Posts Tagged With: Rupert Brooke

Have you heard the one about my life?

I was born in Bradford...lived in Brazil...buried in Scunthorpe. The End

I was born in Bradford…lived in Brazil…buried in Scunthorpe. The End

‘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‘…

A tractor factory is no place for a vinyl junkie!

A tractor factory is no place for a vinyl junkie…

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.

A cross between Jim Morrison and Rupert Brooke? Doing my homework for Bradford College, 1982

A cross between Jim Morrison and Rupert Brooke? Doing my homework for Bradford College, 1982

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.

Irish writer Anthony Cronin once dubbed me a 'playboy' for some reason...

Irish writer Anthony Cronin once dubbed me a ‘playboy’ for some reason…

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…

So sorry that I cannot join you, ladies...I'm getting married!

So sorry that I cannot join you, ladies…I’m getting married!

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.

My begoggled son Edward winning the World Cup for England, 2008

My begoggled son Edward winning the World Cup for England, 2008

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.

Erm, excuse me, are you sure this is the Richon Hotel, Porto Alegre?

Erm, excuse me, are you sure this is the Richon Hotel, Porto Alegre?

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…

Categories: Blighty, Brazil, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

September is the cruellest month…

You made a first class fool out of me...

You made a first class fool out of me…

It’s late September and I really should be back in school. I know I keep you amused, by I feel I’m being used…all together now: “Oh Maggie, I wish I’d never seen your face!”. I have just realised I know all the words to Maggie May, but then we used to sing it en masse in the middle of the dance floor at Bradford University students’ union bar in 1973. In the song, Rod Stewart is a young man in love with an older woman. The summer has run its sweet course and he needs to get back to his studies. He needs to break free; the days of romance have lost their shine and reality has hit him like a bag of cement.

September is a sad month – unless you like misty mornings and burning leaves at the bottom of the garden. Or unless you live in Brazil, where it’s the beginning of spring. Come to think of it, how can it be spring and autumn at the same time, with some people getting out the blankets and others gearing up for bikini parties? How can the world be in two places at the same time, creating two completely different moods? How can I be in Bradford and Brazil? Well, I am, sometimes…

The street near the park where I had my first flat in Bradford

The street near the park – my first Bradford flat

It’s September 1976 and I’m in Manningham, by the park, near the famous Lister’s Mill chimney. I have fallen in love with Judith, an older woman (she’s 23!) and we are about to have a romantic holiday in the Scottish Highlands. The summer has been spent cuddling and giggling in my Victorian conversion flat. I have been pretending I know how to cook and driving without a licence, but then I am young and foolish. It feels divine.

In the Highlands we curl up inside a little orange tent, I try and cook breakfast like a man, we drink whisky in cosy pubs; then we move to a caravan and lie flat on the solid bed, listening to the rain pattering on the roof, feeling warm inside like glow worms. I stare at Loch Ness for hours, captivated by the deep silence, and we take pictures of ourselves pulling faces, revelling in the fizz and froth of youth. We are so in love that we listen to Barry Manilow cassettes and think it’s normal.

"I want to be clever like T.S. Eliot" - me and my books in 1982

“I want to be clever like T.S. Eliot” – me and my books in 1982

September is always a turning point, a time for reminiscing. T.S. Eliot wrote a riddle about time, suggesting that “time future” was “contained in time past”. I think he means to go forward we need to revisit and make sense of the past. My grandma used to long to be 21 again, but only if she could go back with her older, mature mind. I would also love to travel back “knowing what I know now”, but I would be 26. Yes, I would sail back to 1982, the year I tried to reinvent myself as a scholar. Gone were the purple loon pants, patchouli oil and unkempt hair, and in came the second-hand suits, kipper ties and cardboard briefcase. I looked like a down-at-heel insurance man but fancied myself as Rupert Brooke.

Doomed youth - English poet Rupert Brooke

Doomed youth – English poet Rupert Brooke

Being Rupert, my favourite haunts are reading rooms in the grand old libraries of Yorkshire where I sit for hours with a pile of books – John Ruskin, Jonathan Swift, Ernest Dowson – pretending I am at Oxford or Cambridge. When the library closes I drift over to the pub with a Penguin classic in my pocket, sip ale and recite passages from Ulysses. The locals call me ‘Gandalf’, the daft idiot in the corner who talks to himself. But I care not. I want to be educated, a gentleman. The life of a flat-capped, pigeon-fancying, whippet-keeping northern working man is not for me.

As the year comes to a close, a disc-jockey mate of mine invites me to join him at a Christmas disco. Why not? So I boldly waltz into the place with a grin as wide as a flat cake, acting and speaking like Bradford’s answer to Oscar Wilde. And there in front of me is my old flame Judith. She is now married with kids, but we beam at each other and both realise instantly that the thrill hasn’t gone. She is tiddly and asks me if I still have a hairy chest. I say it’s hairier and she moves closer. We end up clutching, hiding in the middle of the dance floor. Suddenly there is a loud shouting voice and her husband appears. He grabs her arm and yanks her away.

Gandalf marches away from the flat caps and whippets of Bradford...

Gandalf marches away from the flat caps and whippets of Bradford…

So ends another chapter of my life. Judith – my Maggie May – symbolizes my old Bradford youth. I loved her when I was a simpleton. But Gandalf had other ambitions; he wanted to learn the Latin tongue and experience the exotic charms of Spain and South America. Nevertheless, love is a powerful force, and every September I think of that orange tent in the middle of a damp and misty field somewhere in the Highlands of Scotland. Only I don’t hear Rod Stewart singing, I hear Barry Manilow inviting me to join him “at the Copa, Copacabana”. You see, Gandalf had to come to Brazil and find his Lola.

We love you, Barry, only don't tell anyone!

We love you, Barry, only don’t tell anyone!

Categories: Blighty, Musings, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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