Oh, to be in England…

England's green and pleasant land...

England’s green and pleasant land…

When you live abroad the past keeps coming back to haunt you. The old country – the place where you were born and grew up – is brushed with a sentimental tint. Sometimes you miss home so badly it hurts. When I lived in Brazil in the 1990s, I was so desperate to go back to England that I made a list of things I felt I couldn’t live without. Now I’m back living in Brazil, I wonder if they have the same magnetic pull they once had? Let me see…

"Two pints of your best bitter, please!"

“Two pints of your best bitter, please!”

Pubs: there is nothing quite like an English pub – that dark, bitter ale served by a freckled gawky barmaid, the quaint atmosphere, the smell of vinegar, the bonhomie, the English language being shouted and mumbled and, up in the corner, cricket on the telly.

Libraries: those quiet, cosy caves filled to the ceiling with books begging to be taken out for free, the shy grey assistants with their dowdy clothes and packed lunches, the sofa by the window where you can plonk down and drift into a delicious snooze.

Fish and Chips: the haddock, the cod, the batter, the salt and vinegar, the sticky-sweet mushy peas, the hot glass counter…But hang on, it’s not just fish and chips I miss, it’s British bangers and English cheeses, lamb chops, marmite, mint sauce and poppadoms…the list is endless.

Grub made in heaven: fish 'n' chips and mushy peas

Grub made in heaven: fish ‘n’ chips and mushy peas

Newspapers: English newspapers are utterly compelling and irresistible. Thoughtful journalism with a good measure of English irony is the perfect fodder for those like me who want to be enlightened but don’t always have time for a weighty tome. It would be so easy to waste one’s life trawling through them every day while London burns – or while the landlord tries to break the door down in a fruitless search for all that back rent you owe him.

Charity shops: Those Pandora’s boxes of broken toys, grubby clothes, thrice-read paperbacks and Phil Collins records litter the high streets of every town; the wealthier the area, the better quality of junk you find within. It would be no exaggeration to say that my cultural identity was formed by the dog-eared LPs and discarded books I discovered at Oxfam and Cancer Research.

You do come across some funny things in charity shops...

“Now that is a big one! I don’t think it’ll fit through my back door”.

Yes it hurts to remember all these things and makes me want to pack up and go home. But surely there must be a few things I don’t miss. Erm, well, yes…

The weather: Oh dear, what a shower! The weather in England is, well, diabolical mostly. As I write, the UK is enjoying a steaming heatwave, but it won’t last; come late September, the old grey army blanket will descend once again to cover the country for another eight months. Nice.

Angry young men prowl the streets of England looking for a hapless victim

Angry young men prowl the streets of England looking for a hapless victim

Yob culture: England suffers from an acute disease called anti-intellectualism. It begins in school where anyone who actually studies is instantly labelled a “swot” and bullied mercilessly. This “proud to be thick” attitude permeates the whole of society, but is most pernicious in the underclass, where young vandals form gangs with the sole purpose of kicking senseless anyone who crosses their path. Delightful.

Town centres: the town centres of England have had all their character bulldozed away to be replaced by soulless shopping centres and baffling traffic systems. It’s as if they have been specially designed by, and for, morons. Lovely.

Just another town centre in 'Greyland'

Just another town centre in ‘Greyland’

You see, England isn’t London. England is Swindon and Scunthorpe: dull and decaying provincial towns where the pubs are boarded up and the people walk around like zombies with cheese-and-onion breath. The British have become cultureless and cynical after years of cheap consumerism. Forget Shakespeare – think Coronation Street.

My adopted home – Porto Alegre – is no paradise, mind you. But I have my compensations. Sometimes I have to remind myself what they are. Let me see…

The people: Brazilians are easy to get to know. It’s a cliché, but the people here are warm and friendly and everything is done with a smile. Unless you get mugged, of course.

Sunshine: When the sun shines the smiles widen and everything seems more bearable. Humans were never meant to live in cold climates. In England bodies are funny white things that stay covered up until it gets dark and you are under a blanket. In Brazil they are bronzed sensuous things that strut about in the open without anyone giggling.

The sun is always shining in Brazil...well, nearly always

The sun is always shining in Brazil…well, nearly always

Respect: As an Englishman I am treated like royalty, a superior being, a prince among the hoi polloi. And in Brazil, learning is respected – everyone seems to be doing a course or studying for a qualification.

Buzz: At 5.30 on a wet Tuesday when the shops close England is as lifeless as a tramp’s vest. On Sundays the gloom stays all day. In Brazil when you go out and about you feel a buzz. It’s partly the sunshine and the happy disposition of the people. Brazilians are noisy and demonstrative and don’t want to go to bed, so everything stays open.

And yet, no matter how much my heart beats for Brazil, my soul lies somewhere at the bottom of a quarry in Yorkshire. So, should I stay in Brazil or boomerang back to England? If I was a millionaire I would split my time between the two, but for now I will have to remain a split personality.

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Categories: Blighty, Brazil, Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “Oh, to be in England…

  1. Ernestina

    When I´m in Brazil I think it´s heaven; when in Uruguay, it´s heaven again. I always perceive, see, rejoice in the good things of each. Mind you, I feel at home in Paris, London, New York, Yosemite, Jerusalem. Guess I´m a gypsy. Great as far as not missing things but then I´d never manage a good piece of writing and an interesting & fun article such as this one. Hence, good for your missing!

    • Dear gypsy,

      As I always imagined, heaven is a place here on earth; a place you feel rather than find; a place that comes from within.

      From another gypsy

  2. janeykate

    Now that April’s there 🙂 I miss fish and chips too! And the salt scented, freezing rain as it blows in from the sea. And bread that doesn’t have sugar added. I’ve been driven to making my own! Yorkshire tea bags, and daffodils. I don’t miss waking up to grey skies most days, or tomatoes that taste like water. Tomatoes here taste like sweetness and sunshine. It’s great being somewhere different, but I love being home in good old England too!
    Jane x (a temporary gypsy)

    • janeykate,
      where are you, temporary gypsy, where the tomatoes taste like sweetness and sunshine?
      gypsy Martin x

      • janeykate

        Well I was at Robin Hood’s Bay, then Whitby and then Newcastle (upon Tyne), and now Bermuda. All since last October. I’m a gypsy, but it’s not necessarily the path I would have chosen. Oh, and it’s only the locally grown tomatoes that taste like that! Lots of things are imported here, I try to get local stuff if possible! Like the banana’s, you wouldn’t believe the difference in taste between the local ones and the imported ones!
        Jane x

  3. Glenn N. Reay.

    Mart,
    your’e right about missing the traditional things you grew up with ere mi’ old luv’ but a quick reallity check on England in 2013, packet of fags, £8.00!! pint of beer £3.50p, fish and chips £5.00 bottle of milk £2.00, Petrol, well thats something you need a bank loan for along with taxing and insuring the bleedin’ thing for a year,irrespective of your no-claims bonus, to then sit in endless traffic que’s not going anywhere, on the short trip to work, a Parliamentary system thats totally untrustworthy that pay themselves £50k a year plus expense’s, murders on a dailey basis almost now, and a judicial system, that sets a punishment that SELDON fits the crime, traditional Briton’s are bailing out of here by the score and who can blame, them,? and when you finally do retire after flogging your gut’s out for all your life and paying your taxes all your life, your weekly pension wont even pay the Rent for you, never mind buy food and live, Yep i can think of more reason’s for you to stay there, than you can to come back here, by the way make me the camp bed up in the lounge…im going over,.!!!
    god bless
    miss you
    Glenn x

  4. Now then, me old mate,
    Well you’ve fair put the frighteners on us with all that banter about sinking Blighty…
    England has always been going to the dogs – now it seems to have arrived, and the dogs were pit bulls.
    Now I know the last record shop in Bradford has closed its doors (Discovery in Westgate) there seems little point in coming back…
    Except you owe me a pint – so I’ll see you in Wetherspoons at Christmas (ho ho ho!)

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