My first brush with Brazil happened inside a flashy new sports car in the back streets of Bradford. The year was 1973 and I was a 17 year-old apprentice motor mechanic at Charles Sidney, Bradford’s auspicious Mercedes dealer. One grim morning, finding myself unwatched, I jumped inside a stunning silver 450 SL convertible and locked the doors. It was dark and very still inside; I could hear nothing but the sound of my own quick breath.
On the passenger seat was an 8-track cartridge (a dinosaur music cassette) with an exotic, tropical cover: palm trees, a white sunkissed beach, cloudless blue sky, a riot of coloured fruits. I nervously switched on the power and slid the music box into the player. Then, an epiphany. The car was filled with Brazilian bossa nova, the coolest music I had ever heard. My life would never quite be the same.
The next Friday, when the garage whistle blew, I wrestled off my greasy overalls and headed into the smoky city. For the pauperly sum of 99 pence I managed to buy a compilation LP by my new hero, Brazilian maestro Antonio Carlos Jobim. The LP was called “The Girl From Ipanema”. When I played it for my girlfriend I suddenly skyrocketed in her estimation: overnight I had become a tortured romantic genius.
A few months later, while being interviewed for a job at HMV – a record shop in the town centre – I proudly announced to the assistant manager that Bossa Nova was my favourite kind of music. She sounded very surprised and couldn’t hold back a little giggle. I beamed back at her with youthful enthusiasm. I got the job.
Eighteen years later I pitched up in Rio de Janeiro, still grinning like a Yorkshire cat that’s got the pudding. “Where’s the girl from Ipanema?” I asked my teacher colleagues, “and do you think she’ll marry me?”. “Which one?” they said, “there are quite a few!”. Now that my nails were no longer black with engine oil and I didn’t smell like a dustbin I might stand a chance.
I had listened to more Brazilian music by that time and could impress my new Rio students by reciting song lyrics such as “os meus pais nas minhas costas” with a local Carioca accent. But I was, and still am, about as Brazilian as a wet Sunday in Hull. You can take me out of Bradford but you can’t take Bradford out of me.
And these two ridiculous polar opposites – Bradford and Brazil – are what defines me. I’m as happy as a pig in muck when standing with a pint of Tetley’s bitter outside a pub in White Abbey (the poorest district of Bradford where both my grandfathers were born), waiting for the Bantams to kick off at Valley Parade.
But I’m also in my element holding a can of freezing beer on a Brazilian beach listening to the strumming ukeleles and drums rolling out that infectious samba rhythm.
You could say my soul is in Yorkshire, but my heart is in Brazil.