Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Eurovision's host likes things puny or phoney. Perfect

Sweden's Loreen won the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest (AP/Sergey Ponomarev)
Engelbert Humperdinck performs during the final of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest (AP/Sergey Ponomarev)

I didn't watch The Eurovision Song Contest. Actually, I'm not sure I've ever seen it, but I'm certain that it's not for me.

For once, I agree with the government of Iran when it berated its little neighbour, Azerbaijan, for hosting this most peculiar of musical institutions.

I did catch an airing of the Engelbert Humperdinck video, and that was enough to put me right off my breakfast. If the Iranians hear it, then I'm pretty sure they will invade immediately. In the subsequent interview, The Hump was being harassed by the loathsome Jedward, but he put up with them in a remarkably patient manner.

As if the lobotomy twins weren't enough, The Hump was then asked to comment on the human rights situation in Azerbaijan. He played the "I'm only a lowly singer" card: he had been asked to come and sing a song and that's what he was going to do.

The interviewer didn't even bother to question Jedward on their political views. As terrible as the regime's behaviour might be, I for one would turn a blind eye if Jedward were to be detained without trial for a prolonged period of time after their performance was over.

I went to Azerbaijan for a weekend a couple of years ago. I can't remember what took me there, but it is a most peculiar place. The area around the airport in Baku is one of the ugliest places I have ever seen in my life.

It's like some post-apocalyptic vision of hell with hundreds of oil derricks surrounded by pools of polluted water and clammy steam. I nearly turned round and left, but I persevered and made it to the newly revamped, rather glamorous, seafront, which had a touch of the French Riviera about it. At the turn of the 19th century, Baku had been quite the place, with people flooding in from all round the world to make their fortune in oil.

The cobbled streets of the old town were now curiously empty.

My favourite place was the Museum of Miniature Books. I spent a lost hour being shown round by the enthusiastic curator, longing to ask: "Why?" Eventually I asked what exactly the point was of all these tiny little tomes that you could only read with a special magnifying glass.

The curator looked at me as if I was crazy, but could not come up with an answer. I didn't press the matter any further.

I went to a huge, glitzy nightclub that was having an opening bash that weekend. As I walked in, I was rather surprised to see about four or five paparazzi outside flashing away at everyone who went in, but it was only up close that I realised they were holding antique cameras that didn't seem to have any film in them.

I wondered if they were art students or lunatics, or if Azerbaijan hadn't heard about the digital revolution. Inside, the owners had paid for a version of the Sugababes to come and lip-sync to some songs that even Jedward would turn their noses up at. I quietly wept as they gyrated in Primark outfits that made them look like rather promising Eurovision contestants

Next day, very hung over, I was taken to a local market that seemed exclusively to sell pots of artificial turf. For quite some time I followed my guide as he showed me stall after stall of the stuff. This time I didn't even bother to ask why.

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