The most eye-catching performance of the Eurovision Song Contest was, of course, that of Verka Serduchka - alter-ego of Ukrainian comedian Andrei Danilko. Ukraine is a land where almost anything can take on a political significance and Eurovision, which in 2005 gave the nation its most visible post-Orange Revolution showcase, is naturally no exception. Protesters were out in force in the nationalist west of the country decrying Verka's selection as representative and calling for Ukraine to withdraw from the competition. Their argument was that Danilko's creation is a grotesque caricature of ethnic-Ukrainian peasant culture that paints its middle-aged women as coarse, vulgar and extremely badly behaved. Anyone who has ever taken the early morning bus from Lviv to Przemysl on a market day, however, might feel he's being a little charitable.
It's a difficult experience to describe. Comparison with a classfull of primary school children, pumped full of e-numbers, playing musical chairs in a narrowly enclosed space really can't do it justice. Once the initial brawl for seats is over, the real business begins. The business, in this case, being cross-border smuggling. Polish customs guards must wonder about the miraculous health benefits of a short trip to their side of the fence. However, if the women look morbidly obese at eight in the morning and radically slimmer a few hours later, it's largely because they initially had dozens of packets of cigarettes strapped to them like a suicide belt or six litres of vodka stuffed down their vests. In return for cakes and a fizzy drink, i was more than happy to help out - knowing that regardless of how much contraband i was carrying in my luggage, my lovely EU passport meant i was the least likely to be stopped.
Quite frankly, i don't think i've met many people the wrong side of fifty with so much energy, humour or warmth. Verka Serduchka should be regarded as an affectionate tribute to the most entertaining short-term adoptive grandmothers you could ever wish to have.
Although i wasn't sold on Dancing Lasha Tumbai at first, i've always liked Serduchka's music. Horilka and Ya Ne Ponyala are two of my favourites. Both were written by V.I.A Gra oligarch Konstantin Meladze - the latter's a cover of a song from their Stop Snyato mini-album. You can still hear my beloved Anya Sedakova as they didn't bother to re-record the backing vocals from the original.
Horilka's the Ukrainian name for vodka. Although not a huge drinker, a quick look at the contents of my freezer will show you that i'm something of a fan.
While Russian vodka can't really compare to the stuff made in Poland, it's an integral part of the nation's culture and has been celebrated in countless thousands of songs throughout the ages. One of my favourite recent efforts came from Huinya, the collaboration between Leningrad and English eccentrics, The Tiger Lillies.Verka Serduchka - Ya Ne PonyalaVerka Serduchka - HorilkaLeningrad & The Tiger Lillies - Vodka