Friends, followers, workers of the world – a thousand pardons for my long absence. A man’s best friend – his laptop – was unable to accompany me on my glorious trip back to Blighty. What a journey, what fun, what larks! A Yorkshire bloke returns to London (“the smoke”) and Bradford (“the muck”) after years of hanging out in Rio Grande do Sul? So, what was it like?
Imagine a pudgy white gringo in shorts and flip-flops arriving at the airport wrapped in an old overcoat. You see, it’s baking hot summer in Brazil and freezing foggy winter in little England, so I was torn between the two (the story of my life?). England should be re-named ‘Greyland’, the land of dark clouds, wind and rain. The sun? Forget it. The sun has given up trying to come out in protest against George Osborne, the Tory chancellor who has made Robin Hood spin in his grave so fast that Sherwood Forest almost caught fire.
And so to London. First impression on the tube was a reminder of how smug and superior Londoners can be, as I watched two young bucks with their legs stretched out across the carriage, talking and dissing loudly as if they owned the train. Then on to rich rich Richmond-upon-Thames where I was staying. It’s a very civilized place, lovely really, but the people take absolutely everything for granted as they swish around Waitrose in suede shoes with a trolley full of ready-made meals and bottles of burgundy. Richmond is a cocoon of wealth and privilege. But what hurts most is that I can’t afford to live there!
But Mayfair tops it all. I was sent there by the Brazilian Consulate to get some papers authenticated at vast expense. What I found was a movie set for a Hollywood film about London, complete with Georgian mansions, butlers and supermodels getting into their Bentleys. Absolutely breathtaking. It’s just that there is another side of the glittering coin: you can’t have all this luxury without poverty somewhere else. It was the English imperialist will that exploited the world to bring back the spoils and the evidence is still with us today in Mayfair. Who actually lives there apart from Nigella Lawson, high-class hookers and one or two dodgy bankers?
That’s enough of trendy London – let’s trudge up north for a reality check. Bradford! What a place! What a dump, some might say, but not me. For I had the best pint of bitter (Black Sheep) for years at The City Vaults in the town centre, getting tanked up for the Bradford City game against Swindon. Seriously, you meet a better class of people in the pub on match days. And someone has had the wherewithal to convert the Yorkshire Penny Bank into an alehouse with a glorious high ceiling and huge windows. It was full of Bradford folk supping, laughing and jabbering in that flat, comical, northern twang. I looked at one bloke and thought – that used to be me. But now I’m so far removed that Bradford exists only in inverted commas and everything is shrouded in irony, as if I am watching from behind a screen. Perhaps it’s better that way.
An afternoon jaunt on the last day of the year took us to Hebden Bridge, or “Rizla Country” as some Bradfordians have labelled it. That’s because it was once teeming with ageing hippies (Rizla is a brand of cigarette paper used to roll joints). Now it’s been gentrified; the locals stroll around in oilskin coats, hiking shoes and little round spectacles, greeting each other with hearty guffaws. One of them asked another: “Where’s the action tonight, Rupert?” in a BBC accent. But all in all, Hebden has a cozy, bohemian atmosphere with its street cafes, quaint pubs and bonhomie. Now I’m beginning to sound like a travel brochure. Wonder if there’s any money in travel writing…
So here comes the big question: what did I miss about Brazil while propping up the bar in The Shoulder of Mutton? Sunshine for a start. Sunshine that’s actually warm. And my humble little apartment in Porto Alegre filled with old records and speakers, with my cramped jerry-built home cinema and kitchen so small that I sometimes put the Yorkshire puddings in the fridge instead of the oven. What else? Buffet lunches with a vast array of mouth-watering fruits, salads and gooey puddings – all for about £4 ($6.50). Hearing Portuguese and having to rise to the challenge every day of surviving in an alien culture. Not forgetting my lovely Gaucho students who have to put up with my endless monologues about World War I and Bradford City FC.
Now I’m back in Brazil, what do I miss about old England? Ale, of course. In fact, put me in the Hill Top in Thornton and give me a pint of Wainwrights bitter and I’ll name you as chief benefactor in my will. And food: curries, chapatis, houmous, taramasalata, English mustard, Cheddar cheese, Tesco Finest sausages and mince pies. Also the culture of second-hand and the thrill of digging for gold in record shops and charity shops. Cars travelling at civilised speeds and stopping for you politely at zebra crossings. And all those endless lush green fields that stretch into the distance and make a man like me want to be a romantic poet.
It’s so sad being torn between two countries. I really need to cry. I nearly did listening to a record I brought back with me – Vera Lynn singing I’ll Be Seeing You, which goes like this: ‘I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places that this heart of mine embraces all day through…’ But the tears just wouldn’t come. Now I have a better idea. I’m going to look at my bank statement to see how much dosh I blew on holiday…I’ll soon be blubbering like a monkey with no nuts.