Eurovision & my dad

Paul Cotterill
May 13, 2017 · 3 min read

There’s something really quite sad about this opinion poll, which indicates that a majority of people in Britain would like us to refuse to take part in the Eurovision Song Contest.

As you might expect, the Eurovision ‘leavers’ are largely the same group who wanted Brexit — 76% of them don’t want to listen to the Romanian entry introduced by a gay Irishman— while 65% of the Remainers want to hear if we got nul points again.

I can’t say that I watch Eurovision on TV myself, but I love the idea that it’s there. Conversely, Britain becoming so humourless that a majority now no longer take a knowing and whimsical pleasure in losing to an Armenian in a daring outfit, makes me fear a drab, fun-free future under the command of the likes of the drab, fun-free Theresa May.

There’s a personal bit to all this.

To this day, the Great Euro Song-Off reminds me of my dad in the early/mid 1970s.

Dad had flown in a Lancaster in the war and bombed Dresden etc..

After the war, and as soon as he’d raised enough money (I discovered only recently) he started cycling around Europe, at least the bits he could get into.

He couldn’t get into Germany, in 1947, by the looks of things, but his Youth Hostel card, discovered amongst other stuff after my mother died a couple of year ago (dad was killed in 1979), show him in Switzerland and France, near the border, and later in Norway.

This in itself seems an extraordinary trip to have made, on a single speed iron frame, for a steelworker from the Consett furnaces, but the fact that he never told anyone suggests it might have been some kind of pilgrimage, an attempt to come to terms with his own part in the death and destruction of 1944 and 1945 (he was the bomb-aimer). He never travelled to Europe again, as far as I know.

From childhood memory, dad did not speak not much at home, and spent free time alone on the hills or on his bike, though as we grew he also took us out, to show us how to navigate in the mist, and how to “just get up that one last hill, son.”

Yet for one night every year, this strong, silent man — a man who might even be described as drab and fun-free — would be glued to the most undad-like glintz of Euro Song on TV (well, as soon as we had TV — we were late adopters); I can still remember his utterly confident prediction of an ABBA win in 1974, as soon as he heard it.

It seemed so out of character, and I remember being mystified, but it’s only since my discovery some of his old stuff after my mum died that I’ve really started to work out that the whole idea of ‘Europe’ meant a huge amount to him.

It makes me quietly cross when I hear Brexiteers invoke the spirit of WWII as though all veterans are anti-EU; I’m pretty clear that my dad fought reluctantly — he never told anyone he’d been awarded Distinguished Flying Medal for “an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy” — for absolutely the opposite.

It’s great to remember that this unusually quiet, usually music-less man in drab brown chords (I still have them) should have once a year been lit up by a Europe that he’d played his part in making.

But equally, it’s sad to think that, in what would have been very old age had he lived beyond Eurovision’s 1970’s high-point, we may now be entering a drab new era, devoid not just of Eurovision, but of other beneficial European influence.

It’s sad not least because the baby boomer generation who brought us Brexit, and maybe also an exit from a pleasant singing contest, maybe just don’t quite get why my dad’s generation actually fought — against the horror of a broken Europe which, his travels suggest, at least, he found difficult to come to terms with.

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