Posts Tagged With: World Cup

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

Brazil’s winter of discontent…

 

Losing is no fun: a Brazilian fan feels the agony of another German goal

Losing is no fun: a Brazilian fan feels the agony of another German goal

An eerie calm has descended on the streets of Brazil – or at least my bit of it down here in sunny Porto Alegre. The World Cup may be a fast fading memory, but the scars haven’t quite healed. There is still a mood of bewilderment. The other day I met an elderly woman who doesn’t even follow football, and yet she told me she has the numbers 7 and 1 going around her brain like a curse (Brazil were hammered 7:1 by Germany in the semi-final). In Brazil, the number of the beast is no longer 666, but seven and one. Nowadays, no Brazilian would buy a car with 7 and 1 on the number plate, and you can bet no-one will gamble those numbers on the lottery.

But the war is over. Germany won and everyone has gone home. We all got patriotic for a few weeks and now we’re back to being global nobodies. We all imagined our blood was better than Johnny Foreigner’s blood and shouted it from the terraces, or from the safety of our living-room sofas. Global football tournaments are one of the only times when nations meet to do battle and the fans can put on their war paint and jump up and down like demented warriors. Of course, it’s not that long since real wars were commonplace. It’s only 500 years since the War of the Roses, for example, that glorious Yorkshire victory! Yes, the House of York (white rose) trampled the House of Lancaster (red rose) and I still have my white rose cufflinks to prove it.

Richard III had a few problems...he wasn't from Bradford

Richard III had a few problems…he wasn’t from Bradford

War or World Cup, men still love the chance to be macho and aggressive. But what happens when the fighting has stopped – what do men do when the war is over? According to Shakespeare, after the Wars of the Roses they started prettifying themselves to win invites into ladies’ chambers so they could try out their amorous talents. But not all men are made for love-making. If you are deformed and ugly, like Richard III, you cannot join in the passion and the poetry. Richard’s response was to avenge himself by killing all his rivals and crowning himself king. It was one way of dealing with his exclusion. But today, for us men who live in peaceful times, we can’t just pick up a sword and let fly: we have to be happy with the bedroom antics. It has led to what some people refer to as the “feminisation” of culture. Men are now more like women. So, the World Cup was a chance for us men to be tough guys again for a few weeks.

Yet more growth at what human cost?

Growth: the only solution in town?

But now Brazilians have more important things to consider. There is an election looming and the country is crying out for change. People are demanding more investment in education, healthcare and infrastructure. Like most economies, Brazil has taken a tumble and the “boom” years appear to be behind. What the politicians tell us is we need more “growth”. It’s funny. The solution always seems to be the same. The magic word is growth – all we need is more people spending and everything will be all right. Well, I agree with Professor Tim Jackson who, in his book Prosperity without Growth – economics for a finite planet, says that every society clings to a myth: in ours it is the myth of economic growth. “The days of spending money we do not have on things we do not need to impress people we do not care about are over”, says Tim. Or they should be.

Here is what all Brazilians should do: STOP. Stop for a few minutes every day. Turn off that stupid ‘Smart Phone’ and think. Reflect on your life. What are you doing with your precious time on earth? Do you just want to be richer and buy more stuff? Who are you when you are not at work? How much time do you have to grow as an individual? What are you doing for the planet?

I'm looking after Number One...that's me and my kids. Sod the rest of you!

I’m looking after Number One…that’s me and my kids. Sod the rest of you!

Most people will tell you that work and money are not so important for them: what comes first is the family. As if “the family” was the panacea for a perfect life. Well, I say STOP that as well! Stop thinking your family is more precious than mine, or any other. It’s another myth, I’m afraid. One that has been so successful ideologically that we dare not even question it. Believe me, it is not “natural” to dote on one’s family; it is “cultural” – and culture is always part of the broader economic system. The truth is that the “family unit” is a divisive little institution. Through our blind obsession with our own families we have simply stopped caring for anybody else in the wider community. Love stops at the front door of our house. It’s every family for itself – like every man for himself. Dog eat dog. Sad, but true.

No, my friends! Consumerism is a blind alley where you lose your soul. Increasing your buying power – the very thing everybody seems obsessed with – won’t make you any happier. What makes us happy is feeling good about ourselves, and we get that from generosity of spirit. Doing good things, helping others. Kindness.

Of course, in Yorkshire – under the shadow of the “glorious sun of York” – people don’t have a problem buying things they don’t need to impress somebody else. That’s because Yorkshire folk are notoriously tight-fisted. Let me put it this way, if a Yorkshireman owned Siberia, he wouldn’t give you as much as a snowball. I met a bloke from Leeds in Rio de Janeiro a few years back. I kid you not, he would walk a mile to save 5 centavos on a glass of beer. I went with him, of course. I had to.

"Eat all, sup all, and pay now't!" Stingy Yorkshire folk

“Eat all, sup all, and pay now’t!” Yorkshire folk hold on to their dosh

And another thing, Brazilians might still be suffering deep down, but at least their boys got to the semi-final. My army – the ones waving the flag of St George – were annihilated. England were atrocious. We lost twice and drew 0:0 with Costa Rica. What a shower! But at least I have plans for my huge England flag – I’m waiting for a fancy-dress party so I can go as Richard the Lionheart. On second thoughts, after looking in the mirror this morning, I’d better go as Richard III. “Now is the winter of my discontent…”

Categories: Brazil, Football, Global Crisis | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Man’s best friend is the underdog…with orange boots

Giant-killers Costa Rica celebrate another World Cup goal

Magic orange boots: giant-killers Costa Rica celebrate another World Cup goal

Whatever you think about the World Cup, the tournament is nothing without upsets. If all the big favourites keep winning we start to switch off. We desperately need giant-killers. We need the minnows to beat the sharks, the underdogs to crush the titans. It seems to be part of our nature, an inner urge or desire that stretches back to great archetypes in Western culture.

One of the first versions of giant-killing has to be David and Goliath, the story of a boy and his home-made catapult who knocks down a great ogre. Then Shakespeare gets in on the act, of course, with Henry V, the English King who shouted “Once more unto the breach, dear friends…” before crushing the mighty French army at Agincourt. Literature loves the underdog: think of Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre and that unforgettable fairy tale The Tortoise and the Hare – all stories of the poor, weak and humble who triumph against all odds.

Please, sir, could you tell me where the nearest church is?

Please, sir, you couldn’t spare a few shillings by any chance?

So far in this World Cup we have seen at least three giant-killing performances: Costa Rica stunning Uruguay 3:1 and then beating Italy, and Chile knocking the cup-holders Spain clean out of the competition with a convincing 2:0 victory. But we need more, and without them even the most dyed-in-the-wool football fans will start to get bored. Come to think of it, FIFA itself is a kind of giant that could do with knocking down a peg or two.

Eduardo Vargas scores for Chile and sends Spain back to Madrid

Eduardo Vargas scores for Chile and sends Spain back to Madrid

I suffered at the hands of the mighty institution just the other day as I tried to get into the stadium here in Porto Alegre to see Australia vs Holland with a ham and cheese sandwich. The woman at the gate searched my bag and told me I would have to throw the offending butty away or eat it right there in front of her. “But why?”, I pleaded. “FIFA doesn’t allow any food to be taken inside”, I was told. So I asked for an explanation. I got one. FIFA wants you to spend your money only on its selected, sponsored, over-priced food and drink products inside the ground. Here I recognised the ugly face of commercial sport where profit always comes before any other consideration. My wholewheat sandwich was made with love and had just the right amount of butter and mustard. The pricey hot-dog inside the ground was a sorry, soggy mass of junk. Only Oliver Twist would have eaten it with relish.

Oliver Twist: "Please, sir, can I have some more?"

Oliver Twist: “Please, sir, I want some more”

There are other problems of being an England fan in Brazil. Embarrassment is one of them as the national team keep losing and I feel less like sporting my St George’s Cross floppy hat. One Brazilian TV pundit made an interesting point after The Three Lions lost again – this time to Uruguay. The United Kingdom looks quite big on the map, he explained, but England is only a little country. And some of the best players in the UK happen to be Welsh, or Scottish, or Irish – players who wouldn’t dream of switching allegiance. What he failed to mention was that England is a nation of amateurs. From their inept enthusiasm for DIY (Do It Yourself), fixing the car, putting on a play or setting up a business, “professional” sounds way too serious to English ears. We like nothing more than a botched job that saves a few quid.

This jerry-built mentality also affects sport. You see, English people are too bloated with irony to take anything seriously, including professional football. The English Football Association (FA) is a good example. Imagine FIFA run by boy scouts high on cider and you won’t be far off the mark. But though deep down I love this reckless, have-a-go English approach to everything, I am living in Brazil now. And there is a World Cup on…I need a team to support. England have bombed, so how about getting behind the Brazilian boys?

What's the UK...and which bit is England?

What is the UK and where is England?

The dilemma is, Brazil is one of the favourites, so it wouldn’t be right to shout for a giant, would it? Probably not, though Brazil is a young country with serious social problems, stark inequality and dire poverty, so it doesn’t feel so bad wanting them to win. Actually, I really want to see a certain team lose. Germany, of course. Isn’t that horrid of me? It’s not so much the war that sticks in my craw, it’s just that the Germans are so efficient, serious and professional – all the things the English are not. One of my favourite philosophers was German: Friedrich Nietzsche. He said when you meet someone who is obviously superior to you in every way, the only pure feeling you can have towards them is love. L-O-V-E. But loving the Germans? Hmm. 

No – I will get behind any team whose players are humble, a touch amateurish even, yet full of fight and with a lovable sense of humour. Pity the Irish aren’t playing…

Categories: Blighty, Brazil, Football, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

World Cup Brazil – three lions and a few white elephants…

 

Dear Mr FIFA, please could you tell me where all the money goes?

Dear Mr FIFA, please could you tell me where all the money goes?

One damp morning last week I was sitting on the rocky bus to college when suddenly my heart leapt: I spotted a picture in the local newspaper and a story about the Red Devils, coming to Brazil for the World Cup. Not Manchester United, but a group of ecstatic South Korean youngsters coming over here to support their national team. The photograph captures 120 excited, smiling faces, full of hope and expectation. It’s a far cry from the mood of many of my colleagues and students here in Porto Alegre. So why has the mood soured just before the greatest sports tournament on the planet? Why can’t Brazilians get behind the national team?

The Red Devils - 120 happy South Korean youngsters heading for Brazil

The Red Devils – 120 happy South Korean youngsters heading for Porto Alegre, Brazil

Well, the short answer is FIFA. The all-powerful football federation has had the Brazilian government in an arm-lock for the the last year, insisting its high standards are met. Sod the poor state schools and hospitals – get those stadiums finished and up-to-scratch, whatever the extra cost. So the government has forked out billions in tax-payers’ money to build a host of white elephants, just so FIFA executives don’t lose face (and the odd million in profits). Of course, having unfinished stadiums has had its funny side. One English ex-pat here in Porto Alegre, on seeing a Facebook picture of his mate’s England-Uruguay tickets bought back home posted a note: “I take it you’re coming a couple of weeks early to help build the stadium?”, and the mate posted back, “Of course – I’ve already packed a bag of cement in my suitcase!”.

It seems the 2014 World Cup will be remembered for the wrong reasons, particularly in Brazil. But in fact, they will be for the right reasons. Like the fact that World Cups are hideously expensive spectacles that do nothing for a country’s economy but everything for FIFA plc. These tournaments suck countries dry, leaving black holes in government coffers and stadiums that will never again be even half-full. One economic analyst has calculated that the total public spending on the tournament would be enough to pay Brazil’s annual social welfare bill – the Bolsa Familia – twice over. So Brazilians are torn: most of them believe the cup has done more harm than good for Brazil. And yet.

The newly refurbished Beira Rio stadium in Porto Alegre

The new look Beira Rio stadium in Porto Alegre. Wow!

When the boys in yellow take to the field and Brazil’s national anthem begins to play millions of stomachs will be aflutter and hairs will be standing up on the backs of necks in living rooms and bars across this vast expanse of a country. Perhaps there will be some tangible euphoria if Brazil keep winning their games. Perhaps people will be singing and dancing in the streets. Last year Brazil gave Spain, the current holders of the cup, a good trouncing, so the squad has a great chance of going all the way to the final. It’s going to be fun to watch, with 5 games happening in the newly-refurbished Beira Rio stadium, less than half-an-hour away from where I am writing this.

The Three Lions - "Come on England!" (and no penalties...)

The Three Lions – “Come on England!” (and no penalties…)

Trouble is, I can’t support Brazil. Not with body and soul. I love Brazil, but I am English through and through. If you cut me open I’m full of warm beer and Bird’s custard. So what am I to do? Paint a St George’s cross on my face and get behind the Three Lions, of course. The World Cup seems to make patriots of even the most liberal-minded people. I have often asked myself why I feel so strongly about the England football team. They are usually appalling to watch, the fans are mainly saddos and when the penalty shoot-out comes, it’s time to run for the exit. So why do I continue this madness?

 

My childhood...watching the fab trolley buses in Bradford

My childhood…watching the fab trolley buses in Bradford

Well, it’s love. A strange kind of love, but love nonetheless. It’s hard to describe, but I suppose it’s a love of childhood, hearth and home, the streets where I played tin-can-squat with my pals. It’s all my English travels and the wacky people I met on the journey. It’s old black and white photographs of Bradford buses. It’s Philip Larkin and Monty Python, The Rolling Stones and Al Read. It’s the rolling English drunkard and the rolling English road. It’s salt and vinegar and cheese and onion. It’s Shakespeare and J. B. Priestley and the English language. But it’s more than all that: it’s a kind of feeling you just can’t define in words. I don’t think most people know why they feel emotional about their nation. It’s a question nobody thinks to ask.

Half-time snack, anyone? Cheese and Onion or Salt and Vinegar?

Half-time snack – Cheese and Onion or Salt and Vinegar?

However, there is one big question I’d like to ask FIFA as this global extravaganza is about to kick off. What happens to the billions made through sponsorship and TV rights? I don’t mean to be churlish, but I think Brazilians and the rest of us watching this World Cup have a right to know.

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

Earthlings – I’ve been born again!

 

What was it? Who am I? What does it all mean?

What was it? Who am I? What does it all mean?

I am writing this like somebody from another planet. A profound change has come over me. I have seen the light. The strangest thing is, it happened at the end of a football match. Like a billion other people, I was watching the Champions League final on Saturday on my television screen. It was an all-Spanish final between Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid. The game wasn’t that great until near the end when I got an eyeful of Cristiano Ronaldo’s body. He scored a penalty and tore off his shirt to reveal a torso, complete with 6-pack tummy, to make any body-builder weep. What a man, I thought! He’s like a god – a hero to millions of kids everywhere. His iconic status and goal-scoring ability earn him the princely sum of $2 million a month. Not bad, eh? It can’t be easy finding ways of spending that much cash.

Cristiano Ronaldo: some guys really need to show off their great bodies!

Cristiano Ronaldo: some guys really need to show off their great bodies!

Anyway, soon after the penalty the game was over and the crowd whipped out their smartphones to film the celebrations and send pictures to their pals via Facebook. It was a truly global event, with images being beamed into homes in countless countries. But the effort of watching all that testosterone caught up with me and I must have dozed off. Then I had the weirdest dream. I mean really weird.

I was watching the crowd again playing with their gadgets when everything went pitch black. Darkness descended. The crowd were screaming and groaning in horror and confusion. In the distance I saw a bright light in the sky heading towards the stadium. It soon got bigger and so bright that I had to put a hand over my eyes. Then it descended into the middle of the ground causing the players and officials on the pitch to run for their lives. The blinding light started to dim until we could all see a figure standing on top of a kind of pedestal. It seemed to be in the shape of a man – a cross between a druid and Leonard Cohen. Slowly the screaming and wailing subsided and after a short while there was silence. Then the figure began to speak in a deep, soft voice. Luckily for me it spoke in English as my Spanish is a little rusty. This is what it said:

“Earthlings! Humans! Fear not, for I come in peace. But I bring to you a dire warning of danger if you do not mend your ways. You have turned your backs on the gods. You humans have become vain, hedonistic and selfish. Your consumerism has made you spiritually empty, believers in nothing but material riches. How you have shamed the gods! Yes, your behaviour has been truly shameful.” At this point, with my jaw suitably dropped, I watched the reaction from the crowd. I saw that many were on their knees, weeping and begging for mercy. I noticed that Cristiano Ronaldo in particular looked very penitent. He was sobbing uncontrollably and looked nothing like the boastful sports icon of a few minutes previously. There was a pause. Then the figure began to speak again.

Everything went dark except for a blinding light on the pitch...

Everything went dark except for a blinding light on the pitch…

“I have watched you all this evening, enjoying yourselves at this sporting festival. But at what cost to human life has this expensive spectacle taken place! Many of you here are wealthy, while others are poor and hungry. You sportsmen amass wealth and riches as if this was the purpose of life. Have you forgotten that your time on earth should be spent working to improve the lives of others, and by so doing improve your own lives? Have you forgotten that you all face death and will then have nothing, not even the fine clothes that you wear?”. By now everyone that I could see by the dim light was pale and trembling with shame, especially the players. Some of them seemed to be shouting “Please take my money! I will give everything away, I promise!”

The voice continued. “I have some decrees that I must enforce before I leave as I do not trust that you humans will repent. So mark you well the following changes to your life and make good to follow them to the letter.” Suddenly, all the TV screens lit up and began to display the message as if it was being dictated by the galactic visitor. It was like a global Powerpoint presentation, complete with bullet points. It went like this:

  • FOOTBALL will be an amateur game, played for the love of sport and friendly competition with your fellow-humans. It will be a recreational activity that comes after your work is completed
  • HOMES: your houses and apartments will no longer belong to you alone. You have forgotten that all property is only given to you temporarily by the grace of the gods. You will open your homes to the poor and the sick, or to anybody who needs shelter 
  • FACEBOOK will vanish. You will no longer have virtual friends. You will learn to love and cherish your real friends, not squander your lives with images of vanity and foolishness
  • No more internet porn guys - you have been warned!

    No more internet porn guys – you have been warned!

    INTERNET PORN: this has most displeased the gods! You human men have become slaves to lewd images of lust and debauchery. How many hours you spend pleasuring yourselves in grim solitude! From today porn sites will be no more. Instead, you must seek love with other humans before engaging in the fulfillment of sexual desire. This will teach you to be patient, compassionate and considerate in your lovemaking

  • MONEY – the days of paper money, banks and interest are now ended. You will all relinquish your petty, worldly goods and learn to live simple but purposeful lives, guided by charity and great sympathy with your fellow humans

Suddenly the screens went dark again and the only visible light rested on the figure in the middle of the pitch. The presentation was over, but the visitor still had something to say. “Now mark my words and heed my calls for change”, he said. “I am very wise to all human trickery, of that you can be sure. I know another great sporting spectacle is about to begin, what you call the Worldly Cup. I shall return just after the final of that corrupt and corporate extravaganza to see what you earthlings have learned. Until then, the gods and I will pray for you. Farewell.”

Leonard Cohen: was it really you dressed as a druid?

Leonard Cohen: was it really you dressed as a druid?

What happened next is a bit of a blur. I woke up shivering and hungry, desperately in need of human company. So many images were flashing through my mind. What a revelation! Now I’m a bit worried about the World Cup in Brazil. What if there’s a blinding flash at the end of the final? And it’s funny, although I can no longer remember everything the visitor said, I could swear that, whatever the creature was, it spoke with a Yorkshire accent.

Categories: Brazil, Football, Global Crisis | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to score in Brazil?

 

The Brazilian powers-that- be were not happy with this image. I wonder why...

The Brazilian powers-that-be were not happy with this FIFA image. I wonder why?

What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you think of Brazil? Sunshine? Beaches? Football? What about the people? Bronzed babes in dental-floss bikinis all doing the samba while the boys leer at them with a beer in one hand and a hot-dog in the other? And the culture? A mixture of illicit sex, urban chaos and dodgy dealing? Well, it seems FIFA has exactly the same idea of the place. Last week its house magazine, The FIFA Weekly, ran an article listing “10 tips for tourists” coming to Brazil in June for the World Cup. OK, so FIFA may have a bee in its bonnet about some of the stadiums not being ready for the big kick-off. But that’s no reason to turn the Brazilian people into a global laughing stock. Is it?

The verb "to score" has different meanings...

The verb “to score” has, erm, different meanings…

The article was a case of adding insult to injury after an embarrassing incident the previous week when Adidas was forced to withdraw its World Cup t-shirts. Why? Because one of them had a cartoon image of a scantily-clad beauty on a Rio beach next to the slogan: “Lookin’ to score”. Ho ho ho, what a lark! Score in Brazil – football, babes – geddit? The other t-shirt had an “I love Brazil” message, but the heart in the middle resembled a pair of buttocks and a thong – only the image is upside down. Subtle, eh? 

FIFA has now removed the offending article, Brazil for Beginners, despite claiming it was tongue-in-cheek and not to be taken seriously. Funnily enough, the article appears to have been written by a Brazilian journalist and then translated into English for the FIFA website. As a Brit resident in Brazil (Rio and Porto Alegre) for a number of years, I feel qualified to add my two-penny-worth to the list of tips. So without further adieu, let’s have a look at them.

1) “Yes” doesn’t always mean “yes”: Brazilians are open and optimistic people and they will never begin a sentence with “no”. However, “yes” doesn’t always mean “yes”. In fact, to Brazilians, “yes” means “maybe”. So if somebody says to you, “Yes, I’ll call you back”, do not expect the telephone to be ringing in the next five minutes.

Wow! What a great sweeping generalisation to begin with! Never start a sentence with “no”. Don’t know where they got that from. My wife is always saying no, especially when I ask if I can modify the sitting room again to accommodate my Frankenstein hi-fi system. Actually, in Rio they never say “yes”. That’s because the word (“sim”) isn’t used in normal parlance. Ha ha – got you there!

2) Timing is flexible: Punctuality is not an exact science in Brazil. When arranging to meet somebody, nobody will be there at the exact time and place – a delay of 15 minutes is the tolerated norm.

So where exactly is punctuality an exact science? Sweden? Switzerland? I love that “nobody will be there at the exact time and place”. So your new Brazza friend won’t even bother coming to the spot you arranged to meet! Of course not – she’s had second thoughts about wasting her time with a blotchy ex-pat creep like you!

That heart shape looks like a thong...is that supposed to be funny?

Hey, Adidas – that heart shape looks like a thong…is that supposed to be funny?

3) Bodily contact: Brazilians are not used to the European code of maintaining a polite distance between one another. They speak with their hands and will not hesitate to touch the person with whom they are conversing. In nightclubs this can often lead to kissing, but that must not be misinterpreted. A kiss in Brazil is an unbinding form of non-verbal communication – and not an invitation to go any further.

I tried speaking with my hands but nobody understood me. It was either that or learning Portuguese, which is a nightmare. I also tried kissing people as a way of expressing myself. But I gave up after earning a few funny looks and suffering one or two knees in the groin. Maybe I went to the wrong nightclubs.

4) Queuing: Patiently waiting in line is not in a Brazilian’s DNA. When going up an escalator, for instance, the British example where people line up on one side does not exist. Instead, Brazilians prefer cultivated chaos, yet somehow still manage to get to the top (usually).

And where exactly do they get to when they don’t reach the top? The bottom, of course – bum bum! Cultivated chaos! Or maybe just chaos, without the cultivation? OK, so the Brits can appear to be more polite and civilized. That is until you get creamed by a gang of yobs on the commuter train to Woking.

5) Restraint: If you go to a Churrasco restaurant that offers all-you-can-eat and immediately want to get stuck into the meat menu, remember two things: eat nothing for at least 12 hours beforehand and consume food in small doses, since the best meat is usually served last.

Can’t comment on this one, having never been to a Churrasco restaurant. But I do like the idea of  getting “stuck into the meat”. Whatever that means…

6) Survival of the biggest: On the roads, pedestrians are largely ignored, and even at a zebra crossing hardly any motorist will voluntarily stop. Right of way between motorists is also simply defined by which vehicle is the larger.

No – pedestrians are targets. I have watched so many drivers visibly aim their cars at me as soon as I attempt to cross the road. “Get out of my way”, they say, “unless you want to be mincemeat”. Nice.

7) Try some Açaí: Berries from the Amazon really do work wonders. They are natural slimming agents, prevent wrinkles and are said to have the same effect as an energy drink. A few nibbles on one in the half-time break can help even the most fatigued footballer back to his feet again.

A few nibbles on one what? One berry? Açaí is a normally served as a deep purplish mushy drink that you need to eat with a spoon. Very Brazilian – you can’t get it in Skegness.

The first Catholic mass in Brazil...note the skimpy outfits - even then

The first Catholic mass in Brazil…note the skimpy outfits, even then

8) Going topless: Bared skin and female body art may be a familiar sight during Carnival, but they are not what you will see in everyday Brazil. Indeed, although Brazilian bikinis contain less fabric than comparable products in Europe, they are still worn at all times. Tanning on the beach without wearing them is strictly forbidden and may even result in a fine.

Tourists can’t get their heads around this one. “What, no topless chicks on the beach in Rio? Might as well get pissed and get my camera stolen then – I won’t be needing it.”

9) No Spanish: People hoping to use Spanish to communicate with the locals will find that their words fall on deaf ears. The national language is Brazilian Portuguese and if you call Buenos Aires the capital of Brazil expect to be deported.

Wrong again. Spanish has enough in common with Portuguese that, if spoken well and slowly, it should be understood by many Brazilians. Uruguay and Argentina are just down the road, remember – at least from where I live.

Brazilian women are not all beach babes - they also play football (and the samba!)

Brazilian women are not all beach babes – they also play football (and do the samba!)

10) Have patience: In Brazil, things are largely done last-minute and if there is one thing above all that tourists should remember it is not to lose patience and keep hold of your nerves. Everything will be all right, and ready in time. That even goes for the football stadiums. In fact, a Brazilian’s attitude to life can be summarized like this: relaxa e aproveita – relax and enjoy.

Oh dear. A feeble attempt at a joke about the stadiums. But you do need spadefuls of patience in Brazil, it’s true, with a bureaucratic system straight out of Orwell’s 1984. And I keep telling my students to relax, as English is so easy to learn (I learnt it as a baby). Of course it’s easier to enjoy yourself if you’ve got pots of money. For the millions of Brazilians who haven’t, there’s always cold beer and barbecue. But no chance of any tickets for the World Cup – they’re way too expensive. Funny that.

Categories: Brazil, Football, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dear President Dilma…

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is carrying the weight of the world on her back

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff is carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders…

Brazil has taken a dive. For the last few years, ‘Brazil’ and ‘boom’ were synonymous. Not any more. The tropical honeymoon is over. Even this year’s World Cup won’t save the country from economic decline. The global crisis has finally hit these shores and the shockwaves are shaking the coconut trees.

Comrade Dilma prepares to be condemned for her socialist convictions

Comrade Dilma prepares to be condemned for her socialist convictions

This year is election year and the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT) are hoping their “iron lady” Dilma Rousseff will win the voters’ confidence for a second term. Dilma has impeccable Marxist credentials: she fought as an urban guerilla against the military dictatorships of the 60s and 70s, earning herself a spell in prison where she was allegedly tortured. But comrade Dilma now has big problems. So much so, that I reckon she should listen to some sound advice from a straight-talking Bradford bloke like me. So, for the purposes of this post, I am recasting myself as an old lefty pal of Dilma’s from way back when. So, I have made a list of items she needs to address. Here goes:

IMAGE: Dilma, baby, you look ridiculous. Have you looked in the mirror recently? Your hair looks sculpted. Who are you trying to frighten? Think natural; look natural; be one of us again. And all that power dressing! What happened to the old jeans and jumpers you used to wear? You know, the communist clobber? Stop trying to look like Angela Merkel…you’re Brazilian, for god’s sake! Stop hiding behind a corporate mask, comrade. Ditch the designer wardrobe, get off your cardboard pedestal and come back down to the people – your people. And try to lose some weight: you’re beginning to look suspiciously like a self-satisfied bourgeois.

Now which one looks like a former leftist agitator? Erm, good question...

Now which one looks like a former leftist agitator? Erm, good question…

COMMUNICATION: Have you talked to any ordinary Brazilians recently to find out what they expect from the government? I thought so – hiding in your office again, behind a barrage of empty rhetoric. Stop acting. You are not a two-dimensional technocratGet out and meet the people.  Every struggling Brazilian would love to tell you about their plight. Remember this is supposed to be a democracy. How can you make policies if you don’t know what the people want at grassroots level? Imagine being able to make an election speech where you can say that you have “spoken to hundreds of families and understand their needs”. Don’t be shy – you know it makes sense.

Brazil's state schools: when you pay teachers peanuts, what do you get?

Brazil’s state schools: when you pay teachers peanuts, what do you get?

EDUCATION: Oh dear, what a sad story. You are proud to boast that every Brazilian kid now has a chance to go to school…but what kind of school? Some of them are a disgrace. For this, there is NO EXCUSE. Income and import taxes are ridiculously high, so you’ve had plenty of money to spend, especially in recent years. Education has to be your number one priority from now on. That’s number one, right? Top doggy. Listen to me: illiteracy and ignorance are rife. Are you proud of that? Without a greatly revalued and revamped education system, one which encourages and esteems academic achievement, Brazil will never be able to compete with other major economies and will continue to hang its head in shame.

Please, Ms Dilma, is there an honest politician in Brazil?

Please, Ms Dilma, is there an honest politician in Brazil?

CORRUPTION: OK, Dilma, you’ve been a tad unlucky. A gang of your own party members – people who claim to be socialists fighting for the rights of the poor – have been caught embezzling on a grand scale, lining their own pockets with tax-payers’ money. It must be so embarrassing for you, I know. But don’t bury your head in the sand. Have the courage to stand up in public and condemn those convicted of fiddling. In fact, go a step further: set up a commission to investigate corruption at all levels of government. Remember, you have nothing to fear but your own safety.

FIFA: Stop boasting that the 2014 World Cup will be the best ever – it’s defensive and plainly not true. The stadiums have already sucked billions in public money and many are doomed to be white elephants. That’s hard-working Brazilians paying for gilded arenas the inside of which they can never afford to see. So the people are angry and have every right to be, don’t you see? So prepare yourself for more protests, baby! What to do? Don’t let FIFA run off with all the profits – that would be silly. You need to redirect some of the money back into the local communities – housing, health and other social programmes. If you really want to make the World Cup “the best ever”, use it as a development tool to empower poor, struggling Brazilians – not FIFA executives.

Hey FIFA - forget football! Brazil needs proper public services...

Hey, FIFA – forget football! Brazil needs proper public services…

I could go on, Ms President…I could talk about the dreaded inflation that seems out of control, import taxes that make cars here vastly over-priced, a bloated public sector with its mindless bureaucracy and Russian-style protectionism, an impoverished and shoddy public healthcare system…but I won’t say any more.

Only this: Dilma, you are our sister, fellow-worker, comrade – a mother, a woman. Of course you are proud of Brazil – the country is wonderful in many ways. But rich and poor are staring at each other across an ever-widening abyss. Don’t be an also-ran. Don’t be Brazil’s first woman president who became an irrelevance. Be great. I think you can do it. But you have to be bold…very bold. And you have to be human again.

 

Categories: Brazil, Football, Global Crisis | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beauty and the Beast

Football is no joke - even in Brazil

Football is no joke – especially in Brazil

Imagine what you could do with a million pounds: yes, £1,000,000. New house, new car, trip around the world? Your life would never quite be the same. Now imagine giving 85 people the same chance of freedom from financial hardship. That’s a lot of very rich people. Or better still, imagine being able to invest £85 million in the education system or health service (that’s more than R$300 million if you’re a Brazilian). New hospitals, new schools, better-paid nurses and teachers. In some countries it could make a huge difference to the welfare of the people.

"It's not a bad life playing footy" Madrid's new god - Gareth Bale

“It’s not a bad life playing footy”  Madrid’s new god – Gareth Bale

Now come slap bang down to earth. One football player has just been bought for the princely sum of…yes, you guessed it, £85 million. Welshman Gareth Bale was sold by Tottenham Hotspur to Spanish giants Real Madrid. Who paid? The fans, of course, some of whom struggle to pay for the latest club T-shirt (£95 pounds-worth of nylon, made in China for about £4). But who cares? Football players have always earned pots of money. It’s all part of the “beautiful game” we know and love.

When I was a kid there were the boys (not girls) who liked football and those who didn’t. That seemed normal. Now if you don’t support a football team and are unable to rattle off the names of this season’s top scorers and the latest transfer news you are boring – a bit weird, actually. And that includes women. They have realised two things: firstly, that knowing a bit about football will get them in with the lads (ie totty) and secondly that footballers themselves are gorgeous specimens of manhood. Well, some of them.

Beauty and the Beast - but which is which?

Beauty and the Beast – but which is which?

Yes, we have to admit football is the new rock ‘n’ roll. But aren’t we becoming blind to what is really happening? The Marxist academic Terry Eagleton said recently that anybody who really cares about political and social change has to agree that football must be abolished. But that’s preposterous I hear you say. It will never happen. Maybe. But to even mention the idea takes some courage. Why?

Football stadiums have become our places of worship. Fans all in blue or red rub shoulders together like members of a tribe, grunting and shouting at their gods like Romans in the amphitheatre. Humans seem to have this need to join a band of brothers and then find another rival band to taunt and leer at. It’s a cultural need. Now that communal rituals have disappeared, we meet the other members of our tribe in the stadium (or rather in the pub beforehand to drink a magic potion and feel the fighting spirit). We also have this need to let out all our natural, instinctive aggression. We used to do it fighting wars to annihilate the enemy and protect our king and country. Now the enemy is the people in green or brown or purple. 

"Listen FIFA - we want hospitals here in Brazil..."

“We want hospitals that are up to FIFA standards”

But all this fun costs money. Poor people used to give their hard-earned cash to the church, believing it might buy them a place in heaven. Now they spend thousands of pounds on season tickets and expensive TV packages so they can pay homage to their new idols. Nobody seems to realise that football clubs are sucking the marrow out of local communities. Fabulously rich football players regularly drive their luxury cars out of the stadium, only to pass streets full of decaying houses where the occupants don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

It's time to stand up and fight

It’s time to stand up and fight

When football began, more than 100 years ago, footballers used to live in the local area, near the ground which served as a kind of community centre. They lived in the same kind of houses as the fans and often drank in the same pubs. Now no footballer would be seen dead in the mean streets where the fans live, unless they were in a blacked-out limousine surrounded by body guards. What does that tell us about the modern game?

In Porto Alegre where I live, one of the local clubs, Grêmio, has just built a magnificent stadium a little way out of town. The aerial view is breathtaking. But the people who live next to the stadium will never be able to go inside. That’s because they are living in squalor; their dwellings are little more than shacks cobbled together from tin and old bricks. When you drive to the stadium the locals stand in a long line next to the road, swinging their arms and urging you to park your car on their patch of litter-strewn scrubland. The saddest thing is their appearance: many look malnourished or deformed. It’s a shocking disgrace.

Grêmio's new stadium in Porto Alegre - a rich spectacle in the midst of abject poverty

Grêmio’s new stadium in Porto Alegre – a rich spectacle in the midst of abject poverty

Thousands of football fans will descend on Porto Alegre for next year’s World Cup. The FIFA promotional video for the city shows a more glamourous side – naturally. Because if tourists saw that an ambitious football club had been allowed to drop a jewel in the middle of a human swamp they would stay away.

Forget the beautiful game: football just got ugly. Or, to put it another way, beauty and the beast are the same thing.

Categories: Brazil, Football, Global Crisis, Musings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Hey, Brazil – stop complaining!

Brazil, the sleeping giant, has woken up and taken to the streets...

Brazil, the sleeping giant, has woken up and taken to the streets…

You may have heard there’s been a bit of bother in Brazil, with crowds of people taking to the streets to air their grievances. The protests became international news, prompting a series of articles in the British press. In the Times, one journalist took it upon himself to have a little dig at the Brazilian middle classes who formed the major part of the demonstrating hordes. Hang on a minute, he said, the middle class in Brazil has “never had it so good”. So, he implied, they should count their blessings and stop moaning. What blessings?

Brazil trounced Spain in the Confederations Cup...so what is there not to like?

Brazil trounced Spain in the Confederations Cup…       so what is there not to like?

Well, first of all, they don’t have to suffer the evils of rampant inflation anymore. The first time I caught a bus in Rio, in 1992, I paid around 30 cruzeiros. A few weeks later I was paying 300. Before long I needed a sackful of money just to get to work. One of the catastrophic consequences of runaway inflation is chronic instability in the banking system. In other words, no credit cards, no personal loans. In the old days, you kept your dollars under the mattress. Now, following the currency stabilising ‘Plano Real’ in 1994, credit is freely available. So much so that Brazil is swamped with new cars that the middle classes have been able to buy on the “never never”. It’s the same with property. Now you can get finance for a new apartment, something virtually unheard of 20 years ago.

Let’s face it, having a mortgage and a car are pretty basic when it comes to quality of life. So what else is there to be thankful for if you’re a bourgeois Brazilian? Well, there’s more choice of products to buy, domestic or imported. Although Brazil operates a strict import tax system, there are now plenty of goodies in the stores if you can afford it. But there’s the rub…if you can afford it.

Forget the World Cup - this is what we want (and we're good at English!)

Forget the World Cup – this is what we want (and we’re good at English!)

Unbeknownst to that Times journalist, the prices in Brazil are nothing short of astronomical. In fact, the middle classes are expected to pay through the nose for the kind of things that in England are well within most people’s budget. Cars, for instance, are more than double the price. And it’s not only luxury goods – even food prices have rocketed in recent months. The professional, corporate class is also being squeezed in their pay-packets with high levels of income tax. No wonder they feel caught between a rock and a hard place. And for the poor, it’s even worse.

The rumpus started when public bus fares went up. Paying $1.25 to catch a bus doesn’t sound much, but when you’re a cleaner and have to catch six buses a day (all packed like sardine cans) to get to the wealthy suburbs it soon mounts up, especially when your salary is less than $500 a month.

Q: "What's wrong with the school roof?" A: "Erm, we'd like one, please".

Q: “What’s wrong with the school roof?”
A: “Erm, we’d like one, please”.

And what does the government do with all the income tax? Spend it on new football stadiums, of course. Brazil has to look slick and sophisticated when Johnny Foreigner comes over next year for the World Cup. It’s a good job the Brazilian government didn’t bother to ask the people if they minded about the R$7.6 billion reais (nearly $3.5 billion) it was investing in state-of-the-art stadiums . If they had, Fifa would have been sent packing. That money would have seriously improved Brazil’s dire public school system, a shamefully underfunded education sector which forces the vast majority of middle-class parents to go private (another tight squeeze on the monthly budget).

To say nothing of the embarrassing public health system, where hospitals can look like war zones and seeing a doctor can take forever. So what do the middle classes have to do? You guessed it – go private.

"You tackle corruption through education"

“You tackle corruption through education” And for that you need decent schools

All these upbeat reports about the booming Brazilian economy ignore the fact that the middle classes have been sucked into the credit trap, over-stretching themselves by buying all the glittering goods in the swish shopping malls. And that’s on top of their monthly mortgage payments, bills for private schools and hefty health plans. As we have seen throughout Europe, there is nothing more treacherous than living beyond your means.

The price of living in Brazil is so high, only the wealthy can enjoy the fruits of economic growth. And those in power who have the wealth have built citadels to protect themselves from the mob, employing family members and other cronies in a corrupt mafia-style system of back-scratching and money-syphoning.

"Infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me!"

“Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me!”

So when the hard-working middle-class doctors and teachers take to the streets to protest about corruption, lack of investment in public services, blatant over-spending on the World Cup and ridiculously high prices, they have a very valid point. A social revolution it may not be just yet, but it’s satisfying to imagine the greedy, shame-faced politicians retreating into their gilded lairs as the Brazilian people shout out loud that they just won’t take it anymore.

Categories: Brazil, Global Crisis | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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