Posts Tagged With: marriage

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.

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

Till Death Us Do Part…

It's just me and you, duck!

It’s just you and me, duck!

Whoever invented monogamy should be shot. I mean, only being able to have sex with one person for the rest of your life just isn’t natural, is it? Surely sex is one of life’s great adventures: something that grows and blossoms like a flower; something to be shared and then discovered anew with different people. T.S. Eliot once said we measure out our lives in coffee spoons. But isn’t the truth that we measure our lives by the quantity and quality of the lovers we’ve had? If you only manage one or two dull, uninspired bed-mates in your life it’s all been a bit of a failure, hasn’t it? Ah, but what about love, I hear you say…

A Bradford pub, where you're bound to encounter all sorts of carrying on...

A Bradford pub – where you’re bound to encounter all sorts of carrying on…

When I was in my 20s I discovered at least one truth about love. It happened one night in a pub in Bradford when a mate turned up with a “girlfriend” we had never seen before, a woman he had met and was now “living with” in London. When she had slipped to the toilet he blurted something out: “Jane is really great. I love her…but I’m not in love with her”. Ah, there’s the rub. The difference between the two is paramount, Hollywood even. The question is then, how do you stay in love with the same person for donkey’s years? Doesn’t passion always turn to routine and couples turn into something more akin to brother and sister? Surely sex is a spark, an electric rush that is ignited by novelty, secrecy, newness, naughtiness.

In Brazil it is quite common to meet middle-aged couples who have been together since they were at school. Admirable, you might say – enviable even. No horrid break-ups to go through, no cringing jealousy to suffer, just a long solid slice of togetherness. Sweet. But hang on a minute – don’t they ever fantasize about sleeping with somebody else? Have they managed to shut their eyes to any tempting, sexy beings who pass their way? Or have they conditioned themselves to stop fancying other people, to think about something else, to have a cold shower and read some poetry?

T.S. Eliot taking a fancy to Stravinsky's wife, or thinking about coffee spoons

T.S. Eliot taking a fancy to Stravinsky’s wife, or thinking about coffee spoons

It’s a funny world. Now we have realised that monogamy is a shibboleth of organised religion, a dictate of the church – a lie no less – why don’t we just put it all behind us and start having multiple partners? Well, some brave people tried that in the 1960s – open marriages they called it. Didn’t work. Why? Because somebody got jealous, somebody’s ego just couldn’t handle it. In the end open marriages became normal marriages again, only with somebody else. Our romantic love has to be focused on one person only. It just isn’t possible to love two people at the same time. Or is it?

When I was in my 20s (again), there was one unforgettable Christmas in Bradford when I found myself in the delightful and unrepeatable position of having three women on the go. Perhaps I was just a scoundrel, I don’t know. But one thing I do know is that I loved them all in my own way. If I had been forced to choose one it would have been very difficult. I was lucky, though. If a woman has several partners she gets labelled as loose – tarnished in some way. When a man does it he’s a stud, a kind of hero, someone to be envied. Funny that. Perhaps that goes back to the bible, too.

Right - from now on if you even look at another woman I'll knee you in the nuts, you toe rag!

Right – from now on if you even look at another woman I’ll knee you in the nuts, you toe rag!

Of course, when you get older you have children and then you are responsible for a family; the goalposts have changed. The family is something sacred, hallowed turf from which it is scandalous and disreputable to stray. But that’s only because we accept it as such. There is nothing “natural” about the family unit because there is nothing natural about modern society. Indeed, the family unit can be seen as an incredibly conservative institution, something that fits nicely with the individualism and materialism which prop up capitalism. Perhaps that is something we just have to live with “for the sake of the children”. Nobody wants to be the first to start a revolution, or try another open marriage.

So, the greatest challenge in life – fidelity – is one we just have to accept, along with rotting teeth. We have to constantly stop and check ourselves from going a step too far with someone we fancy because we are married or “spoken for”. When we, the faithful, get to the end of our lives, I hope we can look back with great pride and self-righteousness; I hope we will say “we didn’t succumb to temptation, we didn’t give in”. 

Sir John: more sex, please, I'm British

Sir John: more sex, please, I’m British

The former Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman, was asked near the end of his life if he regretted anything. “Not enough sex”, he said. As he had been married and had several lovers in his time, I suppose he meant “not enough sex with different people”. You see, love and sex are wonderful things, but there’s just not enough of them in our lives. 

“Speak for yourself” I hear you say. Well, in writing this I seem to have learned at least two things about myself: 1) I fall in love too easily; 2) I’m a coward.

Categories: Musings | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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