In his book Cycling Back to Happiness, English journalist Bernie Friend covers 6,000 kilometres of northern Europe on a bicycle in a bid to overcome his paranoia. In the last of our three excerpts, Bernie and his pal Rhys get unexpectedly Eurovisioned in Gothenburg.
We walked deeper into town, past basement Goth rock stores, tattoo parlours and skateboard shops, even popping in to Gothenburg’s porn megastore. But a selection of luminous pink dildos, butt plugs shaped like dummies, nurse uniforms, black whips and the curiously named DVD ‘Weird Gay Cocks’, failed to put a smile back on his face. Edging closer to the trendy Kungsportsavenyen, a clustered strip of bright lights, pubs and clubs, known among the city’s night crawlers as ‘The Avenue’, we tried to drown Rhys’ sorrows. Drawn into a darkened bar by the excited screams of young blonde fillies and tanned well chiselled guys watching a giant TV screen, we wondered what was causing all the commotion.
Never in my wildest nightmares could I have guessed the Eurovision
Song Contest, but the packed drink clutching congregation were loving every minute of it. Back at home, nobody would be watching this in a pub. It was a competition we didn’t take seriously. Partly because we were hated by the rest of Europe and the other nations relished the annual opportunity to gang together and spank our latest entry from a musical factory conveyor belt of mediocre cringeworthy losers. I think it used to be called Stock, Aitken and Waterman. Anyone who watches the Eurovision Song Contest in England does so behind locked doors and for two reasons only; to hear Terry Wogan take the piss out of the countries who hate us and witness which stone deaf realm gives us more than Nil Pwa on the final leader board. There was fervent solidarity from the drinking Swedes, as neighbouring Finland were the hosts, following the terrifying victory of their head banging heavy metal trolls in the previous competition. This contest offered the usual selection of Ricky Martin wannabes, Goths dressed like undertakers, pink wearing Frenchmen, Romanian gypsies and a blue-eyed German Frank Sinatra. And let’s not forget the hysterical interludes giving an insight into the host nation, which this time peaked with a load of muddy old men playing football in a bog and having their nude behinds whacked by a thorny branch, before diving through an ice hole.
A huge shout and raised glasses greeted Sweden’s entry, a poor Marc Bolan rip-off, including the panda eye make-up. After watching our lukewarm welcomed flag bearers, Scooch, a rabble of cheesy orangefaced dance retards dressed up as air cabin crew struggling to reach half mast, we retreated to the toilets in embarrassment. Serbia’s female Joe Pasquale look-a-like Marija Serifovic took first place, narrowly edging past a Ukrainian transvestite wearing an umbrella on his head. We came second from bottom, thanks to a vote of full marks from Malta, where Scooch can now be found on tour.
Eurovision had done little to lift Rhys’ sullen, drunken mood, and he sloped back off to the hostel, leaving me to investigate ‘The Avenue’ on my own. I had to get used to it I suppose. Loud music pumped out of bars and queues of short skirted sexy young things, covered in war paint, queued for numerous clubs. A girl I chatted to in the Eurovision bar (who went to great pains to make me aware Gothenburgers couldn’t stand the snobs of Stockholm) had vouched for The Lounge. The bouncer didn’t want to let me in at first, telling me my trainers, light weight trousers and fleece weren’t casual enough to gain entry. After threatening to return in pants, socks and a vest he changed his mind.
The Lounge was nothing like a traditional English disco, full of drunken idiots jumping up and down to ‘Baggy Trousers’ by Madness and couples necking over their glasses. It was all far more civilised. Soft trance music floated through the dimly lit air, allowing Swedish clubbers to squat on black square poofs around low tables chatting away over
drinks. A giant plasma screen filled one white wall, projecting close-ups of beautiful women mouthing muted words. A steep staircase climbed up to a brightly lit smokers’ penthouse, with wall grills filtering the cigarette fumes outside, beating the ban on lighting up in public places across Sweden. The heavens had broken with a vengeance outside, transforming the streets of Gothenburg into a running river, drench fed by gutters filled to bursting point and overflowing drains. I staggered into bed quietly at
1.30am, trying not to disturb Rhys or the geriatric road champs, soaked to the skin by rain and beer.
'Cycling Back to Happiness' (ISBN 9781906206710) is published by Pen Press on April 28th, 2008, and is available to buy and order in all book stores across Europe. For the rest of the world visit amazon.co.uk or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.