I’ll be the first to admit I can sometimes be a little bit socially awkward. In a group of four or five people I’m fine, but in a large room I am often the “wall flower” who finds it difficult to meet people and to make conversation. Thus, I’ve felt slightly apprehensive about my plans to attend the International ABBA Day, held annually at Roosendaal, a small town in The Netherlands. Even though I’ve “known” a lot of the people attending for many years through the internet, the idea of meeting them in real life for the first time (and new people on top of that) has been messing with my head a little, I’ll admit.
Thank goodness for Trent. He’s an Australian who has been living in Ireland for several years, and who I’ve known for fifteen years or so. He’s much more social than I am. Much better at meeting people. He was the first person who told me he was going to Roosendaal. For him, it was the first time in several years. One by one, other people who I’ve met in real life previously, including Marco (from The Netherlands), and Tony (from Sweden) also mentioned they would be attending.
On top of that, I met people last night I’ve met previously (mostly in Australia), such as Jurgen and Jason. I was also surprised but excited to see my friend David (who I spent some time travelling with a few years ago), and others. And over breakfast this morning, I met Pascale for the first time.
Thankfully, the trepidation I’d anticipated about being a “wall-flower” in the midst of a group of people for twenty or thirty years (or more) who had known each other very well for a long, long time quickly disappeared. A few drinks helped also.
Last night started with a large-ish group dinner at a local restaurant/pub called “The Captain Cook”. “Oh my goodness, we’re going to a pub called The Captain Cook”, I said to Trent. “You understand the significance of this to Australians?”, he said to our English residing companion as we walked down the street. I had the mixed grill which was good. The waiters at the restaurant were very friendly and the service was good. “I have family in Australia”, the waiter told me when I presented my Australian credit card. When I mentioned there were lots of people with Dutch heritage in Australia he told me they were actually Croatian. “We have a lot of them, too”, I told him.
After dinner we headed to a nearby pub where an ABBA Quiz Night and Disco was to be held. At first there was only a handful of people. By the end of the night, the place was packed to the rafters, and the dance floor (basically the whole pub) was never empty. At one point I wondered what the regular inhabitants of the bar thought of us taking over their pub for the night. There was a group of guys, in particular, who I noticed who couldn’t quite believe their eyes. They were literally slack-jawed as they looked around the room at the group of a couple of hundred people dancing to ABBA and ABBA-related music, including some reasonably obscure stuff. Yes, of course they played “Dancing Queen”, but they also played lots of B-sides, rarities and remixes. I’m sometimes a little critical about ABBA gatherings which only seem to play the “obscure stuff” (as if it’s a badge of honour to being considered a “real fan”), but I thought Jason who had programmed the evening got the balance right.
The slack-jawed guys didn’t stay long, but they seemed to enjoy their time there. I have a theory half of them were thinking, “hey there’s lots of lovely ladies here tonight”, while the other half were thinking their dreams had all come true – that Roosendaal had a gay bar at last! It would be churlish not to admit there’s a lot of gay men involved in ABBA fandom. But it would also be wrong to say it was some big gay dance party last night. There’s lots of straight men and women involved in ABBA fandom also. The great thing about last night was that our individual differences didn’t matter. It was all about just having a great time, enjoying the music together.
The bar staff were absolutely lovely, as were the double-act who entertained us with some live performances of ABBA songs, including a Dutch language version of “Does Your Mother Know”. “They wrote it themselves, and it was in a Southern Dutch dialect”, Marco told me, as we walked back to our hotel at about one o’clock this morning.
It wasn’t a late night, I kept myself “nice”, and I had a great time dancing and chatting with some new faces, as well as people I’ve known both in real life, and via the net, for many years now.