I’m travelling so far out of my comfort zone that I’ve had to renew my passport and apply for a visa. When I booked an activity boot camp weekend six months ago it seemed like an exciting thing to do. Now that it’s less than forty-eight hours away it seems far, far away from exciting. Excitement and fear has a thin line. I’ve crossed the border, and I’m entering terror town.
I did something similar when I was ten years old. There was an outward bounds school trip which involved a two-night stay, lots of walking, sharing bunks, early mornings. This equaled lots of crying, anxiety and counting down the minutes to go home. I think this emotional response might be repeated this weekend. I should have had a flashback moment to this memory before booking. My brain is an ass at times.
Anxiety number one: I’m staying in an outwards bounds center. In a forest. I normally stay in no less than four star hotels, in cities. There are going to be insects, that will try and devour me. And no room service. I haven’t even checked if there’s any Wi-Fi there, I fear not, and that will send me into palpitations and a technological detox. It will be the longest I’ve gone without watching television. I don’t know if I’ll cope with that, I may have to be air-lifted to a multiplex cinema.
Anxiety number two: I’ll be sharing a bedroom. I haven’t slept in a room with someone else for fourteen years. I’m a light sleeper and must wear earplugs to obtain sleep when I’m by myself. I’ve packed five pairs of earplugs as I might have to ram them all in if I’m sharing with someone who snores, or breathes. My ear canals will be stretched to ear lakes.
I sleep nude. And if it’s hot, I sleep on top of the sheets, nude. It’s predicted to be hot this weekend. I’m going to have to wear a nighty. This means I will have no sleep as I’m also a fidgeter in bed and will end up with my nighty strangling me at various stages of the night. Death by nighty.
Anxiety number three: We’re having our meals cooked by a professional chef. Most people would think this is a lovely treat. Not me. I’m worried I won’t like the food, as I’m a fussy vegetarian who dislikes salads, dressings, and onions. What if I get hungry and have to eat my own arm? I’ve shaved it in preparation. Do I take emergency flapjacks with me? I’m not going to be able to eat them though, I’ll be with people all the time. I don’t want to have to lock myself in a toilet cubicle to eat, my high gag reflex won’t cope with eating in these conditions. I suppose I could wait until lights out and lick it in the darkness. But how could I smuggle flapjacks in? Bags might be searched, I might have a body pat down for contraband. I could hide them under my boobs, there’s room there for a whole traybake.
Anxiety number four: Communal bathroom. Those two words send frozen darts down my spine and straight to my coccyx. I have a phobia of swimming pools and don’t go swimming because the thought of putting my bare feet where someone else’s bare feet have been makes me feel physically sick. So, the thought of sharing a shower and toilet with eleven strangers is horrendous. I will be taking wet wipes with me and wet wiping myself clean.
Anxiety number five: Outdoors. I dislike going outdoors in temperatures over 18 degrees. Our activity days are forecast to be 25 and 20. This makes me want to cry. I need an air con suit as my portable air con unit isn’t that portable and doesn’t work outdoors. I hate being sweaty and uncomfortable. This weekend will just involve me being sweaty and uncomfortable. I have purchased a sun hat and will be basting myself in factor fifty.
Anxiety number six: People. I’m going to be spending forty-six hours with people. I never spend that long in company. My maximum is a ten-hour shift in work, and then I have to spend the following day in solitary confinement recovering from IPI (intense people interaction).
Anxiety number seven: Activities. Where do I start? I have an active mind but my body is as active as neglected plasticine. I will be doing climbing – I hate heights and I have long nails which are going to make it difficult to grab onto the wall and stop myself plunging to instant death, so I’m going to have to cut them short. I will feel naked. I don’t think I’m going to be able to pull myself up the wall. It’s going to be like a game of vertical twister. And I was never any good at the horizontal version.
I’ll be doing abseiling – very quickly to get it over with. I’ll probably forget to bounce off the wall intermittently and hurtle straight down breaking both legs. I’ll be doing a zip wire. I’m not going to be able to jump off myself, whoever is behind me is going to have to push me. I think I might scream so much I will be heard in Denmark. If it’s a high zip wire I may catch small birds in my flight path with my open mouth.
I’ll be doing canoeing. I’m a good swimmer but petrified of going under the water and getting trapped there. I’m also frightened I might spook myself by thinking ‘shark’ and end up panic paddling off down the river and into the ocean. If spotted off the coast anywhere please do throw me a life buoy, or a flapjack. If it’s hot I may tip myself in on purpose and go for a swim, but if anything touches my leg I will add yellow dye to the river. I will also be doing mountain biking, walking, orienteering, and optional aerobics classes.
These are some of my anxieties and that’s without adding in the five-hour public transport journey to Norfolk involving three train connections, one of which National Rail ticket sales have given me seven minutes between one of the connections. So, I will have been sprinting even before the activity weekend starts.
Is it too late to book a spa weekend instead?!
Slow flowing blood boiling just like hot jam,
My legs are swollen and smelling of ham.
Sticky sweat coating me with salty brine,
Telling myself it’s going to be fine.
Internal organs cooking up a treat
Turning to a Full English in this heat.
I have no energy to try to speak,
My limbs are heavy and feeling so weak.
My make-up’s melting all down my face,
My lungs constrict like I’ve run a tough race.
I’m tetchy, snarly and starting to growl,
Factor fifty plastered on with a trowel.
Handfuls of ice cubes go into my bra,
The sanest idea I’ve had by far.
Hating happy people loving the sun,
I want it to rain and spoil all their fun.
With my red face looking like salami
It’s not a heatwave – it’s a heat tsunami.
1. I can exhale belches so deep that they sound like echoes from the Grand Canyon, amplified via five hundred and fifty-five megaphones.
2. I can throw my head back and open my jaw wider than the Wookey Hole cave, to yawn flamboyantly, vacuuming in sixty-eight per cent of the room’s oxygen.
3. I can release my wind freely, while playing television theme tunes with my pliable buttocks. The A-Team is my most accomplished piece.
4. I can leave my legs unshaven. And as I don’t have a pet this is also therapeutic to stroke them while watching Emmerdale.
5. I can walk around nude, feeling totally free, without having to supply brain bleach to anyone.
6. I can dance in my underwear whenever I want to. I would dance nude but large boobs and gravity are dance saboteurs.
7. I can have a day without wearing make-up, without anyone thinking I’m ill, or dead. I can’t risk decapitation because I’m mistaken for a zombie.
8. I can also do the opposite, experiment with bright coloured make-up. I can spend the day resembling the result of a drag queen and geisha’s lusty liaison without scaring the bejesus out of anyone. Except maybe an unexpecting postman.
9. I can watch whatever I want on television. A sport free zone. A political free zone. A Top Gear free zone.
10. I can have good quality conversation with myself about conspiracy theories, ninja cats, and Spongebob Squarepants.
11. I can eat four jam doughnuts in a row, and leave my face covered with sugar for the whole time of consumption.
12. I can sing loudly and badly in the shower, and twerk in the shower without worrying about offending the ears or eyes of innocent bystanders.
13. I can snore like a grizzly bear and not annoy anyone. And I can get a good night’s sleep myself without having to listen to anyone else snore, breath, release gas, or sleep talk about their work colleague stealing their yogurt.
14. I can cry when I need to. Being an emotional person sometimes it’s therapeutic to just have a good cry and let it all out. This might freak a cohabiter out to suddenly burst into tears while dusting. Although dusting can reduce me to tears all by itself.
15. I can have quiet time when I need it. Sometimes I need to not have contact with fellow human beings – this is an overlap from being a cat in a previous life. I like to be left alone to eat and sleep and write/play with a cat nip stuffed mouse.
This is why I like to live alone.
As with my review of the first semi-final, if you want to play a drinking game then it’s a shot for a white outfit, a wind machine or a cape. Although, spoiler – there are no capes in this second semi-final. I will be having non-alcoholic pear cider myself, but some people need real alcohol to get through Eurovision.
1. Serbia – This song has grown on me and now I love it. There’s a white see-through dress, and it looks like she has a swimsuit on underneath, shame there’s not a water tank on stage she could make use of, but sadly she stays in the one spot. Watch out for the male dancer when he does an impressive fast backwards circular run. I can’t even run like that going forwards. Oh, and there’s a wind machine. Two shots
2. Austria – Nathan wears a white suit with ankle avoiding trousers. Not much of a stage performance from a young lad, he just sings from a crescent moon, jumps down, and jumps back up. I could do that. One shot.
3. FYR Macedonia – Yay! One of my favourite songs and she has fringing on her outfit – another favourite feature of mine. Wearing black not white. Upbeat fun performance. No shots though.
4. Malta – Nothing about this song or performance leaves me breathless. A white wedding dress combined with a wind machine, boring staging. Two shots.
5. Romania – This is like Marmite, you’re either going to love it or hate it! I love it. Yodeling, bright fun graphics, a bouncy duo, and two huge cannons on stage. The cannons didn’t do anything in the rehearsal show, I’m hoping for glitter or confetti being fired out into the audience on the live show. No shots. Unless the cannons fire, then I’m having two bonus shots.
6. Netherlands – This trio of women sound like Wilson Phillips to me, they wear black sparkly outfits but just sing on stage in a line, not dynamic enough for me. No shots.
7. Hungary – Too traditional and folksy for me. Nice dancing though from the singer and dancer, wearing a white dress so have a shot for that.
8. Denmark – Red dress, no wind machine in rehearsal but I wouldn’t be surprised if one is whipped out for the live show to give this performance some life. Dull. No shots.
9. Ireland – Brendan looks about twelve and sings from a pretend hot air balloon. I was hoping it would fly off with him in it but alas it stays put. Dreary song that wouldn’t even make it onto a Westlife tribute band CD. No shots.
10. San Marino – An upbeat fun song, duo singers competing with black leather trousers and sparkly black jackets. Bright disco lights, but slightly disappointed with the effort of dancing, looks like my style at a school disco in 1988. No shots.
11. Croatia – Croatia’s Pavarotti, but a little trendier as he has sparkly shoes and wears a leather jacket over his suit tails. The song doesn’t do it for me, but a good performance. No shots.
12. Norway – Something a little different, a funky singer and three masked men with hoods, one playing drums, one playing the keyboards, and one just banging a table. No shots.
13. Switzerland – A very eye-catching bright yellow dress, a homage to big bird or beauty and the beast? Hurrah, a wind machine. One shot.
14. Belarus – This couple remind me of Jack Black and his sister. Folksy and upbeat but not my cup of tea. She’s wearing a white dress though so one shot.
15. Bulgaria – A favourite with the bookmakers but not with me. Like Ireland’s entry he looks about twelve (am I just getting old? – rhetorical question). Wearing a black suit, but the crotch of his trousers is heading towards his knees, I was distracted from the performance as I just wanted to yank his trousers up. No shots.
16. Lithuania – Another favourite of mine. Dynamic, funky, and lively. Singer wears a red dress and puts on a great performance. My only puzzlement is the artist is Fusedmarc – but who’s Marc and what is he fused to? No shots.
17. Estonia – This song could easily be a Steps song. Koit is in a black suit, Laura in a white dress, and they have simple but effective black and white screen staging. If Steps don’t want them as reserves, Koit could be in a Bros tribute band. Lost in Verona – no need to be with Google maps. One shot.
18. Israel – Great song to end the show. High energy, high testosterone, not so sure about the mesh vest though Imri. No shots.
Nine shots in total, eleven if the cannons go off in Romania’s performance. My fingers are crossed.
I can’t move. I’ve got my eyes open, but it’s too dark to see anything. I can smell cake, and I can feel the weight of something against my face. I try to recall my last memory. Sleep. I was in bed, going to sleep. I’m not in my bed now.
I can’t hear anything so I open my mouth to shout, or say hello to anyone nearby.
My voice sounds muffled and distorted. I’m not sure if that’s because my ears are covered, or if there’s something in front of my mouth. I slowly force my tongue out of my mouth. It protrudes out for about half an inch before touching a surface, then retracts quickly back in. My taste buds tell me the surface it met is sweet. I persuade my tongue to venture out again. It complies.
My tongue gently licks the object in front of my mouth. Cake. It’s cake. I move my jaw out as much as it will extend and scrape my teeth along the cake surface. My tongue escorts the cake into my mouth. It tastes delicious, a light sponge.
Am I surrounded by cake? Is that why I can’t move? I think I am. How is this possible? If it were a dream I wouldn’t be able to taste and smell the cake, and I can. Someone must have drugged me and put me in a cake. That just doesn’t make sense. This doesn’t make sense.
I feel my chest tighten as a panic attack attempts to take control of my body. I can hear my pulse rate speeding up through the blood vessels in my muffled ears. I inhale a deep breath, cake fumes filter into my lungs. I tell myself I am calm, and all is well. My body knows I am lying to it, but it plays along with me, for now.
I must eat the cake. That is how I will get free. I will eat my way up through the cake. There will have to be a surface, no cake goes on for infinity. I feel calmer, I know I can eat a lot of cake. My teeth start excavating the sponge in front of me.
The more cake I eat, the more I can move my head. My spirits are lifted. I’m feeling confident. I can angle my head back now to reach the cake above me with my mouth. I move up an inch at a time, shuffling my body up with my shoulders, arms still by my sides, my face facing to the top.
I’m starting to feel sick now. I want to take a breather and rest a little, but I don’t want to risk falling asleep and running out of air. My body keeps trying to remind me I could suffocate easily, it does this by squeezing my lungs periodically while making me want to breathe faster. I tell myself I can do this, and I will be out of here soon.
I think it will be soon. I’m starting to see now. I can see the cake above me, it’s yellow. I must be near the top of the cake for the light to be penetrating down to me. I can do this. I eat more cake. In my excitement, I bite off a bigger chunk, but almost choke on it. My legs attempt to kick out and my arms try to lash out too. I spray my own face with regurgitated cake. It takes me a few moments to compose myself. I continue eating through the cake.
Bright yellow. I can see bright yellow above me. My relief is joyous. I eat on. I can smell marzipan. A heavenly smell. Almond ambrosia. I devour the final layer of sponge between me and the marzipan. I push my face against the marzipan, attempting to break free with the force of my facial features. The marzipan just stretches with my face, and lowers back down with it. I lick at the marzipan, and try to bite at it. It just moves playfully with my tongue and teeth, keen to flow in the same direction. Marzipan, I’m finding out, is non-confrontational, eager to please, and far too flexible. I try forcing my face up through it again, but this time the marzipan, wet from my saliva, sticks to my face. The almond assassin clings to my nostrils and my mouth. I try to breathe but the overpowering essence blocks my airways. My lungs clench and scream pain I didn’t think possible. I feel myself zoning out, drifting away from my physicality. I’m going.
Air violently invades my face. My marzipan death mask is being ripped open. My mouth and nose compete for the air. My lungs stop screaming and merely shout instead. My eyes are blinded by bright whiteness. They struggle to compute my surroundings. I feel my head become free of the marzipan, and I feel hands pulling me out of the cake and place me on a hard surface. My limbs feel numb from their cocooned entrapment. I feel cold, and loose.
My eyes adjust in the harsh lighting. White floor, white walls, white ceiling. There is a man in a white biohazard suit stood stationary over me. A giant Battenburg cake is in the center of the room, crumbs scattered onto the floor, no doubt from when I emerged. A camera in the corner of the room rotates around to face me. The man in the white suit puts his hand to his ear, then nods.
‘Come with me,’ he says.
My mouth is dry. ‘Why? What’s happening?’
‘You failed. They don’t want you now.’
‘Failed what? Who are they?’ My legs allow me to stand up, but threaten to drop me at any moment.
The man walks towards a door. ‘You only had to get out of the cake. You failed so you have to go back.’
‘I don’t understand?’ I follow him to the door.
‘You should have eaten horizontally, not vertically, as there’s no marzipan on the ends of the cake.’ He swipes a card in a panel by the door with his gloved left hand. ‘You could have made it out alive that way.’
The door slides open with a faint hiss. The man steps out of the room, so do I.
‘But I still don’t understand what’s going on.’
‘It’s better that way. Believe me.’ The man walks off down the narrow corridor.
I’ve watched the rehearsal footage of the first semi-final acts, and a top tip is if you want to play a drinking game and get drunk, have a shot every time a white outfit, wind machine and cape turn up in a performance. If all three occur at the same time, have double shots. Here are my opinions on the performances.
1. Sweden – I love this song, I’ve championed it from the start and it’s still in my top 5. I’m disappointed though that two of the original backing dancers/singers have been switched with replacements, I’m not sure why as I can only find references to it being due to a rule of the contest – presumably not allowing too many handsome men on stage at one time I guess. The routine hasn’t changed for the show, stylish men in suits and trainers dancing on treadmills who wouldn’t look out of place on a Milan cat walk. Is it wrong that I want to join a gym now just to dance on a treadmill? Starting off sober, zero shots.
2. Georgia – I was hoping for a Bon Jovi number when hearing the song was called Keep the Faith, but no, a belter of a song that wouldn’t be out of place in a James Bond film, complete with a Bond Girl singer in a red sparkly figure hugging outfit. She has a red cape and a wind machine. Two shots.
3. Australia – All about the singer here, his image is on the screens behind and it’s just him singing on a giant turntable. He’s wearing a grey coat, which is almost a cape, and his trousers don’t meet ankles. It might be fashionable, he might like to flash his ankles, but it does nothing for me. And even though I applaud him for singing while spinning around on the turntable, part of me, the wicked part, wants the turntable operator to speed it up faster as the song goes on just so he flies off at the end. No shots, but a sip for the cape-like coat.
4. Albania – Love the steampunk graphics on screen for this song. There is a wind machine and the singer is wearing white with silver sparkles, and starts with a veil that flings back into a skirt cape. Allowing three shots here, and that doubles to six!
5. Belgium – Blanche wears a full white ballgown for this, it looks like she’s concealing something. If doves don’t fly out from under there at the end I’ll be disappointed. I’m already disappointed with the vocals, the recorded track sounds much better than the live performance. Plus, she stands still in one spot, I know it’s not a lively song but a bit of oomph or facial expression would be good. One shot for the dress. Bonus gulp from the bottle if doves do indeed fly out from under the dress.
6. Montenegro – Distraught by this performance as it was my favourite to win, based on the recorded track. Shockingly bad vocals live, and his dancing should be phenomenal but my bowels have move movement than this. He seems to be going for if in doubt twirl your fake plait around, I was hoping it would get caught in the lighting rig to liven this performance up. No shots. Although I might have a consolation shot for wasting money betting on this one.
7. Finland – Bucking the trend here as they have gone for black ballgown, and instead of a wind machine have chosen smoke machine. The background graphics put me into a boredom trance. Another performer who doesn’t move from the spot. No shots.
8. Azerbaijan – The strangest staging so far. Singer wears a silky Columbo mac while scrawling on blackboard walls, while a man wearing a horse’s head stands on a step ladder. He takes the horse head off to reveal an Azerbaijan Rylan Clark. Good vocals, good song, but not so good that even though the song is called Skeletons there are no actual skeletons on stage. No shots.
9. Portugal – The singer’s sister has been standing in for him during rehearsals as he has a mystery illness that prevents him being away from healthcare for too long. His sister looks like him though so it’s easy to imagine him on stage (I think Salvador has just dressed as a female and is pretending to be his sister for japes). There is minimal staging, just the singer and the song, again not moving from the spot. No shots.
10. Greece – The singer is wearing a flesh colour dress, there are two topless Greek men dancing around her but not much movement from her and considering it’s an up-tempo track is disappointing. There is a wind machine though. One shot.
11. Poland – Not a memorable song or performance. Singer wears a white dress/weird toga and there is a wind machine. Two shots.
12. Moldova – I love this one, so much fun. The toe tapping ‘get this chewing gum off my shoe’ dance is in there, the running man dance while playing the saxophone is cool, the screen graphics are funky, the backing dancers/singers have dresses that switch from black and white into wedding dresses, and I do love a costume within a costume. One shot.
13. Iceland – Wow. If Iceland’s entry was a superhero she’d be PVA Glue Woman. She’s wearing a white PVC jumpsuit, white latex platforms, white plastic cape, and has her blonde hair scraped back into a no-nonsense ponytail. In the jumpsuit, there is a cut out to showcase her boobs, like a pornographic power ranger. There is a wind machine, but no way is that knocking her off those platforms. Three shots doubled! Six shots.
14. Czech Republic – Well we’ve just had PVA Glue Woman so now bring on Ferrero Roche Woman. This is the worst outfit so far. A metallic bronze foil boiler-suit is not flattering to even beautiful people. Background screen graphics show people dancing slowly in nude underwear, like a beginners swingers party. The most un-erotic thing I’ve seen. No shots.
15. Cyprus – Hovig reminds me of Chico. I like the song, it reminds me of last years’ Russian entry. He wears a black suit, but another ankle avoiding trouser. There are lots of balancing yoga moves in the dance routine which will give me a good workout as I dance along. At one point in rehearsals he lies down to sing, I’m guessing this will correspond with floor graphics. Or he might have just been tired. No shots.
16. Armenia – The screen graphics remind me of a lava lamp, that’s all I have to say about this performance. Oh, and she wears a black trouser suit. No shots
17. Slovenia – Dull staging to match a dull song. He wears a black suit, and the background graphics at one point look like a spaceship is going to beam him up, unfortunately it didn’t. No shots.
18. Latvia – Great staging with a punky neon set. Wind machine and weird fashion. Singer has metallic thigh high boots, which look like the Wonder Woman boots I made when I was seven out of my mum’s kitchen foil. Good song to end the night on. One shot.
Twenty shots, and a sip, in total*.
*This could change on the actual night if wind machines are added to other performances.