Like a rolling stone…

"See the world before you get hitched, young man!"

‘Hitch around the world before you get hitched, young man!’ Yes, grandad.

I don’t believe in forever. Forever only happens in fairy tales and my life is not a fairy tale, at least when I’m sober. Nothing lasts forever – not even love. When the vicar reads the marriage vows and seals the happy couple’s fate by making them repeat the words ’till death us do part’ I always feel a sense of wonder at the naivety of such a sentiment. The romantic part about romantic love is precisely that it doesn’t last forever: that’s what makes it tragic and yet irresistible. Time – that old chestnut – does not allow us to keep other people as our ‘possessions’; we are all essentially free-spirits.

Are you sure, kiddies, that you'll still feel the same 40 years from now?

Are you sure, kiddies, that you’ll still feel the same 40 years from now?

Not that I have been to many weddings. The shocking truth is that I have never been to one in my life, unless, that is, you count my own. You see, I was in my 20s in the 1970s at a time when youngsters prided themselves on being unconventional. Lovers were things that came and went like the seasons, part of the emotional journey from adolescence to adulthood. Getting married was seriously square. The important lesson I learned from promiscuity (yikes! – even the word sounds daring these days) is that finding your one-and-only precious ‘soul mate’ is a myth. We all have many soul mates dotted around the world; the tragedy is that we never get to meet them, especially if we tie ourselves to one person from the off.

These days we seem to have reverted to a kind of 1950s-style conventionality, when the aim of your early 20s is to find Mr or Mrs Right, get hitched and start planning babies. I have noticed that many of my former students in England, still in their early 20s, are proudly posting their marriage commitments on Facebook. Here in Porto Alegre, if anything, it’s even worse. Couples meet in the school yard and stay glued together until they march down the aisle 10 years later: ‘one life, one love’ seems to be their motto.

Hey - your soul mate is waiting for you in Buenos Aires...

Hey – your soul mate is waiting for you in Buenos Aires…

Whatever happened to the brilliant idea of seeing the world before you settle down? Surely your 20s are the decade for getting as much life experience as possible, for being a rolling stone that gathers no moss. This learning curve naturally includes having a number of relationships as you navigate your way around the globe, finding love but eventually moving on. Travel adventures are just that: adventures – the very definition of the word implies something that doesn’t last.

Hence, From Bradford to Brazil is, was and always has been an adventure, not a permanent state of affairs – that would have taken all the fun out of it. The glorious state of Rio Grande do Sul is perfect for Gauchos, with their extended families, beach houses and rowdy barbecues. Anybody else here feels like an alien, especially foreigners like me. I don’t fit in because there is nowhere to fit me in. In fact, I can think of only three reasons for staying in Porto Alegre indefinitely: 1) having a prestigious, highly-paid job (salaried in a foreign currency); 2) being part of one of those extended families, instantly adopted by having married one of the locals; or 3) being too scared to go back and face the rat race at home.

Eat English cheese with a bottle of good claret and die happy

Eat English cheese with a bottle of good claret and die happy

Inevitably, people ask me why I am contemplating a return to you-know-where.  Of course, I could take the question seriously and answer in a very measured way. I could say, for example, free healthcare, personal safety, established infrastructures, clean fresh-water systems, low cost of living, and so on. I could be boring. But the truth is, it’s the little things that pull me back like a fridge magnet: English sausages, English cheeses, pie and peas with mint sauce, watching Bradford City at Valley Parade and having a mucky curry afterwards, public libraries, record shops, charity shops, The Guardian, BBC Radio 4central heating (yes, you heard me right)…the list goes on.

Best view in the world! Bradford seen from the Kop at Valley Parade

Best view in the world? Bradford seen from the Spion Kop at Valley Parade

Unfortunately, back in Blighty, I will have to put up with English people who don’t hug and kiss like Brazilians. That will be tough. And I’ll probably have to change the name of the blog – From Bradford to Brazil will have to become something like From Porto Alegre to Pontefract. As for my new life, like the blog itself, I will just have to make it up as I go along. But then life is a series of wondrous adventures – you never know who or what is round the corner on the B 69 to Dewsbury. As they warn me every day on the local radio news channel here in Porto Alegre, “Em vinte minutos, tudo pode mudar” (in 20 minutes, everything can change). Watch this space.

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Categories: Blighty, Brazil, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “Like a rolling stone…

  1. David

    A lot of truth. Interestingly, when I landed here 35 years ago, my suggestion to every youngster was that they should spend some time living abroad, it mattered not where, to broaden their horizons. As many were at university, the idea would be to take a year or 6 months bumming it abroad after graduation. Fine. However as the years have passed, university graduates seem to feel obliged to head straight out to work, so as not to miss any opportunities. Fine… so take a semester off mid-course to do your bumming. Then even that became complicated. With university students taking on jobs to better their CVs, it was ever harder to find the time. Phew. How about before university then? Take your vestibular exams, get into the course, but then put it on hold whilst you travel. And travelling has become so much easier for brazilians…. must be as so many are doing it.
    In the end however, many youngsters seem happy to settle for a month abroad with the principle object of improving their english and very little thought given to broadening horizons which seems to have been substituted for tourism.
    What has this to do with your post Martin? Well, without any real break between school, university and work, few youngsters today seem to have any real opportunity for promiscuity and with everyone reporting all their relationships on social media, in small cities like Porto Alegre, everything you do is very much in the public eye. Also, back in the 70s, if you wanted to sleep with your boy or girlfriend, it was usually necessary to conceal this from respective parents. Today you even find a girl’s mother picking up her daughter’s boyfriend and bringing him home for the sleep over. So instead of occasionally bumping into a partner’s family, today you become a part of it, making break ups even more complicated. It seems as though the world has progressed but actually we appear to have gone back a few hundred years to when families all lived and slept in one room, allowing no privacy for anyone. Different in many ways but …..

    In the end, will marriages last? I doubt it.

    • Insightful, David. It’s a conundrum for today’s youngsters, as you rightly explain. As an Englishman, my gut-feeling is that families are pulling too much and holding back that free spirit. Yes, there are economical reasons stopping the usual flight from the nest. But my advice would be to swan off without worrying about your career and work your way around the world – unless you want to be defined by your corporate identity, so to speak. Young professionals who stay put may be successful financially, but they will have narrow perspectives and precious little with which to entertain their grandchildren.

      • David

        Funnily enough, to me the greatest loss is the story-telling. I agree with your suggestion regarding careers if only because how many people aged below 25 really know what they want to do in life? For some it’s following in their parent’s footsteps, for others it’s based on their favourite hobby. People have to remember that with our working lives stretching out ever-longer, most of us have more than enough time for more than one career… some for more than two. If a little world travel (bumming) ends your chances in a specific career then it’s highly possible that it wasn’t the career for you. Rather like your comment Martin about the chance of having just one kindred spirit in life. Life is chock full of oportunities – if you’re eyes are open.

  2. Martin, as you know, I’m just about ‘off to Blighty’ and to our very ancient ancestor’s domain – France. This conversation MUST take place over a pint or something similar. Will look forward immensely to doing just that on my return (I’ve put you down on my list for a box of Yorkshire blend teabads!). See you in just over a month!

  3. To be always divided is the fate of expats.

  4. janeykate

    Come home! I know where to get the best pork pies and mushy peas! But you are totally right, nothing is forever. How boring would life be if that were the case! Jane x

    • I’m on my way, Jane…well, almost.
      Pies and mushy peas, eh? They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach…and who am I to argue? Will there be mint sauce, too?
      Where is home, I wonder..?
      Anyway, I’ll meet you one day in that pie shop
      by osmosis

      • janeykate

        I was thinking the same thing about home Martin, I have no idea where it is these days. Working in London now. That’s not home. I have a house in Harrogate, that’s not home either. Maybe home is down at the pie shop. Meet me there! Jane x

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