My time at the Herräng 2012
And so, another year and another Herräng account. When will these ever end? Well, every year I get approached by more people telling me that they've read my accounts and liked them, and so faced with such encouragement, it would seem poor show to let down an expectant audience. On the other hand, every year the accounts become long and self-indulgent. When I re-read some of them, I cringe at the dullness of them, and at other things, such as the levels of self-deprecation.
Nonetheless, witness below another account, and should you discover any inaccuracies, omissions, or feel that you could contribute something in the form perhaps of reminders of things that happened, or illustrations of them, feel free to e-mail me. I forget many things, especially if I was very tired when experiencing them, which covers most things at Herräng. If you are named and do not like this, tell me and I shall make you anonymous, or if you are referred to as 'some bloke' and would prefer your name here, tell me and you shall be deblokerated.
I went again. Last year was a decent Herräng for me, and so I had been looking forward to this one. In November 2011 I decided that I would make a low-budget feature-length steampunk adventure video and post it on YouTube (my channel is called Lindybeige – I'll leave you to guess why – and anyone who knows me ought to subscribe). In March, I spent a very long week shooting it in an art gallery which I rented between exhibitions, and then I started the process of post production. For four months, I sat all day every day in front of a computer, in a rather dusty room, editing, learning new software, 3D designing, and animating. This is a slow, largely dull, and very lonely process. Herräng seemed to offer quite a contrast, and I used it as a useful deadline. I would not go to the camp until I had something finished and uploaded to my channel.
I finished the first episode during the first week of the camp, and after uploading it, I visited Skyscanner and bought my flight for the next day. As is now my norm, I bought a one-way ticket. I did not know how long I would last at the camp. Reports on Facebook were that the mosquitoes were especially numerous and aggressive this year, which was not a pleasant thought. I packed plenty of cheap food, and since I had left my tent in someone's caravan last year, I had room in my backpack for more shirts, socks, and three of my new acquisitions: waistcoats.
Arriving at Arlanda, I talked to an American who had recognised me from my on-line accounts (many people refer to my Herräng pages as a 'blog' – they are not a blog, they are 'web-pages'), and who had booked a 'limousine' to the camp, but our flight had been delayed, and so he may have missed his lift. He turned out to be a young man who knew what he wanted in life – a putative career politician who had decided where to live and what to do all as part of his plan. Should I envy or pity these people who are so different from me? I have no [realistic] idea of what I want, or where to live. We met a driver for the limousine service, but she was there to meet some camp teachers and wouldn't take us. Ever mindful that bus services are subject to change, I enquired at the airport information desk about getting to Herräng, and as usual was told a load of rubbish. They advised my getting an expensive taxi to a railway station, then a train, then buses. I was repeatedly assured that this was the only way. Sceptical, I walked out of the main front door to the airport, and very quickly found a bus-stop with buses going to Rimbo, which is on the way to Herräng, and has a large bus station with connections to Hallstavik. The directions on the Herräng website from Arlanda are still reprehensible rubbish, and come across suspiciously as a disguised advert for the expensive limousine service. With a fellow Lindy hopper, I took the bus, and after an easy journey through the wargame-table familiar Swedish countryside, we were soon in Rimbo, and content to have a mild adventure.
We waited for the Hallstavik bus, and shortly before arriving there, I heard something new: the bus driver gave a short speech in Swedish and then again in English giving useful and friendly information of relevance to people going on to Herräng. "Thank you!" I called out, and then noticed smiles and reactions around the bus. I was sitting amongst Lindy-hoppers. We swapped greetings, and I sprayed all those who asked with mosquito repellent (I got one of them in the mouth – sorry) in preparation for our arrival.
One early discovery was that a street in the village had been renamed. There is now a 'Frankie Mannings Väg' there. Robert Klingvall later told me that the regulations require that no two streets in one municipality have the same name, and since three municipalities had merged, there were three streets in the village that needed renaming, but that the locals would probably want names reflecting the greater number of years that the village spent in the iron ore trade.
My life then changed, and instead of recounting it in strict chronological order, I am going to get a bit thematic instead.
Week One: 1970s
I walked down to the Folkets hus, from which the sounds of the starting party were emanating. This was Friday of Week One, and the theme was the seventies. As is generally the case with such parties, there was a particular aspect of the period on which everyone concentrated: disco. The costumes were afro wigs, various other curly wigs, sunglasses, spangly outfits, medallions framed by open-fronted shirts, and bright clashing ugly colours. I can actually remember a bit of the seventies, and can honestly report that even at my young age at the time, I knew that I was living in an age of tat.
Already I was being recognised, and beautiful women came up to hug me. Most faces were new to me, but the vista was familiar. Mattias was compère for a competition in which crowd acclamation decided who had postured in the most convincing disco manner, then there was the 'soul train' parade of people parading disco-fashion down the aisle of their peers, and people were directed to enter the Folkets hus. I picked up my backpack and went to pitch my tent, in the same well-shaded spot as last year.
I later donned a big white shirt (more 80s than 70s) and improvised a white towelling headband from material taken from the Prop Shop. Many other people had decided that a headband was the proper 70s look, and at least mine would be slightly functional too. At the time of writing, I do not have many vivid memories of the party. I recall that many of the bits of information I had e-mailed to one of the organisers appeared on the walls of the loos (first test-tube baby, Microsoft founded, first home video tape recorders, pocket calculators, Nadia Comaneci gets a perfect score in gymnastics, Watergate scandal etc.). Music that I wouldn't like was played in the bar, so that some people could get funky with it. For some reason, all the good music that happened in the 1970s (Mike Oldfield, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie...) seems to be regarded as timeless and so not credited to the period. In a 70s party, people demand the rubbish, and invariably they get it. I had thought that there would at least be a mass-rending of Bohemian Rhapsody (1975) by the assembled throng.
Best costume: Cat Foley, who dressed as a lady in her seventies [geddit?]. Cat was at the camp as stage manageress for the evening meetings. She got this job after I had recommended her, and while I was confident of course that she would be fine at it, I was also a bit concerned that anyone might actually act on a recommendation from me. Cat recently won the 'Euro Star' award at the European Swing Dance Championships in Barcelona. This is significant for me because she learned her Lindy from me. It is possible that I may mention this again.
Week Two: A Night at the Savoy
For the first time, this year I had written to the camp's organisers with a fairly long and detailed proposal for a party. My timing was as usual poor, however, because this year for the first time they chose the party themes by on-line poll, and the top five most popular themes were used, and first among them all was A Night at the Savoy. I heard a keen photographer saying that it was his favourite party because so many had dressed up nicely, but the organisers of the camp were less happy with the theme. Despite its clear appropriateness to Lindy hop, it was not easy to think of things to do to make the night unlike other nights at a Lindy hop camp. Talking one night to Daniel Heedman, he told me that the Wall Street Crash party (2004) and the Woodstock party (2003) have now been established as the models on which to base future parties. It is not impossible that I have been an influence here, having praised both parties, especially the Wall Street Crash one.
The only preparations for this party I can recall doing were: helping to put the last few boards onto the new dance floor; and hanging big decorative curtains across the centre of the dansbanan floor.
In front of the Folkets hus, a small band played and a few teachers acted as taxi dancers on a small floor. After a bit, we in our period finery went into the main building and danced pretty much as normal. I recall being in the Folkets hus ballroom at 11.35 p.m. and again at about 11.45, and I later learned that in the ten or so minutes of my absence, there had been a 'Harvest Moon Ball' competition there. At midnight, the curtains opened to reveal a band on the stage, composed of swing dancers, all looking very dapper. Sakarias Larsson was on drums, and a fellow Harlem Hotshot Rikard Ekstrand on piano. The band was impressively tight, and although the floor was crowded, as it almost always is when a live band plays, I stayed a while to dance.
Week Three: Pirates and Parrots
This was organised by people from the Swedish-speaking Finnish island of Fasta Åland. Despite having a population of fewer than 30,000, this island has developed one of the world's most successful swing dance scenes, it seems. Their 'pirate' sailing ship, complete with Jolly Roger and mock-ups of cannons, was moored in the marina for a few days, and people were invited to visit. Alas, at the best times I was busy, so when I went aboard, it was empty. Unfortunately, it had to leave before the party, but it is difficult to see what role it could have played so far from the Folkets hus.
I was asked by Sofia Enros to teach the song 'The Derelict' as a cultural activity on the preceding Wednesday. I accepted, despite not actually knowing the song (it is the one with "Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!" in it, from Treasure Island). I was provided with the words and notes on paper. I soon formed the opinion that I could do with a musician or two to help me. A fiddle seemed appropriate, as did a concertina, but of the latter I had less hope. That very night, I noticed a violin case on the table football table, and decided to lie in wait for its owner to return. He was Kemper Talley, an American nuclear physicist, and I was able to recruit him. On the day, I got ten people turning up, but though we were few, we certainly could create volume. I have memories of choirs at school, which were generally made up of children who wanted to be elsewhere, mumbling quietly, each nervous to be heard above the others. I am equipped with a very loud voice, and perhaps my example stirred my hearties into singing up, or perhaps it was that only people happy to sing loudly would come to a shanty-singing cultural activity. Either way, people passing us on the road to the Folkethus found us impossible to ignore as we blasted out our faux nautical slang. I added some dance moves designed for one legged men, and we shamelessly hammed it up, particularly on the last line "Ten fathoms deep on the road to HEEEEEEELLLLLL!" One particularly enormous chap there proved to have a voice even louder than mine. I asked them if they were willing to make a performance of it for the party, and they all said yes.
There was quite a wide and good collection of cultural activities, including cooking, making things, hairdressing, walks, lectures, and learning the zombie routine from Michael Jackson's Thriller.
A plan to float a pirate ship on the lake was abandoned. For weeks they had been collecting plastic bottles for floatation, and they built a timber frame, but in the end the frame was just placed atop the Prop Shop, and the bottles became a bottle-pool (a bit like a ball-pool).
I found a flip-chart in the Prop Shop, and on the first six pages of it, I wrote out the lyrics of the six verses of the song in marker pen, for a sing-along.
On the Friday night, mine was the first activity for the party goers – learning a few one-legged dance moves from 'Peg-Leg Lloyd' and then our performance of three verses of the song. Most of m' hearties were elsewhere, but I had my massive-voiced fellow on the team, so we fared well enough. It was wet, and I directed the throng to the dansbanan, where there would be 'pirate games' and more.
I was awarded a chocolate coin for my ability to throw a plastic skull through a hole, and then on the dance floor I saw that a band had set up at one end (not the end with the raised stage, oddly enough, which meant that a fair chunk of the dance floor was wasted), and a large inflatable palm tree oasis took up a central position on the dance floor. I made an announcement using that voice I mentioned before, telling all the people who had rehearsed the Thriller routine to gather on the new floor. There, they agreed to do two performances of the routine, one in the dansbanan, and then later another upstairs. I was able to advise Fish, the camp's official videographer, where and when to stand to get the shots he wanted. I saw two performances of the routine that night, both danced by pirate zombies, which are perhaps the best form of zombie, complete with a Michael Jackson pirate zombie in shredded version of the red jacket from the famous video.
My costume used the fanciest of my waistcoats, a hat which I converted in a few minutes from a leprechaun/wizard hat I found in the Prop Shop, and, following tradition, an improvised cummerbund, which this time was made from red velvet, and then held fast with my belt buckled over it. The consequences of this were to become clear later.
At 1 a.m. in the bar, I took up position with my flipchart pad. I needed a fiddle player and two people to hold and flip the pad, and these took a while to get together. I was down to just two hearties by this stage, but it was enough. Despite the crowding and chattiness of the bar, I was able to cut through the din with my outrageous Cornish accent, and soon enough was able to get a sing-along going. Quite what this international gathering made of the lyrics, it is difficult to say ("We wrapped 'em all in a mains'l tight, with twice ten turns of a hawser's bight" etc.), but people did sing along. They quickly deciphered my 'secret pirate code' of "YHH+[picture of bottle with 'XXX' on label]". Big finish on "...road to HEEEELLLLL!" and end. I was then asked to repeat the whole thing upstairs in the cafe. This I did, and again we did get rather loud. I dare say that we disturbed the swing dancing in the ballroom a bit. "...road to HEEELLLLLL!" and lots of loud "Arrrr!"
My next task for the night was presented to me as a perk. Sofia gave me a bottle of rum, the first of three, to be sampled and then shared out. It took me quite some while to pour three bottles of rum (the first two of which were really quite good stuff, and the third wasn't bad – egad! I've just Googled for 'Pyrat rum' and at those prices it had better be good!) down the throats of the guests. Some people thought that it was just fake prop rum, and had to be given a whiff of the neck, or see me take a swig before they were convinced. Others were nervous of catching something from a shared bottle neck. I think that the alcohol content probably made it safer than most of the water cups in the place. No one shared my bottle more than I, and I caught nothing.
In the basement, Sakarias was drawing pirate tattoos with felt pens. He was making quite a good job of it, and would-be tattooees (is this a word to rival 'bookkeeping' with three consecutive double letters?) had to wait in line for a while to get his services.
I danced a fair bit, and then before going to bed I removed my cummerbund, to discover a strong and broad red/pink stain all the way round my lovely white vintage dress shirt. I'm not sure what to do about this.
Week Four: Geeks and Nerds
This was an excellent theme for a camp attended by so very many geeks and nerds. The main organisers, Robert Klingvall and Mark Kihara, were unusual in that they did not make it clear that they were the organisers, and instead they used two girls, Isabella Wong and Sandra Abi-Khalil to front the operation. The girls had come forward with the idea of 'quests'. They organised these for the week leading up to the party, and by completing these, 'nerd points' could be earned, and if one had more than 30 nerd points, one could then embark on 'epic quests' for yet more points. I earned 30 points by getting Pao the camp's official clown to 'teach' me how to juggle three balls, and 10 by dancing with someone of my own 'gender'. The gender I picked was Lindy hopper, so this was not difficult. Perhaps the quest-setter had in mind that I should have danced with someone of my own sex, but the quest slip I had clearly said 'gender' which simply means category (it is from the same root as 'genre'). My method went unquestioned, but had it been questioned, then I think I would still have deserved the nerd points by being geeky enough to recognise the loophole.
My next points were far harder to earn. Isabella picked out an epic quest slip, and handed it to me with a smirk. I had to appear on the stage for at least one minute in the evening meeting, and declare that I was on an epic quest. Very quickly I formed an idea. For it to work, I would need a nice jacket, a bow tie, a small square of white paper, and a plan. I found the jacket after a quick search of the Prop Shop. It fitted me well, which was odd, because I later learned that it was tailor-made for Henric Stillman, who is quite a bit smaller than I. He tried it on, and sure enough the sleeves came down to his knuckles. I hastened to the Folkets hus and up to where the people were preparing for the evening meeting, which is always a stress-filled room. I had to convince Mark Kihara and Lucy Falkner that mine was a good idea, which was not tremendously easy as neither of them got the cultural reference, but fortunately both seem to have at least some trust in me. Lucy disappeared upstairs to settle matters with Lennart, and it seemed that my idea was approved. As luck would have it, Mark was going to make an announcement in the meeting anyway, and this was an opportunity for me to use my idea. All I had to do was remember to add the useful part of Mark's announcement.
I waited in the wings. I then sneaked back out to confirm with Mark what the thing he needed me to say was. I had remembered it, but it would have been bad had I got it wrong.
I waited in the wings. I had for a while experimented with the notion of waiting with my toes showing beneath a curtain, but I later ditched this idea. The meeting started. Soon, I saw myself playing the role of roving reporter on the big projection screen. This was unfortunate timing, as I was about to appear as a different character. Lennart called on Mark to make his announcement, Lucy turned down the volume on Mark's microphone, and I appeared from the wings, and produced from my pocket a prop of a sort which I had mistakenly thought that several people would have at the camp. For extra nerd points, I think I can genuinely say that I happened to have it my jacket pocket when I left for the camp, rather than packing it specially. I pressed the button, the tip lit up, and it chirped and buzzed, and the microphone sprang back to life. I was taking a risk. Making a reference that no one gets is a failure. However, if a minority of an audience gets a reference, then it is extra happy, because it feels special for getting something that others did not. It is difficult to say how many people knew the character I was playing, but I heard several pleased gasps in the room. The noises were not loud, but they were enthusiastic, and those who didn't get the joke were at least able to tell that there was a joke to be got. I identified myself as a "microphone maintenance" man, while showing the square of white paper to the audience, which got a gentle laugh from those who knew. I shook hands with "Sir Lennart Westerlund" and remarked that he was looking very young. Lennart, from his reaction, clearly did not get what I was doing, but this was fine. I then acted as though I had just realised something: "You're not Sir Lennart yet! Well, have you got a surprise coming!" I then told the audience that, odd though this may seem, the next day's party didn't go brilliantly first time around, or the second time ("minor alien incursion, but that's all sorted now, I think") but if people did a few things in advance, everything should be fine this time (and here I added the genuine request from Mark, about people meeting to discuss scheduling of the '3D' acts). Over the next couple of days, I got appreciative comments from those who got it, and no complaints from those who didn't. What is the ideal proportion of an audience to get a joke? If everyone gets everything, then probably you are not stretching things enough. I then went down to the dansbanan where I met Isabella, and I demanded my 200 nerd points. I now had 240 – not bad.
One message made very clear was that people would need to meet up at the school area at 8 p.m. for the Friday party, not as usual at 9 p.m. in front of the Folkets hus, and that they would need to earn a stamp before they could attend the main party.
Before the start of the party, there were performances by the Competition and Show groups. I arrived fairly early, and sat in the middle at the front. I was at this point in quite a dismal mood, and so not well-disposed to enjoying what came next. The two classes of the Competition and Show class were brought out by their teachers (Mattias and Hanna, then Ryan and Jenny) to perform routines, and then Dax and Sarah brought them out again to compete. I have never enjoyed competitions, and really I just don't 'get' them. In what way are they meant to be enjoyable? People claim to enjoy them, but I can't see how. A load of people come and dance while others are watching, and then they are judged by others who eliminate some of them. Judging isn't fun, dancing while being judged isn't fun, and witnessing this isn't (for me) fun. It's as though someone looked at Lindy hop and thought "Wow – that looks like loads of fun. What can I do to annihilate any chance of enjoying this?" As ever, I very strongly disagreed with the judges' decisions. My favourite couples weren't placed, and in one round, the only couple I was sure should be eliminated, won first place. Was it completely random, or do other judges have a set of priorities that have not occurred to me? Perhaps they were judging using the categories 'most coordinated shoes', 'use of little finger of right hand', and 'most recently danced with me'.
The various activities that qualified people for a stamp then started. In one tent was a lesson in nerd blues dancing – the familiar dance involving holding with stiff parallel arms, and then rocking from side to side (see it exampled in this video, which features Eurostar Cat Foley, whom I taught). In another tent, a game of quidditch (from the Harold Potter children's books) started, but, partly because they were away from the centre of things, and a bit out of sight, they had trouble recruiting players and I don't know if they played more than one match. Another activity was to learn pi to five more places than you previously knew, so the trick seemed to be to claim to know five fewer places than you really did. Another tent had large organised cushion fights. I wandered about, thinking that perhaps I should try everything, but feeling like trying nothing. In the end I did get asked, after the lesson, to dance one nerd dance, and I did allow myself to be obliged into throwing cushions for a bit. I was then given a badge, onto which I was supposed to write my nerd talent. Keeping in character, I left my badge blank (which no one seemed to understand), while others wrote quite good conversation-starters on theirs. We were then given our stamps, which said "PEN15". Many, if not most, people were stamped on the forehead. Do you carry fifteen pens? You must be a nerd, then, and qualified for the PEN (Pen Encumbrance Number?) of 15.
Next, down to the Folkets hus, and in the dansbanan round the back was a massive go-cart racing circuit, made with many taped-together cardboard boxes. Competitors were given helmets decorated to look like things from the video game Mariokart (mushrooms and turtles, I think - I never played it), and mounted on two-man carts of varying sizes, which required one operator to face backwards and push, while the other tried to drag forwards from the front. I gave this a go, and started the race at the back. Overtaking was almost impossible, and my pair finished third out of four, but only thanks to the pair in front's stopping before the finish line. I was surprised that they kept the racing going for a few hours. A thousand people were registered for courses that week, and on top of them were all the people like me who were there for the parties. The dansbanan is now the biggest dance floor.
The front door to the foyer had been made up to look like a door of a different type. I think it was meant to be a cupboard door, but it looked more like one you might see on a safe. Some clothes hung from the doorframe, and inside there were pictures of trees on the walls, a green mat/tripping hazard on the floor (no one tripped on it – we were Lindy hoppers), and if you had looked carefully you might have seen a lamp post. I'm fairly sure that this was meant to represent Narnia from the books by C.S. Lewis. I'm also fairly sure that most people didn't get the reference, and that many people walked through the foyer looking for what was happening, and never even noticed the efforts that had been made there.
In the library was the nerd talent show. People crowded in, and it became clear that the demand to see the show vastly out-stripped the capacity of the room. It was then announced that there would be a show every fifteen minutes – an optimistic time-frame. I popped in, and soon heard myself announced. I fought my way to the front, and took the microphone from our host Dargov (sp?), an American being very nerdy. I had not rehearsed my talent at all, which was possibly unwise, but fortunately I found that the passage from The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy was still in my head. I rattled it off, speaking rather quickly, but at the correct speed for the original radio series. I got a few laughs during it, Dargov started reeling in my microphone cable to bring me to a close, and I then got a long loud cheer. I think that people were more amazed that someone could talk that fast and remember so much rather than finding the script funny. Other acts included talking backwards, playing video game music on piano, and bad magic tricks. Later, Lucy Falkner played a prim didactic American Sunday-schoolmarm who invited us to renounce dancing and stamp out the Devil, but her methods were in effect a dance.
Meanwhile, in the bar, there were TED lectures. Apparently, almost everyone who had signed up to deliver one was British. I certainly was. I was asked to go on early, which was easy enough, as mine was quite short. I don't think anyone videoed it, but I would be curious to watch myself. There may be a great disparity between what one thinks one looks like, and the way that others perceive one, but it seemed to me that I was calm, warm, assured, and competent. I felt like the safe pair of hands at the helm of a big TV show. I was less sciency than most of the others. My short lecture was on the topic of story-telling in Lindy and blues (but not Bal), making the point that it is possible to dance through the plot of a rom-com in a dance, and that possibly this is better than merely dancing the 'and they lived happily ever after' bit.
I had offered my services as a reverse announcer. My idea was that I would appear, say things like "Wow! Did you see that? Wasn't it great?" and then, seeing the blank uncomprehending looks on people's faces, consult a clock, act a moment of realisation, and then say "It hasn't happened yet! I get to see it again! Brilliant!" and then tell people what they shouldn't miss, because it was/will be great. I recall doing this just three times during the night, mainly to announce the 3D shows in the Folkets hus. Each time I attracted attention by loudly falling over into the crowd, getting up, dusting myself off, and then going into the routine. I don't know how effective this was. Some people perhaps thought that it was an act in isolation, and not a true announcement. In the Folkets hus ballroom, I came crashing through the door to the back stairs very loudly, and this was enough to get everyone's attention. I told them to get ready for the act by donning their 3D specs. I donned mine in readiness, and sure enough, when the stage curtains opened, Mark Kihara and Robert Klingvall on kazoos and Ryan and Jenny Francois both dressed as Wally (but not hiding very well - colonial readers may know him as 'Waldo') dancing along to them, did indeed look convincingly 3D. I had seen the specs being put together by volunteers early in the week. The shape of the frames had been photocopied onto not very thick paper, and then these had to be cut out, and have green and red filters glued over the two eye holes. This was a lot of work for one joke. In the event, almost all the lenses fell out almost immediately. Pritt Stick just wasn't enough.
The Mission Impossible tent housed various games for people to play. One surreal moment, which would have made a good photograph, was when I saw someone dressed as a game of Pacman playing Pacman. I also played table football, and Ricochet Robots.
Another duty I was asked to perform was awarding the winner of the nerd quests with the title "Lord of the Nerds". She was waiting in the cafe, apparently having been told that this was part of another nerd quest. In I went, and used my loud voice to get everyone's attention. The winner had scored 1,000 points, and was awarded a badge declaring her new title, and a copy of the game Chez Geek. "Speech!" I said in the standard British way, and to my surprise, she rose, stood on her chair, and actually gave a speech. Possibly some cultural misunderstanding there.
Best costume: I did admire the chap who had a black T-shirt with a little YouTube logo on it. Fixed to the front of this was a ring of table tennis balls, each with a little LED in it, and from these ran wires down to a pocket where there was a power supply and circuitry which flashed the lights on his chest in sequence, creating an eternal 'buffering' screen.
One group had decided to dress up in sporty clothing as the anti-nerds, the 'jocks', and to bully nerds by putting loo roll round them and jeering a lot.
Last year I went around with a video camera, and shot enough footage for quite a few YouTube videos. Editing them took flipping ages, and I still have footage for another couple to do. At the time of writing, I have 17 of them on-line. Personally, I think that if you are reading this, then you really ought to be watching my Herräng videos as well. This year, I did take my camera again, and enough tape to record far too much, but my heart wasn't in it. Having spent so many days editing, I had little desire to create more work for myself.
People did come up to me and compliment me on my videos, but two odd things became clear: 1. More people at the camp had seen my videos about spears and the like than had watched my dance videos, and 2. Many people had seen one of my Herräng videos, but had not realised that there were many more to be seen. I have a playlist of Herräng videos, and if you see one of these videos, the system is supposed to alert you to the rest.
While at the camp, however, I did make a few videos for the camp as a presenter. The first was with the camp's resident circus performers, Sergio Langarica and La-pao Aviles. It was to advertise the tuition available for free to anyone who signed up. By coincidence, I had signed up for a clowning class immediately after the shoot. I was given lessons in how to be a child, how to be the clown, take my time, see things for the first time, and be innocently proud of my abilities.
Another day, Gunnar arrived at my tent not enough after the crack of noon, and we did the first shot of the first video with me still in my tent and not yet dressed. I started narrating about the rain, and how it might affect the people camping, and then I unzipped the front of my tent, to reveal my location. It got a laugh at the evening meeting. The video went down well, but the editing didn't work as we had hoped. A couple of times, we had a small joke to set up the big joke which followed soon after, but the first joke got a laugh from the audience that obscured the second joke, and so we lost the really big laughs.
Aaron Malkin was video editor at the camp. This is now a full-time post. Upstairs in the top office in the Folkets hus, he had a fancy computer with a very big flat screen, and professional editing and special effects software, and he put together videos for use in the evening meetings. Fish, meanwhile, was also shooting and editing video, for the official camp video, but also for the week recaps, which were shown in the evening meetings as well, and there was some duplication of effort. Video has become a much more important medium at the camp, partly because of the rise of things like YouTube (which, amazingly, started as recently as 2005, and has revolutionised Lindy hop – today a new routine danced at a competition is viewable worldwide the next day), and partly because the camp is so enormous now, that people can not all be shown something at once any other way.
Another video we made was about blowing stuff up. The camp had bought a box of dry ice (solid carbon dioxide) pellets, and although these were being kept in a freezer, they were melting away and would go to waste. The original idea was to use them for effects on the lake for a video about the return of the camp goats from the moon. Last year, for the moon party, an hilarious video had been made about the goats building a rocket and blasting off. This year, however, there would be no goats at the camp. One of them was ill, and Robert Klingvall told me that his advice to the camp was not to have them at the camp at all. The camp has a good reputation, and this could be lost in a flash if there were a news story about animal neglect. No one at the camp knew anything about how to look after goats. They seemed happy enough last year to me, but what would I know?
And so the dry ice would be put to another use – blowing stuff up. Aaron told us that he did this at college, and that the bombs would detonate after five seconds to a minute, and would send up huge fountains of water. We went to the large space in front of the Folkets hus, and emptied a large wheelie bin of its rubbish, and used a fire hose to fill it most of the way up with water. I pointed out that this was most of a ton of load. We then prepared the first bomb: we tied a plastic fizzy drinks bottle to a large stone, then as quickly as possible, we put dry ice pellets in the bottle, added some water, screwed the cap on tight, and threw the bomb into the bin.
We then waited. We had time to get clear of the blast.
One minute came and went, then two minutes, then three. After four, it dawned on us that we had no plan for dealing with an unexploded CO2 bomb.
In theory, the water melts the ice, which then expands into gas, and blows up the bottle. We had time to speculate on what might have gone wrong. Some people, Aaron among them, tried to get a look into the water, to see how things were going. I was standing talking to Aaron, a few yards from the bin, when a young girl walked behind me to have a look in the bin. I saw her just as she was about to look in, and I grabbed her and pulled her away. One second later, the bomb went off. It was certainly pretty loud. My hearing was affected for a while. We didn't get a very high fountain. It was all on video. In the edit, Aaron used a lot of time lapse to show the passing minutes, as well as cut-aways to watching people.
We still had plenty of dry ice, and empty plastic bottles were easy to find. I suggested that we should experiment with different lengths of string. Too long a string, and there would not be much water above the bomb, and so not much to form a high fountain, but too short a string, and the bomb would be smothered by a great weight of water above it. Later bombs shifted about six inches of water each, but still we were not getting the great height of fountain promised. When I watch the video footage of the explosions (some appear near the start of this video - note that this is not the video made by Gunnar and Aaron's team, but a separate video made by Fish), I am amazed to see how high the bin leaps from the ground. Indeed, it is difficult to see why the bin leaps into the air at all, but it clears the ground by over a foot. I dare say that it was this leaping and falling that bent the metal axle of the bin to a degree that turned it from a wheelie bin into a bin. My best guess as to why the bins leapt upwards is that the force of the explosion forced water outwards in all directions, and the water got directed upwards while at the same time the bin was forced downwards, and this downwards force stored energy in the bin in the form of the springiness of the plastic, then the bin resumed its normal shape, springing upwards while at the same time the mass of the water was still accelerating upwards, which meant that the water effectively weighed next to nothing and so the springiness of the bin was able to lift the bin despite the tremendous mass of water in it.
A passing camp goer quoted a technical-sounding equation at us, saying that this determined the height of the water fountain that the bomb would create, and that what we therefore needed was a narrower bin. A glass-recycling bin was then emptied for this purpose. I cautioned against using this bin, pointing out that the water acted as a cushion that protected the bin, and that a narrower bin might rupture. Aaron, however, was intent on getting the high fountain he promised, and the narrower bin was filled. There was some satisfaction at being proven right, but the more immediate emotion was wow! when the bin was blown apart spectacularly, never again to function as a bin. This marked the end of our experiments. Very conscious of how expensive Sweden is for near enough everything, I did wonder how much wheelie bins cost there.
Possibly the most remarkable thing about this entire exercise was that no one, not even the camp organisers, seemed to care one jot about the destruction of property. Lennart came out to see what was happening, and shook my hand with a grin. He said that it was all part of entertaining people. When I mentioned this to someone, she said that when running the Prop Shop she had asked for new needles to be bought for the sewing machine, but had been refused on grounds of cost. She clearly had no grasp of the power of explosions to entertain.
Immediately after my pirate singing lesson, I was met to make a video about the history of the village. They had an old-fashioned bike for me, and a bowler hat. I wore my beige waistcoat. This video was beset with delays. Neither Gunnar nor I had our notes with us, and it rained. Gunnar had a number of photographs of buildings along the main road in yesteryear, collected from villagers. In the edit, Aaron was able to match the shots we took to the photographs, and even to add me in as sepia-tinted figure moving through the old images. Gunnar, our producer, allowed me great freedom to make the script up. As long as I mentioned a few true facts, he didn't mind my embellishing matters a lot.
Another video was about the 'Russian kitchen', which had gone through something of a revolution. A Swedish volunteer girl had reorganised it and introduced many new rules to keep things in order. One comical thing about this video, was that while making it we didn't get to interview any actual Russians. Everyone there was from somewhere else.
One welcome benefit of making these videos was that Gunnar put me on the guest list for the evening parties a few times as payment for my time and skills. I was short of money, and how long I stayed at the camp depended in part on how long I could make my money last. It was therefore a bit annoying when, sorting through my dirty clothes to wash after getting home, I found 250 SEK in the back pocket of a pair of trousers. That's a lot of ice cream.
I'm glad to see that the camp now has a YouTube channel (HerrangDanceCamp), and that at the time of writing, recaps of Weeks 1 and 2 have been uploaded. Presumably, others will follow.
I have done something for cabaret nights almost every year I've been at the camp. Getting things organised with others, however, can be a faff at Herräng. Finding people, time, and energy can require some forcing, and I was on holiday. On the first Thursday night I was there, I was recruited as a percussionist for a duelling harmonicas act. Sam from Blighty and his very tall opponent wanted me to keep the beat for them. I tried improvising a pair of brushes from a grass place mat, but this was not successful. In the end, we decided, that my slapping my thighs was the way to do it. Never once did we have a full rehearsal, and this was a shame because I'm sure that this would have improved the act. It was all a bit last-minute. The tech people would not give us a third microphone, so I wouldn't be heard by the audience.
Tara Ratnayake of Australia and the camp laundry service was the compère. This was possibly not the strongest of cabaret line-ups. I recall a song that some people had written, which they had hoped would be a successful sing-along. The chorus was "Herräng, Herräng, on-ly in Herräng, Herräng, Herräng, on-ly in Herräng" and the slow tune would have seemed puzzlingly simple to children in nurseries. Alas, my memory has failed me with regard to other acts that night. Perhaps someone can write in and remind me.
Our time came. On I walked, and in sombre manner inspected the contestants' harmonicas for any rule-infringing embellishments, and, when satisfied, I sat and started up the rhythm we had agreed on, at a very slow pace. The idea was that I would fairly quickly speed up to a moderate pace, and then slowly accelerate to a breakneck speed for the finish. I got as far as the moderate pace, but then I couldn't go any faster, because I wasn't amplified. The audience, inspired by the very good harmonica playing, clapped along, and unlike other audiences around the world, it kept the beat accurately, without speeding up. Every time I tried to speed up, I had to slow back down again, because breaking free from the speed of the audience proved impossible. When it seemed that there was no way we were ever going to speed up, I stomped my foot and we managed to bring everything to a coordinated finish. With a rehearsal, I could have got the gag of the pain in my thighs to work better. Still, we got a good cheer. The harmonica playing was good, even if it never quite got to the fevered state we had planned. The next morning in the shower, I saw that I had hand-sized black bruises on my thighs.
One act I do recall was the last one. Why this was picked as the closing number it is difficult to say. Indeed, if anyone can explain this act to me, I would be grateful. It was introduced as an improvised sketch. Four boys sat around a table and ate burgers. The minutes went by. There really wasn't more to it.
This year, they tried every week to recruit for the 'bad cabaret', but never with much success. The trouble was, as many people pointed out, it would be difficult to tell which cabaret was which. The initial plan was I think for the outdoor little stage to be used for a separate show, but in the end it became just one or two plucky unamplified souls standing on chairs and entertaining the people queuing for the main show.
Despite having run out of dance-related poems to perform, I thought I would do another poem at the next cabaret. Another act presented itself, however: Olov Vik pointed at me one day and said that we had to do an act. He and David Madison had found that they both do wookie voices. I was to be their narrator/translator. We worked out an act, and signed up, or rather I signed us up, and then later we worked out an act.
Since my poem was serious (and ended on a sad note), it was important that it be put in the running order before the wookie sketch. Unfortunately, the producers of the show put the sketch immediately after the poem, which wouldn't work either. Fortunately, I was able to get the compères, Michael Jagger and Evita Arce, to put a sketch they planned to do, in between my two acts, which wasn't ideal, but would have to do.
The show started with a sing-along piano act hammering out Elton John's Crocodile Rock. Other acts included Indian dance from Malou Meyenhofer, African dance by the Mozambique ambassador on the Frankie Manning programme, Hungarian dance mixed with Lindy, a fan dance done with electric fans, a clown act by Aaron Malkin who looked genuinely frightening with his face painted white (there was an awkward moment when he pretended to swat a fly with a croquet mallet, and its hard wooden head flew into the audience), and a series of quick change gags from the compères, the last of which revealed Mr Jagger naked.
I stepped out in front of the curtain. I composed myself in readiness for my serious poem. Some people laughed. I composed myself again. Someone called out "Hello Lloyd!" I acknowledged them and composed myself. "ARR!" shouted one of my pirate singing class pupils. "Arr," I replied in what I hope was a friendly manner, and I then composed myself. I then performed my poem (A New Stage Reached). I thought that people might like a change from all the usual comedy and jolly dancing, but I may have been wrong. The poem ends so sadly that it was perhaps not surprising that the applause was muted. People afterwards told me that they liked it, but those who didn't like it, who could have been in the majority, would have kept politely quiet.
I then stood in the wings while Michael, Evita, and a very camp teacher from New York performed the "Who's on first?" sketch. The camp chap had the Costello part and had a much less angry version of the delivery. Nervously waiting in the wings, ready to go on again, it seemed to me that the sketch was very long. I went out in front of the curtain again, and now the audience had no idea what to expect. I said "And now, the Vivian Stanshall Memorial Repertory Theatre Company is proud to present act three scene two of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream as interpreted... by wookies." On cue, the curtains parted to reveal Olov Vik as Titania, and then, wearing a child's glockenspiel as an ammunition bandolier, David entered as a fur-clad Puck. After a delicious silence, we got a good laugh when the wookies started saying "Rrrrrrrrrr!" and I started translating. Again, we had never had a complete run-through. We then came to a gag on which I and David had had strong and opposite opinions. Olov delivered a long and complicated-sounding speech in wookie, which I translated as "I love you". This got a big laugh. David wanted me to say "Wookies often have trouble expressing their emotions," but I thought that saying nothing was better. Not wanting to let him down, I ended up saying the line, but since he was unsure of whether I would or not, he went on to the next thing, and I then ended up delivering a hesitant and feeble version of the line. I was annoyed with myself for not trusting to my experience and comedy instinct. Anyway, the sketch carried on, when a third wookie stood up in the audience and started criticising the performance. An argument soon started, and then, upon hearing the insult that he couldn't even hold a crossbow the right way up, the audience critic stormed onto the stage and I continued translating as the three wookies fought each other in a big pile. The curtains closed and I rounded it off. It got a good laugh, but again I slipped up, when I smiled the smile of someone finding it funny, rather than staying in character and smiling the smile of someone trying to cover up an embarrassing failure of a serious piece of ground-breaking experimental theatre.
We were asked to get to the back for the shim sham at the show's ending, so that the Mozambicans could display their version of the dance.
I did no act in the week four cabaret, and instead watched on the screen in the dansbanan. For a while I was in the queue for the main ballroom, but it became clear that the line was too long, and I would not get a place, so instead I went with a small group of others who had come to the same conclusion: that it was better to move now to the dansbanan than to be turned away at the Folkets hus after all the good spots elsewhere had gone.
This third cabaret started with a very slow version of Blue Skies, then next a professional German piano-playing entertainer came on and, for the first half of his act, asked whoever stole his iPhone to return it. From Israel, we had the world's greatest magician with his two glamorous assistants. One man sang a karaoke version of Nessun Dorma, which was quite impressive, but he did look a bit silly in the camera's close up when the recorded women's chorus played near the end, and he had to just stand there waiting to come back in again. Three lads gave us a very nice jazz routine. A girl played the guitar, and was fine, but in the context of a cabaret night like this, a simple musical act has either to be spectacularly good, or have some gimmick to work well. There was a short sketch with three men singing in the shower, two of whom then embraced. There were also a couple of curiously narcissistic acts. In one, Bobby Bonsey turned camera lenses into phallic icons, and then proceeded to tear his clothes off and photograph himself. I do not know what reaction this was trying to provoke from me, if any. In another, performers wearing just black underpants (comically adorned with jewels) poured water over themselves, and then glitter. Perhaps I'm missing something.
Given that they have to produce an hour-long show every day, six days a week, these are quite impressive things. There are many performances, film clips, videos made at the camp, and almost every mundane (I just typed 'mundance') announcement is done with a flourish. For example, Hanna Lundmark came on every night for the first week I was there (week 2) as a different Swedish stereotype (folk-dancing yokel, amateur sailor, bimbo, sport fan etc.) to announce things like the evening classes.
This year was the 30th anniversary of the camp. It seems that every anniversary that divides by five will be considered special, which is somewhat decimalist of them. On each Thursday, the last meeting of the week, they handed everyone a glass with cheap fizzy cider in it to toast the anniversary. Remarkably, they used actual glass glasses made of glassy glass. These were tall thin champagne flutes, and not one of them did I see get broken. What wonderfully responsible people swing dancers are.
Every week they showed a video made of a ceremony to unveil Frankie Manning's tombstone in the USA. It was quite an arty video, the entire soundtrack to which was a jazz lament played on a trombone at the ceremony. I left the meeting when they played it for the third time when I was there.
One common theme in the meetings is the self-referential running gag. For this reason, it is a good idea to go to all the meetings, because if you went to one in isolation, you might not get what was going on. One such gag was that Mikey Pedroza and Kevin St Laurent had been declared equal winners in a Lindy competition, and so had to share everything. Once, a tie-breaking speed-eating contest was held, and was as messy as you would predict, but failed to break the tie. Videos were made about their co-lives (one gag I liked was that, as champions, they got their own loo, but the loo roll was divided lengthways – one half for each). They co-hosted the semi-finals and finals of the Lindy competitions: two-couple battles on stage.
Other running gags included a banana suit's being tried on by various people (Peter Strom was especially enthusiastic about this), and several attempts by Lennart to get Skye to do silly things on stage, each of which was frustrated by Skye's having drawn up a contract that made Robert Klingvall his representative in all things in the evening meetings.
I was three times recruited as a judge for the Lindy competitions. The opening rounds were held before the meetings in front of the Folkets hus or in the dansbanan. There were five judges, who were supposed to agree on whom to eliminate. While an honour, a pleasure judging isn't. The Lindy hop required for these competitions is very different from that used on the dance floors in the evenings. It is danced to breakneck speed music, and is about flashiness, and hang musicality. Usually one judge who was less inhibited by cruelty would be handed the task of doing the actual physical elimination, while the rest of us tried to hide behind each other. There was an alarming moment when David Madison went to eliminate one couple, cane in hand, and the result was a painful ankle-jarring crash by the lady of the pair. I declared an interest to the other judges when I saw Cat Foley (the Eurostar) competing, because I taught her and so could have been considered biased.
The evening meetings had a chorus line of glamorous girls who every week would do another routine in new matching outfits. I do not know how so many sets of matching outfits were found. In week three, the charismatic Kevin St Laurent danced with his cane in front of them.
Aaron Malkin did not just edit the video news reports, but he also would be wheeled on every night in week 3 on a mobile newsdesk, set the clock to the right time, read the news, and then end with a different sight gag every time (once the desk rotated to reveal a weather girl in a bikini hidden behind it; another time he walked off revealing that he had no trousers on; Gloria stood up, revealing that she had been kneeling under the desk the whole time).
As is now my habit, I told the organiser (Fiona, from Swing Patrol, London) of the evening classes that I was game for this. I suggested five classes: ska, five-beat swing, how to dance really well, when is it triple step and when is it walk-walk?, and a lesson that had occurred to me during the long hours of editing my steampunk comedy. For this production, I had commissioned and had recorded a jolly march, and it is in the nature of video editing, that one ends up hearing the music a great many times, and to keep myself sane, I imagined myself dancing to it, and was struck by how very danceable it is. This got announced as 'The March of Swing'.
Perhaps predictably, the first lesson I was asked to teach was ska. I had caught a cold, and this was at its peak when I had to teach this lesson. However, the pressure of the many eyes of the class on me, pride in my performance, and to some extent doubtless the impetus of the music fired me up with enough energy to carry the lesson through. I couldn't find a pair of cool shades to use as the award for the best dancer there, so used a plastic Viking helmet instead, and was amused and amazed by how delighted people were to win it, even if they knew that minutes later the crown might move to another.
My class in triple stepping and walking went very well, and was praised by a few people at the end for being very 'pedagological' or 'pedagogical', both of which were wrong, but I didn't know the right word either (actually, I'm not sure that there is one - pedagogical means to do with pedagogues (strict and pedantic teachers (the sort of people who would (apparently) tell you never to put brackets within brackets)), which, I'm fairly confident, was not what they meant (and now you know why they would say that)). I broke down the distinctions between leading and following walking steps and triple steps into tiny details.
And now, an anecdote which I should not tell, if I know what's good for me. Skip ahead if you want to retain a semblance of respect for me as a dance teacher.
One of my pupils from the triple-step/walking class, impressed by my detailed analysis of the issue, booked me for a private lesson. We arranged to meet the following day for the lesson. Later that night, I made the mistake of dancing with her. It seemed polite. The floor was very crowded, so I didn't have room to do much. She seemed to be rather good, though, which was a little daunting. The lesson required me presumably to find faults in her dancing. I doubt that a customer would feel that she got great value for money if I just said "Yes, you're pretty good – keep doing that." The next day, we met and of course the lesson went fine, in that I was able to find fault with her dancing, and suggest remedies, and she went away happy, and the next time we met she thanked me for the lesson. This does illustrate though some of the problems with private lessons: the teacher has a vested interest in finding fault in the pupil, even if the pupil is very skilled already. The teacher also has a vested interest in concealing any weakness in his own abilities, which might show when dancing with pupils. I'm sure that this is one major reason why so many teachers dance only with other teachers. At the borderline between these two concerns, there lies a realm of potential bullshit.
Anyway, you can probably understand how I might ruin my teacher mystique with an anecdote like that. The truth is, of course, that like all other Lindy teachers, I have no anxieties about my abilities, because I have completely perfected dance; and since I am in a higher realm than mere pupils, I never need to take a lesson, and will always be able to find fault in the ability of such amateurs.
The lesson entitled 'The March of Swing' was not attended by very many. I can understand this, since all the information in the evening meeting and on the newssheet was this opaque title. Those that came, though, seemed to have a fine enough time, as we circled the room with a pom-pom-pom! There was a bit of Peabody, a bit of cake walk, a bit of foxtrot, and a fair dollop of I-don't-know-I'm-just-making-this-up. Marches are predominantly very happy. Whereas we may think of The Funeral March or Imperial March and consider that these are not great danceable numbers, most marches were written to make the soldiers march along with heads up and a spring in their steps, and to make the crowds wave flags, smile, and say things like "hooray!" You've doubtless by now seen it already, but in case you haven't you could now watch a bit of my steampunk video, and imagine yourself bobbing along to the theme tune. If they ever play the Peter Skellern version of Puttin' on the Ritz where you are dancing, you'll know what to do if you've taken this lesson. As I was packing up, a pupil came over and said "Four words: you, make, people, happy" and high-fived me. There was a lot of high-fiving at the camp this year, and high-tenning. Even in the classes before every partner swap it was customary to exchange these.
The next class was How To Dance Really Well, and was packed. I didn't get through everything I was hoping to cover, but this was for a very good reason: everyone really got into the spirit of the lesson and wanted to try everything out. It seems that many of the people there were like me: they didn't pick Lindy because it is the world's most elegant, restrained, and sensible of dances. At the end of this and other lessons, I was asked a very pleasing question: was I going to be teaching any other classes? If you took one of my classes and liked it, please feel free to mention this to the camp's organisers in a feedback form, or to your local scene leaders.
I never did teach five-beat swing, to the disappointment of a few. Next year, perhaps, if I go again, which it's possible that I might. Instead, Fiona asked me to do ska again, since it seems to be consistently popular. I had a very full tent. This time the hotly-contended crown was an elasticated gold thing from the Prop Shop, and the lesson was pretty much the same as before. One observer said that it was a lot like a lesson in the basic principles of shag, which was not something I'd heard before, but I saw his point – there are indeed similarities. This lesson went very well, and I had the people in the tents of the other evening classes wondering what was going on, because there was so much laughing and clapping coming from the ska tent. That night, a band in the bar played some ska, but alas, there was no room to do anything more than jump and down on the spot, and get very sweaty in the tropical greenhouse atmosphere.
This year there was a fair range of dances taught in evening classes, including folk, African, and various Latin forms. There was also a lesson on how to tie a bow tie, and a performance of clowning and juggling from Pao and Sergio. When I first went to the camp, evening class on aerials were popular, but I saw none this year. In general, the subject matter has moved away from swing dancing. The biggest evening class of the lot, however, was not a class at all, but something using the slot of a class. It was a wedding.
I was disappointed, but not at all surprised, to learn that the couple in question was already married. In fact, they had been for six months. He was Australian, she an Argentinian. They had met at the camp, and what they didn't share in language or culture, they made up for with tattoos. It was a well-attended do. Tim Collins officiated (it was partly his idea to have the ceremony), and there were all the usual aspects of a wedding ceremony: the white dress, the bride walking up the aisle and being given away, vows, rings, cutting the cake, first dance, the thrown bouquet, and all that. In other ways it was more unusual. I don't think I'll again see the couple sung to by a pair of beautiful opera-trained sopranos in sombreros, accompanied by a man in a chicken suit playing the banjo, and another dressed as a banana playing the fiddle. Very soon after the formal parts were over, the partying started, and there was much jumping about to loud non-swing music, and the room filled with steam. For me, a welcome aspect of this part of proceedings was that the event was catered, and few others seemed interested in the food.
Most people referred to 'slow drag night' as 'blues night', and so I shall do so here. It's quicker to write, for one thing. I had three of these. There were also other blues dances elsewhere. Some of these happened in the basement (room for only a few couples, rather damp and smelly down there, and rubbish if you showed up without a partner), and some in 'Heaven's Kitchen' (the large restaurant up in the school area) which were widely publicised as the 'secret' blues nights. I went once to a kitchen dance, and found them to be playing the usual Herräng slow jazz music, very quietly, and one of the organisers was talking at normal volume in one corner of the room, which didn't do wonders for the atmosphere.
I think I missed the opening show of the first blues night, because of a mishap with my tent. Already leaving it a bit late, I needed to shower before getting changed. I backed out of my low back-packers' tent and stood up, wobbled a bit, but with a whirl of my arm, I found my balance. In my hand I held my towel, and during the whirling, I felt a slight tug at it. A few seconds later, I heard a soft clang in the middle distance. It was the noise of a tent peg's landing in the darkness. The front of my tent sagged. I couldn't leave it that way, because it had been raining so much, and doubtless would again. It took some while to remedy the situation. I showered, and then had to get into my blues clothes in the dark, while lying on my back in my tent. This I managed, but not with speed or elegance.
The first blues night was, for me, pretty awful. They played the same old music for the first four hours or so. I was not in the mood, and not much was putting me in the mood. One problem with blues night is that people for some reason will not shut up during it, and the volume of speech in the room at times was so loud that it was difficult to hear the music. Rather than adopt the proper hushed tones, most people spoke at full volume. My dancing seemed utterly mundane to me. I did the same few moves with every partner for a while, then gave up, left, ate brownies, played table football, had conversations with people, and the like. Much later in the morning, they started playing much better music. It was still old sleepy jazz, but at least now it had some story to it, some highs and lows, something to interpret. I had a few half-decent dances, but this night had left me quite cold.
An innovation for the next blues night was devised by the people who ran the limousine service, which, I'm guessing, had few normal bookings on Tuesday nights. They took an estate car, and put in a cardboard partition so that the driver could not see into the rear compartment, which they then decked out in red velvet, with mattress and cushions. For a fee, you could book the car, which would be driven around the local area while you did whatever you did in the back with your companion. Breath mints, flannels, condoms, and the like were provided as part of the service. When this was announced in an evening meeting, Lennart, looking slightly alarmed, asked to have a word afterwards with the organisers. I wondered if there was a Swedish law against running a brothel in this manner. There was also great hilarity when the Swedish lady describing the booking process said that customers could specify the length they preferred. She meant the duration. They made a video advertising the service, in which people tried to find somewhere to snog, but each time were moved on. I don't know how well patronised the service was, but did hear a report of motion sickness.
In one evening meeting, Dawn Hampton was quoted as saying of the blues night she witnessed at the camp: "There's a lot of rubbing going on, but no hard-ons. I'm wasting my time."
The second blues night went a great deal better. I got a good spot for the opening show. Michael Jagger and Mikey Pedroza waited, looking suitably bluesy, on chairs in the middle of the Folkets hus floor, each with a framed portrait of Evita Arce. The band played on stage, Maria Bah Schilling sang, and they danced the story of a woman who toyed with the affections of two men and lost both of them. After this, the usual snowball started. Being near the front, and wearing the right clobber helped me to get picked out early on, and I danced with Evita Arce. This was to be the start of a much better night of blues dancing for me. I left Evita completely uninjured, and she thanked me.
The first DJ that night was Fatima Teffahi. I later thanked her for playing the music she did. It was the sort of stuff I'd had to wait four hours for in week 2. This night, I danced well. How much of this was in my head, I do not know. Perhaps my dance ability is fairly consistent, and what actually varies is my perception of my dancing, influenced by how much fun I'm having. This night, though, I felt so much more interpretive, expressive, explorative, and connected. My partners gasped with pleasure. I swept around the floor with gusto, and came to dramatic close-held halts. I was Lord of the Blues Floor.
Before going much further, perhaps I should tell you something about my trousers. They were tailor-made for me as the lower half of my zoot suit. The material is light and breathable, which is good for dancing, but it has no stretch in it at all. The tailor, I suspect, did not believe the measurements he had taken from me, being unused to gentleman customers with such uncommonly muscular backsides, and so he moderated them towards the mean. The trousers are quite tight on me at the top end. The legs are roomy and comfortable, but I have very little margin of error from the crotch upwards to the high waist. No belt or braces are needed to hold them up. By trying them on, I know quite accurately whether I have been gaining or losing weight lately (despite the ice creams, I lost weight at the camp).
Ladies may be unaware that it is possible for a chap to fall out of his underpants, especially when doing something like dancing. The two most popular directions are to the left and to the right. When one is wearing tight-topped trousers with baggy legs, the freed anatomy will generally gravitate down the trouser leg, and it may under certain circumstances take advantage of this freedom to expand and explore the unfamiliar territory. I was unfortunate, in that in my case the anatomy was exploring to the right, which is not an expedition of which it is easy to keep one's blues partner ignorant. I found it necessary to realign. However, this was not as easy as you might expect. No quick surreptitious flick or prod would produce the required result. I would have to find somewhere to perform the operation unobserved. This is not easy in the Folkets hus. Despairing of finding anywhere indoors where I would not be interrupted or have to queue for ages, I ended up walking outside to behind the trailers that supplied the Bar Bedlam. Had someone seen me go there, and followed out of curiosity or malign spirit, they may have been confused about what they saw me doing. I undid the various hooks and buttons, rearranged matters such as to confine them to what I hoped was a fairly effective and central prison, and then re-emerged a man with the greater dignity of his new sartorial state, but with the lesser dignity of a man who had the recent memory of what was necessary to achieve this.
Some measure of my success at this operation might be taken from something that happened on my third blues night. The night had been mediocre, but then I paired up with a partner with whom I tessellated rather well. She was tall and thin. While a short partner can be excellent for a Lindy hop dance, I have found that blues connection with very short ladies is difficult for me. With this lady I could hold her close, and connect continuously from my right nipple to right knee, and I could send a wave of movement from one down to the other. We both seemed to quite like this, so we did it a lot. At one point, she backed off from me, tilted her head and looked down and smiled. It was an act of rare flagrancy.
Another partner asked me for a dance but then before we had connected hastily added "But no sexy – seriously if you get sexy, I'm out of that door like an arrow." She lasted the dance, and the next one.
On the run-up to the third blues night, Malou Mayenhofer asked me to taxi dance for the teachers on blues night after the opening show. She was worried that the lady teachers would be left without anyone to dance with, while the male teachers got mobbed. This may have been a factor for my staying on at the camp a bit longer. I had misunderstood the brief, however. It turned out that the job was down on the dansbanan floor and that it was a charity event to raise money for wells in India. I helped for a brief while in crowd control, and did dance one taxi dance, but soon felt that I was just in the way, and so kept away most of the time. They had cordoned off an area with rope in which the teachers were to dance their charity dances. One unwelcome effect of this was that many of the dancers on the main social floor stopped to gawp, perhaps thinking that a show was in progress. They had to be persuaded to go back to dancing. Perhaps the cordon was a bad idea.
New Stuff at the Camp
I soon saw that a swathe of forest beside the Folkets hus had been cut down, and hard chippings put down for a road. Round the back, they built a new permanent floor at the camp. This had no roof, and people were asked not to dance on it until the wood had been treated. Its function was not clear. It was immediately outside two new buildings: two red prefabs adorned with custom-made window boxes, one to serve as a home for the techies, and the other a new teachers' lounge, even more set apart from the camp than before. The floor might be for teachers to rehearse upon. It was linked to the dansbanan by a perilous walkway and steps, upon which I predict someone will have a nasty ankle-jarring accident in the near future. I nearly did. Near this was the new baggage storage area, which people needed to be asked over and over again to use.
Should there be a teachers' lounge at all? Some bolt-hole, to which teachers can escape the gaze and queries of the throng may be a good thing, but on the other hand, this building does much to set the teachers apart and aloof. Is not swing dancing all about sharing the fun? I think that some compromise might be possible. Giving them their own building, complete with sofas, internet, tables and chairs, and even bowls of fruit gives them an excuse and reason to spend a lot of not-necessarily productive time away from the people they are there to inspire. A small very functional area might be better – an office rather than a lounge.
The space where the teachers' lounge has been in recent years became a cafe-like sitting area where 'Frankie floats' (ice cream floating in root beer) were served late at night.
In conversation with Daniel Heedman, I learned that they do have plans for building a big ballroom near the Folket hus, but on land that does not belong to the municipality. One problem with building things like the improved dansbanan is that they are spending money to build things which they then do not own. In the tick and mosquito-infested woods of a largely-abandoned ex iron-ore mining village is not an obvious place to invest in a massive ballroom.
The Lindy Hop Shop continues to become more substantial and shop-like every year. This time it was all built from solid containers, and included a small kitchen and gentile seating area. It must say something of the type of people that go there that one product this year was the official Herräng plastic cover for a particular model of mobile telephone (iPhone of some sort, I think).
On the first night I was there, I ran into Diane van Haaren in the library downstairs, and I was able to show her that pinned to the front of my beige adventurers' multi-pocketed all-action waistcoat was this badge:
She indicated that she would be dancing upstairs in the near future, and so in that future I danced up there too. I saw her in the corner where the teachers dance – close to the escape hatch that is the door next to the stage, leading down to the bar kitchen and outside. I danced a few dances near her, but never got asked. Perhaps I should make another badge, saying "Apparently, I have to ask Diane van Haaren to dance these days."
Getting a dance with someone who was only going to be there for one night was tricky. The floors are just so full. I similarly missed dances with Mette Herlitz, Elin Boqvist and others.
A typical day consisted of getting up between about 2 and 5 p.m., fuelling up on food from my tent or the Kuggen, bimbling around talking to friends, possibly using the internet 'igloo' if that seemed completely necessary, and helping out with whatever was happening (videos, making things for parties, organising things for the evenings). Significantly before the 9 p.m. evening meeting I'd buy my evening ticket and go to the Folkets hus, see the meeting, possibly do an evening class but this year more often I'd take up some other activity on offer, do a bit of dancing, more talking to friends, then supper in the bar, and then dancing on and off until it ended. For the first week I was there it usually ended disappointingly early, at about 4 or 5 a.m. but later things would continue until at least 8 a.m. and sometimes past 9. I'd then go back to my tent, get my towel and toothbrush, go to the sauna house, shower, brush teeth, sauna, shower, sauna, shower (showers in week one were lovely and hot, and by the more crowded week four they were stone cold), get dressed again, back to my tent in broad daylight, and then sleep.
Dance Etiquette Rant Number One
My dancing gave me little pleasure for the first week. It isn't possible to say exactly why. I think the main reason was simply that I was not in a great mood at the time. The first night on which I got definite pleasure from the dancing was the Wednesday of week 2. Sick of the pernicious two-dance convention, I went to the Prop Shop and made myself this badge:
I pinned it to the front of my shirt, and went to the dansbanan. The night before, Gleb, the caped straight-faced master of the volunteers of the Folkets hus forecourt, had asked a number of the teachers at the camp to meet and as one body go to the dansbanan and dance with wallflowers. I was the only one who turned up, and the idea was abandoned. This night I was doing it alone.
I went along the sides of the dansbanan and asked the nearest lady to dance, and then drew her attention to my badge. I danced one dance, putting effort in to make it unique, and make it clear that I was tailoring it to my partner and the music, pushing my partners if I could into dancing a bit better than they normally danced, and then I said thank you and asked the next nearest. Every one of my partners took my one-dance deal with good grace. They understood that this deal meant that it was possible for me to dance with at least twice as many partners, and that the most likely alternative to one dance with me was no dance with me. I like to think that they preferred one to none.
At first, the badge idea was just the project in itself – to test the theory. After a while, however, a second project started to take over: I would dance with every woman in the dansbaban. I rested very little, sweated quite a lot, and got a great many dances. At least two of the dances I got were with women who had come into the dansbanan because they had been elsewhere and had heard that there was a guy there dancing with everyone. I danced until all the women left there were ones I had danced with. I'm sure that I missed plenty of others before this, but I couldn't do any more.
I am now quite convinced that the two-dance convention at Herräng is harmful. At a small local dance, where most people know each other and there are so few people that it is quite easy to dance once with everyone, then it might be a polite thing to have a two-dance convention. An unpopular dancer might notice that he or she was getting single dances while others were getting two or more, and end up doing far less dancing as a result. In Herräng, however, there are so many people, and so many of them are strangers to each other, that the rule makes no sense. I cannot see how it helps anyone in the slightest. Do not forget that the absence of this convention does not imply that it becomes rude to dance a second dance. If you want a second dance, or a third or fourth, you may have one.
In one of the evening meetings, Lennart asked people to show hands if they were offended if they got only one dance. Quite a few hands went up. These people were almost all from countries like Sweden and Germany where the convention is common. I put it to you, Dear Reader, that these people only find it offensive because the convention exists. The offence is caused by the convention. Knowing that there is a convention, you have to break it to give someone only one dance, and to break a convention knowingly may cause you guilt and your partner offence.
Herräng dance nights are densely populated by potential partners. We should seek to explore that potential to the maximum. Beginners are often reluctant to ask someone to dance, because they don't know how good that stranger is, and may lack the confidence to demand two dances of him/her. Similarly, the dancers who view themselves as above the flock may be reluctant to make themselves easy to ask to dance, and reluctant to accept if asked, because they fear being stuck for two dances with someone who is rubbish. One dance, though, is not asking much. There needn't be that awkward will-I-get/must-I-grant-a-second moment at the end of it if the convention is removed. Good dancers will be considerably less than half as reluctant to accept and novice dancers will be less than half as shy about asking.
My advice to novice dancers at Herräng is this: ask for single dances from as many people as you can. If you get a refusal, accept it and move on. The simple fact is that there are so many people there that you cannot hope to dance with all of them. You could dance one dance with different partners all night every night for your entire stay and never have to repeat a partner. No one should begrudge a single dance with you. If they do, then they would probably not have been much fun to dance with anyway, and you will have lost nothing. The benefit you will gain from dancing with so many people will vastly outweigh the tiny individual cost to a good dancer's having to dance with someone inexpert. By the end of your stay, you should be a decent dancer from the sheer amount of varied practice you got. There is a second part to this advice, however, and this may form part of my Lloydian alternative convention for use at large dance events.
While it is true that I will dance with anyone once without hesitation, complaint, or, I hope, even a hint of unpleasantness (I can honestly say that this year I never once refused a dance), I will say that there is something that does make me less happy at large dance events. Someone who is perhaps a little shy and not the greatest of dancers might ask me to dance, get a dance or two with me, and then put me in her mental 'nice men who will dance with me' folder. She will then ask me twice a night for the rest of the camp. If I notice her as I'm leaving the floor, I will see her trying to catch my eye yet again, and I will have to be a bit nasty to avoid her eye. The two-dance rule means already that I cannot dance with half as many partners as I would like, and sometimes my willingness to dance with people can lead to this situation, which feels like a punishment for being nice.
So, along with my suggestion for getting rid of the two-dance convention, I have a suggestion for another convention. If you are at a large dance event, and you ask someone to dance, and he/she turns out to be nice and gives you a dance, and is perhaps a significantly better dancer than you, do not then rely on them for many dances in the future. Ask other people. There are plenty of them. Don't ever make anyone regret saying yes to you.
I talked to Daniel Heedman about possibly starting a tradition at the camp, perhaps just one floor for one night a week. Wednesday in the dansbanan, for example, could be one-dance-only night. If it is a success, the convention could spread to other nights and floors. He seemed receptive to the idea. In the same conversation I said that people who teach evening classes should get into the evening parties for free, and again he seemed to agree.
As for teachers dancing with the students, well, it really would be nice to see more of it, but unless it is written into their contracts, or there is some major change in attitudes, this isn't going to happen soon. Some teachers do dance with people, while others don't. Hats off to Ruth Jeffery of Perth, whom I saw on the social floor several times. If you book me for your (moderate-sized) camp, I am happy for you to write it into my contract that I dance once with every woman there.
I haven't shown you a picture for a while, so here are some drummers drumming noisily, and the African dance class for whom they were drumming (below). That's Annika Herlitz at the front on the right.
Dance Etiquette Rant Number Two
One night, something happened that put me in a bad mood for ages. I had got to a good spot right in front of the Carling Family Band in the dansbanan. For some reason, the floor wasn't as packed as it usually gets when they have a live band. The Carling Family is now a fairly regular feature of the camp, and it was there for three days in a row. Many of the circus antics and clowning were now familiar to me, but still good, and it is noticeable that they are including far more dancing than they used to, and it is good stuff – wild, fast, and with a slightly different style from the dance-schooled one we are more used to. For some reason, the band had been placed at one end of the dansbanan, instead of the middle of one long edge, which meant that far fewer people could see or be near it.
I had had a couple of decent dances, and looked around for a new partner. I saw a stranger and asked her. She joined me on the floor and the next tune started. This turned out to be an excellent number. It was fast and seriously hard-swinging. It is very rare that I am so inspired by a piece of music. The music yelled 'SWING OUT', and out I swung. It turned out that by great good fortune I had picked a really good partner. She could really swing! It is always a pleasant surprise to discover that a stranger is a great partner. At that moment, I didn't feel any of the many physical niggles that can spoil a dance. My feet didn't hurt. I didn't need the loo. I wasn't thirsty. I wasn't too hot. I wasn't sleepy. My knees were working. The combination of body, music, and partner all together was a triptych of rarities, and this was live music, close by, and then there was another rarity added: I even had room on the floor to swing out properly. This was a sublime Lindy moment, of a kind that only comes along once every few years. I swung out again, getting lower, getting stronger. My veins were flooding with all the chemicals needed for a seriously good dance. My muscles were getting primed for hard work. My partner followed suit. I swung her out hard and she swung out hard. This was going to be one of those dances you don't forget. The floor opened up around me. I was being given room. I swung out hard again and again. The floor opened up around me even more. She trusted me with her weight, leaning right back off me. The floor opened up even more.
I looked around me. Something seemed wrong. A jam circle had opened and I was in it.
That was the end of my sublime Lindy moment. It had lasted about twenty seconds at most. My options were now very severely limited. I could have said a big 'stuff you' to everyone and just carried on regardless of them, but that would have been a big 'stuff you', and it might have embarrassed my partner a lot, and she would probably have abandoned me. Had I been equipped with a pair of machetes, I might have been able to hack a path through the press to some more open corner of the floor, and taken my partner with me there. If she had followed me, which she probably wouldn't have, we could then have had a lesser dance far from the band, both of us trying to dance despite our veins' being filled with the hormones of anticlimax. I was not so equipped, however, and so all I could do was step aside and stand around in a circle and watch other people have fun instead. The usual thing happened: a circle of sheep formed, all clapping inanely in the hope that some American instructors would jump in and do their usual moves. After a short wait, a pair of American instructors jumped in and did a load of the usual moves that we have all seen done a thousand times in jam circles. Some people read the script and said "woo". The instructors continued their self-serving advert for a bit, and then got out. There was then a pause while people looked around for more American instructors. Instead, after an awkward gap of people just standing and clapping, while this wonderful music was being wasted, a plucky pair of amateurs went in. When seeing this, the convention is to whoop and cheer in a patronising manner, and the convention was followed. No one else replaced them, so they kept going, and going, with big embarrassed smiles on their faces. They stayed in far too long, and people anxiously sought American instructors to rescue the situation. After a while, the American instructors went in again and danced another advert for themselves. I was fuming. A short while later, I was behind them and complained to my partner next to me about how I hated these compulsory jam circles which stop people dancing to the swingingest numbers, and just relegate them to the role of spectators watching other people showing off. The instructors heard me and responded. She said that the really clever people (implication: I was stupid) use the jam to sneak away and have a great dance somewhere else. He then added that this was democracy in action. Democracy? This kind of democracy is five wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch. The last half minute of the jam was empty. We had run out of American instructors.
My partner walked away. I never saw her again. The next number was slow.
The number of people who could see the dancing in that circle was small – just the first couple of rows and a few very tall people. None of the dancing was anything worth seeing. The total amount of fun in the room was a tiny fraction of what it could have been. If you really must form a jam circle, do it on a small scale, not taking up the prime spot on the floor or most of the floor. Do not oblige anyone to join in. Four or five couples could form a circle, while one of these danced in the middle. There wouldn't be the intimidating pressure of a big audience. You could just form a circle with a few of your friends. You would all get a go, and all be able to see, and you wouldn't be stopping everyone else from having fun. You don't have to jam to a fast number, and a fast number should not prompt a jam. Do not clap. It doesn't help the dancing, and it is used as a sort of jungle drum signal for others to come over and gawp. By clapping, you are sending the message "something special is happening over here – quick, crowd around, everyone!" If I am dancing with someone, and she hears your clapping and feels compelled to go and see what the fuss is about, but I want to carry on regardless, then you have caused conflict in what was a beautiful partnership. You will have caused a Lindy divorce. Summoning people to a jam by clapping is like shagging a happily married stranger. If you see some people dancing really well to a great number, let them enjoy the moment. These moments are rare. Don't start clapping, turn them for a brief period into a freak show, and then cut their dancing short.
I suppose that I should follow the above with a more uplifting tale. One night, the dancing had not been great, and the atmosphere of the Folkets hus floor was flagging, but it picked up, largely I think because of a simple change of DJ. Tim Collins played lots of numbers I didn't know, and they were almost all great swinging numbers that kept up the energy on the floor. Not every one was perfectly to my taste, but perhaps that is a good thing, because if they were then that would suggest a DJ who was taking no risks. I don't know how often the DJ is a major influence on how well a floor is going. It is impossible to say how things would be had the DJ been different. However, I did notice that there were times that people fled from bad DJ on one floor, which could explain times when the dancers on a more minor floor out-numbered those on a more major floor.
I would like to hear the following lyrics considerably less often:
"Won't you come home Bill Bailey?"
"Who threw the whiskey in the well?"
"Has anyone here seen Shorty?"
"All I want is a lavender coffin."
"Cement mixer, putti putti."
Twice at the camp this year I did something that I have never done before: I danced while drunk. The first occasion was after Fergal and I polished off a bottle of vodka almost unaided, and the second time was after demonstrating to many people the potability of the rum at the pirate party. Whether exactly the word 'drunk' is appropriate is difficult to say. I was still responsible for and cognisant of my actions. I could tell, though, that I was under the influence. On both occasions I can report that the dancing seemed fine. I was able to lead and be followed, and I didn't injure anyone. Perhaps this is a sign of how familiar my body is with the tasks of Lindy hop – that so much of the action is now in my 'muscle memory'. While I would not recommend alcohol for someone wishing to improve or impress with their dance, I can say that the experience was not the terpsichorean disaster that some might have predicted. It was actually rather pleasant. I have a very efficient metabolism where booze is concerned, and with each dance I could feel myself sobering up rapidly, so both experiments were short-lived.
Considering how long I was there for: three weeks – longer than ever before – and what I was there for, it is remarkable how little dancing I seem to have got done. As with all other years, I danced with very few of the teachers (only one, I think). There were women there whom I normally dance with every time we are at the same event, but they were now teachers there and I didn't dance with them. Also, there were women who are teachers at other camps with whom I danced often. The correlation between being a teacher at the camp and not dancing with me is very strong. I had a dance with Mimi Terris, and predictably perhaps she turned out to be very good (she is Skye Humphries' other half), and this was a dance I'll remember.
The stand-out dance, or series of dances, was with Annika Herlitz. She is a professional showgirl, currently appearing in Joseph Christ and his Remarkably Colourful Megastar Jacket and we found ourselves in the library in which there were just two other couples, and The Gontran who was DJing. The music was unfamiliar (which is good), light, and of moderate speed. Our first dance went well, and so we had another, and then some more. Jealous of what he saw, The Gontran loomed up (I do occasionally loom - I try not to but I am a bit of a natural loomer, but where looming is concerned, The Gontran leaves me quite literally in the shade) and stole my partner a couple of times, but each time I stole her back. Dances can be good for a host of reasons. These were good because I had such an able partner, who could follow so well and so easily, that my creativity was freed up, and I could change rhythm and tempo as I wished, turn one move into another, put a tiny emphasis on one note that she would pick up and further emphasise, and I found myself leading new moves that normally I would not get away with. Thank you, Annika. You deserve to be able to do that for a living.
I missed the first speed dating session which happened while I was there, but participated in the second. This year, it was done very differently, and though it was entertaining as an exercise in itself, it may have been less effective at pairing people up. It was for me.
The session was run by Aaron, bewigged as his old man character, and by Gloria. Gloria was the camp's official relationships advisor and expert on romance. She would come on stage in the evening meetings, tumbler of scotch in hand, and introduce herself, and she had sessions on the outdoor stage in the evenings, which were perhaps a bit public for some people. I didn't see her consulted very often, but here (below) we see a ninja getting the benefit of her wisdom. I recognised that she had been reading Jimmy Carr's book The Naked Jape, because a lot of her comedy material came from it.
Rather than the familiar three-minutes of freestyle chatter per 'date', we had one or two-minute dates, in which we were instructed to do very specific things. These were often fun, but seldom made it possible to gain much of an insight into the personality of anyone. On the up-side, it did mean that we got far more dates. This was less of a spectator sport than last year. It took place in the new tent, 'Connie's Inn', beside the road. Tasks given us included: ask questions for one minute while the other sits silently, then swap roles; maintain constant eye contact for one minute; massage the other's hand for one minute, then swap roles; explain why your last relationship ended.
They had recruited a geek to write a computer program that would help them sort out the results. I was not filled with confidence in this, though, when one of the organisers issued a plea for the services of a computer programmer for one hour, to those departing the evening meeting. The results were processed, but the new system you can see here had a set menu of rendezvous [that was a plural noun], and many found, as I did, that by the time they knew that they had a match, the automatically-arranged rendezvous [singular] had already been missed.
Consequences of the size of the camp
The camp has changed nature since I first went there. There are so many people now, that the social situation is quite distinct. In 1999, if I sat at a table, I would introduce myself to everyone on it, confident that this was a worthwhile exercise, since I would doubtless be encountering them all again. Today, I see a mass of people passing me at the camp, and I will not know if I have ever seen any of them before, and have no reason to think that I will meet any of them again. There are so many people there, that one meets far fewer people.
Years ago, everyone could fit into the Folkets hus for the evening meetings. If one wanted to say anything, one simply said it. There were many interjections, and many things happened that were not planned by the organisers. If anything happened, everyone was there to see it, and felt part of it. Now, the meetings are watched on televisions by masses of passive audience members in the library, the dansbanan, and the bar. Even so, many people don't see the meetings. There is quite a distance between most of the camp goers and the action. The meetings have to be planned out, and microphones are needed for anyone to be heard. If anything unplanned happens and the cameraman does not react quickly, then most people don't see or hear it.
Being a passive audience member can become habitual. After the blues opening shows, people stay sitting around waiting for the next thing to witness, not wanting to miss any of the show, not realising that they are now the show, and are slow to partake in the snowball.
Finding someone during the day used to be a bit tricky, because they could so quickly and easily go to one of several places where things were happening. Today, finding them even when both of you are in the Folkets hus for the evening is a challenge. The crowds are so dense, and there are three dance floors going at once, so that certain someone you were hoping for a dance with can be hard to spot. Because the crowds are so thick, that certain someone might also have gone home to wait for the crowds to thin.
A common feature of Friday night theme parties was the midnight show in the Folkets hus. These have now been banned by the camp overlords, because they cause people to jam into the main ballroom some while before the show, choking the dancing there, and then people take a while to disperse afterwards, further choking the floor, and even then, only a fraction of the camp goers get to see the show. This year, they were trying throughout the camp to organise unannounced 'flash' events on the dance floors – performances of routines etc. for which you just had to be there.
So, the increased size of the camp seems to mean that there is less shared experience, less social interaction, and less participation, at least per capita. There's still a fair amount of all three, however.
Items too trivial to demand their own sections
One DJ played Sixteen Tons one night, and I had to inform him of how brave he was being. This is a banned track, of which Mark Kihara once said that it made him want to shoot himself in the face. I shall not name the DJ lest he should later be found in a ditch with broken legs.
One of the Harlem Hotshots told me that they made next to no money from performances, and that their performing was mainly to promote their teaching, which is where their living came from.
I was asked to record the voice-over for a cute animation by an Israeli girl, Gal Einhorn, about the invention of the 'Fist of Fire' move by Prometheus. This we did while sitting on a wall outside in a reasonably quiet spot, using a mobile telephone. I look forward to the completed video and shall post a link to it here if ever it gets uploaded to the web.
In the gents' loos in the Folkets hus, they put up laminated photographs of glamorous ladies taken for the Bike Shop calendar. Possibly the ladies' loo had equivalent pictures of gentlemen. Almost all the ladies were young, but one exception was a close-up shot of Dawn Hampton looking at the camera with one of her show-biz surprise-and-delight expressions. This was placed at eye-height to a seated man on the wall opposite the throne. A day or two later, I noticed that Dawn's picture was missing and had been replaced by one of an Israeli girl in shorts climbing a ladder. I think the chaps found Dawn's image a bit off-putting.
While I was in conversation after dark one night outside the Ice Cream Parlour, a hand reached from behind me and deposited a one hundred krona note on the table. I turned to see a lady, and told her that she now had my attention. She wanted a peanut butter sandwich. She had seen half a loaf of bread and my large jar of Asda peanut butter and was overcome by temptation. Sold. It was a good job that she didn't have change on her. I'd have settled for seventy-five.
I made it my habit to ask the passport control not to stamp my wrist as I went in after paying. Two of my white shirts now have nasty dark stains on their cuffs. Perhaps these will fade after several washes.
The Brits at Herräng organised a photo' session of 'Brits at Herräng'. Here is one of the shots taken. More accurate than 'Brits' might be people currently residing in Britain. It is difficult to describe how cheesed off I was feeling at this point, but I think I managed to remain polite enough with my fellow campers. It was no fault of theirs.
This year, there were far more large moustaches being sported, and some of these were waxed into great works of facial topiary.
One Wednesday afternoon, about a hundred volunteers gathered and went to the barren area of dunes to film a nightmare sequence for a feature film "about love and forgiveness". The scene involved a man's being pursued by Lindy hoppers, and then thrown into a lake. Apparently, in the plot of the film, the main character's wife had an affair with a Lindy hopper.
One day I got up at 7.30 p.m. (19.30), which I think may be a new record, although I dimly recall once getting up and then going to the evening meeting, but I think that might have been when I was ill.
The silhouette you see here is mine. I created it from a photograph of me dancing with Nicky Rose, erstwhile president of the Newcastle Swing Dance Society. I used it for the logo for that society. It has since been stolen and used by several other swing dance organisations. One such was Lindy Hop Greece, and I found out recently that I have been the icon for LHG for about five years. They claim that they thought that it was a picture of Al Minns. Anyway, when I encountered one of their top people at the camp, he bought me off with these three shoe bags.
Here is another logo based on my stolen image, but the designers gave me a new partner.
People talked of how the mosquitoes were particularly bad, but they weren't really. They were more numerous than they have been for the past few years, but they were nothing like the savage death-or-glory swarms that I recall from ten years ago. Back then I would get a solid inch-wide band of bite swelling all round my legs at just above sock height. This year the mossies were sluggish and easy to kill. In the third week, my face cleared up. I had stopped using repellent. Many people insist that the repellent only encourages them. Perhaps I was still being bitten, but my immune system had learned that these bites were just false alarms, or perhaps my body had just run out of histamine.
I arrived on the Friday of week one. I did my first poo at 3.30 p.m. (15.30) on Tuesday of week two. I don't know why my body does this to me, but I know that it happens to others as well. It's as though my inner carer decides that we should not trust foreign toilets and save things up for when we get home to good reliable British loos. After a while, though, priorities have to be reassessed.
In the exhibition area, they had hung several sheets of text from the walls. These had been very expensively printed onto thick transparent plastic. They told the visitor about Frankie Manning, the camp, and the revival of Lindy hop. They were clearly intended to be used many times. I wish they had sent me the text before committing it to print. Whereas the 'Swinglish' used in the camp's welcome pack is charming, I think it would have been appropriate to get a native English speaker to check this text for errors. Much of the text needed radical rewriting to make it resemble anything a native speaker would ever say.
The volunteers every year are issued standard T-shirts. This year, they were sky-blue. Such has been the enthusiasm for customising these garments, that this year they held a competition. The winner used a cheap tactic to win: he made his T-shirt into a pair of skimpy underpants, and won by amount of exposed flesh.
Do you want to know where Herräng is? Try this: go to Google and type "maps" into the search field. The first hit you get will be Google's own mapping service. Next, type "Sweden" into the search field. You will then see a map of Sweden in the square window on the right. Touch no control other than to zoom in (the little "+" symbol at the top of the slider, or use the slider itself). Keep zooming in, and eventually you will see Herräng. That's how geeky Lindy hoppers are. The only street that is named is Frankie Mannings Väg.
I did something that I have not done before, and never thought that I would. I screamed upon recognising someone who appeared next to me. It was a short and tremendously masculine scream, but nonetheless could be reasonably described by the word 'scream'. It wasn't that the person appeared unnaturally suddenly, nor was of terrifying appearance. It seems that I can be more pleased to see someone than I knew.
Right next to where I later pitched my tent, is this car shelter. The chief of security at the camp was a serving US army major, and he told me about an incident he had to deal with a few days before, which came to a head in this shelter. Some locals had had a dispute, and to cut a long story short, someone described as a 'gypsy' ended up stabbing one of the locals in the leg. Our major stopped one witness leaving the area, got the knife, and kept order until the police arrived.
For the first time, the massive amounts of labour that go into writing these accounts (it can take a week) yielded some tangible, and more to the point edible, results. A chap said that he had been reading my accounts and that he felt that he owed me an ice-cream. Some while later, just before he left the camp, I took advantage of his offer, but then learned that he had meant an ice cream every day. I missed out, there.
You may wonder, as I did, why they might be afraid that people might set up unofficial bins and lure camp-goers into using them, in order to steal their rubbish. Here, a sign urges people to use only official bins. To people steeped in Swedish culture, the meaning was a lot clearer. Perhaps the sign should have read "Please do not put your rubbish in the bins of the local residents – use the camp's bins instead." In Sweden, they charge for rubbish collection by the weight of the rubbish in bins, so it is an expense for you if someone uses your bin.
One day I saw Sharon Davis talking outside the Folkets hus. I walked over and extended my hand for a hand shake. "May I take this opportunity to say," I said, and as I shook her hand I looked her in the eye and continued "I taught Cat Foley." Sharon then spent some minutes singing Cat's praises for her work and dancing at the European Swing Dance Championships, saying that the decision to give Cat and her partner Alex Parker the Euro Star award was unanimous.
Amazingly, people had to be asked a few times not to climb out onto the private jetties at the bottom of people's back gardens around the lake, while naked.
The first three years I went to the camp, I stayed in rented houses, took lessons, and ate at the main restaurant. Admittedly, I only went for a week each time, but how the hell did I afford it? I was even poorer then than I am now.
Tent life, tent death, and sock management
Life in a tent was pretty miserable this year. For the first week it rained every day for much of the day. This meant that crawling into a tent and through the porch, to unzip the main inner tent, required negotiating the mud floor of the porch of my tent without getting my knees muddy. My trousers were not the cleanest at the camp. It also meant that I couldn't leave my towel on the top of my tent to dry off in the morning sunshine. Instead, I spread out the towel inside my tent, and fell asleep next to a damp smell generator.
Making me possibly a little self-conscious in the mornings, a near tent neighbour told me that I made entertaining noises when waking up. These were the various grunts and straining noises someone who is very tired and stiff after a cold night makes when stretching.
During a rainstorm, I saw that one of my main tent poles had broken. I gained thirty man-points by fixing this without having to take down the tent and without getting the things in my tent wet. Using nothing more than a pair of nail-clippers and cunning, I was able to remove the broken section of pole, and replace it. The moment was spoiled a bit when a girl rode up just after the rains had died down, to tell me that I would have to move my tent in order to comply with the minimum distance fire regulation, which required us all to be a totally unfeasible distance from each other (six metres or something – dream on). Nevertheless, I basked in my manly achievement alone for about one or two minutes, but then I crawled back into my tent to return the clippers. As I backed out, keeping knees high off the wet ground, the front door flap stuck wetly to my lower back and backside with enough friction to cause me to rip the front off my tent as I backed out. Every silver lining has a cloud.
I patched the tent with a tarpaulin from the No No Box, and for the rest of my stay at the camp, this was my tent.
Should I ever grace the camp with my presence again, I will at least want a bigger tent. Small back-packers' tents are not congenial for entertaining guests. Buying one in Sweden would be tempting if it weren't for the cost. I don't think I'm ready for a mortgage yet. I left the tent up when I departed, and told reception that anyone who wanted it could use it.
My tent was not equipped with a washing machine, and the laundry service was reserved for people with very deep pockets. I had to manage my clothing with care. This involved putting sweaty shirts into plastic bags to stop them from smelling or making other clothes dirty, but they could not be sealed in bags and forgotten, because they would go mouldy, so they had to be monitored, shifted around, and spent most of their time in slightly-open bags in the porch of my tent. After a couple of weeks, the time had come for some hand washing, and I did a few sinkfuls. I sorted out one load of whites, but when I started the wash I saw that there was somehow a green garment in there. I removed it, and saw that it was a T-shirt that was white on one side, but a strong green on the other. Into the bin it went. Later, I found that a shirt that I had never worn, but which had been at the back and bottom of my tent, and had acted as a sponge to the water that inevitably got in, had changed from a deliberate shade of green, to one not of my choosing – another casualty.
Despite the inclement weather, this year was my most successful for sock management. My feet remained dry almost all the time, and I didn't get a single blister or tender patch on either of them. Many people have expressed doubts about my methods, but I can report that they work. The main two secrets are 1. Wool, and 2. Thin inside thick.
Wear wool socks, not cotton or anything else. Ordinary wool-rich socks from the likes of Marks and Spenser's will do, but specialist wool socks are available, and I can heartily recommend the American company Smart Wool (their elastication is a bit powerful, but these socks are great – they remain wearable for ages without washing). Also, wear two pairs of socks, not one. The outer sock should be thick, and the inner one thin. This combination means that your foot never rubs on your shoes. Instead, you have a good pad to cushion your feet, and any rubbing movement is absorbed between the socks. The outer sock should be thick, but not heavily ribbed, nor made of thick yarn, because such things can grip your foot and rub it. Instead, you want a dense mass of thin fibres. Your feet in a single pair of thin cotton socks will get hot and wet, and will rub badly. The thin cotton sock is quickly saturated with sweat and then it grips your foot, and you soon are dancing with your feet in a hot puddle. Instead, with a thick pad of wool around your foot, any sweat is wicked away and your foot stays dry, and comparatively cool. That's right: your feet are cooler in thick wool than in thin cotton. Wet socks have a much higher specific heat capacity than dry ones, and will absorb and hold much more heat, and your sweat will not cool your feet, because it cannot carry heat away from your foot, which in turn makes your feet sweat more.
If I dance for one night in a pair of thin cotton socks, at the end of the night I have to peel off the soggy socks with effort, and they reek. If I dry them out, they end up horribly crunchy. I would not want to wear them again, and would prefer to have them taken away and burned rather than wash them. In marked contrast, my wool socks remain quite civilised at the end of a night's dancing, and if they are a bit damp, they can be dried out without stinking out the tent, and in the morning they are perfectly wearable. By cycling my socks around, I was able to maintain a supply of usable socks for the whole three weeks I was there, and I even had a fistful of clean unused socks at the end of it.
I think I might create a 'Things you need to know when going to Herräng' page, and add this useful sock information to it.
This wasn't the best Herräng trip for me, but there was good and bad. The weather in the first week or two didn't help, and I caught two colds, but the first was only a drag for a couple of days, and the second was very mild. Almost every reason I did not have fun was particular to me, and nothing for anyone else to worry about. The main thing that makes the camp less fun for everyone there now is its sheer size. In the early years, each stranger there felt like a friend I hadn't met yet, but now the place is awash with strangers whom I know I am never going to meet, because there are just too many of them. The immediacy of being in the same room as the action of the moment has largely been lost, and now much of what goes on is experienced at a distance, through the glass of a camera lens. One of the things that has changed blues night is that once the blues floor was where everyone was, but now it is just one of three or four floors dancing at once, and so it is harder to create a bluesy atmosphere for the whole night when they are playing Bal in the library, and a jazz band is being danced to in the foyer by more people than there are upstairs.
Years ago, as I was just about to leave school at the age of seventeen, my headmaster said to me that I was someone who thrived among large groups, and that I should go to somewhere where there are lots of people. He may have had a good point. After university, I applied several times to join the BBC, but it was not to be, and since then almost everything I have ended up doing has been solitary. Writing, photography, model making, and video editing are not great group activities and have led me to meeting no one. Perhaps if the Beeb had not missed its chances, I would have thrived within it, and would now be living somewhere else, with a wife and an ingratitude of five children. Being at Herräng reminds me of this every year. I enter a world in which somehow people seem to know who I am, out of proportion to any of my efforts to make it so, and they even seem to be pleased about it.
One thing that I know I am very bad at is self promotion. I am not a man who is cool, or provided with any mystique. I am what you see. I also keep living with the clearly-untrue notion that if I do something well, that this in itself will lead to doing more of that thing. It is interesting that some people do best when they do not self-promote. When was the last time you saw Steven Mitchell jump into a jam circle, perform a Lindy dance on stage, hand out a flier, put up a video on-line, or do anything whatsoever to promote himself as a Lindy teacher? The cool mystique approach works for him. There is the sort of teacher at the other end of the spectrum, who cannot walk across a room at a Lindy event, without making it very clear to everyone in it that he is a Lindy teacher available for bookings, with some interesting events coming up soon, and who might be in your area in the near future. I can't do that either. Appreciating this, some have suggested that I get someone else to do it for me, but the amounts of money involved are so tiny, that it would hardly be worth anyone's while. Fergal the Irish businessman (the man who, inexplicably, in 2008, enjoyed the Cabaret Verboten in which I was involved) came up with a business plan for me and said that he could promote me as a sort of hobby, and what did I do? I somehow managed to lose his e-mail address. That's how good I am at this.
Of course, these accounts don't help. How can I compete against gods of the Lindy world, if I keep reminding everyone with these things that I am a fallible self-critical dancer who has a background in being a beginner? Real dance teachers were never beginners, you see. They sprang fully-formed into the Lindy world. I started in tap when I was six and got 'honours' in grade three when I was ten. In the last couple of years when writing these accounts, I recall deciding to blow my own trumpet a bit, but rereading them, I notice that every time I said something self-praising, I always had to balance it by immediately following it with something self-deprecating. I'm passed that now. Today I have perfected the self-promotional anecdote. Trouble is, the self-deprecating ones are usually funnier.
When meeting people at Herräng, I am often struck by what an international lot they are. I do not mean that they are from many places, but that they operate in so many places. A very high proportion lives in a country other than that of its birth. I meet a Brit and ask her where she lives – Buenos Aires. I meet another Brit I've known for years where he is based now – is it still Cumbria? No, he's moved to Porto because he "liked it", and no, he doesn't speak Portuguese, but that didn't stop him. My Lithuanian friends now live in Paris and Los Angeles. Meanwhile, I have been stuck in Newcastle since university. Trouble is, I cannot imagine myself living anywhere, and that includes Newcastle. I recall an anglophile Dutch woman I met years ago at the camp. I read little into her declared anglophilia at the time save that she was being nice, but then she moved to Britain and lived with a Brit. I recall a Swede who said that she was interested in moving to Britain, but again I didn't take her seriously. She now lives here with her British Lindy-hopping husband and first child. To move from Newcastle, I feel I need a good reason, and at present I don't have a good reason to live anywhere, including Newcastle.
I was talking to a girl in the foyer. She had initiated the conversation, and was smiling away as she talked. Had I started a great deal younger than I did, I was at a pinch old enough to be her father. A guy came past and dropped a couple of anvil-like hints that I should be somehow converting my apparent popularity into success with this girl or another like her. "You're an alpha male and you don't even know it," he said before leaving. The shine was knocked off her smile somewhat, and the conversation soon ended. I suspect that the only way to define an alpha male is through results, in which case I am not.
I lasted three weeks at Herräng this year, which is longer than ever before. After that, I went to stay for a quiet couple of days in Stockholm with a friend. I learned that there are some very posh allotments there, called 'colonies' [kolonierna] which have sheds that are more like miniature holiday homes. I also learned that Stockholm's cycle lanes make cycling a great deal easier, but that cycling on the wrong side of the road can still be pretty hairy. I caught up with a couple of friends I made years ago at Herräng. It was good to see them of course, although it was clear that their lives had moved on so much more than mine has since meeting them.
Despite this clearly being maudlin drivel, I want to read more. What happend in 2013?