Posts Tagged With: travelling

Estrangeiro in my own back yard


Globe-hopping is exhilarating and sad at the same time

There is an old Gaúcho proverb down in the south of Brazil that goes something like this: ‘Don’t jump over the fence when there are plenty of cows in your own field.’ Well, folks, that sounds a little like the story of my life – always heading for the greener grass only to find a field full of manure. In fact, fence-jumping, although glorious in its gay abandon, always seems to leave me with a deep sense of sadness. No sooner have I landed in a new field than I start to feel empty, scared, nostalgic. What madness have I just committed? Where are all those people that filled my life just weeks ago, those smiling faces, those warm human beings I once hugged on the other side of the world? Where did all those summers go? What the hell am I doing in Scarborough?


Does this grass really taste any sweeter?

So, I ask myself, what exactly did I learn during my last escapade, from upping sticks in leafy Surrey 7 years ago, soaking up that Brazilian sunshine in “lively port” Porto Alegre and landing back with a dull thud in gritty Yorkshire? Well, for starters, I still believe wholeheartedly that Travel with a capital T is priceless, and nothing in this life comes near it for enriching your spirit. But moving countries is an emotional roller-coaster that leaves your heart with a few missing pieces. And the worst thing about living abroad is not knowing how long it’s going to last and when the people and places right in front of you are going to become misty memories.


Parque da Redenção in Porto Alegre – now but a misty memory…

My barber in Brazil was a realistic sort of a chap. When I told him I was thinking of coming back to England he said something which could be roughly translated as, “too right, mate!” He continued: “Ask yourself what you are going to miss, exactly. I’ll tell you the only two things you’ll miss about Brazil: the weather and the people.” And in a way, of course, he was right. Yet even the weather and the people on their own amount to a sizeable chunk missing from your life, especially when you are shivering in a dark, damp Bradford bedroom. All of a sudden, Brazil’s many charms begin to replay in your mind, like a Thomson’s holiday promo video with your mates waving in the background.


Brazilian buffet lunches are a glorious ritual

Brazil is a beast of a place, a big busy sweltering ‘bagunça’ going backwards. Brazilians are always moaning that nothing works, but that is the charm of the place. In Brazil you don’t throw anything away and you don’t take anything for granted: on Friday you celebrate getting through the week in one piece. But despite the wild-west lawlessness and chaos, the people are easy to get to know and easy to love: they have learned to suffer the fools in charge and make the best of the warm days and barbecue nights. What I remember of Brazil are fleeting moments of joy, of feeling like a hero, a traveller who has been knocked about by a herd of bulls but is still standing and managing a smile. In Brazil the night is a child who only wants to play.

Moments of joy in dingy England are as rare as clockwork teacakes, especially if you live in a provincial outpost where the people look and sound like farm labourers with issues. In my little town, they think Europe is a place beyond the Urals full of foreign spies with garlic breath. But there are a few consolations: catching the Leeds to London express and fantasising about not going back; finding a booth in a light, airy Wetherspoons pub and working through the ale list; reading the Guardian horizontally on Saturday pretending to be the intelligentsia;  singing daft songs in the Spion Kop at Valley Parade after a pub crawl; wading through the £1 racks at Vinyl Tap in Huddersfield with an oscillating heart-rate and a toothy grin; eating battered haddock steaming with malt vinegar; and watching the sun and the empire go down at the end of the pier after another long summer night. 


Bradford is, shall we say, an acquired taste?

My biggest problem in England, according to social commentator David Goodhart, is that I am an Anywhere and not a Somewhere type. Somewheres grow up and stay put in their communities; they can’t wait to leave school, have conventional ideas and tend to become hostile to outside influences and stray souls invading their territory. Anywheres are rootless, university-educated drifters who move where the work is and tend to be liberal and egalitarian in outlook, identifying themselves within a larger, global image of citizenship. In other words, to the curtain-twitching nutters of this world, I am always an alien intruder who appears self-satisfied and smarmy; a suspicious bloke who doesn’t understand why the locals gang together and grunt like something in a field.

Many of the blues and folk singers I listen to always seem to be “moving on” in their songs, leaving town and heading over the hills, looking for adventure, new friendships, new loves. But life on the move is a long, sad song that gets sadder by the year and eventually leaves you with little else but memories. I may be proud to be an Anywhere drifter, but the Somewheres of this world, and there are many, have one big advantage over me – they don’t have much to miss because their lives and their friends are right in front of them and always have been. They certainly don’t envy me. In fact, they probably feel a bit sorry for a guy who was born in Bradford, ran away to see the world, and now has to face the fact that his beloved home town is only an hour away down the motorway (in a clapped out old banger). I mean, come on – who would be me?!


Brazil was a riot for Ronnie, but he missed warm bitter and Bird’s custard

Besides, I am getting a little too old for this adventure lark. Brazil was a blast, and sometimes I crave my old life back – my lovely students, those naughty buffet lunches, the warm nights, freezing beer and the distant sounds of gunshot. But I have to face the fact that Brazil wasn’t really me, if I am honest. Train robber Ronald Biggs eventually got fed up with Rio and craved his old life back, supping bitter down the pub and then popping home for dinner and puddings served with his beloved Bird’s custard. But even if his fantasy of slipping back into England had become a reality, which it didn’t, his new life would soon have become just as stale as the old one. 

As I get older, I may even have to settle down somewhere and grow old gracefully, whatever that means. At least I can take comfort from the advice a pal of mine gave me recently: ‘Don’t worry your head about old age’, he said. ‘It doesn’t last.’

Categories: Blighty, Brazil, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The day the travel bug drops dead

Life in a suitcase is an adventure...but pulling up roots is painful

Life in a suitcase is an adventure…but pulling up roots is painful

I’m a drifter. All my life I have been on the move: Bradford, Iowa, Bradford, Plymouth, Ilkley Moor, Brighton, California, Bradford, Andalucia, Madrid, London, Rio de Janeiro, Bradford, Surrey, Porto Alegre…the list goes on. So, where exactly is home? Wherever I lay my hat? Maybe. But there is a feeling that haunts the constant traveller. The question is, when and where I am going to stop this long, fascinating journey? Because we all need roots, even if they are delicate and don’t go down very deep. One day you just have to stop and say: “This is it. I am ready to stop the magic bus right here and stay forever”. Forever is a very big word. But journeying is a kind of madness; a sweet, delicious madness sometimes, it’s true…but mental all the same. One day you need to end the madness and settle down. The roots need to go down deeper. As Status Quo once put it, Down down, deeper and down.

One day you need deep roots...down, down, deeper and down

One day you need deep roots…down, down, deeper and down

Everybody loves travelling. Why? Well, for a start, when you are travelling you are not working. You are on holiday. You are in a relaxed and excited mood and perceive everything accordingly. All your responsibilities are on hold. Travelling is certainly different to tourism. The traveller goes to way out places, mixes with the locals and stays longer. But living abroad is different again. For that, you have to work. You have to get well integrated into the economic culture of the country you have chosen. You have to pay rent and tax, talk to lawyers and navigate through the treacherous corridors of bureaucracy. Living abroad is when travelling gets serious.

Most people who want to throw caution to the devil and live abroad make a plan to stay one year, or maybe two. There is a kind of wisdom in this compromise: you are taking the plunge to live in another country, but you have a return date. You will come back home with an expanded mind and enjoy a hero’s welcome. You will be a star in the village for a week or two. Having had a deeper and wider experience than most of your pals, you can wear your other-worldliness as a kind of badge of eccentricity. You have “seen the world”; you are different, a little bit wild even. You are cool.

If I ever leave Brazil I will weep over those Florianopolis beaches

If I ever leave Brazil I will weep over those Florianopolis beaches

But what about those of us who have no return date? We are the “lifers”, born into this world to hit the ground running, to take the road less travelled, to squint into the distance to see what’s coming next. And yet, for even the wildest wanderer there comes a day when the future must be faced. Then the question is: where am I going to end my days? Where does my heart tell me to buy a little place, collect my pension, keep a few dogs and chickens? This is the moment your adopted country becomes HOME. You are not moving anymore. You have got everything you need and wear a smile on your face each day. Your roaming days are over.

South America's football guru Tim Vickery has lived in Rio for 20 years

South America’s football guru Tim Vickery has lived in Rio for 20 years

As a born drifter, this is probably the toughest decision you will ever make. We are talking death-bed; finding a place to croak your last as you look through the window at those distant mountains; a place to write your will, leaving all your money, of course, to the George Gissing Museum in Wakefield; a place where you finally have a full drinks cabinet, complete with cocktail-shaker, lemon slices and Epsom salts. I am getting old, remember. My fellow-students call me “grandpa”. I need a place to wear my favourite yellow cardigan with the gnarled leather buttons, the one covered in dandruff and HP sauce stains.

All this points to one thing: LOVE. Do I love my adopted country? Can I picture the neighbours carrying my plastic coffin through the streets as the school band plays Abide With Me? Big question. My old mate Tim Vickery, Rio’s resident football guru, once told me Brazil was not a country to grow old in. Funny that, because he’s been here 20 years and appears totally integrated in the culture. So what did he mean? I think it’s a syndrome all ex-pats suffer from, the fear that this place, Timbuktu or wherever it might be, is my final destination, warts and all.

The Yorkshire Dales is not a bit like Brazil...funny that

The Yorkshire Dales is not a bit like Brazil…funny that

Which brings me to an even bigger question: Bradford or Porto Alegre? Rio Grande do Sul or Yorkshire? Brazil or England? Well, in order to decide, there needs to be some criteria. Things like: comfort, safety, quality of life, cost of living, a variety of fun things to do and at least a few friends you can rely on. Do I have all those? Hmm. Would I have all those in Huddersfield or Keighley? Hmm.

"mother's milk" - Yorkshire bitter with a creamy head

“mother’s milk” – Yorkshire bitter with a creamy head

For a Yorkshireman, of course, there is only one thing to consider: the water. Yes, you heard me. But I mean the water they use in the brewery. The glorious, soft spring water they use to make Yorkshire bitter, so that when your pint appears on the bar, it has a gorgeous creamy head on top. ‘Mother’s milk’, we call it. The problem is, if I move back to the north of England, I will end my days staring out of the pub window at drizzly-grey skies and derelict mills, chuckling at the pasty-white Yorkshire folk at the next table who talk funny. How the dazzling suns of Brazil and those immaculate bronzed bodies on the beach will all seem a million miles away!

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

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