‘If I wrote a book about my life, it would be a best-seller!’ How many times have I heard that old chestnut, I wonder. People presume that their own life is like a racy novel, beginning in the cradle and ending in the grave. All they need to do is write it all down. Evidently, philosophers describe this kind of thinking as ‘diachronic’ – treating life as an evolving narrative. But is life really like that? Don’t we all remember things in a muddle, forgetting most of it and piecing the rest together like highlights from a B-movie? How much of what we remember is reliable? More to the point, are we the same person all the way through? Am I really that daft schoolboy who clapped in the middle of a chamber music recital because I thought it was finished? Beetroot was the colour of my face (and the headmaster’s).
Surely we need to be selective about our pasts, dredging up only a few choice morsels. So, scratching my head, I have come up with a few incredible moments from the rich tapestry of my life so far – ‘from Bradford to Brazil‘…
1974: As a Bradford lad with very little between the ears, I found myself working in a monstrous factory, fitting wheels on tractors. One day an older workmate was boasting about his son passing university exams. Feeling jealous, I told him proudly that I had passed a few ‘O’ levels myself. He looked me up and down – observing my grimy overalls, oily face and unkempt hair – and said: “You! You must be joking. You are nothing but a filthy stink!” The next morning, as I approached the factory gates, I stopped and thought, ‘I can’t face it anymore’. So I went for a steamclean and a week later got a job in a record shop.
1982: Landing back in starry Bradford after 6 months in California, I thought myself a man of the world. I had also read the odd book on my travels. One night an old pal heard me and my new posh voice waxing lyrical about literature. “Eh, Martin”, he said, “you’re talking to your mates, now. Stop trying to sound like Oscar Wilde.” It was true, I had become a pretentious chump. So I cut my long hair short, bought myself an old suit and tie from a charity shop and enrolled at Bradford College: I went from Jim Morrison to Rupert Brooke in the blink of a town hall pigeon. After a couple of weeks on the course, one of my fellow students said: “What’s with the suit? You look like a down-at-heel insurance man”. Charming.
1986: I pitched up in London and was invited to look after the flat of a distinguished Irish writer, Anthony Cronin, while he went back to Dublin to think. As my passport was about to expire and I didn’t have a job, I asked Tony what I should put down as my ‘occupation’ on the application form. “Just put playboy”, he said. Then I did get a job, teaching English to foreigners in a school in the West End. One day, after a heavy lunch with an Italian guy whose English was appalling, we returned to the school to carry on with the lesson. Despite my Herculean efforts to keep listening to the guy, I nodded off, slumping onto the desk in front. I woke up with a bang as the student’s fist crashed down on the table and he shouted: “Wake up! I pay many money for this course!”
1992: On my first trip to Brazil, I headed to Rio and a job in an English school. As a single bloke, I was understandably looking forward to sowing my wild oats with a bevy of Brazilian beauties. I knocked on the door of the school and it was opened by a coordinator who welcomed me and attempted to introduce me to some other teachers. But it was lunchtime and the place was empty. Apart, that is, from one young woman sitting at a table marking her students’ homework. So, lo and behold, I was introduced to my future wife. Bang went any fantasies of dental floss bikinis – my fate was to be under the thumb for the next 23 years…
2000: It wasn’t enough for lowly Bradford City to have reached the Olympian heights of the Premiership. Oh, no! We had to STAY there. Needing a win on the last day of the season, we faced the mighty Liverpool (Stevie Gerrard, Michael Owen et al). One goal from Bantams captain David Wetherall did the trick, sending the fans at Valley Parade into hysterics. Having watched the game in a London pub and imbibed a skinful of Youngs Special Bitter, I went and laid down on Richmond Green to look up at the sky and thank God in his heaven. In retrospect, I don’t think he was listening.
2008: As a proud dad, I watched my son, in goggles and gloves, win the World Cup almost single-handedly! Not the dastardly FIFA one, I mean the version for 10-year-olds in Chertsey. Guess which team he was representing? England, of course. Some of the other dads were not happy with the result and swore the match had been fixed. It had. Edward, my son, had accepted a bribe: if he lifted the cup he would be rewarded with a homemade cheeseburger and could stay up to watch Match of the Day on telly.
2011: After selling up in England, my family and I landed in downtown Porto Alegre, Brazil, with 9 heavy suitcases on a sunny Saturday lunchtime. Our hotel was just yards away from the city’s teeming ‘camelódromo’ – a ramshackle street trader’s market full of cheap tat. What a shock! From the sleepy villages of Surrey to the chaos and human struggle of the Brazilian poor. I laid down on the bed in my puny hotel room, pale and shaking, believing I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I was wrong, of course. After a few beers I remembered that you can’t have real adventures without taking risks.
As for the next 40 years, I wonder what thrills await me before I shuffle off this mortal coil? A few more second-hand LPs to add to my collection, at least. What I really wish for is the chance to go back to 1974, where I started this little trawl through the past. It could all have been so different. I could have been a contender…