My time at the HERRÄNG DANCE CAMP 2010
So you rested for a year?
I had a year's rest from Herräng, but in fact it turned out to be the time when I had the greatest number of jaunts for Lindy hop. I went to Frankie 95 in New York, the Dublin Lindy Exchange, the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Late Night Jump in Tampere (Finland) at New Year, the Oxford Lindy Exchange, and Swingfest '10 in St. Petersburg. There is of course a great deal I could say about these events, but writing up Herräng 2010 is going to take long enough for all of us.
Didn't you say you'd never go again?
No, in fact I very clearly said that I was not saying that I would never go again. A year's rest did me some good, I think. I didn't miss Herräng last year. This year I was thinking of a holiday, and had again been invited to Copenhagen. Herräng seemed a reasonable possibility, but I wasn't completely rapt with the idea. I did something that I have never before done: I bought a one-way ticket. I would take a plastic Visa card and buy the return ticket when I was over there.
I flew to Copenhagen, to join the swingers there who were enjoying the very good jazz festival. The weather on both sides of the channel was scorching hot. I didn't do much as a tourist, but I did do the Rund Tarn – an observatory at the top of a tower up which one could ride in a horse and carriage.
I also had a trip out to Frederiksborg Castle, which boasts a ceiling which is even more ornamented that those at St Petersburg's Hermitage.
I did a fair amount of dancing, and got many of my shirts sweaty. I marvelled at what hazards people happily get away with in Scandinavia. Where we were dancing one night immediately in front of the band, there were several electrical cables at our feet, none of which was taped down. This never happens in Britain. I like the relaxed attitude. I also marvelled at the prices, which are so astronomical that they no longer seem like prices at all. If I calculated what the shop was charging for a sandwich, I got a price in Sterling that was so high that there was no way I could connect it with a sandwich in my mind. It was just an abstract number, unrelated to sandwiches. A glass of beer in a bar (quite a bit less than a pint)? Eight quid. Seriously.
I lost my pens very quickly, and had nothing with which to take notes in museums or write down the e-mail addresses of beautiful women, so I spent an hour and a half wandering around the centre of the city trying to find a shop that would sell me a cheap biro. I usually pay little attention to shops. I noticed in this time that almost every shop in Copenhagen is a dress shop. I think it has fallen victim to a dress shop intensifier ray. I have no interest in clothes shops, because I've already got clothes.
There are very few graffiti in Copenhagen's centre, but I noticed that this rule does not seem to apply to post-boxes, which are commonly frustrated in their attempts to be entirely the proper colour for post-boxes: red. Several times I saw them in this state, in streets otherwise void of such vandalism. My guess is that a different agency is responsible for cleaning graffiti off post-boxes, and the authorities that clean the rest of the street dare not interfere with Post Office property.
Pernille Koch, one of the local swinger set, sang unamplified in the street, accompanied by two rather good jazz musicians who were passing through town. It was a little difficult for her to engage with the audience, because it wanted to stand in the shade, out of the fierce sun, some distance away. She had to advance to meet them. As you can see here, she had a good repertoire of jazz-singer poses. So far as I know, she had no official permit to do this, and so this was a guerrilla jazz-raid of precisely the sort that should be mounted by all workers for the swing revolution everywhere.
While there, I was invited to Malmö, which since 2000AD has been a short train journey away. Not one to pass up such things, I bade goodbye to Copenhagen, missed an opportunity to see the Swing City Stompers again and arrived in time to go to the Lindy hop on the beach. There, I had one quick dance with Tintin, and another half-dance with a very surprised Johanna Johansson before the heavens opened and I climbed up onto a bicycle which had the highest non-adjustable saddle in the universe, and I teetered home on it, very conscious of the ride as experienced by my gonads.
I spent a few pleasant days there, during which I took advantage of my hostess's access to laundry facilities. I had another nice motor trip out to a castle. This one was called Torup.
My friend Tintin told me that she was taking the night train to Stockholm, and asked if I would like to go with her. Well, never one to pass up such things, I went. Once there, it seemed silly not to go the extra bus ride or four to get to Herräng.
I consulted several sources of information, all of them apparently 'official', for buses to Herräng. All of them flatly contradicted each other. It could be so that the advice I gave in my 2004 account is out of date. One man at Herräng this year told me that he'd used this advice and had a bit of a delay at one of the stops. I ended up doing it a completely different way from before. I also did it a different way again on the way back. Do be careful, because many methods involve knowing to get off in the middle of nowhere to make a connection.
Upon reaching Hallstavik, I noticed a sinister development: the white dogs had abandoned the town. I made the sign of warding to protect me from evil spirits, but could not keep the ancient rhyme from my mind:
Steadfast, good yeomen of Hallstavik,
No evil shall reach your hall,
For while the white dogs are your sentinels,
The town shall never fall.
Keep them well, good yeomen,
See they lack not for drink or feed,
For if ever they shall stray from you,
Your town is sure to bleed.
The shop at the bus station, as you see here, remains in a state of having-been-burned-down. Is this the start of the end? I was told that the local paper mill, the area's chief employer, had suddenly hit hard times and laid off 200 workers – a third of the total. I think a few sacrifices to Oslag, god of white guardian dogs (and car parks, liver paté, and Thursday mornings) could do no harm.
I arrived, noted that the grass was browner than usual, and sought out a place to pitch my tent, and quickly found one on the edge of the caravan area, shaded by trees, which happened to be to be right next to the caravan used by Mile, chieftainess of security.
I was soon told about the world-record set on the football field near the camp for the number of people Lindy hopping in one place at once. To set this, they had to have official observers and to do things under strict conditions. In fact, there are more people dancing on a typical night in the Folkets Hus, but the conditions there did not meet the standards set by the Guinness officials. This record will doubtless be beaten in the near future.
The Fabulous Flying Penguini (again)
Shortly after arrival, I noticed that few people had signed up for that evening's cabaret. The meeting was at 7.30, and I put myself down to do an act. I did next to no rehearsal, but could recall the act well enough from the last time I did it: in Herräng in 2000 (see this old video of it on YouTube as it appeared then (shamefully similar to this year's version)).
By luck, or good judgement on the part of the organisers, I was given a slot before the other two jugglers. This was good, because my act involves almost no juggling, and none requiring much skill, whereas the other two acts were by competent throwers and catchers. All three acts worked fine in the show. Mine was mainly talking, the next guy's was technically good, and the last juggling act was by two people who had stage characters and a little story to tell, so we were sufficiently different.
I was locked away with the other performers in the bar, and watched most of the show on the telly (now of course, a wall-mounted wide flat-screen thing – how things change). The first act was a simple pie-in-face gag. I didn't recognise the compère – an American lady whose main crutch was having a load of Latin lover-boys accompany her on stage over whom she could swoon.
The act on before mine was a Russian lady who sang a song. I think she left a significant part of the audience behind when she sang many of the lyrics, which were all Russian, with tremendous expressive feeling. All the audience knew about the lyrics was that they were tremendously powerful in some way. A few days later I asked her about the song, and she told me the story of the lyrics. It was the usual Russian thing, ending with the heroine's committing suicide for no convincingly excellent reason.
Sometimes I get nervous before going on stage, but not this time: on, did act, off – easy. All I really had to do was stand there while a load of penguins jumped off me. I got back on for the finale, and, now that I know the shim sham (which I didn't in 2000) got the penguins to dance it on the front edge of the stage, working in as many gags as I could think of.
Over the next few days I received a pleasant number of compliments on the act. One of the more extreme ones came when I went to the ice cream parlour the next day, and the punch-in-the-face gorgeous girl serving behind the counter broke into a huge smile, then brought her shoulders up and threw her back and to one side and gushed "Oh my god you were fantastic last night!" I confess that I stooped to the corny reply "Shh. That was just between ourselves." Very disappointingly, she turned out to be a lesbian.
Peter Strom's future party
They had not issued me with an inkling that this was to happen. I saw people applying tin foil to themselves in a variety of creative ways and decided to join them. Soon I had a very shiny new belt buckle and my left forearm covered in a high-tech finned futuristic transportation module. "It's nearly the future already," said one girl. A band played in the distance, and marching towards the Folkets Hus came a parade, with Peter Strom at its head, sporting a not-entirely-convincing white beard and futuristic hat.
I then learned what this was: a party to celebrate Peter's 60th year at the camp. He played the crotchety half-deaf old man with hip trouble, and the rest of us danced and reminisced about how things were back in 2010. This was one of many occasions with live music provided by camp-goers. The influence of the jazz music course at the camp was being felt.
Leaving the Folkets Hus, I was recruited to take part in a game of musical chairs. There were fifty-odd green or black stools in an oval sitting ready, and the competitors would win the right to a stool in the evening meeting, and the order of entry would be decided by the contest. Pointless, but why not? I was knocked out fairly early and adopted an inappropriately desperate pose stolen from the film Platoon.
I let it be known to the lady to whom one should let such things be known, that I was willing to teach an evening class. I put a few suggestions to her, but the one she liked the sound of was How to dance really well. I must admit to being quite happy with that name myself. A couple of days later I saw on the board that I was due to teach that night. I don't know that they have always named the teachers giving the evening classes, but this year they always did. Eschewing punctuation, the poster announced "How to dance really well with Lloyd in the Alhambra", which struck me as being somewhat more specific than what I had in mind. Reading from her notes, Frida in the evening meeting announced that it was for people who thought that they were really good at dancing but actually were not. It got the laugh I had hoped for, and some people did turn up.
This was an unusual class in a few ways. The first was that most of the people attending it didn't actually take part. Throughout the entire lesson, there were more people watching from the sides than on the dance floor itself, and most of these were there the whole time. It did, I suppose, require people to be happy to make fools of themselves, as I got them to walk about in various ways, and perhaps that was a source of both fascination and terror for the onlookers. Anyway, for those of you out there who are teetering on the brink of employing me, I'll just let you into this teasing amount of detail: it wasn't about footwork, moves, connection, musicality, or rhythm, but it was about the other stuff – about dancing really well.
I did not pack my CDs this year, and so had no music for teaching ska, so this year was the first for many that I did not pass on my 'expertise' in this discipline.
A trip to Kuggen
The Yum Yum restaurant was moved this year to the other side of the school kitchen building. This made it far more isolated from the school area and all that was going on there. I didn't eat in it. Instead, I bought several meals at the bar in the Folkets Hus, and bought most of the rest of my food at the local shop. The food in the bar tastes good, and is not over-priced, all things considered, although portion sizes did seem a bit random. A not-insubstantial contribution was made to my diet by ice cream and brownies, of course.
In the customer feedback surveys these days, they ask (very sensibly) for ideas for stock that this shop could have ready for the camp. This year I noticed lots of stick-on faux Indian jewellery during the week the Bollywood party was held, so clearly they are taking advice.
Possibly this advert appears in the window only during the weeks of the swing festival. It is difficult to imagine that this place gets a lot of custom from people with Afro hair at other times of the year. Herräng is situated in a land of high latitude and blonditude.
Many Herräng veterans will recognise this important sector of the shop. When having bought a litre of drinking yoghurt, however, one faces a dilemma. Does one quaff the whole lot in one go, only to discover that a litre is more than the optimal quantity to imbibe at once? Does one instead test the preservative power of fruit acids and friendly bacteria, and risk leaving a half-drunk carton in an unrefrigerated tent in summer? I tried both, and found that it lasted pretty well outside a fridge.
This year I got my worst exchange rate ever, although it did make working out prices easy. A Great British pound bought ten Swedish krona. Now study this picture. That's right – a small jar of very ordinary peanut butter was £3.60. In my local supermarket at home, I buy jars twice this size for £1.56. This price was not extraordinary for Sweden. It's amazing that they don't all starve.
I'm sure that there are many British products that might seem odd to foreigners. Just today I saw a bottle of Cockburn's sherry being held up to ridicule on a website (it is pronounced coh-b'n-z). Here, for the tittering of non-Swedes, are some sour camel balls. No, I didn't find out.
Some PROFESSIONAL tooth brushes. I'm not entirely sure to what the 'professional' refers. Possibly people like lawyers and architects have a different sort of tooth that requires a different sort of brush. Possibly the brushes themselves are professional, and charge a fee for their services. More likely, is that this is the sort of brush used by professional toothbrushers, although I have never heard of this job title. Perhaps this is the brush of choice for high-level tooth-brushing competitions. I used to brush teeth at county level, but it was always strictly amateur in my day.
Never meet your heroines
One reason I was there, perhaps, was that a certain lady I had been dying to dance with for years was there. I was very foolish. I tried too hard to get a dance with her. I didn't wait for the perfect moment, for fear that it would not come, and so I rushed in, where wise men would have staked her out for a few weeks, got to know her habits, got a DNA sample, checked her criminal record, bribed people for information - that sort of thing. I harboured the hope that her apparently very similar approach to dance would unite us.
The crunch moment came when she was on the dance floor, near one edge, and social dancing. As my luck would have it, she was dancing with Mr Cool. She was having an annoyingly good time, which I never stood a hope of matching. She was laughing away as I waited to pounce. Pounce I did, and she was unfortunately aware of the significance of the moment. Her fun over, she braced herself for duty.
The music started, and I tried to do what I could with it, which turned out to be not much, or at least, not nearly enough. I had all week been using a particular I-thought bomb-proof move in which I whirled my partner around such that I got her weight in my arms, which is a great move for connecting with someone. I tried it. I didn't feel her weight. I wasn't connecting. This was disconcerting. I tried going very light to get a connection, then very heavy, but neither worked. I tried opening out the distance between us, closing it up, dancing faster moves, slower moves, moves with spins, without spins, but nothing was working. I tried some fancy footwork, in the expectation of some reaction, but she just stood there. I couldn't even catch her eye, which seemed to be fixed on one of my shins. At one point I even stooped in an attempt to get my eyes near her eye-line, but I don't think that she even noticed.
This was by far the worst dance I had at Herräng this year. Technically there were doubtless others that were lesser, but in its effect on my morale this one was the nadir. When it finally ground to a halt, she announced that she had to fetch her belt, which had fallen off during the dance. She walked away without a glance back. Knowing that it was hopeless, I waited for her to find the belt and return for the next number. In that time, someone came across and asked me to dance. I said "Just one minute" as I watched my last partner enter conversation with some other people. The lady who came across then went away and danced with someone else. This was the only occasion at Herräng this year when I did not immediately accept an offer of a dance. I did look out for that lady again, but didn't see her.
I was crushed. It took three hours to get back to dancing. I sought solace at the table football shortly afterwards and got a game. Joining me on my side was Mr Cool. His interest at that moment was in whether he had picked a good partner to win the match. He turned to me slowly, and in what I am sure was well-meant theatrics, slowly raised one eye-brow and looked me in the eye and said "Do you feel like a loser?" After a short pause, during which I appreciated the ironic cruelty of the moment, I simply replied "Yes."
Still, it wasn't all bad news. At least I got a poem out of it: Never Meet Your Heroines". Perhaps next year I'll perform it.
Out of fairness to her, I should add that I have no reason to believe that the way things turned out was deliberate on her part, and that she was perfectly nice to me off the dance floor. She might recognise herself from this description, and I'd hate to think that there will never be a rematch.
Another reason I was there was in response to pleas from David Madison to help with the revolution. His project was to make Herräng more like the way it was, in terms of involving people in all sorts of projects. David had teamed up with Calle, the camp's favourite friend, and with Calle's long-standing clout at the camp, they were able to get things done. They set up the Mission Impossible tent near the Folket Hus, and they intended to say 'yes' as often as they could to requests for stuff.
The first major project of which I was aware was the building of a Mexican restaurant, and I helped a bit. Here you see the project in the early stages of transformation. They had a budget from the camp that stretched to new timber and the like. You see a shelving unit on which were various games, including a kubb set, which I christened the following week.
Here below you see things further down the line. The place now has a painted front arch, and many Catholic icons, tables and chairs, plastic rats, and the like will be added.
I don't know everything that the Mission Impossible project achieved. It gave some off-road driving lessons to one lady. The Mexican restaurant thrived for one night, and so far as I am aware no one got food poisoning, and a few days later the restaurant was rethemed as a branch of Hooters complete with uniformed waitresses. Calle claimed in an evening meeting that he had checked with his lawyers about this and was told that it was okay as long as the owners of Hooters didn't know about it. Later again, after I had left, the tent became the Dr Seuss restaurant and then a Chinese restaurant.
Herräng has the marina, the bar, the Yum Yum, the ice cream parlour, the kiosk, the Russian kitchen (now renamed by some the Lithuanian kitchen), and the volunteers' canteen, all of which serve meals, so I was a little surprised that the MI project chose to concentrate on this area of activity, but it did take pressure off the bar at certain peak times, and clearly people appreciated the effort and sense of fun, and lots got involved. David told me that last year he and others ran a twenty-four-hour reception service for the camp, and this seems to have had an effect, because now the camp's official reception is twenty-four-hour. It is surely a sign of the success of a camp when a fringe event can get such attention. Today the Edinburgh Fringe Festival dwarfs the original International Festival, so who knows...
There has for a while been talk of having music courses at the camp, and this year they ran a course in 'Swing Orchestra'. The Carling Family jazz band was in residence for about a week, and did much of the teaching. From my perspective, I can report that the number of people at the camp carrying instruments was greatly increased, and I saw many circles of people having a play, and it made it far easier to recruit musicians for any performances or larks. It is an obvious thing to combine with a swing dance festival, and this aspect of the camp might grow substantially.
The recorded music played on the evening dance floors this year was similar to the past few years: mostly good, but very much of a kind. I never got to dance to any slow cool heavy low numbers, because they didn't play any. The tracks they played allowed for some variety in the way I moved, but not as much as I would have liked. A common trait of the music was that it went chug-chug-chug all the way through, which seems to be popular these days with the authenticity brigade, but it leaves those of us with interpretation as our top priority with little to do.
Robert Klingvall approached me and asked if I would compère the twist competition. I said yes, reasonably confident that I would be told what this was later on. In the evening meeting, they brought on a Swedish former twist champion, and got her to demonstrate (a bit reluctantly) her dance form to us. Her English was not great, but one fact that emerged was that in the early days of the dance, it was danced in couples, and an ability to mirror each other was part of the skill. Sign-up for the competition would be after the meeting. That meeting ended with a gospel number sung by a choir led by Cookie Andrew. We all stood to join in, and I was standing in the central aisle, and could see what was about to happen: Cookie would walk down from the stage and would part the crowd like a little Hackney Moses, and lead us out of the hall. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see the head of security asking me to clear the aisle. The theatrics of the moment were compromised a bit, but at least if Cookie had caught fire, she would have had a clearer run at the exit.
This was an unusual Herräng for me in that I was able to sing the whole time I was there – sort of. I followed the choir downstairs and outside, and found the sound, though very repetitive, well suited to my vocal range. I sang on just two other occasions: once with the Herlitzia (Mette and Annika Herlitz), when we discovered that although we knew many hundreds of songs between us, we had next to no shared knowledge of songs, and everything was pitched far too high for my baritone; and when I went to the recording studio, having had no breakfast and when suffering from a mild sore throat. Those who have heard me speak before breakfast know that at that time my voice sounds like a boulder rolling over loose floorboards.
But I digress. For a reason that escapes me for the moment, I ducked back into the Bar Bedlam to check for something/someone, and sitting near the door was a girl of a sort who, when I was her age and in Britain, would most probably not have considered glancing in my direction, who declared that she couldn't manage her whole meal by herself, and that if I got a fork I could help her finish it. . Bamboozled by her beauty and surreal apparent interest in me, and seldom one to pass up an offer of free food, nor one to refuse rudely any request from a lady, I quickly fetched a fork. After just a few mouthfuls, I recalled that I was supposed to be compèring the twist competition that was about to start, and I still didn't really know what my role entailed. With a supreme effort of discipline, I made my apologies and tore myself away.
Sorry, I was digressing again. Anyway, Robert gave me a list of the competitors' names, and I persuaded him to write it out again in a manner that I could nearly read, and it was decided that there should be four heats and then a final. I donned a radio mic', and addressed the good folk of the dansbanan, then introduced the judges: Dawn Hampton, Calle Johansson, and the twist champion who shared Calle's surname, but I resisted the temptations to make any jokes based on this. I then called out rough approximations of the contestants' names for the first heat, signalled to Mark Kihara who was the disc-jockey to start, and away we went. This gave me a couple of minutes to think of something entertaining to say while introducing the next heat. By and large, though, I kept it very simple. A surprising number of teachers sportingly entered, and there was a fair amount of wackiness. My gag about the couple who entered dressed as clowns (to publicise the up-coming circus party which they were organising) fell utterly flat. Thinking on my feet, I suggested a track to which everyone could get up and dance while the judges deliberated. As it turned out, the judges had already made their choices, but my move paid off because it made it easier to get everyone to watch the final from one end of the dansbanan, so that the remaining contestants could perform to a front.
"Can we not just give them the prize now and save time?" asked Sylvia Sykes, referring to one couple whose prowess I had not picked up upon (it doesn't do for a compère to hold opinions on who should win). The finals started with individual couples dancing for sixteen bars alone, and then an 'all-skate'. The winners stood out like twisting torsos. Apparently, though, they had been practicing, which I as a Brit consider to be a form of cheating. I persuaded our twist-champion judge to present the prize, which initially she did not want to do. She slightly misunderstood me, however, and took the mic' from me, so from then on I had to fulfil my role through a combination of shouting and exaggerated gesture.
I came away with greater respect for the dance they call the twist, but I still wouldn't want to do it all night.
New stuff around camp
As usual, they had been busy in the spring, making new things for the camp. There were long-overdue new loos near the caravan site (above), and here is a building (grey) which even had some new showers in it. Admittedly they didn't work when I tried them, but the intention counted for a lot.
There were new big tents (or marquees as we call them in Blighty) set up in the camping area north of the school. Here you see one for storage, and a new one for teaching classes. There was a marquee set up not far from the football field, a short walk away, and this was called 'Hoofers'. All the marquees were given fancy new labels, and you see one example here.
Some of the marquees in especially sonically vulnerable places were given sound-dampened walls, by the application of many old foam mattresses. I don't know how well this worked, but I admire the attempt even if it didn't.
Fire hoses were to be seen all over the place. I don't know how many people knew how to connect them up, but I dare say that camping was a little safer this year as result. There were hoses that in theory were in range of the school, the marquees north of the school, and the cabins outside the Folkets Hus. They also marked out lanes, forbidden to tent pitchers, between the buildings of the nylon city.
The DJs had their own cabin in which to hang out, swap playlists, and feel important. I did once have an excuse to be in there, and spotted these American delicacies imported for the needs of the DJs, and these boxes of vinyl for that authentic scratchy sound.
The Lindy Hop Shop continues to grow, and this year was selling plasters in individual strips (once useful for me when I had a small abrasion on a toe after swimming), and now this new product: the Zacke mug, featuring the mug of everyone's favourite Harlem Hotshot.
The televisions at the camp had undergone a flat-screen revolution, and the relays to them looked a fair bit slicker and more professional. There was even this test-card shown between the main features. In the Folkets Hus, the main projector on the ceiling was for the first time properly behaving itself, and the back screen was used to show to the audience in the Folkets Hus itself, as well as the people watching elsewhere, the faces of the people in the audience being interviewed. Here (below) we can simultaneously see Dawn Hampton and her on-stage interrogator. Even when the screen had nothing to show the Folkets Hus audience, it had classy (or is that tacky and unnecessary?) TV studio-like background lighting effects, making the stage look like a hypnotic screen-saver.
The new dansbanan
This is a major improvement over the old dansbanan. It is over twice as big. It is interesting to see where the old one used to end – its hexagonal form is quite clear to see in the floorboards of the new extended version, and it looks amazingly small. The extended version has a wall across the end furthest from the Folkets Hus, which prevents sound crossing the lake (apparently some of the dwellers across the lake now miss the night-time music they used to hear - you can't win), and when I was there, about half the panels down the sides were left out, making it quite well-ventilated and cool. It has become a good place to dance, and several times I saw some star dancers there. It never got packed, and they have I think re-sanded the boards, because it was a bit smoother than I remembered it. The sheer size of this venue has taken a lot of pressure off the main ballroom upstairs, and it is a useful space for big party activities such as the belly-dancing performance which happened there at the Bollywood party.
The prow of dansbanan was mysteriously isolated from the main floor by a sound-proofing wall, which was always left up, and in the space created, was the new 'Love Box' – a rather more public affair than hitherto, composed of mosquito netting and a few small pieces of red-velvetted furniture. I never saw it in use, but then to do so would have caused embarrassment to viewer and viewees alike.
A new way for camp goers to injure themselves: a trampoline.
They had also created a little shrine-like display in memory of Frankie Manning, complete with a video playing on a loop and various adulatory posters.
I noticed a cheeky sign posted in the bar on the front of a box with a slot in its top. The sign said "Suggestions for the name of Hanna and Mattias's baby", except that on closer inspection, the words "most likely" appeared, in a much smaller type face, before the word 'Mattias's'.
You see here the entrance fees for the evening parties. This year some nights were different prices, although these prices were often subject to sudden upward change after the arrival of a band or some other feature of an evening. I think it's about time they started to sell one-week evening party passports to people like me who seldom take courses any more.
Below this, you see a message for the 'Lindy hunters'.
The Lindy hunters were people who had taken on the task of scoring points by dancing with various known participants, who were posted up on two large 'Wanted' posters. Here you see one of those. The game was to dance with as many of these as possible, in order to score the most points by the deadline. Those on the wanted list, however, very often made themselves very difficult to dance with, and many acts of subterfuge were used to get the dances. One of these was that someone appeared next to one of the wanted on the Folkets Hus stage during one evening meeting and just started mysteriously bopping around on the spot. Not knowing that this was a ruse, the wanted person joined in and was caught.
This picture (below) illustrates two things. The people you see here are almost all in the very long queue to get in to an evening meeting. It winds from the door to the ballroom, down the stairs, around the hall, then outside and down the ramp, across to the out-houses on the right, then loops back around and across the front of the main building. There were a lot of people there, and this may not have been the busiest week.
The pale patch you see on the tarmac is a half-finished picture in coloured chalks of Frankie Manning. Someone had worked out a pixelated break-down of the picture, and passers-by were encouraged to add a few squares to the work. In this picture, his head, arms, and body down to his waist have been done, but already the feet of the many have scuffed it into haze, and the rains to come washed it all away before his legs were done.
Swim of Mild Peril
I went to the beach just once, and there met Sheila from Ireland. She is a fairly keen swimmer, and suggested that we swim out to one of the islands on the horizon. I had never done this before, and had been put off by the various fast boats whizzing up and down the channel. It can't be easy to spot a swimmer from a speedboat, especially when the sun is low over the water.
I noticed that whereas in the past I have generally enjoyed 'neutral buoyancy' (if I breathed in I floated, but if I breathed out I sank) on this occasion I had negative buoyancy (if I breathed in really hard I still sank). A week or two of lower rations and higher exercise seemed to have taken their toll on my adipose resources. I returned from this trip about three quarters of a stone lighter than I started it. For fans of metric, that means that I lost a lot of weight. Sheila, I judged by eye, enjoyed positive buoyancy – a great boon for the long-distance swimmer.
Sheila and I chatted, heads-up out of the water, all the way out to the island, then chatted some more while sitting on the slimy rocks out there. I felt fine. I don't know if I had ever swum so far in one go. On the way back, things got a bit unpleasant. We talked a lot less. The effect of the current dragging us off-course was far more obvious. The waves were quite a bit choppier. Keeping my head high out of the water became a luxury I could not afford. The waves started coming over my head completely. After a while, I found that I could not take a deep breath. I could only take in unsatisfying shallow breaths, and the home shore looked rather far away. This was not the best time to be questioning the wisdom of this swim. Had I gone under, I doubt that anyone from the shore would have seen me and got out to me in time. Possibly Sheila could have hauled me back on her own, but it wouldn't have been easy. It would have been a disappointingly pointless way to die. Had I panicked, then possibly that would have been my end, but fortunately, I am not someone prone to panic. I craved a rest, but stopping would have required treading water, and almost as much energy as moving. I remembered that I was British and carried on. I don't think I'll be doing that again.
Having returned and looked up the swim on Google Earth I have found that the distance was only one or two thousand yards (assuming I swam in a reasonably straight line). It looks further when your eyes are at an altitude of three inches.
First and last blues night (apart from the other one)
In years past, I have contrived my arrival time to maximise the number of blues nights at Herräng. This year, this priority was not so great, as the standard of blues nights has gradually ebbed away. Indeed, technically speaking, I enjoyed no 'blues' night this year at all, because they are now called 'slow drag nights'. Apparently, Frankie Manning said that that's what they called them in his youth. I suspect that this may not be the main reason why the name has changed, however. For years people have been complaining about the music played at blues nights, and so perhaps the camp's organisers, determined not to change the music, have instead changed the name to excuse the lack of the sort of music most people demand for 'blues nights'. The music they play is slow and drags, a bit like the nights.
I wore my standard blues night costume and waited inside for the show. The curtain opened to reveal men in period costume and greased-back hair playing cards and smoking. Then a woman with her mascara in streaks down her face started performing the song. It was mimed, or so I thought at first. The sound seemed too slick, and the singing very professional. But then the performance didn't develop into a dance number or story-led show. Instead, the song seemed to be the central item. She turned her head and I saw a microphone attached to one cheek. This was Pauline Högberg, someone I don't think I had seen before. She certainly is good enough to be professional. I heard her again singing a pop song in the cabaret, and she certainly can blast out the vocal special effects, but I much preferred her singing jazz. When singing pop, she seemed to be copying other performers. Watch out for this girl.
Then the blues night got started in the usual manner, except that there were far fewer people in the room than in past times. Blues nights at the start and for a few hours after that used to be packed, but here the floor was half-empty. The room lacked the atmosphere that I used to love. People gamely tried to get into the mood but I don't think that many managed it. Many people were on other dance floors dancing other dances. One of the most famous lovers of blues nights left the floor to swing elsewhere. I wandered off, had a brownie and ice cream, and later enjoyed stage two of the night. Stage two of blues night is when the floor has emptied, and dawn is rising outside, but the Folkets Hus floor remains fairly dim. The opportunity and need to swap partners fades, and one is content to stay with one partner for many dances. It is nice to dance with many partners of course, but for different reasons it is nice to dance with few, and for most of stage two I danced with just two partners. Possibly one is the ideal.
So, I only had one blues night, apart, that is, from the other blues night. Rumours reached me that the basement was being used as a venue for blues dancing. With a lady for company, I surreptitiously investigated, and discovered that the slightly mucky basement's pipes and fittings had been obscured by low-hanging cloths, and slow bluesy music was being played to accompany the dancing of just three couples. Let us leave it there.
The theme for the Friday night party was Bollywood. A class in the appropriate dance style was taught in the evening the night before, and there was much hennaing of hands. I made a costume in the Prop Shop, and then made myself useful in the Folkets Hus constructing a punka just inside the entrance. A large mat, weighted with wooden slats at the bottom, attached with wire to the ceiling, and pulled with long strings was soon a show-case for my engineering skills. Robert Klingvall started us off by getting two women to milk him. I should perhaps first have mentioned that he was dressed as a sacred cow, complete with milk filled surgical glove (udder). This ritual marked the start of proceedings. They played Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire outside for everyone to dance to, following the example of the Bollywood teacher.
I got inside and started doing my job: pulling the strings and fanning the passers-by, and talking in my best Indian accent.
There was a belly-dancing performance in the dansbanan. The relevance of this dance form was questionable, but I don't recall that anyone complained while observing the gyrating naked midriffs. There was a guess-the-spice competition which I had a go at, writing down my guesses. For costumes, saris were naturally popular, and mine was far from the only turban, but I was surprised at the very great number of sacred cows.
Here you see the desk set up to record people's requests for the limousine service to the airport. They are not content to use any desk if one with velvet, candles and a standard lamp can be found. On the left you see Mikaela Hellsten's younger sister Maja, with whom I danced. I found her to be amazingly easy to lead. I think that her being tiny helps. Of course I had to spoil it by leading one move at the end of our last dance that she didn't follow.
There was a cordoned-off smoking area outside, where the leper-like smokers could make an exhibition of their drug addiction.
One evening, Lennart was away attending Åsa and Daniel's wedding, and someone else had to fill the void at the evening meeting. Peter Loggins did this, with great humility. He took the responsibility very seriously, and from his trembling hands, I judged that he was even a bit nervous. As the years go by, Peter looks decreasingly scruffy, and now even increasingly dapper. While I mention this, it must be added that Lennart's attire this year lurched towards the respectable.
One recurring theme this year was that when Frida came on to make announcements about the evening's events, she would then be joined by one of the teachers disguised as a giant yellow chicken. She was then required to dance with him and guess his identity. She took it quite seriously, and cheated in many ways in order to guess correctly. The men countered by disguising themselves more and more, counterfeiting the styles of others, clowning around, and strapping on the gloves, feet, and head extra thoroughly. Henric was in the suit twice, which fooled her, and he clowned very well the second time. One night, the chicken looked crestfallen when Frida pointed out that sweat was dripping from his beak – Skye knew that he had been rumbled.
Another feature of the evening meetings were the Hampton Awards, which were given out for various reasons, mainly to guest teachers appearing in the musical on Sundays and Mondays. The trophies were based on a photograph of Dawn, and a mould for chocolate was made of such a size that this was a worthwhile amount of chocolate for which to compete. There were also awards (a traditional Swedish painted wooden horse) named after Jalle, the camp's plumber, given out to those working behind the scenes.
Below you see Mile doing her bit on stage to stop people putting mattresses in their tents (where they get wet and rot), with the help of the Lindy hop world's top Mexican clown: Paola Aviles,. Mile left the camp long before the end, and no report has reached me of the camp's dissolving into chaos, crime, wildfires, and bloodshed.
Gontran Galinier of France and Juan Ignacio Villafane of Argentina both demonstrated smooth card-sharp abilities, and each was invited to make a video showing off his skills, and then there was an on-stage duel in an evening meeting. Here we see Lennart showing them a map of Stalingrad in the run-up to the battle.
There was a new old-timer on the scene (Mabel Lee was her name I think) – a tap dancer whose fame seemed to stem from one-song films that were made and displayed via little coin-operated machines in the 1940s. The examples I have seen all involve singing and music, and the sound-track is clearly very important, but I have difficulty picturing what the machines looked like. Did they play to just one viewer, with headphones? Anyway, here we see her performing on the stage. Lennart, as she did her turn, was reading his notes for the meeting, and she got a great cheer when she sidled over to him and said "You ought to be paying attention, Honey".
The only fashions this year that I noticed were the white wife-beater vest, which all the cool guys were wearing, and the pencil moustache, which was rarer. Here we see Todd Yannacone sporting both at once, making him one of the most of-the-minute chaps there. I did what I could to show the world the potential of beige.
The officers of passport control seemed keener at their work this year. They did more to catch people who tried to sneak through the woods to the back of the Folkets Hus at night, to avoid having to pay the entrance fee. I saw them carting off camouflage nets to set up ambush points. I'm not sure if there are ever dire consequences of being caught. What can they do? Charge you the amount you would have paid anyway? Ban you from the camp forever?
In the past it was all done with nods, winks, silly costumes and cash in hand. Now they have tills and stamps and give printed receipts with the time, date and Herräng identifying code on them. It is more professional, I suppose, but it lacks the friendly charm of yesteryear. One night my stamp wore off my arm and I had no receipt (I had changed my trousers), and I was made to pay for this. The stamps were in my experience pretty useless. Even three hard-pressed stamps high up my forearm would be sweated off my skin in a couple of hours.
You see here the continuing tradition of passport controllers in fancy dress
Instead of offering a blanket discount to anyone from an eastern European nation, this year they required people to fill in forms requesting discounts based on some sort of means test. This may be fairer in some ways, but perhaps not in all. I have no idea how many people applied, nor of who they were. I never mentioned it. There seemed to be even more folk from behind the former iron curtain than ever.
They told us in one evening meeting that someone had set up a recording studio in a sauna outhouse, and we were played one result of this: a song sung by Serena Rizzo (think of a good-looking version of Cheryl Cole). I told the chap that I'd like to give it a go, and since no one else had booked him, we arranged to meet at 3 pm the next afternoon.
The next morning, I awoke at a few minutes before 3 pm (that's still technically morning in Herräng). Feeling that it would be rude to miss the appointment, I set off without first having breakfast, but knowing what my voice is like before I have eaten. Arriving at the address I had been given, I found it to be an idyllic faerieland of yellow-painted wooden outhouses spaced out across a flat green lawn surrounding a large central house, from which I heard myself hailed. The voice was that of Hanna Zetterman – whoops! – no, I mean Lundmark, heavily pregnant, who wanted to know what I was doing at her family home. I explained with words made of gravel, and with a smile she pointed out her family's sauna house which for the duration was a bedroom for Joachim Kästel.
I found Mr Kästel just waking up himself. Wisely or otherwise, we started the recording session anyway, without my leaving to eat some throat-smoothing repast. My first idea was a recitation of the opening of Viv Stanshall's The Rawlinsons to be put over an a cappella version of part of Mike Oldfield's pastoral epic Hergest Ridge. The spoken part went very well, but adding the music proved a tad tricky. Foolishly, I had forgotten that all Mike Oldfield music is fabulously complicated. It took us quite a while to spot that the first layer of the tune was in waltz time, and that all the other layers had different, and often varying time signatures. We gave up, and I tried something simpler. When I was a boy, my father Ken devised a very nice jazz tune, and I thought I might give it its first recording. I whistled the main tune, then whistled an accompaniment, then sang two bass lines, and finally added some percussion by rubbing my hands together near the microphone.
Listening to it back, I was hit by a horrible-sounding clash of frequencies when both whistle parts did a gliss at the same time. I was convinced that somehow I had managed to get spectacularly flat at that point. I whistled an in-tune patch to cover this, and Joachim deftly pasted this over the offending part, and we had a finished item. His recording studio consisted of a very good microphone on a stand, a lap-top, and various soft items padding the walls of the sauna. He e-mailed the opus to me and the job was done.
You may be curious to hear the result. You may, but you may also be disappointed. Somehow in our fatigued states, we had failed to spot that the first thing I whistled is, for the first half of the piece, out of tune with all that came later. I have decided to upload the tune so that you can listen to it, for two reasons: as a warning to all those who might participate in recording sessions when they are not fully with-it; and in the hope that this nice tune can become famous and played by musicians the world over, starting with some Herrängites next year.
Click the button to play the recording, but only after selecting the agreement below first.
After the recording session, I was beckoned over by Hanna to join her, Mattias, Shane McCarthy and others in eating cake. The cake (very high quality) had been given her as an apology by someone whose car alarm had gone off and sounded all night keeping her awake. The two-dance rule came up in conversation, and Mattias said that at Herräng no one observes it. I suggested otherwise. The conversation later drifted onto comics, which was Shane's area of expertise. He told us he writes the scripts for X-Men comics, which, if you know your comics, is a pretty prestigious gig to get. Unfortunately, Shane then went on to invalidate anything he may ever say about artistic matters when he claimed that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is not only not a criminally appalling film, but actually good. I'm not kidding – he actually used the word 'good'. I feel a YouTube rant coming on.
Dawn dance, and charity
One night in the dansbanan I got a dance with Dawn Hampton – my first. Dawn is looking a lot frailer than she has in previous years, and this year she always had someone looking after her, and needed help on the stairs. She still likes to sit on the edge of the dance floor at night and watch. As she sat, incinerating mosquitoes noisily with her electric fly-swat, I asked her. We weren't brilliantly lucky with the music, and I when I started leading some tacky Annies, I felt her frailty and immediately backed off a bit.
I didn't realise what a bargain I was getting. This year they were doing really quite a lot for charity. I think it might be possible to overdo the number of auctions. Every evening they auctioned off the right to sit in a comfy wing-backed arm chair for the evening meeting. Here we see Mark Kihara doing something he seems to have quite a talent for: enthusing loudly about the benefits of bidding, and extracting ever-higher bids from the mob. Lots of other things got auctioned. One night they auctioned off a dance with Dawn Hampton, and the winner paid 1,800 krona, and I later learned that she added another 500 krona and didn't take the dance.
When I arrived, it was fiercely hot, or caldo as the Italians perversely call it. During the Guinness record attempt on the shadeless football field, they had hosed the crowd down almost continually. This year in my tent I never used a sleeping bag, blanket, or duvet. I made do with simply a duvet cover. One night I did a get a bit cold, and woke up toasty warm wearing a woollen jumper and three pairs of trousers.
Alas, the weather did become inclement when my tent was not at its rain-resistant peak. In-tent activity had moved my rucksack to one side, such that the inner touched the outer tent, and the next day it rained a lot. Several of my remaining clean clothes got rather wet, and the laundry did not do a dry-only service.
Fearful both of a repeat precipitation, and of Mile's fury, I hung up my precious clean shirts on her clothes drier. I left a silly apologetic note, and this seemed to do the trick. The worst consequence for me may have been that my main towel which had been on top of my tent drying out, got completely sodden, and for a couple of days I had to dry myself with my pocket-sized brow-mopping towels.
Many others suffered far worse that I did. Sleeping bags and mattresses in many a tent were waterlogged.
Each time I returned to my tent in the early morning sun, I found the trees above to be humming very loudly. Had I not been so tired, this might have hindered sleeping. Each tree had many hundreds of busy bees in it.
I have now lost most of my interest in learning new moves. Until I get a regular partner, this isn't where my priorities lie. I instead concentrate on the arts of musical interpretation, and pleasing one's follower. This year my dancing seemed to me to vary a lot. It probably varied far less in the eye of an independent observer. One night, I was so disgusted at my dancing, that I went to bed early. I later apologised to one of my partners that night for my lacklustre performance. On other nights, though, I was bleeding well on fire.
I had some great dances, and I wonder whether or not it is a good idea to name some of my partners who stood out as particularly great to dance with. I usually do not do this. I may of course unintentionally miss out some great partners and annoy some who may think that they should have been listed, and I may embarrass those who appear on the list but would not wish to be associated with me in any way. But stuff it, here goes: I had terrific Lindy dances with Ruth Jeffery (very positive connection), Ruta Šmergelyte (the most easily-led pop-turn on Earth), Ramona Staffeld (a teacher who dances with gusto with riff-riff like me), Agustina Zero-Setién (a tiny Argentinian with great musical interpretation), Mette Herlitz (as smooth as the smoothest smooth bits on an unusually smooth thing), Josette Wiggan (still doesn't know all the steps, but what a dancer, and what fun!), a girl from Ljubljana (whose name I didn't write down, but who has single-handedly given me a motive to visit there), Evelina Cerniauskaite (all-round good, and now with a metal-free face!), a French girl called 'Duck' (Canard – a nickname, I'm guessing; she seemed so mysteriously light that I had to pick her up experimentally to check that she wasn't made of sponge), and a tiny porcelain doll of a girl with whom I danced shortly before I left. I asked her to dance, and she looked down at her feet apologetically, to show me that she had changed out of her dance shoes. She wore some sort of Korean compromise between clogs and flip-flops. Sportingly, she danced with me anyway, and she gets the award for the most extreme swinging switches despite her inappropriate footwear.
It may be a pure illusion, but foreign dancers do seem to be better dancers. The illusion may be created by my dancing with people of all abilities in Britain, and then when I go to Herräng, I generally dance with people who have travelled a long way to be there, and so represent the keenest dancers from their lands. Those few who have flown all the way from Argentina seem unlikely to be the least successful novices in their scene. Then again, there really are a lot of good Lithuanians.
One aid to my dancing this year was that my feet never hurt at all. Desert boots padded with thick socks are definitely the way to go.
This year I adhered to the two-dance-minimum rule almost the whole time, even though I don't like it. Typically I would dance one dance with a lady, saying next to nothing, and then after the first dance ask her where she was from or some other similar small talk, and then dance a second. I danced this way with a good-looking girl who had great technique, and was then flabbergasted when she spoke English with an English accent after the first dance. This voice seemed so alien in its context, especially after a silent first dance.
A young blonde ran up to me as I finished a dance, apparently full of hope, and then at the last instant couldn't meet my eye as she said "I'm sorry, but I would really like to dance with you." I suppose this was cute in its way, but there is really no need to apologise for this. I happen to like this sort of thing.
The worst two examples of being asked to dance were exhibited by the same lady. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see not one but two women apparently wanting a dance. On the left was an old friend, who smiled at me, clearly expecting a dance, not having noticed her rival. On the right was a lady I don't think I had ever seen before in my life, who said with a humourless face "He promised me" to my friend, who naturally gave way. I am completely certain that I had made no such promise. The next day the same lady, still without trace of a smile, grabbed me in a dance hold and signalled wordlessly 'Come on then, let's go'. On both occasions she got just the one dance.
One opinion I have come to, which may seem like heresy to some, is that the standard of Lindy hop today is greater than it was in the 1930s and 40s. One problem with the comparison, of course, is that it is not a comparison of like with like. There is a difference in the way the dance is done these days. Partly this may come from the people who are doing it: more educated, analytical, geeky types who have given a lot of thought to timing, connection, and the physics of the dance. Watch performances by the top swingers of today and compare them with those of the swing era, and you will see that the old-timers tend to look wilder, rougher edged, and the new school tend to look smoother, often moving closer to the intricacies of the music, and they are a lot better connected. I offer as evidence this video which is a famous clip of 1940s performers, which has inspired many modern performers. Notice the arm connection during the fast turns and returns. No advanced dancer does it that way these days.
Of course, when I'm dancing with a partner, I do try to get a reaction. It is a clue that helps me tailor my dance to her. If dancing with a beginner, I always try to get her to dance a little bit better than she thinks she can dance, and if I succeed I know because I can see a big smile nailed to her face. Things are not always a tremendous success of course, but I wish to report two interesting reactions that I'm hoping will cast me in a flattering light.
The first was when I was dancing with a Russian swing dance teacher, who I don't think was fluent in English. During our first dance, she emitted a few high-pitched squeals and went rather wide-eyed, and then she just said "Please!" when it ended. I managed to get another half-dozen squeals out of her in the second dance, all of which I regard as feathers in my cap. When dancing with another lady who was fluent in English, I got a reaction that I've never had before. During a particularly elaborate manoeuvre (which of course fitted the music perfectly), she exclaimed "I'm on Facebook!" I have since discovered this to be true.
Second cabaret night
One afternoon I saw people on the little stage near passport control auditioning for the role of master of ceremonies for the cabaret. It did occur to me to have a go, but I reckoned (perhaps wrongly) that the point of these auditions was to give people who were not on the list of the usual suspects a chance, so I walked away.
Some ideas had been mooted that would have involved my being in an act, but in the end I was just a spectator for this one. The opening act was Adam Lee having his hair cut. He simply declared that the rule was that acts didn't have to be good – they just had to be short. Another act was a stand-up comedy routine by Shane McCarthy which broke this rule by at least fifteen minutes. Later, the ladies from the laundry did an a cappella sock-puppet version of Stuck in the Middle with You which went down well.
The star moment, though was probably a dance performance of Madonna's Vogue by various members of the cool set. This might have been an obvious closing number, but they put it quite near the start of the show.
Whether the open audition for MC was a success I shall leave others to judge, but they may rethink how they go about it next time.
Please mind your language
The standard of English at Herräng is excellent. Almost everyone there can have a conversation in a second language, and many in a third, fourth, or even fifth. Naturally, the assorted foreigners there make many little slips in their English, but this does not matter one jot. Indeed, it adds to their charm. However, there are some examples of bad English that really grate on me, and this year I noticed two. They make me wince because they are bad habits that people have picked up from hearing bad English spoken by native English speakers. Hearing foreigners who speak good English being led astray like this is a cause of pain to me, and here I do what little I can to ease that pain.
LAYING: this does not mean the same as 'lying'. The verb 'to lay' refers to the careful setting down of something in a place. "He was laying bricks" "She was laying down plans for an early retirement" "He lay her down so deftly that she didn't wake up" are all correct examples of this verb in action. However, very often I heard people there say the likes of: "I saw him laying fast asleep on the dance floor at five in the morning" or "I'm tired. I need to lay down for a bit" or "What are you doing laying here? You are supposed to be at work!" are all examples where the verb 'to lie' should have been used. This refers to the state of being positioned flat on the floor or ground.
HE WAS LIKE: this phrase has in recent years been used by many as a substitute for being able to tell a story properly. Verbs such as "he said" "he replied" "he went" "he reacted" "he saw" "he exclaimed" "he retorted" all refer to something specific and tell the listener information. In the mouths of modern lazy speakers, however, these all get replaced by the uniform, dull, uninformative, unimpressive, and nonsensical "he was like". Consider the following:
"I was amazed. I saw him coming back from the dance at midnight, already heading for bed. I told him that he was not showing the stamina expected of Herräng dancers, but he just replied that he was tired."
"I was like woah! He was like back from the dance at like midnight, like already for bed. I was like you're not showing the stamina expected because Herräng dancers are like yeah, but he was like I'm tired."
I much prefer the former.
Overall, this was not a bad year for mosquitoes. I think the dry weather had kept them from hatching out in the usual swarms. When I went to Saint Petersburg, I neglected to take any mosquito repellent, which turned out to be a mistake, and the local mosquitoes there breakfasted, lunched, and suppered on me, greedily ignoring many other people they could have bitten instead. Most of these bites were of little consequence, except one or two on the inside of both my forearms, which caused large swellings. It was odd enough that the swellings were so symmetrical. Odder still, at Herräng exactly the same thing happened. You can see here the swelling on my left inner forearm. Why only this part of me seems to react this way I cannot say.
Ice cream report
It was a good year for ice-cream sales. The weather in the first weeks was torrid, and such was demand that they felt the need to run another outlet. An old caravan was found and painted up to serve as a second ice-cream shop. Here we see it during a time of crisis – bees have made their home in it, and brave souls are dealing with the pests. They didn't handle cash there, so one had to queue in the Ice Cream Parlour first to buy tokens so that one could avoid the queues in the Ice Cream Parlour. Yes, that doesn't sound good, but they sold tokens in little books of 11 (for the price of 10). I once came dangerously close to asking for liquorice-flavoured ice cream by mistake. I think they should keep such poisons in a separate area, posted with clear flashing warnings and klaxons.
On the brownie front, the quality was up to the standards of previous years, but there was a noticeable down-sizing of portions, which is a worrying trend.
I was talking to Russell of the Jiving Lindy Hoppers who was telling me that the famous headline "Lindy Hops the Atlantic" which was supposedly the origin for the name 'Lindy hop', was in fact made up by his troupe for a sketch many years ago, and that no one having looked for the headline in an actual paper of the period has ever found it. Anyway, we were marvelling at the greenness of this green spider when Malou drew up on a bicycle, saying that she needed someone tall and thin to play a circus strong man. I thought I could see the irony, and decided to investigate.
I was taken down to the Folkets hus. Malou swooshed ahead of me on her bicycle, and I was stopped by passport controllers, who would not let me pass. After a while, Malou was sighted off in the distance, and I shouted to her that they were not letting me in "That's stupid!" she yelled back. One of the party organisers then turned up and had me put on the guest list, which apparently had an effect on the budget of the party. Presumably, the loss of the price of an evening ticket (200 SEK) would be added to the accounts.
It seemed that Malou's boyfriend Tim had been ear-marked to play the strong man, but felt too ill to do so. I later saw him, and he seemed quite perky and chipper, possibly because he no longer had to wear the costume that had been made for this role. I genuinely did not think I would get into it. After many minutes of squeezing, I managed to get it up over my hips, and to stretch the straps to thread-like thinness over my shoulders. If it had been made accurately to Tim's measurements, then he is a great deal thinner and shorter than I. To make me less frightening, fur was added over my shoulders.
I was then introduced to my props. I had a heavy weight which was supposedly unliftable, and a light equivalent for me to lift, so that in theory I should have no trouble beating all my challengers. I looked at the heavy weight, and very soon formed doubts about it.
"Has it been tested?" I asked the clown-costumed organiser.
"No one will be able to lift it," he assured me
"Has it been tested?" I asked.
"The bottom is screwed down to the planking," he told me.
"Has it been tested?" I asked. He went on to other matters.
Perhaps it should have been tested. The first person to give a serious go at lifting it broke it. It was made by screwing down two plastic buckets to a wooden pallet, joining them together with a horizontal bar through holes in their sides, and then filling them with grit. The buckets were nowhere near strong enough. It was a close-run contest between the bottoms and the sides as to which broke first. Victory to the bottoms.
Fortunately, I had a crier working with me, and with his help I found other things to do. He told the crowds about how I was brought up on a diet of rocks and snow, and I defeated a gorilla (with one finger), a lion, a Neanderthal (two fingers – he was tough), and then ignominiously lost an arm wrestle with a stuffed turtle.
There was a display of acrobatics from some Lindy hopping chaps. Ken St Laurent climbed one of the flagpoles, human pyramids were formed, and Mr Robert Bonsey did his trademark running flip over a line of crouching colleagues. There was popcorn, a performing dog act, a knock-down-the-stacked-cans stall, and the inevitable stilt walkers. Gontran Galinier, the frighteningly enormous Frenchman, did some very slick card tricks in a booth, and there was also a freak show in the library, with tattooed man, conjoined twins, and others, but I and most other people missed this.
Inside in the main Folkets Hus ballroom, we were once again (this was my second circus party at Herräng – the first was in 2000) treated to circus acts by the Carling Family jazz band. The pianist seems not to be doing her contortionist quick change act any more, and Gunhild didn't balance trumpets on her lips while playing them, but the drummer still does his balancing and juggling and clowning, and the clarinettist walked a slack rope (I later had a go at this – the best I lasted was five seconds), and juggled on stilts. The band is still entertaining, and still a bit strange around the edges. The banjo player just sits still and strums every beat, and the pianist still looks as though she would really rather be somewhere else. Gunhild now sports a Marilyn Monroe hairstyle, and apparently she has become quite a well-known star in Sweden now, which is deserved because she's a great musician.
I soon washed off my make-up and removed my costume. Usually I keep my costume on during the themed parties, I removed this one out of concern for my partners' feelings. Whereas normally when up against me they would presumably feel my clothes, in this thin stretchy costume they would instead feel, well, me, and I didn't want anyone to have to suffer that.
The bearded lady was probably the most popular choice of costume. During one dance I looked around me and counted thirteen examples.
Time to go?
The time came for me to buy my ticket home. This was achieved by buying a ticket in the Ice Cream Parlour which gave me a log-in code for the Internet Igloo. This is a neater, higher-tech system than the old one of lemon-shaped cooker timers and cash. Of course, I could not get a ticket that was ideal, but at least I found one that was quite cheap. There were people in the Igloo who helped me with the all-Swedish-language (no, there really was nothing to click to turn it into English) air-ticket site. I would miss the next slow drag night, and have to wait fourteen hours in Copenhagen airport.
I did have a deadline for coming home. I had promised my Herräng friend Steven that I would be back in time to help him with the Swing Circus weekend he had organised in Bristol, and I needed time to get home and do some washing and sleep first. This worked out rather well. It meant that I had to leave the camp when I was still having a good time, rather than over-stay and spoil it. The decision of when to leave was never going to be very easy, because the flight would always have to be booked at least a couple of days ahead, and who knows what can happen in two days in Herräng, but in the end it wasn't so bad. One shame was that I would miss the (Monty Python's) Holy Grail party, and I was made for that gig – I know that film almost entirely by heart.
I approached Bobby Bonsey and his incredible HD camera with an idea for a video. It is always nice to have something to show from a holiday. The basic idea was that I would adapt the first Henry V Harfleur speech and use it to persuade a load of people to go back to the dance floor. Bobby was intrigued to a degree, but said that he felt that it wasn't yet a fully-formed idea. As it turned out, he was right. I returned to him a day or two later and added a punch-line to the idea, and this time he agreed to do it.
My thoughts were directed largely at making the shoot easier and less troublesome for others. Bobby was somewhat more gung-ho and plumped for the harder way of doing it: at night when the Blue Moon Cafe was full. He could use his status as official camp photographer to make more demands than most. We got just two couples into the Folkets Hus ballroom while they were still setting up, to get a shot of a nearly-empty dance floor. Then we moved on to the cafe. We had to switch the lights on, which drew protests from the people there trying to enjoy their fikas. I hadn't actually learned the speech. I had found it on a web-site when in the 'internet igloo', and had there been advised to e-mail it to myself, and then get it printed out in reception. When I went to reception, they denied all knowledge of a printing service. This meant that I had to go by memory and improvise on the spot a bit. Bobby got ready with the camera, and wanted me to do the whole thing in one take. I gave it a go. Next, we wanted lots of reaction shots. I did the speech again, but this time it was different. This time I remembered far more of the speech, and delivered it so much better. All the meaning came out. This time too, my audience, which had before sat there stunned by the harsh light and bemused by this shouting Englishman, got caught up in the intended mood, and paid attention, and reacted loudly. This time, the camera was pointing at them, not at me.
We then had to do a few more shots of the crowd running out to the dance floor, and then we were finished for the moment. Bobby was more prepared to ask people to do things for the video at the start. Actually, once we had overcome the initial reluctance of people, they performed better than we could have hoped and they even got quite enthusiastic. Four hours later we returned and did a couple of introductory shots, and the punch-line in the near-empty cafe.
There were many demands on Bobby's editing time, and he wanted to get the project cut so that it could be shown in the following evening's meeting. For one thing, if he didn't, then I would have left the camp without seeing it. Like a trouper he got the job done, but alas, most of the great reaction shots and all of the second version of my speech were left unused. Still, the video worked, and got a laugh the next evening, and if you want to see it now, you can: Herräng Shakespeare on YouTube. Bear in mind that the loudest people near the end are French - beat that for irony.
What Is This Thing Called Swing?
For all five weeks of the camp, Sunday and Monday nights were special nights, because they had a performance of a musical. The Folkets Hus main stage was used. Lennart Westerlund, Mattias Lundmark, Jenny Deurell, and Fatima Teffahi were the main stars, with several other people playing smaller roles, many of whom were visiting teachers who just played their parts a couple of times.
I had heard a few opinions about the musical before I saw it. The first I heard was that it took up far too much of the camp's time. With party night, slow drag night, cabaret night, and two musical nights, that left only Saturday and Wednesday as normal dance nights. The atmosphere of the evenings in the Folkets Hus was a bit muted when the main ballroom was out of commission half the night, and half the people at the camp were sitting in it. They wanted everyone taking classes to be able to see it, however, and these days there are too many of these people to fit in to one performance, and so for fairness they were forced to use up two nights (possibly they could have done two shows in one night?).
I had also asked several people about the show, and the consensus seemed to be that it was not a great show – that it had poor acting and singing, and an unconvincing plot, but some quite good dancing. A few people suggested that I might not bother with it. Tickets were not straightforward to get if one was not doing classes. I did get offered a ticket by a person empowered to do so, for services rendered, and I took it. I won't say who this person was nor what the service was, but I can honestly say that it not by subterfuge or stealth that I achieved a ticket.
I saw the show on the Sunday at the start of week 4. They had been making changes each time, and the version I saw was perhaps slightly shorter than the one people sat through a couple of weeks earlier. I had been making the video with Bobby in the cafe, and so this placed me near the head of the queue to get in, and I got a good seat. Yes, the acting was ropey, and most of the singing fairly poor (there were a few good singers in very small roles), but this didn't bother me much, because the people on the stage were people I knew, and it is fun to watch one's friends performing. The plot was ridiculous but this was fine too, because it made no attempt to be convincing at any point. There were lots of anachronistic in-jokes, and some clever bits of staging. They made frequent use of video projection on the back screen. Perhaps the highlight of the show was an old film of a performance by The Delta Rhythm Boys of Take The A-Train (that link is to the original, not the adulterated version) into which Mattias had been inserted very well indeed. I was especially impressed with a shot in which he walked behind four dancers who were all moving, and the special effects were really good. I would be interested to discover how that shot was achieved. The audience laughed at the astonishing degree to which the period singers smiled while singing. Skye Humphries got easy laughs playing a curly blonde-wigged angel; gold-clad girls came on and danced to We're In The Money copying the routine behind them on the screen with Ginger Rogers; Lennart sang an oddly anachronistic One For My Baby and One More For The Road (1946, and the musical is set in 1936), and all ended happily enough. One odd thing was that there were silent-movie captions that explained the plot, when the plot was really not difficult to follow.
I enjoyed it, and I was glad to have seen it, but perhaps they should not do this every year, because it does take a lot of valuable evening time from the camp main attraction for many people: the social dancing.
I had several rather nice photographs of the show to illustrate this section, but I have been warned that the people running the show at the camp have asked people not to post any of them on the net. I suspect that this may be poor strategy on their part, but for moment I bow to their wishes.
In the bar I talked to two young Swedish swing dance champions. They had 'trained' for Lindy hop when very young, and had learned routines and won competitions, and yet had then gone on to discover that they couldn't dance. They were now keen to learn how to social dance, with lead and follow. I think many of these competitions really miss the point of dancing.
In this shot you see the sweets of two nations (Sweden and the USA, represented by underpants on sticks on the fence behind) being scientifically compared with an experiment on the public. The result of the blind tasting was that Swedish sweets are superior (when tested on people who are mostly Europeans). Behind this test, a screen hides fishers from the man who ties prizes on the end of their lines. I am sure that it was all very constructive.
The Herlitzia at the piano. One song we did all know was I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables (or The Glums as it is popularly known in Britain). I'm not entirely sure that the lyrics suited me, though ("She slept a summer by my side, she filled my days with endless wonder, she took my childhood in her stride..." No – it just doesn't work so well).
This man requires an explanation.
Just before leaving, I saw these two ice cream logos hiding around the side of the kiosk. I'm not sure that these representatives of rival companies should be behaving this way, but they seemed happy enough, so I left them to it.
I got up, packed, and left by bus. From Arlanda I flew to Copenhagen, which I can recommend as one of the nicer airports to be stranded in for fourteen hours. I made some of the most expensive telephone calls of my life to various Copenhagen friends, all of whom were out of town, and then found a comfy bench to sleep on, and a table at which to write, and I wrote three poems (A New Stage Reached, The Glimmer, and Never Meet Your Heroines).
Once back in Blighty, I had one day in which to do three washes (whites, darks, beige), and get some sleep before jumping on a train to Bristol. Down there, I helped set up and then run the Invisible Circus's Swing Circus event, which was organised to coincide with the Bristol Lindy Exchange. This was three nights of parties with many circus acts, combined with a big party, a bit like a Herräng Friday night themed party. Steven Salinger is now at a circus school in Bristol, and had read my account of the Wallstreet Crash party at Herräng 2004, and proposed this as a theme for one of the Invisible Circus parties. So it seems that these accounts do affect the world somehow.
This stage was used by a few circus acts and the Lindy exchange dancers. Alas, it did rain a bit some nights. It wasn't an ideal dance surface, and the organisers of the event did obey the British law that enforces all sound systems, no matter how powerful, to be massively over-loaded to the point that you can't hear the music or anything else properly.
In case you have often wondered what the inside of a circus school looks like. They've done quite a radical alteration to this old building: gutting it and shoring it up with massive girders.
During the parties, I walked around in character as a loan shark, giving people money in generous spirit, and then returning some hours later, and turning nasty if I didn't get my money back. The voice I used was stolen from Al Pacino, and after three nights of using it to yell over the top of the ear-splitting music, for the next few days I could use no other voice.
It was interesting meeting lots of circus people. Talking to two of them, I was struck by how they regarded what they did as high art, to be considered alongside ballet or serious theatre. They did not want to compromise what they did for the sake of getting applause. They didn't want to do a trick and then do a "Ta daaaa!" (please cheer now) action, but instead wanted their acts to be about something. They drew a clear line between circus and street theatre for this reason.
I saw little of Bristol. I needed to go home and sleep. Steven, meanwhile, caught a 'plane to Herräng.
I got home feeling pretty pleased with how things had gone. For the first time ever, my time in Herräng had generated a booking to teach at a camp abroad (Norway). I got home and checked my diary, and then spent some while shouting "Argh!" after I noticed that they wanted me to teach on the one weekend of the year that I could not possibly do. Still, fun was had. Possibly see you next year.
That was tolerably interesting, I think I could bear to read about what happened a year later.