The girl from Ipanema and the boy from Bradford…

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.

1970s Mercedes 450 SL

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.

The LP that changed my life: ‘The Girl from Ipanema’

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.

Bradford City’s football ground: Valley Parade, 1970s

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.

Categories: Blighty, Brazil | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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