Posts Tagged With: Ben’s Records

The cheese is always greener on the dark side of the moon

I love you hate you love you hate you...having fun in Brazil

I love you hate you love you hate you…Brazil is irresistibly infuriating

It’s easy to love Brazil. The sun floods the house in the morning, filling the spaces with light and lightening the mood of the people. As mid-day approaches, gaggles of work-colleagues appear on the streets, chattering and chortling as they amble towards the nearest buffet-lunch bar. In the late afternoon, people sit in the park with their tea bowls, sucking the green liquid and gazing into the future. When the light fades, the crickets come out to sing, filling the tropical night air with an elusive mystique.

I see a message...if only those beans could speak to me!

I see a message…if only those beans could speak to me!

Some of my colleagues cannot believe I am thinking of heading back to the miserable grey skies of England, to the land of yob-culture, school bullies, boarded-up pubs, shops that shut at 5, small-minded conservative people and baked beans with everything. To a country where camping trips are ruined by the rain, where your body never throws off its clobber, where coffee is instant bilge, where town centres have been made anonymous by ugly shopping centres, where traffic wardens are repressed psychopaths and where a cheese and onion sandwich is the highlight of your day.

After all, living abroad makes you feel like a hero: what a remarkable feat you have managed, making your way in a foreign land and communicating in a foreign tongue, launched out of your cosy comfort zone like a jack-in-a-box! Surviving and prospering abroad is the sign of an intrepid adventurer, an infinitely resourceful globe-trotter, a multi-cultural maverick. When ex-pats in Brazil sit outside a trendy bar quaffing glasses of freezing beer and eyeing the talent they wish their cowardly mates back home could see them now! ‘This is the life’, they say.

Oh dear...the boom years have busted

As socialists, we promise to help…erm, ourselves?

But Brazil has hit the buffers with a dull, ominous thud. The Worker’s Party, who claim to be ‘socialists’ and have been in charge for more than a decade, have been exposed as one of the most corrupt governments in the country’s history. With mafia-like villainy, they have made Al Capone look like Homer Simpson. In the latest scandal, billions of dollars were siphoned out of Brazil’s huge state oil company, Petrobras. Now the country is financially broke and morally and spiritually broken. The local currency is up and down like Tower Bridge and the future looks, well, not exactly pear-shaped – more banana republic. Being here sometimes feels like living in the middle of an abandoned building site.

The middle classes have been revolting, huge swathes of them taking to the streets to call for the impeachment of President Dilma. They say they want a new Brazil, though I doubt many of them would be prepared to give up their servants – armies of the poor who daily spend hours in cramped buses on the way to clean house, cook and look after rich kids for a pittance. In many ways Brazil has never overcome the master-slave mentality that began when the Portuguese monarchy arrived here 500 years ago. Success, for a Brazilian, is not having to do the dirty work. Today, the professional classes may be working hard in their corporate suites, but they don’t lift a finger when they come home. The surest way to go bankrupt in Brazil is to open a DIY store.

Brazil versus England...the story of my wife (I mean LIFE!)

Brazil versus England…the story of my wife             (I mean my LIFE!)

This potent mixture of political corruption, middle-class hypocrisy and exploitation of the poor is making Brazil much less easy to love. If anything, the recent displays of public anger are symptomatic of a country riddled with self-hatred. It’s very difficult today to find a Brazilian with much love for their homeland; most have become profoundly cynical. The tragedy is that, during the recent ‘boom’ years, Brazil did little to invest in public services: schools, hospitals and transportation are woefully underfunded. In this respect, Brazil has failed to throw off its ‘third world’ stigma. The irony is that, for a third world country, the current cost of living is astronomical. In short, nothing seems to make sense in present-day Brazil.

But perhaps the single most shocking thing about life here, is the blatant lack of policing and crime control. If the English police force is considered ‘professional’, then the Brazilian equivalent is a bunch of amateur clowns, so badly paid (and drawn from the uneducated poor) that they can’t resist colluding with the criminal gangs they are supposed to be catching. Many days go by here in Porto Alegre where I don’t see a single police officer. And this in a country where crime is rife and victims are shot dead if they react. One of my friends admitted recently she is just waiting for the day when a gun is put to her head and she hands over the keys of her car. If she accidentally screams, she might not live to tell the tale. When my son announced, with only a trace of irony, that if he had to stay living in Brazil he would buy a gun, something clicked in my head. That can’t be right.

Ben's Record Shop in Guildford...a haven for vinyl junkies

Ben’s Record Shop in Guildford…I miss it like I miss being 12

And yet, despite all this angst, my reasons for being lured back to Blighty are mostly mundane. You see, I miss a lot of daft stuff – ebay, for example. The second-hand Johnny that I am has been starved to the bone. I dream of charity shops, used book and record shops, jumble sales, flea markets. I ache to buy a decent second-hand motor at a reasonable price (impossible in Brazil). I miss supermarkets with their half-price offers and vast range of imported foods. I fantasize about Wetherspoons pubs – in fact, any pub. I long to see clean water in the rivers, hear the smack of leather on willow and enjoy the light of those long summer nights.

Plonk me in Wetherspoons with a pile of newspapers and I'm 'appy

Plonk me in Wetherspoons with a pile of newspapers and I’m as right as rain

There is nothing like a jumble sale to make you feel patriotic

There is nothing quite like a jumble sale to make you feel patriotic

Of course, there are a few serious reasons, too. Like free healthcare, for example – here in Brazil, like the USA, if you don’t have costly health insurance you take your place at the back of the queue and risk being forgotten. And being a rich country, there is at least some spending on public services in England and a modicum of respect for the environment. And, though I never thought I would ever say this, I want to live in a place with at least the odd copper knocking about; a place where criminals pay for their crimes if they are caught, which rarely seems to happen here. When I first heard gunshots in the middle of the night, I felt proud of myself for braving life in lawless, ‘wild west’ Brazil. But now I’m too old for Cowboys and Indians.

If I do set sail and leave these distant shores, it will not be without sadness, but with a heavy heart. If I do feel the odd twinge of hate for Brazil just now, it’s only because deep down I love it. Just play me a Djavan song and I’ll be in tears in no time. What makes Brazil warm is not the tropical climate, but the big-hearted Brazilians with their zest for life, despite all the struggle and strife.

The view from my ideal apartment, without binoculars

The view from my ideal apartment…yeah, right!

In fact, if I had a sea-view flat in Copacabana, with armed guards on the door and a shotgun under the mattress, a constant supply of untaxed imported goods, a few dodgy friends, an English pub round the corner and a pair of binoculars I would probably stick around. But somehow I think that’s unlikely.

Categories: Blighty, Brazil, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

From Brazil to Bradford…and back again

The City Vaults, Bradford - best pint of Black Sheep in Christendom

The City Vaults, Bradford – best pint of Black Sheep in Christendom

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!

Mayfair, where they use £50 notes to snort cocaine and the laundryman doesn't wash clothes

Mayfair, where they use £50 notes to snort cocaine and the laundryman doesn’t wash clothes

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?

The Yorkshire Penny Bank in Bradford is now a real ale palace

The Yorkshire Penny Bank in Bradford is now a real ale palace

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…

Yorkshire's answer to Montparnasse: Hebden Bridge

Yorkshire’s answer to Montparnasse: Hebden Bridge

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.

Ben Darnton and me at Ben's Record Shop in Guildford - a goldmine for vinyl junkies

Ben Darnton and me at Ben’s Record Shop in Guildford – a goldmine for vinyl junkies

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.

Categories: Blighty, Brazil, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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