up to the ceiling of the Folkets Hus. To my surprise, I was sent Kevin St Laurent to help me. At first, I was reasonably adept at tying balloons, but I got a slight cut on my finger, and the rubber soon rubbed the skin on my fingers raw. Tying up hundreds of balloons became more and more painful. “Have I just done three while you’re still working on that one?” asked Kevin. I didn’t want to seem a wimp, so soldiered on, but got slower and slower. For my work, I got a free party pass. We put balloons all down the stairs too, taking pains to make all the lines of fishing line the same length, and alternating green and red. Alas, this formation did not survive many moments of contact with party-goers. The Folketshus looked great before the dancers got there, with our all-white decorations floating around. Soon, though, with the air churned up by dancers, all the balloons congregated on the two air outlets.

The theme was by many interpreted simply as ‘Christmas’. The party started up by the school. In one tent, was a snow-fight. Those willing to get covered in flour threw muslin bags of flour at each other for a bit, while onlookers kept their costumes clean. Elsewhere, there was a beard competition, which I missed, and people were making New Week’s resolutions and writing them on badges. Swedes seem to need the slightest of excuses to dress up in their Santa Lucia festival garb, and a bevy of such sang the appropriate song and then led the throng down to the Folkets Hus.


Someone there did several very good painted signs, all in the same distinct style. Here we see one for the ice cream igloo. Don’t eat yellow snow, children.
You decide which is the front and which is the back of this costume.
I think that this is the only picture of me on my camera. I was in panto costume as Prince Charming (in Britain, Christmas is panto season). You can see tucked in my belt the white slipper (shoe) that I went around trying on people. There were a couple of false alarms, but it fitted no one.
In an igloo seen here in the background, there was free ice cream (I went in twice), there was also a small tent with a fan and glitter and fake snow, for a snowstorm effect. Seen here hours after the balloon tying, my fingers are still red raw.
In the library, there were white balloons and white toilet roll on the floor, and I can report that dry toilet roll in this context is very skiddy.
Leru, surname 'Swing' according to Facebook, the pixie DJ.


Peer auditions

The camp now uses a ‘peer audition’ system. Ben Holness wrote the software for it. Those wishing to take classes would dance with about seven of their peers, and give each of those a little slip of paper with an identifying six-figure code on it, and the peers would write a rating on each slip. Those slips would then be collected, and a team of workers would then type in every six-figure code and its associated rating on every slip, and then the software would put all the ratings together and form a hierarchy of dancers from top to bottom-rated. Amazingly, despite each sheet of slips having the person’s name and even photograph clearly printed on it, some people managed to pick up and use the wrong sheet.


Posted audition results.

The software’s results were not the final say, however. The results were published on the sauna block wall, and then the various groups would be watched dancing again the next day by a panel of teachers to approve the results or amend them. Ben reported that the system had led to a dramatic fall in complaints about class level in Comments Corner, but that there was an increase in complaints from women in the bottom class that the men were all bad leads. He proudly asserted that this was evidence that his system was working, because it suggested that all the bad leads had ended up in the bottom group. Trouble is, the women in the bottom group pay the same amount for their lessons as everyone else, and is that fair?



Beard shots

One day, Bobby Bonsey asked me whether I would be happy to pose for a photograph for him. This seemed little to ask, so I was gearing up to accept when he added that he was photographing all the bearded men on camp topless. I declined. Some time later, after having a shower, I noticed a mirror, and wondered, as I contemplated the sight of the wall-to-wall muscles on my chest, whether the world might indeed be able to cope with at least a partial exposure of my rippling torso. One day, possibly, but until then, I think I’ll keep it from the photographic archive.



Footie

Captained by Michael Jagger, Herräng Dance Camp fielded teams to play the local football team on Wednesdays. This was a league-seven team, made up mainly of men past their athletic prime, who, it was perhaps rightly speculated, might make up for a lack of speed and deftness by playing rather hard. I was a bit worried that dancers might get injured, but so far as I know this did not happen. All the matches while I was there at the camp were won by the camp. The first two scores were I think 5-1 and 4-2. Evita Arce led the cheerleaders.

My performance on the table football table this year was not its greatest. True, I did win a couple of matches while playing with my left hand only and standing with my back to the table, but these were not against the strongest opposition. My deadly diagonal shot seemed to desert me.



Paul Hollywood

This was the greatest year for the number of Newcastle dancers at the camp. At one point, there were eight of us. Cat Foley was leading the passport control team (and as a consequence did very little dancing). In reaction to my going about wearing an ‘I taught Cat Foley’ badge, she said that she was “very flattered but...” in the tone of a lady turning down a hopeless suitor. Two other previous presidents of the Newcastle Swing Dance Society (Lucy and Sarah) were also there. I recall asking Lucy for her first impressions of the camp, and her reply was simply a very broad grin. Perhaps most prominent of the bunch, though was Paul ‘Holly’ Wood who had jumped in with both feet and was doing all five weeks of his first ever Herräng camp, four of them as stage manager. Back when I first went to the camp, John Urquhart was brought up in an evening meeting to be marvelled at, as he had done all four weeks of the camp. He got a hearty round of applause for that then. These days, people would wonder why this was remarkable.

I could see straight away that Paul had taken to the camp like a cat to a flap. The ladies of the Lindy Hop Shop, with their joyously unhindered Swedish accents, had adopted him and would take him in every night to force feed him cake. I had my first glimpse of him on the screen in the dansbanan when he was appearing, clad in black, to set up microphones and stools for the performers. “Look at that stage managing!” I felt like shouting.

He would toddle onto the stage in the evening meetings, wearing his top hat, and talk to Lennart in an improvised introduction to the night’s film to be shown in the basement. I’m not sure why they showed these films, but perhaps it was an easy thing to organise, and it relieved a little bit of pressure from the dance floors at their peak period. At the very most I think about forty people watched a film. Lennart would know some facts about these films, all of which he had seen, and he would ask his ‘cinephile’ about them, often catching him out. Paul, the expert, had never seen any of the films, which put him at a disadvantage, but most nights he would Google for information on them, and come across as laughably knowledgeable.


Can you name the man sitting on the bench?*

I was approached by a girl who was very anxious to know what had happened to all the red curtains missing from the Frankie Manning exhibition. I could not help her. Later, I was sitting outside the Lindy Hop Shop when Paul and Tor the video man with curiously vertical hair walked up and asked if they could shoot me. Of course I said yes. Week three’s theme was 'film noir', and I was taken to a room in the new hotel. There, they had dressed a room to look like the office of a 1930s private eye. This involved a lot of red curtains. One mystery solved. My role was to wear a raincoat and hat, and step into shot and then be shot. I think I did it well. Paul played the hard-bitten private eye, and after slaying me, kissed the ice-cool femme fatale (Petra Gåsvik) who was perched on his desk, before bursting out laughing (this last part went to the cutting room floor). When I saw it in the evening meeting, I noted that they had added a cry of pain to my fall, which I felt spoiled the purity of my performance.

Paul also oversaw the film competition. Every Wednesday night, competitors had their videos shown in the basement. Audiences were brought in and given micro-waved popcorn, and then voted on their favourite. Videos had to be under five minutes and preferably shot at the camp. I was able to find someone with the technology to rip some of my Herräng videos from YouTube and then I could enter. I had no way to edit anything at the camp. I considered trying to make a one-shot video that needed no editing, but didn’t have the energy or inspiration. I never won. No documentaries ever did. Week three was won by Random Faces of Herräng - an arty series of shallow-focus portraits shot in nice sun of people opening their arresting eyes, looking at the camera, and then closing them again, set to music. The winner of week four was The Creeper - a trailer for a horror film about a creepy guy asking women to dance. I had a long talk with the director, Christopher Gauntt (it is disputed which of the last two Ts is silent), who was a very interesting and informed Shakespearean actor/director from the USA. He is currently working on a film version of Hamlet. At the award ceremony, he and his producer took out long written speeches, and thanked everyone they could think of and then kept going, amazed that the presenter still hadn’t stopped them. The trophy was a chocolate Dawn Hampton. These statuettes were four years old, and were therefore not meant to be eaten, but I was offered some and found it good.

Paul was to have a week off in week four from stage management, but he was called back when the replacement manageress quit. It seems that there was some behind-the-scenes tension.

Paul also played a very unconvincing thug in a kung-fu action film spoof. This was nicely done, with the dialogue dubbed by other actors (I think that’s Chazz Young voicing Chester), fake aging on the ‘film’, and look out for the look on Chester’s face in the end frame. He is the most photogenic person I have ever met. There are no bad photographs of this man.



Haunted House

This section is rather long, and has nothing about dancing in it, so is more skippable than most.

I was approached by Mikey Pedroza and asked to make a video to introduce the scary part of the haunted house party, to be held on Friday of week three. He wanted it to serve the purpose of the videos shown to the queues waiting to go on the rides in Disneyworld, and in style to be a bit like the introductions to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, or The Twilight Zone. The plan of the organisers - Mikey, and Kevin St Laurent – was to have most of the Folkets hus attractions as ‘family friendly’, but for the library area to be genuinely frightening. His idea was to have a maze filled with zombies in it. We talked, and quickly he decided to put me on the team organising the whole thing. My ex-student Cat Foley was already an organiser, and an inscrutable Lithuanian chap called Povilas was our builder.

Cat was busy with passport control, and so, perhaps largely because I had more time on my hands, or possibly because my ideas were good, I ended up taking over as the main organiser. One thing I learned from this, is just how much work there is in organising parties at Herräng. One of the chief frustrations was that it is very difficult at Herräng to get anything done at anything other than the last minute.


Mikey and Kevin publicising their party.

I moved away from Mikey’s zombie maze idea. It struck me as requiring far too many people, lacking subtlety, and being at risk of not being very scary. Things that obviously require a belief in magic don’t scare me all that much. Do vampires scare me? No, because I know that they don’t exist, so if you tell me in advance that something will involve vampires, then you’ve already blown your chance of scaring me. If you start believable, however, and then gradually introduce doubts, then that’s a different matter.


A zombie being created on-stage from a 'volunteer'.
We were amazed when then snipped up his really
great-looking trousers.

I decided instead to invent a serial killer. Serial killers actually exist. I came up with a life-story for him, and came up with designs for the partitions in the library. It would not be a maze, exactly, but I wanted control over the sight-lines people had in there, and I wanted to disorient them. The library would become the space for a [fictional] travelling exhibition.

I managed to recruit the ‘intern’ working for the video making team in Dream Factory. The camp is now established enough to exploit/offer opportunities to a few young ‘interns’ who work long hours. I had the unfortunate idea of sitting in the woods on a substantial upholstered chair. This was unfortunate because it meant that I had to carry it there. Getting far enough away from the dance camp to eliminate its noise proved too much, even though I was using a personal radio mic. In the hour or so of this shoot, I was bitten, mostly on the hands, by mosquitoes more than in the rest of the trip combined. The footage was in the can. It contained a number of clues.




Formulating plans.

I drew maps of the library, and tried to identify anchor-points and ways of creating new ones, from which partitions could be hung. I was given permission from two authorities to use the black curtains which lined the basement, and I was promised workers to help with this. I went down there on the Thursday night and took them down myself, leaving them in a pile with a stern note left on it warning others not to use them. The next day, when I went to pick them up and carry them to the library, I found a second stern note to me warning me to put them back after use, and in the right order. Apparently, it was Mikey who put them back up.

I nearly wrote myself out of the piece. Mikey was surprised when I told him that my plan involved the use of a cast of just three, but he gave me my head. I was a little surprised that the two main actors we recruited, Tim Collins and a Turkish girl called Uyum Ülgen, were both perfectly happy when I told them that when it came to their big moment to speak, they wouldn’t say anything.

Mikey showed me various timbers and tarpaulins we could use, and a room in the new hotel in which props would be stored. It was difficult to imagine how difficult it would be to achieve what I wanted. One thing Mikey already had was a working electric chainsaw with its blade removed - reasonably safe, but noisy and scary.

An idea that Cat contributed was from a show she had been in, in which a man pulled his own teeth out with pliers. She said that people found it very disturbing. I liked this idea, and got Tim to do this. I had to get fake blood that he could put in his mouth, which wasn’t easy. Most stage blood is not suitable for use in the mouth, and the usual recipe is food colouring and corn syrup, but Tim said that he couldn’t have anything sweet in his mouth. I therefore got some corn flour from the Bar Bedlam, and mixed this with the food colouring. It formed a strange non-Newtonian liquid. I never wanted much blood. A tiny dribble is far more disturbing that a great gush of the stuff, and besides, a gush of blood requires a lot of cleaning up, and I was hoping to get the show down to about five minutes if possible, so that we could do lots of performances and many people could see it. My estimate of actual show time was eight minutes. Mikey provided me with a tin of tiny square mints to use as pretend plucked teeth. We didn’t use these, as their porous surface would soak up the colouring, and Tim is equipped with the world’s seventh largest teeth, which were a poor match for the mints.

At the camp was a make-up artist Morgan Lee Kestner, and she put rope burn marks on the wrists and ankles of Uyum, who was cast not only for acting ability, but largely for her impressive mane of black hair, which suited the role. Morgan also created some full-size wax teeth with holes in them for the blood.


Preparations. Doors are being made for the trick-or-treating,
and the large circle will be a giant pumpkin face

The plan was to get someone from the back office to edit the video. I left the footage with her on a memory stick, along with instructions of what was wanted. Alas, the format of the Sony camera’s files could not be read by her computer. With just a few hours to go, we had no video, despite its having been shots days in advance. Fortunately, Tim knew about the unusual format, and had a converter on his computer. As we built the set on the Friday, his computer slowly chugged through the task of converting all the footage.

Povilas came up with a method of attaching things to the ceiling. He would remove the screws of the wooden battens on the ceiling, and screw our woodwork into the same holes. This was alarming for those aware that we were not permitted to damage the library at all, but seemed to work. Volunteers arrived to help, but the small team of us who knew what was wanted did most of the work. It was often quicker to get on with it than explain to someone else what needed doing, but the volunteers did good service blacking out windows and covering the Frankie Exhibition with white paper. I had imagined that I would move lights about. Instead, I built the set around the lights. It had become clear that I would have to play the role of techie, and work the lights and sound. Tim created a great disturbing soundtrack, with ‘brown note’ bass noises and chirping crickets in the higher frequencies, as well as a few other eerie sounds slithering in and out. We couldn’t move the DJ desk, so rather than try to hide it, I would operate the lights and sounds from there and at one point would be in full view of the audience, and so would have to play a part. I was shown how to use the lighting controls by Nico, and have to say that I was unimpressed. It was a computer-based system very inferior to one using physical faders. One drawback was that the computer screen would glow, spoiling the black-out I had planned.

In record time, Tim edited the intro video. It wasn’t quite the edit I had in mind, but I was impressed by the speed of his work, and it would do. He then burned the video to the DVD I was given. The DVD didn’t work. It turned out that I had been given a CD instead. A blank DVD was found and burned. That didn’t work either. There wasn’t time to try again. Perhaps the DVD player in the exhibition could take its input from a laptop? We hadn’t the necessary cable, and it was the video techies’ day off. In the end, the video had to be watched on a laptop screen, and was not projected onto the wall, which would have been a lot better.

It was a hectic time, but things got done. Someone who did interior design turned up and in a flash created a display of knick-knacks in the killer’s home (he preserved these objects in memory of his mother). I found a suitable photograph for the killer’s grandfather, and distorted the face and fingers for a looped video. The set of the shelter in the woods went up, and someone made us a sinister corn dolly for it. I had already collected various other items to go in: twigs, an urn for the mother’s ashes, a bag of hair of victims (found where someone doing haircuts for the camp had thrown it behind a tree).

It was at this stage that I learned that we were expected to clear the entire set out of the library after the performances, for people to dance in the library during the party. I had doubts. The same girl whose job seemed to be to worry about curtains turned up and worried about the basement curtains.

I had been worried about the safety of the exhibition. What if someone in the dark tripped, grabbed a curtain, and pulled everything down? We planned to chase people out of the corner window in the dark. This would never be allowed in the real world, but this was Herräng. We installed steps, but people would still have to be sensible.

The time came for a run-through. We gave it a go, and I had many things I wanted to change, but there just wasn’t time. The party started, in came the people, and soon we had an audience waiting. For the first performance, our volunteer crowd marshal let in a group of just six. Cat, playing the tour guide, brought the people down the passage, through the black hanging curtain, around the disorienting dog-leg of black curtains, and showed them the part about the background of the killer. I gave him the name Lars Persson, but in the video pronounced his surname something more like ‘Pearson’ rather than the Swedish-sounding ‘parshon’. Cat said his name differently again. She pointed out the picture of Lars’ grandfather, who, she said, made his money in the iron ore trade. One detail she mentioned was that we cannot see Lars’ home today, because it has been converted into a library.

The idea I had was that the scares would be low-key at first, and never witnessed by the whole audience. If you tell a group of people to look at a scary thing, then I suspect that this will seldom work. Some people won’t be scared, and anyone that is will not want to be the one who screamed, and so will steady himself by the calmness of his fellows. However, one or two people noticing something that others have not, will feel alone, and perhaps disturbed a bit. Every fifteen seconds, the grandfather’s portrait flickered showing a glimpse of an evil version of the picture. Most people never noticed this. Who looks at a still picture of an old man on a wall for that long, when the scares are presumably in the centre of the room?

I brought up one of the lights so that people could look in a mirror on the wall at a prop I had made a couple of days earlier. I had written a page of the killer’s journal [found after he was caught]. I typed out the text on a computer in reception late one night, and then used Google Translate to turn this into bad Swedish, and then with the help of Philip Brandin changed this into non-laughable Swedish. I then printed this out in English for display on the wall, and in Swedish, for me to write out by hand in mirror-writing. The audience would look in the mirror and then be more able to read the writing, and perhaps only then notice that it was Swedish. While scrutinising the writing in the mirror, most of them missed Uyum walking past behind them. In some shows, no one saw her, and in some, she walked past very slowly, until at least someone spotted her.

Next, the audience was led into a reconstruction of one of the shelters in the woods to which Lars had taken each of his eight captives. The grisly story was that Lars thought that he had a special power to see evil in people who had been possessed by a demon he called ‘Lura’, and he was convinced (we knew from his journal) that he could set them free by getting them to repent and ask to be killed, and thus sent to heaven. He therefore ended up torturing them for weeks before killing them. Uyum played Maria Anderson, the last of his victims - the one who survived. She was found weeks after Lars was put in an asylum, and was able to supply investigating police with the details of what Lars did in the remote shelters. When questioned she said... and here Uyum said nothing, but just sat in the corner with her back to the audience, in the dim greenish light, with crickets chirping, and the brown note vibrating everyone’s guts. Her hair was big and wild enough to hide her face completely. Acting confused and embarrassed by this, Cat, then ushered the audience into the next section of the exhibition. As the last couple of people left the shelter, Uyum would turn her head slowly to regard them with gleaming eyes.

The audience would then see me, lit by the dim glow of my computer screen, as they passed through to the section where Tim played Lars pulling out his teeth. Tim understood his part well, and took his time pulling them out one by one, clearly in pain, and depositing them each with a clang into a saucepan. Some people looked away. Cat explained that in his journal, Lars recorded that he had felt tempted to eat the flesh of one of his dead victims, and that this disgusted him so much, that in some weird penance, he pulled out all his teeth. It was when he turned up to work the next day that his co-workers at the paper mill knew that something was very wrong. He was quickly sectioned and put in a secure psychiatric hospital, leaving his last victim, Maria Anderson, still in the woods.

Each time we did it, we changed things a bit. After a while, Cat and I developed a little back-and-forth in which she said to me that Tim was actually pulling out his teeth. I would very quietly and realistically reply with a scoffing denial. Cat would announce that when interviewed by psychiatrists, Lars said... again, Tim said nothing, but just kept pulling teeth. While this was going on, Uyum quietly closed off the exits to the section behind the audience.

Again apparently confused, Cat led the audience back past me, discovered the exit blocked, and around this time, I hit the blackout button, and cranked all the sound volumes up the maximum. Tim then had to run behind a curtain installed for the purpose, past the audience (sometimes scaring them by bumping someone on the way), and around the exhibition and out of the exit. Uyum would then open the way to the exit, and appear in front of the audience and do whatever she could to scare them. In the first performances, I would go to see to her, and be attacked by her, giving the audience time and reason to flee. Later on, I got my own screams out of the audience, by pulling the hood of my dark hoodie over my head, and then standing up very slowly and acting possessed. The audience would run for the exit. Cat would act panicky, and in the later performances I would catch her and drag her away as she screamed for help (no one ever came to help her).

Was it all over? No. This is where Tim had his fun. He would then appear outside, armed with a very loud chainsaw, and attack. We were a bit worried that people might attack him in return, but in the event this never happened. Everyone always ran. When someone acting mad comes at you with a real chainsaw (albeit a toothless one) in the dark, revving it with gusto, you run. He always returned with a big grin. No one ever tripped, no one ripped any of the curtains, no one pushed anyone on the steps. Lindy hoppers are a very reliable lot.

I don’t know how many performances we did. We were originally asked to do 9 p.m. to midnight, but by request this was extended for a while. We did at least fifteen, and perhaps something around twenty. Audience size was eleven for most.

How much people screamed was very variable. We had one or two dud shows with little or no screaming, but usually we got a few minor whimpers until the big moment, and then a decent amount of screaming. An acted scream of terror never worked to set off others. Screams of surprise worked better. One audience was particularly good at screaming, and I asked why people thought this was. I was told that this was because the party had Bobby Bonsey in it, and therefore consisted largely of impressionable young girls. Groups of friends worked better than groups of strangers. They infected each other more readily with their reactions.

The last performance over, we then had to dismantle. Povilas arrived with his power-tools, and in an astonishing forty minutes we cleared out everything, swept up, and people started dancing.

So did you get all the clues? I don’t think anyone in the audiences did. Their minds were not piecing together information, but instead just anticipating a sudden scare. I’m told that lots of people found the tension of the slow start very effective. They had been expecting a maze filled with zombies. It was a travelling exhibition, which had been around the world but this was the first time it exhibited in Sweden. The grandfather worked in the iron ore industry. Lars was a logger for a paper mill. He wrote in Swedish. His home is now a library. Maria Anderson may sound like an international name, but it is actually quite common in Sweden. ‘Lura’ can mean a couple of things in Swedish, including ‘lurker’. That’s right – the exhibition was taking place exactly where the events actually happened, and Lura was still at large...


What does one do in a land where pumpkins are unavailable?
Buy watermelons and paint them orange, of course

By the time I had finished doing my bit, I had missed all the other things at the party, so I can’t tell you much about them. There were doors for trick-or-treating, the dansbanan was decorated with pumpkins, the bar had The Rocky Horror Picture Show playing on a loop. A large group of people who had been to evening classes to rehearse it, performed the Thriller routine.

All reports that reached me of the library horror exhibition were positive. Mikey and Kevin seemed very pleased. Fish, the camp’s cameraman, said that he put the party in the top ten of the 137 that he’d been to. One thing that made this interesting was that Mikey and Kevin had said that part of their plan was to make a party that was difficult for Fish to cover, because so many things would be scheduled to happen simultaneously.

I was surprised to be asked by a few people about the 'technical problems' we had. They were referring to the two actors who didn't deliver their speeches. I was also asked about when the murders happened, and similar questions which made it clear that the questioners thought that Lars Persson was a real person. No, I made it all up. Perhaps the way I delivered the speeches in the introductory video had a sort of authority that convinced people. Perhaps I should use this special power for evil...

The next day, I met Tim, who with a big grin told me that he had been rushed to hospital in Norrtälje after the show when he started vomiting a lot. He thought that the fake blood has disagreed with him. Perhaps it was rust and mineral oil from the pliers? Or some less physical cause? The curtain-worrier girl told me that she had to have the curtains washed, because so much dirt from the tarpaulins had ended up on them.

A massive new presence at the camp was this building, made out of twenty containers piled into two layers, with a pitched roof on top. This will become accommodation in future years. This year it was mostly unoccupied, with a couple of rooms being used as offices for the tech crew, and store rooms.


Evening Meetings

These remain a major part of the camp, and it surprises me that so many people choose to miss them. I think a lot of people new to the camp do not realise what entertaining shows they are. Almost nothing is dull. Even the most routine announcement is dressed up in an act of some sort. In week three, Cat Foley, my Lindy child, had the task of doing the routine announcements, such as the evening classes. She came on in spangly hat and false moustache (a Charlie Chaplin style one would have been funnier, as future viewers of her part in The Adventures of Stoke Mandeville Astronaut and Gentleman shall see) and feigned frustration at being too short to use the microphone until Paul brought a box for her to stand on. Short people eh? Hilarious. In week four, Mojca Marinšek from reception did the same job, wearing Slovenian folk dress and talking in a ridiculously sexy and amusing accent “Do this and you will happy like twenty cows being milked” “Do this and we will be angry like thousand devils on stick”. In week five, an Aussie took over the role, and I recall the exasperation on Lennart’s face as he realised that this fellah was only half way through the announcements, with all their “you beauties!” and “ripper!”s. I suspect that he was asked to hurry up a bit in future.

Cat, mid-announcement, and on the right a pertinent badge design I wore.

The video I was in last year about the history of Herräng was shown again. I’m surprised that they don’t reuse videos a bit more often. The one I did years ago about microphone use might be due for a comeback.

One video shown each week was a great one in which a hazard-suited investigator walked around the lifeless Folkets hus with a torch. Bright and breezy music played, but made eerie by remixing to sound distant and ghostly. Bodies were found in the ballroom. One twitched and whispered “Kill me!” We then had a point-of-view shot in which the camera was zipped up into a body bag. The captions read “Beware of the Herräng flu.” “Use hand sanitizer.” Whether this sanitizer did any good is difficult to tell. All those who expressed opinions to me on this were sceptics. I got two colds this year, and I could feel that in between these my immune system was busy. As I write this, over a week after my return, I am still coughing a bit. While I’m on the topic of my present health, I could also add that my sleep patterns is still all over the place, and I am reluctant to shoot more videos for YouTube while my eyes are so bloodshot.

A video I liked was one showing a man smoking in various places where they didn’t want people to smoke. Each time, he was hit in the face in slow motion by a massive stuffed fluffy duckling, and each subsequent time he was shown with more bandages and bruises. “Smoke in the right place, or get a duck in the face.”

The long hours of warm low light, the pleasant setting, and the availability of many willing and attractive models, makes the camp a popular place with photographers to practice the craft of portraiture. This video by Tamara Pinco got great approval from the Folkets hus audience. There was a particularly loud “Oooo!” at the shot of Evita Arce fanning herself.

The meetings are still ever more slick, professional, and as a consequence, less participatory and characterful, but they are still good. When a meeting is good, it feels like a proper show now. One evening, the justly-popular Joseph and Josette Wiggan came on and danced for us. There was a long delay while Joseph tied his sister’s laces for her (she had a broken finger after a nasty accident working for Cirque du Soleil). They then proceeded to tap, and tap, and tap. They got a standing ovation. They tapped some more, and got another. The next meeting, Lennart felt he had to tell people that their performance really was absolutely world-class, in case any felt it cheapened, perhaps, by being performed at the drop of a hat on a small stage.

One night, we heard the story of two English girls who had cycled to the camp. Of course, being Lindy hoppers, they didn’t live in England, and had started their trip from, I think, Belgium. They were using Google Maps on their telephones for navigation, and their advice to us if ever cycling across Europe was to “buy a fucking map!” They got lost somewhere in Sweden, but Google told them that there was a camp site not too far away, so they set off for that. They found no camp site, and were now in the middle of nowhere. They found an isolated cabin, and approached it out of desperation, for advice on where to camp. They knocked and were relieved to find the place occupied. They explained their plight, and a conversation started. When asked where they were going, they were amazed to find that the occupants knew about Herräng and the dance camp. Two days before, Lennart Westerlund, king of Herräng Dance Camp, had been staying there on holiday with his friends. Small world.



Burlesque night

Leru from Russia/China organised a show, including I think nine professional burlesque performers who were at the camp, as well as a few other acts from talented dancers. I didn’t go. It was a rare opportunity to see such a concentration of talent, but I didn’t go. I didn’t go not because it might involve queuing, or buying a ticket, but because I’ve now seen plenty of burlesque, and I just don’t get it. I do recognise that it is an art form. I see that the performers have given thought to their acts, that they come up with costumes, characters, gimmicks, and rehearse their acts to fit the music. However, I can’t help but think that this is stripping for middle class people. Many of the acts have no plot or character-driven excuse for the performer’s taking her clothes off at the end, and it seems that a burlesque act isn’t a burlesque act unless she does this. Also, the acts usually have an element of humour in them, but what reaction is the act trying to provoke from me? If it is to make me laugh, then they near invariably fail, and if it to fill me with lust, then it fails there too. Humour and lust are not compatible emotions. If it is funny, it isn’t sexy, and if sexy, then not funny.

Another hazard is the glitter. I shared a sauna with an unfortunate lady who had been in the front row of the burlesque show audience. She was covered in glitter, and it was near impossible to wash off. Despite several trips to sweat-sessions in the sauna, and multiple showering in between, together with use of shampoo and conditioner, she remained sparkling. Leru, one of the performers, told me that her cat at home is a glitter-magnet. My sauna-mate told me of the show. She said that it will be difficult in future to view Kevin St Laurent as a classy gent, now that he has bent over in front of her while wearing little more than inaccurately-fitting underpants which afforded her a view of more of his anatomy than she strictly required.



Evening Classes

I saw Pao and put myself down for a couple of evening classes in week three. I taught ska, and then a few days later How to dance really well. They both went fine. I didn’t teach again this year, though I would have been content to do so.

There were typically three lessons to choose from, and though some nights none appealed, I did take a few. Again, there were no aerials classes, which used to be a staple of the evening class. Perhaps they have learned the hard way that aerials are not a wise and safe option for evening classes. I took Juan and Sharon’s class in dreamed-up moves (essentially just two moves, one of which I used in social dancing); six beat shag; I also caught the end of Peter Loggin’s eight-beat shag class (they had a few ‘shag pile’ sessions of shag dancing in the library some nights, but I don’t think a huge amount of shagging occurred); stealing (Thomas and Alice – for me mainly interesting to observe their teaching methods); and Swedish bugg, which was taught by two very young champions in this discipline. The pair had clearly not done a lot of teaching, and clearly seemed to find the dance rather amusing. They congratulated us on looking ‘very Swedish’. This was my first proper lesson in bugg and while the styling and footwork are a bit different from British modern jive, the rest is pretty much the same. The basic footwork is rock-steps and walking. They told us that there would be a bugg competition at the Friday night party.

One last evening class I took was in tango. It clashed with a lesson in ice-skating moves in Lindy, and with a lesson in how to find your inner clown, both of which I was seriously considering. I chose well, however...



Food Matters

The Kuggan was under new management, and well-stocked with more flavours of yoghurt that one would find in a large supermarket in Britain. Next to it was a trailer serving Tai food. I am told that it was good, but I didn’t try it. An African food trailer parked itself most days on the road leading down to the Folkets hus. It seemed a bit expensive.

I arrived with food enough for a few days, and some things (like one kilo of peanuts) that lasted the whole trip. I can report that yoghurt is fine for a few days in a tent, and that salami lasts better than ham.


Why are there so few raisins in this muesli? Ah! There they are.

I ate at the Bar Bedlam a fair few times. This was very variable. One night, I was served ‘chicken soup with bread’ that was a bowl of tepid fat, with chicken bones in it, and some Doritos on the side. Other times I was more lucky, but it was a bit of a lottery. In the cafe upstairs, I favoured the ice cream and rhubarb crumble over the brownies, which this year went beyond my tolerance for sugariness.

Best value for money goes to the breakfast at Heaven’s Kitchen: 60 SEK for all you can eat. I attended here a few times near the end, after being awake a full night.



Two Dance Rule Debate

Most days, I called in to the Dream Factory to see if I was needed, and I was often contributing ideas for evening meetings. One was a debate with the motion “This house believes that there should be a one-dance Wednesday in the dansbanan every week at Herräng”. My idea was approved, but when the debate happened, it was changed somewhat in nature.


In the Dream Factory. An 'intern' contemplates
the video editing equipment.


Before I was to go on in the evening meeting, the Herräng chorus line did an act in which the girls of the troupe demanded better working conditions, including more glitter. They then did their act, and large rectangles of glitter rained down on them. I was then introduced, and I walked on to the stage to sit on one of the high stools provided. Seeing piles of glitter on the stage, I bent down, and picked up a large pinch of glitter and threw it above me as I sat down. Much to my confusion, this got a hearty round of applause. Apparently, it was the way I did it.

Lennart introduced the debate, but he had changed its subject to “Do we like the two-dance rule” (the rule in Swedish dance etiquette that obliges people to dance at least two dances with each partner).

My opponent was, a little surprisingly, Tim Collins, an American (The USA is a one-dance country). The format was that each of us in turn had thirty seconds to make a point, then twenty seconds, then a final ten seconds, with a gong sound being played at the end of these periods. Thirty seconds is not long to construct an argument. Tim started by saying that it is better to take it slowly, to take time to “get into your partner’s rhythm and into their body” (I don’t think that that was exactly what he meant to say), and he then said in his best seductive voice “take time” [pretends to look at a watch he is not wearing], “take time... take time” [looks again] – gong! I made my opening point that people are less shy to ask for and accept dances with people of different levels if there is no two-dance rule in force. Gong. Tim came back with the old argument that it can take time to adapt to a partner’s style. I said that if it takes him more than three minutes, he’s doing it wrongly. I then made the point that it is annoying when one gets out of synch with a desired partner, and that it can happen that the two-dance rule prevents me all night from getting a dance with a certain person. Gong. Tim, if memory serves, then summarised his arguments so far, and then I in my last ten seconds said that I was pro-joy and pro-sharing-the-joy and that the without the two-dance rule we could all share the joy so much more and is this not what we want? Gong.

Lennart now led the vote. It is often said with referenda, that he who gets to ask the question decides the answer. Lennart started by asking the ladies only “Who likes to have two dances?” Unsurprising, a small forest of hands was raised. Perhaps I should there and then have interjected with protest. Of course people like to have two dances. That isn’t the issue. The issue is whether it should be obligatory for everyone to dance at least two dances with every partner. The vote by the men went similarly, but was closer to an even split. I had lost the debate. As I left the stage, Tim [left] said “I enjoyed every minute of that, and for what it’s worth, I agree with you.”


Tepid Sauna

Who would have thought that I would ever write the following? This year, the sauna wasn’t hot enough.

True, when I was first introduced to taking saunas, which happened in Herräng in 2004, I was not a fan of their heat. One, I recall was 94°C. This year, tired of repairing blown fuses, an electrician had removed the control knob from the sauna’s heater and left it on a fixed setting. This meant that the sauna never got above 70°C.

For me, now, the sauna is associated with a sort of resignation in defeat. It is the place where I have sat, often alone, after an unsuccessful single night or unsuccessful entire trip to Herräng, and suffered in the heat with what I hope is quiet dignity. One way to take one’s mind off the disappointments of reality is to sit in a discomfort so intense that one can concentrate on that instead. Perhaps it was fitting that it wasn’t quite hot enough to satisfy either in the function of torturing the body or distracting the mind – another almost-but-not-quite.



Assorted Matters

I was told on the bus to Rimbo by an Englishman married to a Swede that the route we were on was navigable in Viking times, that all the lakes were linked up by rivers, but that now the land had risen so much that this was no longer true.

This year there was no speed dating. I guess that it had proven a bit of a faff to organise.

A group arrived from Mozambique. They were learning Lindy, and demonstrating their own dances. When they first arrived, they wore thick coats and scarves, but not many days later I saw two in just shirts laughing as they shared a bicycle down the road. We were asked to be very welcoming to them. I don’t know how successful we were at this.

The laundry had its usual 'Wall of Shame'. While this may have seemed like a means of humiliating the owners of these items, it is really an admission of guilt on the part of the laundry workers. These are items that became separated from their loads, and are therefore of unknown ownership.

This year’s volunteer T-shirt design was a dull dark green. This made the volunteers much less noticeable, and they seemed to be less inspired to get creative with these shirts.

The number of people it takes to run the camp continues to increase. It is now up to 150 people.

They had had a lot of blinds made to fit the windows in the Folkets hus, decorated with pictures of 1930s band leaders and singers, which were used on slow drag nights in place of the black plastic bin liners of old. Chester put together the two blues-night opening performances I saw. I recognised his style of choreography straight away. There was a bit of a shift of gear when the social dancing started, from his show-time feel to the slow sleepy jazz that followed.

There were 'tap jams' in the dansbanan most evenings at seven. Here we see Josette Wigan delivering forty-three taps a second, and a circle of other tappers about to respond with three.

A few people thanked me for making my Herräng videos. The reason they all stated was that these helped them prepare for their first trip there. Particularly appreciated was a video which had not struck me as an important one: the one that showed what the general accommodation is like.

The printer at reception behaved strangely. Everything had to be printed twice, because the first version of every document came out with thick black stripes across it. Making the best of things, the staff decorated the inside of the door with these failed prints.

About half the people there were first-timers, according to Lennart in an evening meeting. Possibly this was a higher proportion than most years. I had noticed that the standard in the classes seemed to be a bit lower than usual. A teacher told me that the teachers had all been reporting this. The best guess was that a generation of Lindy hoppers had been through training, and that many of those people were now just getting party passes at the camp. The expectation was that the level will rise over the next couple of years. What would cause such a junction? I don’t know.



Music

There were plenty of bands playing at the camp. I listened to few of them. When there is a band on, the floors are often crowded. Live music is a very low priority for me. I will say, though that Gentlemen and Gangsters played a very fine set. It makes a big difference if a band has dancers in it. Dancers know what inspires dancers, and how to pace a set properly. They come up with more dynamic arrangements than mere musicians.

The piped music was disappointing. I heard very few tracks with which I was not very familiar. Indeed, it seemed that the most commonly played fifty tracks accounted for most of the music at the camp. So, not much change there.



Mr Beige Compères

“You were sent from above,” declared Klavdia Khodakivska, who ran the evening meetings from the bridge. She had been unable to find anyone to MC the week’s solo jazz competition, and I had walked into the Dream Factory at that moment.

Another ‘intern’, Paulina, who worked longer hours than anyone else in the office, helped me with this. She gave me a list of the competitors, and acted as tapper-out in the preliminary rounds. A force of volunteers laid out a wooden dance floor in front of the Folkets hus before the evening meetings on Monday and Tuesday, and a live band played. Disdaining the microphone, I did my job largely by shouting. I welcomed everyone, introduced the judges, spelled out the rules, and called the competitors to the floor. I bothered to dress up a bit, too. As ever, I disagreed, often strongly, with the decisions of the judges, but it was not my role to question this. I recall at one point finishing a speech by counting in the band for the next round, and because I had misread the signals from the band leader, this had the effect of confusing the hell out of them. I had mucked up the count-in. I think I got away with this by admitting it loudly. I ran back out to the front and shouted “Oh no! I mucked up the count in! Oh the shame!” which got a laugh, and I think kept the momentum of the show going. The alternative would have been a very awkward pause.

The two semi-finals happened in the evening meetings, as did the final on the Thursday. Each of these was a battle between two contenders, and I played up the boxing-match analogy quite a bit. I don’t think everyone got all the references. They lowered a microphone from above the stage to my mouth height (the length of the rope having been marked in rehearsal) and we had a ‘blue corner’ and a ‘red corner’. I said things like “I want a good clean fight. No kicks to the head.” “You will obey my instructions. You will come out of your corner dancing and stay on the beat at all times” [instead of ‘you will come out of your corner fighting, and defend yourselves at all times’ etc.].


Peter Strom MCing the previous week's competition. The cheat
has written the contestant's names down on a piece of paper.

I must say that I was not impressed by the contenders’ ability to count to eight. Even though I counted out the eight eights of their solos like a boxing referee counting out a dazed boxer, they still would come in early, or dance over the top of their opponents’ solos. What was I to do? A few times I grabbed them when they were close and held them back, or shoved them forward when it was their turn, but I would have preferred to let them get on with it themselves. One school of thought was that it was better to let them make mistakes, because these would count against them when the audience judged. A couple of times I felt like rugby-tackling a straying contender, but I never did. An advantage of a live band composed of dancers was that it could lengthen a section of music to cope with such a mix-up.

I was asked what music I would like played as I entered, and at first I wasn’t too fussy, but then I had an idea: Beige. It could have been written for me. Biscuithead and the Biscuit Badgers recorded this gem. I thought that the people running the show might want start with the fast bit for the sake of time, but they indulged me with the full slow intro: “Tights, toffee, mud, sparrows, corrugated cardboard, Cornetto cones, the wood in pencils and kitchen utensils, natterjack, natterjack tooooooooooooads!” I dressed in beige desert boots, beige trousers, a beige shirt and beige waistcoat, and a grey-and-ecru-patterned bow tie which from a distance might pass for beige. It’s good to have a theme.

I did one night find myself doing something that I have often found annoying when other compères do it: after the audience had already clapped at the end of a contest, I invited it to give a round of applause for the two plucky contenders who were entertaining us. The audience obliged, but it was not a golden moment for me. Applause should not be obligatory.

In the final, Pamela “The Vilnius Vixen” fought ‘The Stockholm Serpent “Snakehips” Fredrick’ (should Fred have been contending, as he was one of the teachers at the camp?). Some people said that they didn’t realise how big I am until they saw how comically tiny Pamela looked next to me. The audience decided by loudness of roar which was the winner. It was a very close thing. “Dance-off!” shouted voices in the audience. I looked round at the band. No one wanted to make the decision. I didn’t feel that I had the authority to do such a thing, but actually I suppose it was my place to decide, and eventually I did. I gave them sixteen eights each. Again the audience roared loudly for both, despite the now-traditional appeal for people to applaud only their favourite. I declared that we had a winner, and that I was in the best position to judge the volume in the room, being at the front and centre of the stage. I took the hands of both contestants, held them for a while to build tension, and then raised Fred’s hand.

One thing I learned a day or two later was that Nico on the bridge had a decibel meter, and could have used this to split the tie. He said that I had picked the louder roar, but that the difference was only 0.3 dB. Lithuanians in the dansbanan were disappointed. I’m told that down there the result was clearly in favour of Pamela.

Paul appeared with a large wooden board painted to look like a cheque for the prize money of 300 SEK. Fred said that last week the prize had been 600 SEK. I replied that last week was a couples competition. The previous week, Paul had a double-size cheque for 600 SEK, sawn down the centre and fixed back together with a few glued-on slivers of wood. He had told me that when he broke the cheque into two 300 SEK halves, he had hurt his chest and been in pain for a few days. Never for an instant thinking that he would repeat this folly, I asked him if he could break this one into halves too. From the big smile on his face after he tried, I could see that he was in genuine pain. Fortunately, he saw the funny side.



Mission Impossible in Five

One thing I’ve wanted to do for a while is dance to the Mission Impossible theme on the Folkets hus stage in an evening meeting, in order to demonstrate the potential of five-beat swing (did I invent this dance form?). One excuse to do this was to say that it was to publicise the work of the Mission Impossible team at the camp. These had set up in a corner of the area in front of the Folkets hus, between the bike repair station and the Lindy Hop Shop. The idea was that they would take on whatever difficult tasks people came up with. One this year for example was creating a scene of a wrecked car for the Haunted House party.

This came to pass. I choreographed a very short routine to a film-trailer-length version of the music and in one rehearsal we put it all together for three couples. As a sort of joke to emphasise the mystery of what we were doing, I put a couple of back-Charlestons in, and near the end a few five-beat Lindy turns (or ‘swing outs’ if you are American). I had the lovely and very able Kamile Pundziute as a partner. In the rehearsal, Lennart as usual seemed sceptical and vague about the item, but, as usual, in the performance he was spot-on when he challenged the Mission Impossible team to dance to the theme. On we rushed, and we danced. I don’t know how good I was. I know I got all the steps right, but whether mine was a great dance performance is another thing. During rehearsals, we videoed one run-through, and I was as usual appalled by how inelegant I looked. We rushed around comically for a bit at the end and then assembled for a tableaux finish. There was a sudden and loud cheer and applause.

Ideally, I could have followed this up with an evening lesson in five-beat swing, but there were no slots available that week, because unusually, the main teachers at the camp were all required to do an evening lesson each, and that left little room for anyone else.



My dancing

This was not a bumper year for my dancing at the camp. One way and another, I didn’t do much of it. One night I danced not a step, but just went to bed instead. I did not get dances with many of the people I wanted to dance with there, even those who professed to love dancing with me. Despite the supposed liberation of Swedish womanhood, it remains the man’s task to find and ask partners. Finding people in the evening parties is harder now that there are more people and more floors dancing at once, and more distractions from those floors. I did get a dance with Ruth Jeffery before she left, and I danced too with Giedre Paplaityte, but other than these two, no other camp teachers or major stars. Getting a dance with Giedre might be easier for me than most mortals, because I danced with her when she was learning Lindy years ago. The dance floors seemed to be a bit different from previous years. It was the norm for the elite star dancers to dance with each other in one corner of the Folkets hus ballroom, but I didn’t see much of that this year. Indeed, I hardly saw any stars on the dance floor at all. I did once see Skye Humphries dancing in the dansbanan. He was easy to spot because of the arc of women watching him.

I wasn’t greatly motivated to dance. There didn’t seem to be much point. I’m not sure if I’ve ever liked dancing Lindy hop. My Lindy hasn’t improved significantly for ages, and I seem to dance fewer and fewer moves as the years go by. I don’t have anything to prove to myself any more. I know I can do it. I don’t have any hope of impressing others usefully with my skills either. If I could, I would have done that by now. There was little to be gained from impressing beginners from far-off lands. True, if I danced well with any partners, then I was contributing to the total amount of joy in the world, perhaps, but other people could dance with them if I didn’t, and was it worth the effort of putting on a bright face? I think I was polite enough to look tolerably happy when actually dancing with people, but several times people joked on what a zombie I seemed when off the floor.

As the nights wore on, the ratio of men to women changed. Towards the end of a night, women got quite rare. One night, The Gontran stole the last available partner and then kept her for dance after dance. I organised a circle of five men to close in and steal her back, but he made his attitude clear to us by taking her through the door to the stairs and dancing with her there instead. She wasn’t given much of a choice. He was serious, and continued to dance with her while the rest of us saw that short of actual violence, we weren’t going to get another dance. Afterwards, he thanked us and said “I needed that”. Oh. Well that was all right then.

There was one girl there I’d wanted to blues dance with for ages. True, we had once danced one blues track in the basement, but that hardly counted. The venue was damp, musty, and cramped, the music was very quiet, my head was brushing against the cloth hanging from the ceiling, and worst of all perhaps, her friend who was waiting for her turn was right next to us, and watching intently. This year I got to dance with her for a while in the Folkets hus on slow drag night. It still wasn’t quite the experience it could have been. It was days later that I learned that she liked to be dipped, so I missed out there, but I was not on good dance form in general, and the music was its usual feeble self, and I felt it inappropriate to dance full-blast, so to speak.

Some days later, in the bright early hours of the morning, they were playing blues dance music in the foyer. Though there was much competition for her, I secured her as a partner for a dance. Would it all come together now? Would this finally be the sublime dance moment that I knew was possible? It seemed that I was in luck. The track Glory Box by Portishead was played. This is a fantastic blues dance track. It builds and builds, comes to a tremendous climax, and then to a beautiful powerful halt, and then slips gently back to the main tune. This was a track I could finally do something to. There wasn’t much room, but I know that when the climax comes I can really throw a partner into some great moves and let her do her stuff. There was a nagging fear, however. Was this the shit version of the song? Was this the crime against music that is the remix, which never develops, never builds, never reaches that climax and that glorious halt? The music continued steadily, and terror gripped me. My limbs stiffened, my dance cringed into a ball. Surely, no DJ with any sense of right and wrong could be playing the shit version, and not now, not here. This was cruel fate beyond endurance. I couldn’t hold in my frustration. I felt like smashing the laptop that was the source of this outrage. I think at one point I might have demanded that the DJ delete the file. This dance was turning into the perfect metaphor for my time at Herräng – ever promising, and never delivering. The music continued with its steady procession, and the foolish hope in me clung to the idea that any time soon it might release my dancing into the passion that I craved, but it just ticked on, never wavering, never rising above the tepid, and then faded to grey. I left, feeling as low as a man dangling below the scaffold, but envying that man for how soon his ordeal would be over.

There were also several ‘Missing’ posters with pictures of people who were actually at the camp, stuck up around the camp. These notices instructed people finding these individuals to give them a hug.


Things That Did Not Happen

One night, I spent four and a half long hours shooting a video for an evening meeting. I was costumed as an Attenborough-like naturalist observing a new species of humanity: homo Lindis. Tor the director decided that the best time to shoot this was at night during the crowded period of the social dancing. This would create lighting, sound, and logistical problems, but I went along with it. Good-natured volunteers were on hand to take part, and did as they were asked. This all ended up on the cutting room floor, however. Apparently, it was decided that the video took too long to get to the points (don’t bring bags into the ballroom, nor water-bottles, and don’t stand and talk on the dance floor), but I suspect that there were other problems too. I never got to see it. I was a bit annoyed, since by the time I had finished doing what I was being allowed into the party free for doing, I had near enough missed the party. I was told that another video got withheld from release because it featured Lennart’s head exploding so convincingly that it was deemed unsuitable.

Chester Whitmore arrived, and as ever there was talk of making a video. We didn’t.

I was asked to host a quiz for the World Fair party, but on the night it was decided that the vibe in the room (the Bar Bedlam) wasn’t right for the quiz, so this idea was dropped.


Two ladies of the Lindy Hop Shop, Ellen Holmström [right] and Isabella Wong [left] advertising a slumber party

I was asked to be the ‘father of the Folket hus’ for the week five Friday night slumber party. I am sure that this was an honour, but I flew home three days earlier.

I never found either of the Herlitzia on the dance floor, despite statements of intent from all parties in favour of this. Perhaps I should never dance with them again, and leave us all wanting more. The pressure to be as good as last time might be stifling. Better to end on a high, they say.

Kevin St Laurent recruited me to host the Lindy dapper chap competition. This would be a Wednesday cultural activity. He would invite the various men to compete, and already had a line-up in mind. There would be ladies to judge, Pimms to drink, and swingers to behold the swell scene. We discussed what rounds there could be: bow-tie tying, asking a lady for a dance, pipe-smoking, a party piece, dealing with awkward situations. It could have been fun, but when they announced the activities on Tuesday night, it was not included. Cancelled. There were too many other things on. My guess is that recruiting the necessary people proved too difficult. Cultural activity time is used by many to catch up on sleep.

I never impressed the Newcastle lot with my activities at the camp, simply because they never saw any of them. It would have been nice, perhaps, to get across the notion that despite my being an irrelevant side-issue in my home town, that in this international setting, I get asked to do stuff. Mildly surprised to receive not a single comment on my numerous appearances on the stage, whenever I asked any of my local team whether they had seen anything I had done, I always got the answer that they had been sleeping, or late, or unaware that there was a meeting. The same went for other strategic individuals whom I had hoped might have been favourably influenced by witnessing my public appearances.



Opportunities!

Two opportunities were presented to me. Someone wanted me to help out with the organisation of next year’s Frankie Manning event in New York. Another possibility is that I answer the call for Lindy hop teachers for Tibetan refugees in northern India. One might imagine that refugees there would have other priorities, but apparently the need is urgent. Both opportunities require me to pay for my own flights and food, but there is ever the promise of one thing’s leading to another. I wonder how old I have to be before one thing will eventually lead to another.



Abducted by Showgirls!

I was talking to Fish in the doorway of the Bar Bedlam, when two of the sexiest girls at the camp spotted me, rushed over, and dragged me away. I didn’t resist. They were from the Daily Meeting Chorus Line, and took me to their ‘show box’ – a container made into a dressing room and prop and costume store for the classier performances. By this stage in my trip to the camp, I was feeling pretty low, but this perhaps might lift my mood. They sat me down, made it clear who was in charge, and fired questions at me. This seemed rather sexy and fun. Four girls quizzed me for a short while, and after I had made a short speech in praise of beige, they declared that I was the best of their abductees so far (not least because I answered their questions without saying anything sexual). This only lasted a few minutes, though, and soon they were sending off for another victim, and in came Nico (I think it was his birthday), and I was no longer the centre of attention. Indeed, it was soon clear that I was an irrelevance. Their style of partying was not one that suited me, or at least did not suit me at the time. Perhaps if I had made a supreme effort of will, I could have joined in and at least faked it for a while, but I was exhausted inside, and slipped quietly out.



Other Cabaret Nights

I listed acts I saw in the first cabaret. I am able to do this because I noted them down at the time. I had just arrived, and still wore my pocket waistcoat with pens and paper in it. The week three cabaret I watched in the dansbanan. A couple of people near me asked why I wasn’t in it. Not being in it is easier, and I feel less pushy if I am asked to be in someone’s act, rather than doing yet another one-man thing. Anyway, this is all preamble to the fact that as I sit and type this, I cannot remember any of the acts, nor even who was the compère. No – it’s just gone. I heaved my weary body about in a daze of fatigue and distraction that week, and memories did not form. If a reader of this can remind me, that’d be grand.

Oo - wait! No, I’ve just remembered two acts. Both involved the electric piano keyboard they had there. One was by the über-confident veteran performer Bodo [left], who gave us a comedy song about forgetting things (“Perhaps my synapses have lapses...”), and using the piano also, while it was still set up, a chap who tried to play his way through a classical piece, and who encountered a trait of that particular keyboard, which was to engage unasked-for sounds. He gained a cymbal noise in the left hand, which added hilarity to an otherwise dull classical piece, but he didn’t have the showmanship to make anything of it, and instead just soldiered through to the bitter end.

I think that it is high time that the organisers of the cabaret give a few guidelines that might weed out many dud performances. There is a difference between having a skill, and having an act. If you can swing poi about quite well, that is a skill. If you can play the violin a bit, that is a skill. Standing on stage and swinging your poi around for three minutes is not an act, neither is playing the violin for a bit (unless, just possibly, you are quite staggering excellent). Thursday night at Herräng is cabaret night, and a cabaret act is a piece of entertainment which should engage the audience with a bit of showmanship and personality. An act feels unique when one sees it. Playing a classical tune on the violin is not an act.

There was a second cabaret later in the night, which was supposedly for those who had wanted to be in the main cabaret but missed out. At something like 4.50 a..m. Tim found me outside the Folkets hus and said that “it would be awesome” if I would appear and do something, and that it started in ten minutes in the bar. I was a bit evasive. Ten minutes later, I went to the bar, and found nothing happening, so I assumed that it was cancelled due to lack of interest. A short while later, I wandered up to the cafe, which was crowded, and stuck my head in. A folk singer from Britain was playing the guitar. I caught Tim’s eye, and he nodded at me. A minute or so later, I was introduced as the next act. Great. I shoved my way though the press and stood in front of the expectant array of eyes.

Fortunately, I did have in the back of my mind an idea for an act, and though I had not worked out the details of it, I had the basic idea, and in front of this warm and receptive audience, it proved easy to put into action. I said that I was going to do a science experiment, and I always said ‘science’ with great reverence and ceremony. The crowd quickly picked up on this, and I was able to get them to repeat ‘science!’ with gusto after every mention. I then divided the room into two and gave them the option of singing either Chopin’s Funeral March, or Williams’ Imperial March. It was almost unanimous to use the latter. Those to my right represented the dark side, and were to clap on 1 and 3 (the on-beat), while those on my left were to oppose this by clapping the off-beat (2 and 4). I was amazed by the immediacy of the enthusiasm for this experiment, and both sides played hard. Whereas one might have expected a crowd of swingers to favour the off-beat, the dark side of 1 and 3 was very strident and loud. I then had to think of a way to end it, and said that I’d write up my paper and conclude that more research needed to be done.

While this was supposedly for the people who had missed out on the cabaret, those performing were mostly the usual suspects: Lloyd, Pao [left, photographed in an evening meeting] doing a bit of juggling, and Chester, who was a bit annoyed, I think, to be summoned forth to perform. They played a disco version of Star Wars for him to clown to, and he grabbed me and went behind me to do something, but I couldn’t see what, so I just had to guess that he was winding or pumping me up in mime, so I acted pumped/wound up, which I think was a correct response. He then started miming fiddling a radio controller, and I accordingly played being controlled. It was amiable enough stuff. It ended there.

I tried to persuade Annika Herlitz to do a comedy version of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ for the next cabaret night, but she wasn’t up for it. She wanted a rest from singing in public, which is fair enough. In the end, I wrote my name on the list (there were only slots for 12 acts) when it went up, to reserve a place, and despite not knowing what I would do, felt that this was a wise move. If the worst came to the worst, I could always do one of my poems. When it came to it, there were far more than twelve acts. I think there were at least seventeen. So, it is reasonable to conclude that there were many exceptions and behind-the-scenes deals made. I took my place in the bar. I hadn’t thought of anything new, so I thought I’d just repeat what I did the previous week to a small audience. Many of those people would have gone home by now anyway, and I think, this being science (‘science!’), that it is valid to repeat experiments to increase the data base.

There were other recycled acts. I went on after an act that had been in the burlesque show: four girls sitting back on a settee, doing a dance with legs alone (this requires a lot of abdominal effort). This ended, and I was not introduced, and the stage was dark. Should I wait for the lights? Should I just walk on and hope for the best? I tried this. The act went all right, I think. I took a risk by silencing the audience in the Folkets hus and asking just those in the library and dansbanan to sing and clap. This was a risk. I had effectively stalled my act, and if the folk in the dansbanan didn’t play along loudly, it would be difficult to get the momentum of the act back. We all strained to hear them. There they were! Big laugh in the Folkets hus and I had my act back. Some days later, I was shown a video of my act in the Lindy Hop Shop (this year they were selling DVDs of individual weeks, for the first time including cabaret performances, available the following week). I didn’t like what I saw. In my mind I am a far better performer than the man the camera mercilessly records.

I’d say that this night was an above-average cabaret, with few weak acts and no duds. The hosts were Mikey and Kevin, and as the show wore on, they became ever more dishevelled and stage-drunk. Evita A and Bobby B put together a modern dance troupe routine with lots of mincing in it, and then we all piled on for the shim sham, making room for the Mozambicans to do their version of the second half of it.



The Creeper

There was a chap at the camp I kept noticing around, and he gave off a bad vibe. He seemed a bit creepy, to men and ladies alike. Many days later, after a night on which blues dancing had broken out in the foyer again, a group of us was talking and the subject of creepy guys came up. There were four women and two men in the group, and each had an example of a creeper at the camp, and very quickly it became clear that we were all talking about the same man. So, they are rare, and people pick up on who they are pretty quickly, it seems. I had never danced with him, so never had to deal with his groping, but I did once share a sauna with him. All the other seven of us were sitting on the grandstand of wooden benches, slumped over and suffering, but he elected to stand bolt upright at the front, facing us. I guessed that he was very keen to display to us what an unusually low coefficient of tumescence he presumably had in other circumstances. One night, I saw him on stage doing something fairly creepy. I won’t say what, because it would identify him too readily.



World’s Fair Party

This one was organised mainly by Robert Klingvall and Mark Kihara. The theme was supposedly inspired by the fact that Frankie Manning's Congaroos performed at the World’s Fair in 1939 in New York. For a while they did sixteen shows a day, before injuries forced them to stop. However, in the event, this party was really just a ‘national stereotypes’ party, since not a single nation produced a single exhibit for the fair.

The first event was a running event. The first man and the first woman to arrive, after setting off from the far camp site by the football field, got in free. The flagrant sexism of this was excused by the understanding that this was a partner dancing event at heart. In a fair world, it would simply have been the first two people in the race. There was also a cycling race, but I missed that.

In front of the Folketshus there was a Mexican wrestling ring. I fought one bout of this against a real Mexican (from Newcastle), who perhaps predictably beat me. The painful moment was when I fell heavily onto the foam mattresses, only to discover that the ground beneath the mattresses, in the gap between two of these pads, which had slipped apart where my left knee landed, was quite hard.

Here we see Enrique locked in a deadly struggle with Frida Kahlo. Somehow, at the time I didn't notice that the Lindy Hop Shop was turned into a massive Swedish flag.
In common with hundreds of other things, the wrestling ring was colonised by Ben Holness acting on behalf of Her Majesty. He had ordered 400 cocktail-stick flags on-line and had them sent to the camp.


There was also an ‘open stove’ provided by Mission Impossible for people to provide food from their nation. The Israeli contribution was quite palatable, whereas the Americans gave us ‘macaroni cheese’ made from dried ingredients. It was filling, perhaps, but worryingly bland, and I’m not convinced that any actual cheese was involved. The Americans also had ‘beer pong’.


There were competitions for biggest and smallest flag. I don’t know if they had many formal entries for the biggest, but the smallest inspired five entries. Some were painted on rice, one on the head of a pin.




I painted a tile. My subject was a cow. I don't know what Amy Whitehouse painted.

Lithuania took on the rest of the world at basketball. It was noticeable that those taking part were well above average height. The Lithuanians had a very good-looking and enthusiastic gaggle of cheer-leaders, and won the competition comfortably.



Hans Christian Andersen was there with a nude emperor or two.A Typical Russian.
A petition was organised for a free Antarctica.I did not see this lady on the dancefloor wearing this.

Koreans.



Americans, possibly?
Sarah Gadd, ex-president of the Newcastle University Swing Dance Society, wearing the same costume that I did at my first Herräng. Apparently, rolling a coin around the inside of a metal pan is a Swiss thing.
Ned Kelly accosted a Lego man, who apparently wet himself.

It was then announced that the bazaar was ready, and we were ushered into the party through the back corner window of the library. Inside, a Bollywood film played on the screen (though the projector was damaged), and stall holders tried to sell their wares (for real money, I think). I wasn’t buying.

In the dansbanan, they had put down a lot of hay. A lot of it would later end up in a big pile at the far end, in which a few people would fall asleep. This was the venue for the bugg competition, and I had a few warm-up dances. There really was quite a lot of hay, and though it was not a problem for the feet, I did find that I stirred up a lot of dust and a very strong smell of hay rose, and I found myself a bit uncomfortable as a result. DJ Hasse Mattsson played cheesy Swedish pop music. Helena Glansholm from Sweden said that she’d do the competition with me. I had a few other partners, and tried out some old Ceroc (a version of modern jive) moves I could remember. These included ‘the tunnel’ in which the lady ducks and goes through a tangle of arms, moves all the way around her partner, then back out in front of him again, and then if necessary goes back the other way. Partly by shouting ‘duck!’, I managed to get my partners to follow this.

The competition was eventually announced. The youngsters who taught the evening class and Sakarias Larsson were the judges. Helena was nowhere to be seen, but I spotted a lady, who turned out to be Austrian, whom I had danced bugg with and she joined me. The competitors assembled, and we started to bugg. We were then asked to line up, and introduce ourselves by saying where we were from. Everyone who said ‘Sweden’ was eliminated. I had been lucky with my partner, then.

I was not tapped in the next round, nor the next, but then the fateful and apologetically-enacted tap on the shoulder came, and my partner and I retired to the side. Soon, they were down to two couples, and a dance-off was organised between these. The MCs then announced the couple in second place in the dance-off, and these were applauded. Then, to the confusion of most there, they announced that the other couple was in third place. They then announced that the winning couple was... my partner and I! This was the first competition I had won after being eliminated. It turned out that in bugg competitions, there is often a dance-off to split lower placings, and not for first place if the judges are agreed on a winner. Eye of the Tiger blasted out from the speakers, and I punched the air along to it. We were then required to dance a display dance in victory. I got a few loud reactions from the audience, and so it was time for the tunnel. “Duck!” I yelled to my partner, who, despite having done this move a few times successfully before, completely messed it up. Heigh ho. The hostesses of the competition then offered me a choice of prize: a small USA flag on a stick or an ice cream token. Long before she had articulated the options, I seized the tokens.

A couple of days later, a summary video of week four was shown in the evening meeting. This ended with “... and the winners are... Lloyd!” so it seemed to those just arrived at the camp that I won week four.

On the main stage in the Folkets hus, acts were performed by the various nationalities present. These occurred in bursts of three, in alphabetical order. Britain would be almost last, because rather than being listed under G for ‘Great’, was ‘United Kingdom’, just before the USA (Yemen and Zambia did not do acts). There were a lot of acts, and a certain amount of chaos was inevitable, so I expected the acts to take all night, but I was wrong. Cat Foley, an ex-pupil of mine, was acting as stage manager for the night.

I came and went, and so did not see many of the acts. Some were short and sweet, such as the Israelis who came on as a four-humped camel, walked around the stage a bit, and then left. Many were folk dances, and it did strike me that folk dances from around Europe are all quite similar. I had seen the Barcelonans rehearsing their national dance – possibly the dullest dance in existence. The Italians showed us how Italians get up in the morning and all pile into a cafe to order coffee. The Mozambicans played a giant xylophone.

Our turn came. Someone had come up with the idea of queueing for our performance, and I had said that I could commentate on it in the manner of cricket coverage. Side-stage, in the narrow winding stairs, the Brits assembled, and each was allotted a role and order of entry. I took my place on the far side of the stage in the wings (or ‘trousers’ as they are called literally in Sweden) and did my best. We had never rehearsed our act, and looking through the slit between the wing curtains (or trouser legs?) and down the queue lengthways, I could only glimpse what was going on. Various stereotypes (chav, raver, bowler-hatted businessman etc.) joined the queue one at a time.

“Well, it’s a grand day here at Epsom, and it looks as though we are in for some first-class queueing. It’s been a magnificent first week’s play, and it’s going to be interesting to see who gets the ball rolling today and... it’s Devon! Yes, Devonshire has decided to open play after winning the toss, and now we have to see which county wants to follow up... it’s Somerset first to join... now Midlothian is staking a claim, and what’s this? South Yorkshire is making a play. He’s trying to tempt Midlothian into saying something, but... no... no it’s not working. That’s very good play from Midlothian there. They haven’t been introduced, and the judges would have been unimpressed by a simple slip like that. Now here’s a bold move from Middlesex, bumping as she goes past. Oh magnificent! Magnificent queueing there - everyone bumped into apologised and no one made a scene...”

A football hooligan pushed in to the queue near the front and there was a fine display of bristling and quiet tutting, but at this very high level, of course, no one actually complained. A policeman (in real police uniform) came along and cowed the youth into contrition. By this stage, I really couldn’t see across the stage to determine who was ready to come on next, but I knew that there were some Spice Girls ready, so I announced their arrival and on they came. Ten seconds of one of their hits were played, and soon we were ready to finish. It was as well that I had introduced the Spice Girls, because apparently they were waiting for the music before coming on, and the man doing the music was waiting to see them before he played it. Gerry Halliwell was absent, much to the disappointment of those who had long laboured over the union-flag dress, but the other four girls were there. Posh Spice was a young chap, who, when he pouted and frowned at the same time, looked disturbingly like the real thing.

We just had to get to a punchline to end it all. Cat stood up, apparently having been unaware of the queue forming behind her, and walked off, and I commented that it was a brilliant coup by Devonshire to have formed a decoy queue.

My guess is that a small minority of the audience really understood what the hell the sketch was about.

The last act was the USA. They started with three swing outs, and then Born in the USA was played loudly, and they walked into the audience, proud to be American.



Saturday Week 4/5

I did very little this day. I felt like doing less. I did not party, but went to bed and slept in actual night time instead. I had a second cold and was fed up.



Sunday Week 5

I couldn’t stand it any longer, and it was time, it seemed, to go. I bought a ticket to the Internet Igloo for 20 SEK and went on-line to book a ticket home. This took some while. The internet connection kept disappearing. The Swedish system would not let me use the sites I could use from Britain. When eventually I did choose a ticket, I got sent to Swedish-only websites with no translation. I sought an interpreter and again Philip Brandin was able to help. Even so, I sat head-in-hands for a long while contemplating whether I really wanted to hit the ‘confirm’ (or its Swedish equivalent) button. I had a tent, plastic Visa cards, and enough clean socks to go wherever I wanted, in theory. I could go camping elsewhere in Sweden, or take a train to the heart of Europe. Another option was to stay longer.

Herräng has been quite consistent in bringing me down, and two weeks of it has usually been enough to make me want to leave, and it always takes a few days to organise leaving. Soon after I arrived this year, I met a lady I remembered from my class in 1999. Her chap said that he was in my class as well, but I didn’t recall him. They had met in that class. Their young blonde son was playing nearby. "If I had played my cards better, he could have been mine," I joked. Every week at Herräng save one I have been there alone. In that one week, my other half was ill and spent the whole time in her tent. It is an old cliché that people feel more lonely when in a crowd, but there is truth to it. In a large, friendly, attractive, sociable, active, and engaging crowd such as at Herräng that effect is magnified many times. Every year, like a gambling addict, I think that I might manage a romance despite experience saying that this is very unlikely. The total number of women I have met and kissed at Herräng is one. She was there for a while this year, but it was clear that I was now in the friend zone.

Last year, six people said that they would book me to teach dance somewhere, and another three said they wanted to and would see about it. The total number of bookings I got was joint-record high of zero. Perhaps I should be better at following potential customers up.

I’ve never been skilled at telling whether or not I’m having a good time. There did seem to be a greater than usual feeling of pointlessness to everything there this year. I had nothing left to achieve, nor to prove. What was the advantage in bothering to do something just to please myself, when I couldn’t even tell whether I had succeeded or not? Pleasing oneself is self-indulgent and empty. A act only has a point to it if it pleases someone else. I had no one to please. There was one more week of the camp to go. The girl I was stuck on had just left the camp. When she was there, no one else stood a chance, and now she had gone, I was exhausted and just wanted it all to end.

Stuff it. I clicked ‘confirm’.

Immediately, I felt a great load lifted from me. The pressure was now off. My future was now known: I would return on the Tuesday (with an overnight at Gatwick airport, but that’s what you get with cheap tickets). I had the whole of Monday to enjoy. I didn’t have to do anything, I wasn’t in a hurry, had nothing to work towards, no decision to make, no one to impress. It was like being on holiday.

I said earlier that I chose my last evening class well. I could have chosen either of the other two, but I didn’t. I did tango. Malou Meyenhofer and Nico Speraggi were teaching. They took us through how to walk the tango walk, and then we practised this and little else. They then said that tango was not about figures, and that it was just a way of walking and we were free to make up our own rhythms and variations.

Monday night, they had tango in the library. I saw someone from the evening class there and asked her to dance. It went well. I found that we could wander around the floor in our tango walk, and then shove in all manner of foxtrot, Balboa, salsa, quickstep, blues, and even Lindy, and get away with it. The next day, a guy who’d seen me dance picked me out as a good tango dancer. So, I thought, I could fake it well enough. I dubbed my dance the ‘quango’. I danced a few dances with my partner, and then a few more, and she didn’t seem to need to find a new partner. Rather than thank me for the dances and walk away, she suggested that we went for a drink in the basement.

In the basement, the black curtains were up, and how clean they looked. There was a Mexican bar there. They [illegally?] sold alcohol, as well as plates of snacks, some of the nutty/salty/crispy kind, and others of the sludgy Mexican spicy vegetable kind. We were their best customers. Eventually, they asked us politely to leave.

It is often said that you find something when you stop looking.

Have I heard from her since? No. Did I get her telephone number? Don’t be daft – expertise like that only comes with experience.

Seen in Arlanda airport. I don't think I'll be alone here when I suggest that a cuddly stuffed hunting trophy is a strange toy to buy for a child.

Coming into London, I snapped some decent shots of the city lights before landing. Annoyingly, I set off some weird function of the camera and could find no way to turn it off. Even switching it off and back on again didn’t help. The night at Gatwick was not a joy, but it was cheap. One thing I found ridiculous was that in the shops there, a bottle of water was twice the price of the same volume of milk.


Summary

There were fewer mosquitoes this year than usual. They still throw good parties at the camp. I didn’t dance much.






*[Question answer] Raymond Chandler, the screenwriter of the film Double Indemnity (1944).


That was marvellous. Is there a more recent one of these I could be reading?


BACK TO DANCE FRONT PAGE     BACK TO HERRÄNG MENU

Click this icon to go to the Herräng site

Herräng Site

Click here to go back to the home page