Posts Tagged With: Yorkshire

Cowboys and Yorkshiremen?

Gaúcho cowboys stir things up in the 1923 revolution

Gaúcho cowboys stir things up in the 1923 revolution

There is a joke in Brazil that goes something like this: when a Paulista (from São Paulo) does business he asks, “What’s in it for me?”; when a Carioca (from Rio) does a deal he asks, “What’s in it for me and you?”; when it comes to the Gaúcho (from Rio Grande do Sul), he asks, “What’s in it for YOU!?” You see, the Gaúchos have a deep sense of rivalry, always suspicious that the other guy is on the make. In other words, I don’t care about getting one up myself, but I sure as hell don’t want YOU to get one over on me.

Are you a Red or a Blue? Answer wrong and you die

Are you a Red or a Blue? Answer wrong and you die

In Porto Alegre, where I live, there are two big football teams: the Reds (Internacional) and the Blues (Grêmio). Once, a Blue guy said to me: “Of course, I like it when Grêmio win…but I LOVE it when Inter lose.” You get the idea? When I first arrived here, a taxi driver spent the whole ride begging me to be Red. He even followed me up the driveway to the door, pleading with me NOT to be Blue – anything but that. He was visibly disturbed at the thought, animated with anxiety and frustration – he seemed to believe that if I turned Blue, one of his internal organs would stop working.

Hey, Mr Gaucho - watch what you're doing with that pole!

Hey, Mr Gaucho – watch what you’re doing with that pole!

The Reds versus the Blues – it seems like a schoolboy game, but it turns out to be deadly serious. The Gaúchos just don’t trust each other. One of my students once leaned across the table, fixed me in the eye and said: “I don’t trust anybody in this town, only my family and very close friends”. The following week he quit, so he obviously didn’t trust me either. This deep mistrust of the other guy goes back to the imperial wars here in the deep south: the Maragatos (Reds) against the Chimangos (Whites) – a bunch of cowboys fighting for independence and territorial rights. The embedded rivalry, now glimpsed in the fierce football enmity, still holds up progress, polluting political will and causing many projects to hit deadlock.

Players from Internacional and Grêmio go head-to-head on the pitch

Players from Internacional and Grêmio go head-to-head on the pitch

But hang on a minute…is this bloated Gaúcho pride very different from the superciliousness of the Yorkshireman, I ask myself? That bloke who looks upon the rest of the English as hapless wimps or scheming sharks? There is an infamous Yorkshire expression that goes like this: “Hear all, see all, say nowt; eat all, sup all, pay nowt; and if ever tha does owt for nowt, allus do it for thissen.” Roughly translated, this means: keep your mouth shut apart from when you are eating at somebody else’s expense, and never do anything for nothing. Yes folks, Yorkshire is a land of grumpy misers who somehow feel above everybody else.

'Are you taking the rise out of me, Yorkshire pudding?'

‘Are you taking the rise out of me, Yorkshire pudding?’

I once met a Yorkshire bloke in Rio – Howard from Leeds, to be precise – who would walk a mile to save 5 cents on a glass of beer. According to Howard, everybody was out to rip you off. This deep suspicion of other people is a kind of paranoia, a surfeit of bile, a lack of inner peace. Perhaps Gaúchos and Yorkshire folk hate themselves and project it onto everybody else; perhaps they both feel bitter about being treated badly somewhere along the line. Surely the cure for this cringing resentment is to stop being self-obsessed and give a hand to others. Doesn’t happiness come more easily when we begin to be kind?

Bradford fans go ape after equalising with arch rivals Leeds

Bradford fans go ape after equalising with arch rivals Leeds

One thing I have had to learn the hard way is to love my enemies, especially at Valley Parade, where the away fans always have the last laugh. I have had to swallow my pride big time, week in week out. Thus have I learned the joy of being humble. I can laugh at my atrocious team and at myself. I can rise above the rivalry and feel serene. So my advice to Gaúchos and to everybody else is to do a good deed every day. Why don’t you knock on your neighbour’s door right now and ask if you can help change a lightbulb or fix that dripping tap? Go on – you know you want to!

Leeds fans are nutters (Howard must be in there somewhere...)

Leeds nutters (Howard must be in there somewhere…)

Needless to say, there are some inferior, deluded people who are just not worth our sympathy. I refer, of course, to Leeds United fans, known in Bradford as “Leeds scum”. When it comes to football rivalry, the mutual hatred between Bradford and Leeds fans is so strong that when the two teams meet, the devil himself sits in the stand hoping to get some tips. Come to think of it, it makes the battle between the Reds and the Blues in Porto Alegre look like a bun fight at a vicar’s tea party.

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

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

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

From Brazil to Bradford…and back again

The City Vaults, Bradford - best pint of Black Sheep in Christendom

The City Vaults, Bradford – best pint of Black Sheep in Christendom

Friends, followers, workers of the world – a thousand pardons for my long absence. A man’s best friend – his laptop – was unable to accompany me on my glorious trip back to Blighty. What a journey, what fun, what larks! A Yorkshire bloke returns to London (“the smoke”) and Bradford (“the muck”) after years of hanging out in Rio Grande do Sul? So, what was it like?

Imagine a pudgy white gringo in shorts and flip-flops arriving at the airport wrapped in an old overcoat. You see, it’s baking hot summer in Brazil and freezing foggy winter in little England, so I was torn between the two (the story of my life?). England should be re-named ‘Greyland’, the land of dark clouds, wind and rain. The sun? Forget it. The sun has given up trying to come out in protest against George Osborne, the Tory chancellor who has made Robin Hood spin in his grave so fast that Sherwood Forest almost caught fire.

And so to London. First impression on the tube was a reminder of how smug and superior Londoners can be, as I watched two young bucks with their legs stretched out across the carriage, talking and dissing loudly as if they owned the train. Then on to rich rich Richmond-upon-Thames where I was staying. It’s a very civilized place, lovely really, but the people take absolutely everything for granted as they swish around Waitrose in suede shoes with a trolley full of ready-made meals and bottles of burgundy. Richmond is a cocoon of wealth and privilege. But what hurts most is that I can’t afford to live there!

Mayfair, where they use £50 notes to snort cocaine and the laundryman doesn't wash clothes

Mayfair, where they use £50 notes to snort cocaine and the laundryman doesn’t wash clothes

But Mayfair tops it all. I was sent there by the Brazilian Consulate to get some papers authenticated at vast expense. What I found was a movie set for a Hollywood film about London, complete with Georgian mansions, butlers and supermodels getting into their Bentleys. Absolutely breathtaking. It’s just that there is another side of the glittering coin: you can’t have all this luxury without poverty somewhere else. It was the English imperialist will that exploited the world to bring back the spoils and the evidence is still with us today in Mayfair. Who actually lives there apart from Nigella Lawson, high-class hookers and one or two dodgy bankers?

The Yorkshire Penny Bank in Bradford is now a real ale palace

The Yorkshire Penny Bank in Bradford is now a real ale palace

That’s enough of trendy London – let’s trudge up north for a reality check. Bradford! What a place! What a dump, some might say, but not me. For I had the best pint of bitter (Black Sheep) for years at The City Vaults in the town centre, getting tanked up for the Bradford City game against Swindon. Seriously, you meet a better class of people in the pub on match days. And someone has had the wherewithal to convert the Yorkshire Penny Bank into an alehouse with a glorious high ceiling and huge windows. It was full of Bradford folk supping, laughing and jabbering in that flat, comical, northern twang. I looked at one bloke and thought – that used to be me. But now I’m so far removed that Bradford exists only in inverted commas and everything is shrouded in irony, as if I am watching from behind a screen. Perhaps it’s better that way.

An afternoon jaunt on the last day of the year took us to Hebden Bridge, or “Rizla Country” as some Bradfordians have labelled it. That’s because it was once teeming with ageing hippies (Rizla is a brand of cigarette paper used to roll joints). Now it’s been gentrified; the locals stroll around in oilskin coats, hiking shoes and little round spectacles, greeting each other with hearty guffaws. One of them asked another: “Where’s the action tonight, Rupert?” in a BBC accent. But all in all, Hebden has a cozy, bohemian atmosphere with its street cafes, quaint pubs and bonhomie. Now I’m beginning to sound like a travel brochure. Wonder if there’s any money in travel writing…

Yorkshire's answer to Montparnasse: Hebden Bridge

Yorkshire’s answer to Montparnasse: Hebden Bridge

So here comes the big question: what did I miss about Brazil while propping up the bar in The Shoulder of Mutton? Sunshine for a start. Sunshine that’s actually warm. And my humble little apartment in Porto Alegre filled with old records and speakers, with my cramped jerry-built home cinema and kitchen so small that I sometimes put the Yorkshire puddings in the fridge instead of the oven. What else? Buffet lunches with a vast array of mouth-watering fruits, salads and gooey puddings – all for about £4 ($6.50). Hearing Portuguese and having to rise to the challenge every day of surviving in an alien culture. Not forgetting my lovely Gaucho students who have to put up with my endless monologues about World War I and Bradford City FC.

Ben Darnton and me at Ben's Record Shop in Guildford - a goldmine for vinyl junkies

Ben Darnton and me at Ben’s Record Shop in Guildford – a goldmine for vinyl junkies

Now I’m back in Brazil, what do I miss about old England? Ale, of course. In fact, put me in the Hill Top in Thornton and give me a pint of Wainwrights bitter and I’ll name you as chief benefactor in my will. And food: curries, chapatis, houmous, taramasalata, English mustard, Cheddar cheese, Tesco Finest sausages and mince pies. Also the culture of second-hand and the thrill of digging for gold in record shops and charity shops. Cars travelling at civilised speeds and stopping for you politely at zebra crossings. And all those endless lush green fields that stretch into the distance and make a man like me want to be a romantic poet.

It’s so sad being torn between two countries. I really need to cry. I nearly did listening to a record I brought back with me – Vera Lynn singing I’ll Be Seeing You, which goes like this: ‘I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places that this heart of mine embraces all day through…’ But the tears just wouldn’t come. Now I have a better idea. I’m going to look at my bank statement to see how much dosh I blew on holiday…I’ll soon be blubbering like a monkey with no nuts.

Categories: Blighty, Brazil, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Oh, to be in England…

England's green and pleasant land...

England’s green and pleasant land…

When you live abroad the past keeps coming back to haunt you. The old country – the place where you were born and grew up – is brushed with a sentimental tint. Sometimes you miss home so badly it hurts. When I lived in Brazil in the 1990s, I was so desperate to go back to England that I made a list of things I felt I couldn’t live without. Now I’m back living in Brazil, I wonder if they have the same magnetic pull they once had? Let me see…

"Two pints of your best bitter, please!"

“Two pints of your best bitter, please!”

Pubs: there is nothing quite like an English pub – that dark, bitter ale served by a freckled gawky barmaid, the quaint atmosphere, the smell of vinegar, the bonhomie, the English language being shouted and mumbled and, up in the corner, cricket on the telly.

Libraries: those quiet, cosy caves filled to the ceiling with books begging to be taken out for free, the shy grey assistants with their dowdy clothes and packed lunches, the sofa by the window where you can plonk down and drift into a delicious snooze.

Fish and Chips: the haddock, the cod, the batter, the salt and vinegar, the sticky-sweet mushy peas, the hot glass counter…But hang on, it’s not just fish and chips I miss, it’s British bangers and English cheeses, lamb chops, marmite, mint sauce and poppadoms…the list is endless.

Grub made in heaven: fish 'n' chips and mushy peas

Grub made in heaven: fish ‘n’ chips and mushy peas

Newspapers: English newspapers are utterly compelling and irresistible. Thoughtful journalism with a good measure of English irony is the perfect fodder for those like me who want to be enlightened but don’t always have time for a weighty tome. It would be so easy to waste one’s life trawling through them every day while London burns – or while the landlord tries to break the door down in a fruitless search for all that back rent you owe him.

Charity shops: Those Pandora’s boxes of broken toys, grubby clothes, thrice-read paperbacks and Phil Collins records litter the high streets of every town; the wealthier the area, the better quality of junk you find within. It would be no exaggeration to say that my cultural identity was formed by the dog-eared LPs and discarded books I discovered at Oxfam and Cancer Research.

You do come across some funny things in charity shops...

“Now that is a big one! I don’t think it’ll fit through my back door”.

Yes it hurts to remember all these things and makes me want to pack up and go home. But surely there must be a few things I don’t miss. Erm, well, yes…

The weather: Oh dear, what a shower! The weather in England is, well, diabolical mostly. As I write, the UK is enjoying a steaming heatwave, but it won’t last; come late September, the old grey army blanket will descend once again to cover the country for another eight months. Nice.

Angry young men prowl the streets of England looking for a hapless victim

Angry young men prowl the streets of England looking for a hapless victim

Yob culture: England suffers from an acute disease called anti-intellectualism. It begins in school where anyone who actually studies is instantly labelled a “swot” and bullied mercilessly. This “proud to be thick” attitude permeates the whole of society, but is most pernicious in the underclass, where young vandals form gangs with the sole purpose of kicking senseless anyone who crosses their path. Delightful.

Town centres: the town centres of England have had all their character bulldozed away to be replaced by soulless shopping centres and baffling traffic systems. It’s as if they have been specially designed by, and for, morons. Lovely.

Just another town centre in 'Greyland'

Just another town centre in ‘Greyland’

You see, England isn’t London. England is Swindon and Scunthorpe: dull and decaying provincial towns where the pubs are boarded up and the people walk around like zombies with cheese-and-onion breath. The British have become cultureless and cynical after years of cheap consumerism. Forget Shakespeare – think Coronation Street.

My adopted home – Porto Alegre – is no paradise, mind you. But I have my compensations. Sometimes I have to remind myself what they are. Let me see…

The people: Brazilians are easy to get to know. It’s a cliché, but the people here are warm and friendly and everything is done with a smile. Unless you get mugged, of course.

Sunshine: When the sun shines the smiles widen and everything seems more bearable. Humans were never meant to live in cold climates. In England bodies are funny white things that stay covered up until it gets dark and you are under a blanket. In Brazil they are bronzed sensuous things that strut about in the open without anyone giggling.

The sun is always shining in Brazil...well, nearly always

The sun is always shining in Brazil…well, nearly always

Respect: As an Englishman I am treated like royalty, a superior being, a prince among the hoi polloi. And in Brazil, learning is respected – everyone seems to be doing a course or studying for a qualification.

Buzz: At 5.30 on a wet Tuesday when the shops close England is as lifeless as a tramp’s vest. On Sundays the gloom stays all day. In Brazil when you go out and about you feel a buzz. It’s partly the sunshine and the happy disposition of the people. Brazilians are noisy and demonstrative and don’t want to go to bed, so everything stays open.

And yet, no matter how much my heart beats for Brazil, my soul lies somewhere at the bottom of a quarry in Yorkshire. So, should I stay in Brazil or boomerang back to England? If I was a millionaire I would split my time between the two, but for now I will have to remain a split personality.

Categories: Blighty, Brazil, Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

“Just like the ones I used to know…”

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…

Just like Bing Crosby, I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. As a kid growing up in Yorkshire in the 1960s, my chums and I were treated to some wonderful snowfalls; drifts so high you could jump in them and cover yourself completely. Packed snow in the fields and icy pathways were perfect for sledging or sliding. In winter we always had a rope over our shoulders and a sledge trailing behind. When not racing down a hill we would have monumental snowball fights or roll up the snow into giant wheels which we would then climb on. We always had a snowman in the back yard and the Christmas tree in the living room was real and smelt of the forest. In the evenings we would wait for the glorious sunset when the orange light spread across the snow and made us all quiet and reflective – just happy to be young and alive in a winter wonderland.  Now it’s gone forever, a lost world where Christmas was Christmassy, authentic, real. Or was it?

Could this be real, or am I only dreaming?

Could this be real, or am I only dreaming?

Now I live in the south of Brazil where I’m not expecting a white Christmas. The last time snow fell in Porto Alegre, Pelé’s grandfather was wearing nappies. And it was July. So when I say I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, I mean just that: it’s a dream – a confection of the imagination. In fact, there never was a perfect, picture-postcard Christmas. Those images of sleigh bells, roasting chestnuts, log fires and mistletoe kisses are nothing but a fantasy. And my Yorkshire memories are idealised, purple-tinted. I don’t believe there ever were any “good old days”. That said, I do think that in the past Christmas was celebrated in ways we would hardly recognise today.

Not just the author of 'The Good Companians' and 'An Inspector Calls'. Bradford's own J. B. Priestley in the 1930s.

Not just the author of ‘The Good Companions’ and ‘An Inspector Calls’. Bradford’s own J. B. Priestley in the 1930s.

Bradford’s very own “famous author”, J.B. Priestley, describes Christmas before the First World War in his autobiography, Margin Released. The two main images he develops are abundance of food and drink at home: hocks of ham in the pantry, poultry fresh from the butcher, fruits and nuts, strong wines and liquors, beer and cigars. The other is hospitality. It was open-house, certainly amongst the middle-classes; all through the festive season friends and neighbours would drop in to have a drink and something to eat. And then there were games. Not just cards and board games, but charades and all kinds of dressing-up. And lots of piano-playing and singing. Priestley remembers parties almost every night in late December.

Everybody's invited to our Christmas party!

Everybody’s invited to our Christmas party!

Of course, some of this still sounds familiar to us, though the sense of community has vanished in our modern world. That and the fact that Christmas means wasting money on consumer goods from department stores. So, do I wish we could roll back the clocks to a bygone age? Yes, if we could edit out the nasties. A hundred years ago, certainly in England, most people were puritanical, narrow-minded and prejudiced. They believed God was watching their sins. There was also real poverty, lack of hygiene, appalling diseases and ignorance.

But I’m still a sucker for a Victorian Christmas card. No cars, no roads, no televisions, computers or muzak. Just people, horses, dogs and a chicken or two in the back yard. A quiet, peaceful, simple life. And a hearty welcome at every coaching inn! OK, that’s probably going a bit too far. Anyway, here’s the Christmas card I sent out this year.

Greetings! Good tidings! (...but why is that boy running away?)

…but why is that boy running away?

So all that’s left to say is: have a joyful, simple Christmas with peace and tranquility. And if that’s just not possible, close your eyes and dream.

Categories: Blighty, Brazil, Musings | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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