I’m a drifter. All my life I have been on the move: Bradford, Iowa, Bradford, Plymouth, Ilkley Moor, Brighton, California, Bradford, Andalucia, Madrid, London, Rio de Janeiro, Bradford, Surrey, Porto Alegre…the list goes on. So, where exactly is home? Wherever I lay my hat? Maybe. But there is a feeling that haunts the constant traveller. The question is, when and where I am going to stop this long, fascinating journey? Because we all need roots, even if they are delicate and don’t go down very deep. One day you just have to stop and say: “This is it. I am ready to stop the magic bus right here and stay forever”. Forever is a very big word. But journeying is a kind of madness; a sweet, delicious madness sometimes, it’s true…but mental all the same. One day you need to end the madness and settle down. The roots need to go down deeper. As Status Quo once put it, Down down, deeper and down.
Everybody loves travelling. Why? Well, for a start, when you are travelling you are not working. You are on holiday. You are in a relaxed and excited mood and perceive everything accordingly. All your responsibilities are on hold. Travelling is certainly different to tourism. The traveller goes to way out places, mixes with the locals and stays longer. But living abroad is different again. For that, you have to work. You have to get well integrated into the economic culture of the country you have chosen. You have to pay rent and tax, talk to lawyers and navigate through the treacherous corridors of bureaucracy. Living abroad is when travelling gets serious.
Most people who want to throw caution to the devil and live abroad make a plan to stay one year, or maybe two. There is a kind of wisdom in this compromise: you are taking the plunge to live in another country, but you have a return date. You will come back home with an expanded mind and enjoy a hero’s welcome. You will be a star in the village for a week or two. Having had a deeper and wider experience than most of your pals, you can wear your other-worldliness as a kind of badge of eccentricity. You have “seen the world”; you are different, a little bit wild even. You are cool.
But what about those of us who have no return date? We are the “lifers”, born into this world to hit the ground running, to take the road less travelled, to squint into the distance to see what’s coming next. And yet, for even the wildest wanderer there comes a day when the future must be faced. Then the question is: where am I going to end my days? Where does my heart tell me to buy a little place, collect my pension, keep a few dogs and chickens? This is the moment your adopted country becomes HOME. You are not moving anymore. You have got everything you need and wear a smile on your face each day. Your roaming days are over.
As a born drifter, this is probably the toughest decision you will ever make. We are talking death-bed; finding a place to croak your last as you look through the window at those distant mountains; a place to write your will, leaving all your money, of course, to the George Gissing Museum in Wakefield; a place where you finally have a full drinks cabinet, complete with cocktail-shaker, lemon slices and Epsom salts. I am getting old, remember. My fellow-students call me “grandpa”. I need a place to wear my favourite yellow cardigan with the gnarled leather buttons, the one covered in dandruff and HP sauce stains.
All this points to one thing: LOVE. Do I love my adopted country? Can I picture the neighbours carrying my plastic coffin through the streets as the school band plays Abide With Me? Big question. My old mate Tim Vickery, Rio’s resident football guru, once told me Brazil was not a country to grow old in. Funny that, because he’s been here 20 years and appears totally integrated in the culture. So what did he mean? I think it’s a syndrome all ex-pats suffer from, the fear that this place, Timbuktu or wherever it might be, is my final destination, warts and all.
Which brings me to an even bigger question: Bradford or Porto Alegre? Rio Grande do Sul or Yorkshire? Brazil or England? Well, in order to decide, there needs to be some criteria. Things like: comfort, safety, quality of life, cost of living, a variety of fun things to do and at least a few friends you can rely on. Do I have all those? Hmm. Would I have all those in Huddersfield or Keighley? Hmm.
For a Yorkshireman, of course, there is only one thing to consider: the water. Yes, you heard me. But I mean the water they use in the brewery. The glorious, soft spring water they use to make Yorkshire bitter, so that when your pint appears on the bar, it has a gorgeous creamy head on top. ‘Mother’s milk’, we call it. The problem is, if I move back to the north of England, I will end my days staring out of the pub window at drizzly-grey skies and derelict mills, chuckling at the pasty-white Yorkshire folk at the next table who talk funny. How the dazzling suns of Brazil and those immaculate bronzed bodies on the beach will all seem a million miles away!