MY TIME AT HERRÄNG 2001
If you know next to nothing about the dance camp, then you'd be better off reading the account of my 1999 trip first.
Why Go A Third Time?
Readers of my account of 2000 may be a bit mystified as to why I went to Herräng for a third time, not having had a good time the previous year. Well, I had been in two minds about going for a long while, and only decided to go two days before actually setting off. A friend of mine from where I live was going, and it might have been difficult to listen to her saying, "Oh and at Herräng they did such-and-such... oh I forgot, you weren't there," all year. Perhaps also I had gained confidence in my dance ability. Perhaps also I couldn't think of anywhere where I was likely to encounter nicer people. I now teach the odd lesson of Lindy in Newcastle, and so there was a professional interest.
Having discovered Sabena Airways to be totally rubbish, I flew with British Airways. From Stockholm, I took the public bus, which was tolerably quick and really quite cheap (the "limousine service" offered by the camp itself is a little expensive).
This year I had, for economy's sake, decided to camp. This turned out to be quite successful. Camping is free, and one is far enough away from the evening dance events to be undisturbed by the noise of them. I sleep well in a tent, and sleep is a very precious thing in Herräng. I was a little worried about the scarcity of lavatories, but in the event, I managed well enough.
Weather and parasite report
The weather was fine. It seems that pleasant weather is especially pleasant in places where such weather is rare. The Swedish summer is short, but very nice, with lots of sun, which is seldom fierce, and long light evenings. God always knows when I'm about to pack a tent, however, and he arranged his usual downpour on the last day, to make sure that everything I took home was wet.
The dreaded Herräng mosquitoes were not out in great force this year, and few bothered to join me in my tent. Mosquitoes love me in general, so I still had a decent few bites to scratch, but such things were very fashionable at the camp. I heard reports that in week one there were savage horse flies, so I'm glad I wasn't around then. The only time I was assaulted by many biting things was when I was shooting video in the woods by the lake.
It was also not a very bad year for the Herräng flu. It may put people off to hear about mosquitoes and flu at the camp, but I should add that for the three times I have been to Herräng, my holiday has never been ruined by any of these menaces. Nevertheless, many people every year fall victim to the viruses on offer, and some unfortunate ones miss a few days as they recover. Many keep the viruses at bay during the holiday with adrenaline and fun, and then suffer the symptoms when they get home. It is my suspicion that the entire camp is in fact run by a pharmaceutical company from behind the scenes.SCENE: A boardroom. Five grey-suited executives and one token confused old person sit around an expensive and expansive table. We see a flipchart with a made-up graph on it, signifying nothing.
EXECUTIVE ONE: It's no good, gentlemen, things cannot go on like this [points to flipchart, the others nod in agreement]. We must find a way to test this drug thoroughly, and yet if our competitors know what we're doing, our advantage will be lost.
EXECUTIVE TWO: It seems to me that we need to test the drug in secret somehow.
EXECUTIVE THREE: Impossible! We'd need to test hundreds of people over several years. There is no way this could be kept a secret.
EXECUTIVE FOUR: If I might make a suggestion? I have a cunning plan.
EXECUTIVE FIVE: This isn't another one involving people disguised as llamas again, is it?
EXECUTIVE FOUR: No, but I still say that one could work, given time, money, and a massive amount of string.
EXECUTIVE ONE: Come on, tell us quickly.
EXECUTIVE FOUR: Thank you. We have to set up a dance camp. Then we get people from all around the world to fly in and dance vigorously with each other for a few weeks. The mix of nationalities will ensure a good genetic variation of the sample, and if the dance is vigorous, then the people will sweat a lot. If it is also a partner dance, where people swap partners often, then one dancer could encounter the sweat off many others in a short time. Each person would in effect not be dancing just with one other, but with all the people that other had danced with. Also, people on holiday, and serious about dancing, will want to dance a lot and stay up late. I suggest we set up a Lindy hop camp. Swing dancers will dance through the night, and are prepared to suffer tremendous sleep deprivation for their hobby. Within a day or two of the camp's starting, we could be sure that everyone there will have encountered the virus, and will be exhausted when they do. All we have to do is keep track of who gets the drug and who doesn't, and then collect the results. This could be an annual camp, and no one would be any the wiser, but us.
EXECUTIVE THREE: Great Scott! That's brilliant! But how would you administer the drug?
EXECUTIVE FOUR: I thought we could put it in cakes to be sold at the café. Not everyone will buy them, so we'll have a control group of people without the drug to study too.
EXECUTIVE ONE: Excellent, gentlemen, our path is clear. We must put this plan into action at once. I still feel, though, for extra secrecy, that somewhere obscure should be picked.
EXECUTIVE FOUR: I'm ahead of you there. I have already found an obscure iron ore-mining village in rural Sweden. That's the last place on Earth anyone would expect us to pick.
OLD PERSON: Can I go home now?
Sorry, got carried away there for a bit.
LOVE LOVE LOVE
On the Friday I arrived (end of week three) was the Love Love Love party. My own (not very good) costume was that of a 1970s gigolo, complete with gold reflective sunglasses which were so dark that they were near impossible to dance in. Mystifyingly enough, nuns and nurses were popular choices of costume, and all manner of love potions/injections/charms were on offer. The stage upstairs at the Folketshus, and the bar downstairs, were strewn with cushions. I don't think anything terribly naughty happened on these cushions, but a few people caught up on sleep on them. A poster promised that downstairs in the basement was a world of S&M. Disappointingly or otherwise, this turned out to be a room empty but for a tape recorder playing sounds of screams, laughter, and lashing.
The question I asked many people was whether they were staying for the coming week, or leaving. I wanted to dance with as many people who were about to leave as possible. It is a strange thing – one arrives at a camp ready for comradeship and shared enjoyment, but starts by saying goodbye, in the form of a dance, with as many people as one can.
Chester Whitmore recruited me into the cast of this year's cinematic blockbuster spoof. He has directed one of these every year for some while. Previous videos have included Wild Wild Herräng, Herrassic Park, and Mission Unswingable. This year, it was Tomb Hopper with Lindy Croft. Lindy herself was played by a quiet-spoken Belgian girl (and a great tap dancer who had a style a lot like a traditional clog dancer, I thought) whom Chester had been bruising through four days of fight scenes. I played Professor Gilliard, whose job it was to explain the plot to everyone, and then get beaten up a few times by the bad guys. Chester told me that it would take a couple of hours to get it in the can. It took about ten hours of my time, and twelve for the cameraman.
Chester has an interesting working method. He never tells anyone what is going on. This way, he is free to change his mind at any point, without having to explain himself. The actors would not even be told what was going to happen in the scene, or even the next shot of the scene, on which they were working. With his energy and inventiveness, however, Chester got the job done, and a trailer for the finished video was shown in one of the evening meetings, and got a cheer. If you see the video, look out for me. I'm the one wearing the many-pocketed waistcoat. I'll have you know now that I was terribly good in all the bits that got cut.
The above video comedy will appear at the head of the camp video – a three hour epic which claims to show all the moves taught in all the classes, and which tries to show a lot of what goes on at the camp. I think I might get one, so that I can show bemused non-swingers what it is all about.
During the week, a Swiss television crew lurked about the place, and interviewed people. Also, a Swiss magazine reporter was on site. In both cases, someone was turning a hobby of theirs into business.
I much preferred the teaching this year to last. Last year got hung up on the proper way to do a Lindy turn, and other such dampeners of fun. This year I saw no "Real men let go on five" T-shirts, and good-riddance to them.
Janice is an excellent dancer, and has a gaze which is hard to meet. She gave us one lesson on doing Lindy with a hip-hop style (same as last year); one lesson on part of the routine from Hellsapoppin' (danced at breakneck speed, but I managed it, just); and other lessons on "musicality" (again, much like last year). These last lessons included improvising movements danced to the vocals of a track rather than to the beat. Often the exercise was to dance solely with one part of the body, such as the shoulders. One effect of this is that one becomes more aware of the full range of movements the body has to offer. It really is possible to make one's ribcage move side to side, though I doubt I'll ever get mine to move as much as Janice's. Mine is attached to my spine, you see. One thing I noticed about the musicality, though, is that almost no one I partnered during the lesson could do it at all. Possibly many people simply cannot hear the rhythm of the vocals as distinct from the beat of the music, but I formed the opinion after a while that a language barrier was part of the problem. Many of the women in my class were not native English speakers, and the teachers made little allowance for people whose English was imperfect. Perhaps my partners just didn't understand what was being asked of them.
Paul Overton and Sharon Ashe:
Paul and Sharon are an unusual, and very good, team. Unlike all other teachers who teach in pairs, they both do about half of the talking. Paul is articulate and funny, and Sharon is universally liked. I've never heard anyone mention her without saying how nice she is. Sharon is a very unlikely swing chick. I've never seen her dressed up to dance, and it is difficult to imagine her in anything spangly. It is very easy to imagine her serving excellent home made stew to her twelve children up in her mountain lodge, after having made sure that their hands were clean.
Paul and Sharon taught two things to my class. First, as a warm-up, they taught the "Swing Rueda". The rueda (Spanish for wheel) is a dance which usually uses salsa steps, in which people dance in a large circle, all dancing the moves called out to them by a caller. The swing rueda is the same, but using swing steps, with Anglo-American names like "Coca Cola" and "Reverse", which are much easier to hear and remember for English speakers than the usual Spanish rueda move names. This dance was very popular, and people had fun dancing it in the evenings. Most of the moves involve swapping one partner round the ring. One major snag I saw with the dance was that it would be next to impossible to invent new moves. The caller and all the dancers have to know all the moves by name. But aha! This is another thing that the internet can do. It seems that someone has bought the domain name www.swingrueda.com (or something) and will soon have up a site with a central database of moves, so that everyone around the world can learn the same names for the same moves. It is very tempting to invent several, and send them in, just so that I can give them very British names. Perhaps in a year or two, people from San Francisco to Hong Kong will be dancing in unison after calls of "Winston Churchill" and "Shakespeare!".
Once we were warmed up by the rueda, we were taught a routine of moves. At first, the moves may not have seemed especially remarkable. They weren't fast or complicated. However, in order to do them well, both leader and follower had to be very well connected. Paul and Sharon have a certain style of connection, and their routine was a very good way of demonstrating its advantages. I think everyone who got the moves was impressed.
Sharon did me the tremendous honour of asking me to dance one evening. I'm afraid that the thought that I was dancing with the teacher made me panic, and I stuck to very basic moves, partly because my mind had gone blank, and my wild styling was rather stifled. I doubt she was impressed, but she was very polite, and I can report that she felt as light as a warm feather.
The Two Freds:
Fredrik Åberg and Frida Segerdahl are two talented dancers, who I think haven't been teaching long. It was good to be taught by non-Americans for a bit, although the American influence on Fredrik was strongly apparent in his hip-hop ultra baggy trousers and associated garments. Frida is tiny, and seems to make the most of the advantages of this in Lindy hop. When she finishes a spin, her balance is rock solid every time, and she finds room to do all sorts of footwork. Fredrik is like me: tall and thin. Whereas a man might labour to dance in a way that makes his build seem more normal, Fredrik does the opposite, and has a style which draws attention to his build. He dances with an exaggerated gangliness, which contrasts with the neatness of his partner. I talked to him about competitions. He liked going in for competitions, because they were a spur to his improving his dance. He said he trained hard for them, doing a lot of running and other general fitness exercises. He did some hip-hop in a jam session one night, and showed that he certainly can shift himself at speed.
Two years ago, Cookie Andrew pointed out the teenage Frida to me, and predicted that she would be teaching at Herräng in two years. Bang on, Cookie.
Though his classes were always taught with a good amount of humour, they still inspired a certain amount of dread. When Chester teaches you a move, he gets you to do it again and again at very high speed until your feet drop off. I found myself getting the move, then being worse and worse at it as fatigue set in, although sometimes I got a second wind. He likes to beat rapid time with a broom on the floor, and the broom doubles as a handy weapon for stopping people from dropping out of his classes. There were times when I felt like saying, "Chester! I'm on holiday!", but still I jumped to the rhythm. His classes did far and away the most to test the endurance of my ankle. This man is thin, and made I think out of wire. On the left, you see a shot of Chester in a very rare pose. He had dropped off, splay-eyed, at about half past six in the morning, on the last day. He had been asked during one of the meetings whether he ever sleeps. It seems he does.
Kevin St. Laurent and Maggy Moon:
For completeness, I should say that we had two lessons with Kev and Mag, but though I'm sure that they are highly spiffy in their way, I can't think of anything of interest to say about them, except perhaps that they were higher-profile than most teachers during the evening social dances. I still never dared ask Maggie to dance though.
After registering for classes, each camp member is given a timetable of classes. In week four, most days had the first lessons starting at eleven, which was welcome after a night's social dancing. In other weeks, the lessons start earlier. In addition to these official classes, many people offer extra classes. In week four this year there were lessons in stealing (how to take a partner off someone else, and make it a smooth part of the dance), bullshit (never quite worked out what that was), swapping leads (so that the leader becomes the follower for a while, then swaps back), balboa (this was the first time I'd been taught balboa and felt afterwards that I might use it socially), Appalachian folk dancing, dips, and aerials. I was again considering teaching ska, but again decided not to.
I asked a guy if he was going to attend the lead-swapping class. "No I don't think so," he said, "I don't want to be a part-time leader." What I think he meant was that he wanted to be a good leader, and not someone who has tried to learn two skills and so mastered none. I did feel, though, that one class in lead-swapping was unlikely to lead him to neglect his lead ability much, and that his reply indicated an attitude which could hold him back from getting very good at Lindy. Lindy is largely about experimentation.
The aerials class took place around midnight, in the gymnasium. The lesson went on for at least two hours, and they taught only one aerial. It was a big scary aerial, and almost nobody got it. In the whole hall I think I saw about four couples do it, and most of these did it once or twice only. Midnight, when everyone is tired, is not the time to be teaching big scary aerials in my opinion. The move required the woman to launch herself, trusting the man. Such was the awkwardness of the lift, that there was nothing the man could do to help her at first. I saw lots of women practice their launch, and get good height, but when it came to trying the move with a partner, they would instead do a hesitant feeble launch, which gave them no chance of completing the move. My partner never launched herself with me, and I don't blame her. She had to spin sideways in the air to complete the move, and I wouldn't want to have to trust a stranger with that.
In the dip class, I learned a few moves, one of which involved a very low dip in which my right arm did all the work. I held my partner with my left, but this hand bore no weight, so it could be placed where I wanted for style's sake. I at first held it high in a Latin hold, but later tried it very low instead. To my surprise, my partner exclaimed, "Oh that's lovely! I feel so helpless!" It is good to have feedback. Had she not said this, I would never have thought that in a hundred years. I suppose it would not enter my male mind that helplessness might be a desirable state.
There was much talk about the levels of the various classes, and who should be in which class, and how teachers ought perhaps to do more to see that the right people are in each class. Such talk makes one prone to worry. Was I in the right class? I had considered taking the Advanced Plus class, but instead opted for the Advanced class, and I think I made a good decision, not least because I was on holiday, and one is often tired during classes.
My feeling is that the best class to be in, if one wants to learn a lot, is the one where half the people are better than oneself, and half less good. To be the best in the class means that everyone else holds you back, to be the least able means that most of the class will be too difficult for you. Of course, not everyone can be half way up the class, and all classes will be internally varied. In my class there was one woman who seemed conspicuously good, another who was clearly struggling, another who didn't seem to be getting any of the moves but seemed to be having loads of fun, and another who didn't seem to be trying but might just have been disguising the fact that she couldn't keep up. In the evening social dances, I danced with women from less advanced class levels, who were great to dance with, and I'm sure would have done fine in my class.
Part of the snag is that people often judge themselves as advanced dancers simply because they have been dancing Lindy for a long time, and have paid for a lot of lessons. In a lesson, however, everything is new to everyone (usually), and so experience doesn't count for nearly as much as talent. A talented beginner might learn a completely new move or technique more quickly than a less talented veteran. This might be particularly true for women dancing the follower's part. Looking at the Advanced Plus class, I was given to wonder how many people were in it simply because they had been Lindying a lot, and did the Advanced class last year. It may be true that I have missed the boat, and that I will never become seriously good, because I started too old, or, dare I say it, I simply haven't got the talent.
A fear expressed was that if too many people put themselves in classes above themselves, then the top class would lower in standard, and the really excellent dancers would stop going to the camp, since there would be no appropriate class for them. A polite mention was made in an early evening meeting that people should consider the Advanced Plus class to be for the excellent only. The trouble is, a person might be good, but fail to find his feet in the first day or two, and the judgement of who goes in which level needs to be made early in the course.
These used to start officially at eight, and in reality more like half past eight. This year, a new policy: they started promptly at nine. To prove their promptness, they even projected a countdown clock on the front curtain in the Folketshus, and started the moment the clock showed nine on the dot. There was much less mucking about in the meetings this year, but still they were pleasant enough. They showed many clips of dance routines from the past, including a slow-motion version of Hellzapoppin', and a video of the Swedish Swing Society doing a performance in a gym to the camera, with lots of solos and aerials, and comical 1980s sports wear. One difference which was not pointed out was that the Swedish video was shot in one continuous take, and Hellzapoppin' had dozens of cuts in it - very convenient for a fast acrobatic routine.
In one meeting, Lorenz Ilg, the orange-clad Swiss, told us about the festival of swing which his organisation had staged in Zurich. The undertaking seemed astonishing, with many huge events in the city, preceded by a near-incredible fortnight of swing dance crash courses taught every night in fourteen venues simultaneously. Even in the vastness of London, this would be a major feat.
I was dancing with an American girl one night, and having a casual conversation with her. Her expression changed as she came to some conclusion from what I was saying. She stopped dancing entirely and exclaimed "You're the guy who wrote THAT e-mail!" It was some minutes before I discovered what she meant. I have, in my time, written rather a lot of e-mails. It turned out that someone in the USA had come across my account of my time at Herräng 1999 (which appears on this web-site), and had copied it to various Lindy-hopping friends, and that this account, perhaps in highly edited form, and always out of context, had been passed by the wizardry of e-mail, to a significant proportion of the USA on-line Lindy community. Most significantly, this account included a tongue-in-cheek description of the Americans at the camp that year, and the girl I was dancing with could remember that section in impressive detail. Fortunately, she did not turn violent, and I was able to remain on good terms with her. Thank heavens for the famed ability of Americans to spot irony.
WHERE WERE THE BRITS?
In week four, there were very few British, or so it seemed to me. My nation seemed disappointingly under-represented. I returned home with the e-mail addresses of many nice foreigners, but it would have been good to make a few more local contacts. My information is that the Lindy hop revival happened pretty much simultaneously in three places: Britain, Sweden and the United States (note the alphabetical order). In Britain, the main agents of this were the Jiving Lindy Hoppers, who today are a sizeable professional troupe, perhaps not much unlike Sweden's Rhythm Hot Shots. James Hamilton and Simon Selmon both came through the JLH school of Lindy [so I wrote in 2001, now (2006) I believe that this may be inaccurate], and both teach at Herräng. This makes the Jiving Lindy Hoppers very conspicuous by their absence. I have never been given a satisfactory explanation of this. For some reason, presumably political, the JLH have never been invited.
The nearest showers to my tent were beneath the gymnasium, and were bracingly cool. One day, much in need of a shower again, I couldn't use these because they were being cleaned. I knew that there were others elsewhere and went and found some. There was a timetable on the door, showing when men could use the showers, when women could, and when the "Public" could. The word public could well have meant that this was the time when the local residents of the village, not the dance camp folk, could use their showers. This was the case for the laundry, I knew. It didn't mean this. It meant mixed: Catholics and Protestants together.
I was a bit hesitant to venture in, but I really did need a shower. A man on his way out assured me that it was all very straight-forward. I went in to find to my surprise that there all of two shower heads in the room. That they might bother to draw up a timetable for a room with twenty showers in it I could understand, but two? It was impossible not to notice that the other shower was being used by a woman. She didn't shriek as I entered, so I reckoned that there was no call for panic. What, though, was the proper form of conduct in this situation? Should I utterly ignore her to the point of rudeness? Pretend that I hadn't noticed her? Strike up a matter of fact conversation, as one might if she were a man (something along the lines of, "Have you heard the football results?" or, "Have you danced with that tall Norwegian girl? She's gorgeous!")? In the end, I said not a word, and spent most of the time looking pointedly the other way. My peripheral vision informed me that she had quite an uninterrupted tan.
Afterwards, when it was of course too late, I asked others what the drill is. One chap suggested commenting on bruises or mosquito bites. One girl said that she would talk in a totally matter of fact way. I then suggested that she might have an innate advantage, and enquired of her how I should conduct myself in her presence were I to suffer a certain anatomical accident. After a pause during which she interpreted me correctly, she grinned and said, "That would be a Kodak moment."
This kicked off with three lady dancers on the stage, sitting on high bar stools, pretending to drink wine. When the dry ice, music, and crowd were all ready, the three of them climbed down from their stools and started to dance. The middle one was Janice Wilson. She did something different. She didn't just get off her stool and then start dancing. She had started dancing before that. It may seem a bizarre thing to write, but the way she dismounted her stool meant that few eyes were on the other two after that moment.
Then up stood a number of smartly-clad dancers, who started dancing with each other, and then splitting their partnerships, and each seeking a new partner from the crowd. This snowball started the evening off. I have described Blue Night in my last two accounts. I rather like it, but not everyone does. Cookie Andrew, in characteristic manner, said, "It's all bollocks." She said that the room stank, not just of sweat, but of musk. All the people I've heard complain about the night have been women, but if women hated it so much, how come there were plenty of them to dance with?
Another day, a group of people was doing a dance, and the social dancers had stopped to watch. I noticed Cookie next to me, and said, "It's all bollocks, isn't it?" She creased up laughing. "This is my routine!" she said. Heigh ho.
A flatteringly large number of people greeted me at Herräng with some reference to my cabaret act last year (and one mentioned instead the previous one). I had planned to go on again, this time doing a magic trick. Alas, I had nowhere to practice the act. It was one of those tricks which, if it goes wrong, means that the whole audience can see how it is done. Everywhere I went, I was interrupted. I needed somewhere away from curious eyes, and preferably with a mirror. A certain amount of confidence in my act was necessary to overcome the tremendous stage fright. At the last minute, I withdrew, and joined the audience. Next year, perhaps.
The event was popular. The crowd was shoe-horned into the room, and the curtain went up, with the electronic eye of Swiss television watching. Paul Overton compèred the night, and I must say he did an excellent job. The few non-dance acts were popular. I'd never dare dance in front of so many good dancers. The crowd was very warm, though, and loudly applauded everything. The kids from Mini- Herräng performed, and a Kiwi called Tico amazed us all with a two-part jokeless "joke". John, from Newcastle, came on, recited some of his poetry, and announced that he will stand for Mayor of Newcastle on a "swing ticket". Good luck, John.
The night ended as ever with a mass shim sham on the stage, and I went back to my tent to ditch my magic equipment, before going back to dance the night away. Mine is a back-packer's tent, and it was necessary to lie down in order to put the stuff away at the back of the tent. The next time I opened my eyes, it was morning. I must have been quite tired.
The music one hears at British swing nights is not the same. To go a whole week of swing dance and never hear "Zoot Suit Riot" or "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens" would be unheard-of. Of course the music varied, but for the most part there was very little swing from the 1930s, and almost no neo swing. Instead, the bulk of the music was jazzy stuff from the 1950s and 60s - long jazz versions of classic songs. I really must get some more Ella Fitzgerald. Very little fast stuff was played. I well remember Peter Loggins claiming that almost all the music they danced to in his neck of the woods was at ramming speed. Either they don't dance all night there, or they are all inhumanly fit.
Whenever the disc-jockeys strayed far from the path of swing, they were criticised and complained about by many. Personally, I do not want to dance all night to tracks I know well. I want each DJ to play me something new and challenging. A couple more favourites than I got would have been nice, but I'd rather people experiment a bit than be all the same. If you don't give people what they expect all the time, then of course you won't please everyone all the time, but I think it's a price worth paying.
When I was dancing with a particularly fine dancer, our hearts sank when we heard that the next track was "There's No Business Like Show Business" - a tacky track if ever there were one. However, we stuck with it, and mucked about a lot interpreting the lyrics, and ended up having a very enjoyable dance. We'd have missed out had we vetoed this on grounds of musical taste.
Swedish continues to be a very rude language when seen written down. Where else would one encounter chocolate bars called "Kex" and "Plopp"? In case you are wondering why these seem inappropriate names for chocolate bars, I shall explain:
"Kex" (probably spelt Kecks but I've never seen it written down) is slang in Britain for underpants (and is usually used when referring to underpants which are not one's best). I consulted the Oxford English Dictionary on this one, and it came up with two more definitions of "Keck" (Kecks which sounds the same as Kex would be part of the verb to keck): 1. To make sound as if about to vomit, and 2.Keck at - to reject (food etc.) with loathing. Neither meaning lends itself naturally to the naming of a chocolate bar. "Plop" is the word in English descriptive of the sound made when a smallish item falls into water, and this is very strongly associated with a particular kind of item, which is in shape, size, and colour very similar to a chocolate bar, but which it would be very unfortunate indeed to mistake for one.
I saw a tin of "Picnic Bog", and tin-can recycling bin had "Burk" written on it (which is Cockney rhyming slang for something very unparliamentary). When one sees a sign saying the likes of "INFART RUNT HORNET" one just has to laugh at the audacity. To be fair to the Swedes, there are a couple of accents missing from that sign (which means "entrance around the corner") as I wrote it, but a native English reader pays no heed to accents.
This year, I took the trouble to learn how to say "Herräng" correctly. The stress is even, like "Heathrow". The first syllable rhymes with "hair". The central double R is rolled (at the front of the mouth, but I can't do that, so I roll it at the back and claim to be using the southern Swedish accent). The last syllable is assonant with "end". It totally contradicts the flow of English, and is a devil to throw into a sentence without coming to a halt for it. Most of the Swedes, when speaking English, just said "Herrang" like everyone else.
The food, it was announced in the brochure, would be a great improvement on previous years. I thought the food last year to be okay, but then I'm British. This year, the breakfasts were pretty much the same, except with fewer things on offer (no muesli, no flavoured yoghurt, and no proper milk - only semi-skimmed grey water). The suppers had better salads, with a couple of dressings, and the standard of the main courses was a great deal better, although it was a bit difficult getting second helpings. Still there were no puddings (greatly missed by the Brits) and unlike previous years, there was no BEER!
I suppose I should say something about the actual dancing, having come this far. I felt that this was going to be a short account, since I said all there was to say about the previous years, but brevity isn't my strongest suit (sorry).
I was much more relaxed about my dancing this year, and didn't strain my vocabulary of moves. Instead, I did fairly basic stuff, and concentrated on styling and musical interpretation. Fancy moves are for displays, perhaps, and one should just forget about moves and just feel the music when social dancing. Sometimes, I might find myself feeling that I was just doing the same few moves over and over, and that my dancing was dull. Then I would partner a truly great dancer, and I was amazed by how much this caused me to raise my game. With a great partner, I danced better than I am capable of dancing on my own.
In the classes, I just about managed everything. Being the leader can be tricky with a new move. If I forget the next bit, I deny my partner the chance to practise it. One thing I did notice, however, is that I was getting the moves right when I was partnering the best woman dancers in my class, and had the most trouble when I was with a less able partner. Clearly, then, the woman makes a big difference to the ability of the man to pull off a new move. I tried to write everything down, but in the event I often forgot the last move or two of each routine.
Now I'm back in Newcastle, it is an extra frustration not to be able to dance as I did in Herräng. In Herräng, my Lindy turns had all manner of leans and swirls and twiddly bits in them, which somehow came naturally to me when I was dancing to good music with great partners. Back here, I'm back to rock-step triple-step. Perhaps John will get in as mayor and things will change.
I was dancing in the Dansbanan, in the pleasant coolness of evening, on a roomy floor. My partner and I executed a series of moves which rapidly covered about twenty feet of floor space, and then just as the music came to a sudden "hit", we both came to face each other and froze, inches apart. Perhaps it is good that there aren't many more moments like that. They wouldn't seem so special.
The Olympics were coming to Herräng. We knew this because each day in the evening meetings, we were shown footage of Cookie carrying the Olympic Flame through some more countryside, on the way from Greece to Sweden. It is amazing how much the Mediterranean looks like the Baltic, and how much the forests of Central Europe resemble those just behind the Folketshus in Herräng. Here we see an entirely candid shot of the torch bearer.
Friday night, the last night of the camp, was Olympics night. I had put down my name to represent my nation, and had painted a flag to carry in the parade. People kept asking me what Blighty meant, which I had emblazoned on my Union Flag. Clearly, these people had not watched enough British World War Two prisoner-of-war escape films, in which our plucky heroes talked of "Getting back to Blighty". I live in Blighty, Dear, Dear Blighty. Do not other countries have nick-names? Albion, The Sceptred Isle, This Other Eden, Land of Hope and Glory… Blighty.
In the parade, flags were waved and anthems ("Cool Britannia" in my case) sung. Congratulations must be given to the spectacularly huge Norwegian flag which had been made in quick time by a team with patriotism typical of that nation. The Swiss had a good flag too, and Assyria was well represented. Of particular amusement to me, however, was the pifflingly tiny USA flag, which was so small that it had no flutter to it at all.
I was called up for the first event. Unlike the more familiar Olympics, the competitors only found out which event they were competing in at the last moment. I think it might be a good thing for this practice to become more common. It might put an end to fanaticism in training, and the British might win a few more events, against all those foreigners who will insist on practising, which I have always considered to be a form of cheating. I was to be in the biathlon.
My event involved having a pair of skis gaffer-taped to my feet. I then had to "ski" down the asphalt road to the shooting range. While on the starting line, I was importuned by a drug dealer to accept his performance-enhancing pills. He even tried to slip some in my pocket. Naturally, I saw him off with a sharp word in his ear. We were off! Typically for foreigners, my co-competitors tried to get ahead of me. The most popular method was to take the skis off, pick them up, and run with them. Not resorting to such methods, I got to the range last. I was then handed some stones from a bucket and told to knock a can off a fence. Again, foreign deviousness triumphed, and my opposition threw bucket-loads rather than stones one at a time. At this point, I was interrupted by another drug dealer, who brazenly offered me drugs actually during the event. At last I knocked down my can with a satisfying "dink!" noise, and looked around for what to do next. After calling loudly for advice, I ran through the dense crowd which had closed around me to laugh at my efforts, and found the finish line. I was awarded bronze, for reasons which I didn't entirely understand, but which might have had something to do with my being the only person not to cheat too readily. It was a proud moment.
Surprisingly few people had dressed up as athletes. Far more common were people in ancient Greek dress. There were also news anchormen and reporters, drug dealers and anti-drugs police. Pictured, is a nefarious drug dealer, presenting his wares not terribly surreptitiously.
This was the night where I danced especially late, and I dared to ask a few women I'd not asked before.
"It's over," cried the girl, tears rolling down her face. She was young, American, and upset that her holiday in this special place was coming to an end. I danced with her. I'm not sure if I'd ever before danced with someone who cried all the way through. I'm reasonably confidant that it wasn't my dancing that made her cry.
People often said to me "next year". After three years there, I think a reasonable few people know my face and name. Perhaps I will go again. There may be other ways of doing it. Lots of people go there and work behind the bar, or washing dishes in the kitchens. Also, a lot of people take no lessons, but instead just enjoy the atmosphere and social dancing. Some take lessons for one week and hang around for another. Perhaps that is the thing to try. Last year, my right ankle gave out on the last evening. It did the same this year. Perhaps my ankle has a one Herräng-week tolerance limit.
My fascination is unchecked, I must read the 2002 account as well