#99 General strike in Brazil.

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Yesterday, there was a general strike in Brazil which meant that the metro wasn’t running and I couldn’t get into school to teach the children how to be dramatic.

The primary reason for the strike was the reform of the pension laws which is currently being discussed in the Brazilian congress, however, many Brazilians are also unhappy about budget cuts, the economy and the agenda of Jair Bolsonaro’s government.

The pension reform would raise the retirement age of men to 65 and women to 62. Students and teachers are also unhappy about the government’s plans to take $1.85 million from the public education budget at a time when spending more on education would seem the long term solution to many of Brazil’s problems including crime and poverty. The government has promised more money for education but it is dependent on the passing of the pension reform.

Many are unhappy about the Brazilian economy, the Washington Post writes that: “Gross domestic product shrank in the first quarter of 2019, while inflation hit nearly 5% in April, the highest in more than two years. Unemployment also remains high at nearly 13%, but even greater —over 30%— among Brazilians aged 18 to 24. Economy Minister Paulo Guedes recently told Brazilian magazine Veja that he would quit his position if Congress tried to pass a watered-down version of his pension proposal. Without the reform, Guedes said the country could go broke as early as next year.”

 

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#98 Hiding bow ties from cats

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My day is meant to begin at 05:45 when my alarm is set to go off but more often than not I am woken earlier by one of the cats who obviously feels that 05:45 is far too much of a sleep-in and that attention is required at least 25 minutes earlier than that.

I generally try to pacify said cat with a couple of strokes and it is usually satisfied with sitting on my wife’s head until the alarm goes off.

At 05:45 it is time to officially drag myself out of bed, load and switch on the coffee machine, feed the cats and head for the bathroom where I will find one of the cats already waiting for me to turn on the tap as it prefers this method of drinking to his boring water bowl/filter/waterfall which cost a small fortune.

This morning I was awoken at 4 am by the sound of metal scraping. One of the cats was trying to drag my trousers out of the room and the belt buckle was scraping on the laminate floor.

His interest was not in my trousers specifically but rather in the bow tie I had hidden from him in my trouser pocket. I had not come back from an oscar ceremony, nor do I dress up to write my books, during the day I work as a drama teacher in a local international school and my tweed bow tie is part of my eccentric drama teacher costume/uniform.

Cat, for that is his name, has taken a liking to my bow tie, fishing it out of my jacket pocket and dragging it off to his food bowl where he positions it in the perfect position for it to watch him eat.

He has even developed the ability to undo the zip on my bag and remove the bow tie from a hiding place I had thought was impenetrable.

When I came home this evening he presented the bow tie on the floor in front of me to demonstrate he had liberated it from my jacket before dragging it off to his food for it to watch him eat.

We have just moved so previously cupboards were not an option but even then I wouldn’t underestimate his ability to retrieve the tie from a closed wardrobe.

If anyone has any handy tips for hiding bow ties from cats, please let me know.

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#97 Worrying about Brexit

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Yesterday, writers including Neil Gaiman, Marina Lewycka, Nikesh Shukla, Philip Pullman and John le Carré wrote a letter to The Guardian expressing their view that to choose Brexit is to lose.  They are encouraging people to vote pro-EU in the European Parliament elections.

The debate leading up to the Brexit referendum was filled with misinformation built on fear, envy and malice. Much of the desire to leave the EU was rooted in a desire to halt immigration – even immigrants who entered the UK in the 1970s wanted to halt immigration. All over Europe refugees are finding themselves being blamed for all manner of maladies and voters are moving towards the right for solutions in a way that is frightening should history repeat itself.

Immigration is one of the subjects of my next novel LIVING WITH THE HEADLESS MULE. The protagonist, faced with the prospect of being unable to re-enter the UK if she leaves, contemplates overstaying her visa in order to stay close to her daughter. It is a surprisingly common story for many people who find themselves becoming illegal immigrants because the alternatives are unthinkable.

After I have finished drafting the first three novellas of the sci-fi series I am currently working on, I intend to write a novel, which may turn out to be a prequel to WHEN THE WELL RUNS DRY, which explores what happens when communities feel threatened by sections of society or single out sections of society as a target for their anger and frustrations as was the case in Europe in the 1930s.

I hope that our society does not go down that route because I fear that the number of refugees we are seeing entering Europe at the moment is only the tip of the iceberg and when the twin challenges of climate change and resource shortage really kicks in, we will see an influx of desperate people the likes of which this world has never before seen.

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#96 – Top ten best things about living in Sao Paulo

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One of the most popular posts from my previous blog is a list of good things about living in Brazil. I set myself the challenge of ten which didn’t take as long as I thought it might and here it is, in the order it emerged from my subconscience. Looking back, I think if I were to redo the list now it would be almost the same.

1. fruit

two avocados

I’m not a big fruit eater but whenever I’m asked what I like about Brazil, fruit is always my immediate response. Brazil is heaven for fruit lovers with nearly all the fruit we get in the UK plus a vast array of what we consider exotic fruits at a fraction of the price. Mangoes are particularly good in both value and taste and bananas come in several varieties: ouro, prata, nanica etc. Oranges are so cheap they’re priced by the dozen and a large sack can be bought for less than £3.

2. feiras

street market

These are street markets of the kind we used to have in the UK but have now been firmly replaced by supermarkets. Every area of Sao Paulo has a street market at least once a week and one wouldn’t have to travel very far to visit a street market every day. Each of the markets sells all the fruit and veg one can dream of plus meat, fish, chicken, eggs, spices, shoes, hardware and most importantly a fried snack called pastel and caldo de cana, sugar cane juice. These last two are reason alone to visit a feira.

3. weather

weather in sao paulo

Perhaps what runs through the mind of the person at the other end of the phone in UK as their voice lifts when I tell them I’m living in Brazil is the thought of sunshine and granted Sao Paulo certainly gets its fair share of that. There’s about a week in July (still to arrive) when it gets a bit chilly which can be uncomfortable given that the houses have no form of heating except hot water bottles if you’ve brought one. And the summer arguably gets a bit too hot but if you like thunder storms you’re likely to get a great one everyday at about 4pm. For me the best weather in Brazil is during the winter. It’s dry and the temperatures resemble that of a British summer. Nice.

4. botecos

Bar de Fregues

Imagine a cafe, albeit without fried breakfast and cups of tea, serving alcohol and you’ve got the basic principle of the boteco. They’re the closest Brazil gets to a wetherspoons and though the beer is much worse and the snacks considerably
more Brazilian they’re still great if you need a quick snack or a cheapish Brazilian lager. I’ll skip the toilets.

5. caipirinha

caipirinha

Every nation has it’s fancy drink. Cuba the mohito, Mexico the Margarita, Britain the gin and tonic (and Pimms), Germany schnapps, Japan saki, Korea soju and Laos lao-lao. In Brazil the homemade spirit is cachaça, otherwise known as pinga a litre of the cheap stuff can be picked up in a supermarket for about two quid. Like most spirits, with the notable exception of a good single malt, it tastes a bit ropey by itself to the unaccustomed palate but add shed loads of sugar and some lime and you have a caipirinha – nice.

6. padarias

padaria

Everyone loves a decent bakery, no more than the Brazilians who love to buy fresh bread daily along with a variety of baked and confectionary goods. Because of this padarias seem to be outnumbered only by chemists and perhaps botecos consequently fresh bread is easy to get hold of and most padarias also double as cafes so a slice of pizza and a bottle of cheapish fizzy lager is always an option.

7. beaches

beach

It almost goes without saying that even the worst beach in Brazil is almost as good as the best beach in England (arguably Bournemouth). If you can ignore the fact of how filthy they get at popular times such as new year and carnaval Brazilian beaches are without doubt excellent. Apart from the sun, sea and sand, there is a kiosk at approximately every 100 metres selling resfreshments, snacks, caipirinhas and cheapish fizzy lager.

8. Mata atlantica

forest

As it turns out the amazon rainforest isn`t in Sao Paulo, I`ve selected the mata atlantica which, although looks pretty big from the bus is only a fraction of the forest which used to exist before the Europeans arrived. Efforts are being made to reforest part of the deforested area and there is still a small reserve on the edge of the city which makes a great change from the concrete.

9. spoletos

plate of pasta

Here’s a novel idea that I’m surprised hasn’t caught on in the UK. Imagine a pasta restaurant where you choose the pasta, the selection of ingredients, the sauce and watch it being cooked in front of you. OK so it’s a bit like the mongolian barbeque with pasta but it’s a relatively simple idea and a very easy way for a vegetarian to get fed in a country that thinks ham is a vegetable.

10. atmosphere at football games

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Pacaembu, where you’re always guaranteed a great atmosphere even if the football’s a bit rubbish

Finally, it would seem odd to have a top ten list in Brazil with no mention of football but football only just sneaks in because the truth is that the standard of football is not as good as the standard of football in Europe in so small part because all the best Brazilian footballers play in Europe. However, one of the good things about Brazilian football is that, no matter how bad the football gets, the atmosphere is almost always guaranteed to be good even at the most uninspiring of fixtures partly due to the inevitable presence of a samba band keeping the atmosphere ticking along nicely.

11. Street Art

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I thought of an eleventh. Sao Paulo has some of the most incredible street art in the world which really helps to break up the concrete monotony. Sadly there is an enormous amount of tagging which makes many areas look really rubbish but  there are also some great works of art and also many murals copying contemporary Brazilian artists such as Romero Britto who is a particular favourite at the moment.

 

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#95 Taco – Son of cricket

Modern taco bats and stumps

Modern taco bats and stumps

This article was originally written for The Corridor of Uncertainty by myself and published on my original blog Our Man in Sao Paulo. It is still the most popular post on that site so I thought I might share it with you here.

As an important ally of Portugal, the British have always had an interest in Brazil but never more so than in the 19th century when a significant proportion of the population of Rio was either British or of British descent.

As in any other part of the world, the British found themselves, they made efforts to introduce the sport to the locals and by the middle of the century, Rio boasted half a dozen cricket clubs with games played on makeshift grounds.

In the 1860s, as part of an effort to beautify the city, parks were created including the city’s first proper cricket ground which was later to host Rio’s first football games.

However, the Brazilians were reluctant to participate in sport and, unlike football which following its introduction in 1894 eventually captured the imagination of the nation, cricket faded almost completely from view as the British population in the country declined.

The modern form of cricket is still played across Brazil by small groups of expatriates and in 2003 Brazil became an associate member of the ICC but the popularity of the modern game is completely eclipsed by the popularity of a game which owes its genesis to Cricket but which has evolved and devolved into the game which is popularly known as Taco.

Anyone attempting to describe cricket to Brazilians is able to save hours of effort by simply saying: “It’s a bit like Taco”. Unfortunately the momentary satisfaction of witnessing a wave of realisation sweep across the Brazilian’s face is soon replaced by further hours spent explaining that cricket is not simply a game played by children on streets and beaches but that pads, gloves and sometimes helmets are required, and that the cricket ball is hard and bowled occasionally very hard indeed.

It’s easy to see how cricket has evolved over the last 150 years when the rules and equipment of the two games are compared. The Taco bat resembles much more closely the cricket bat of the early to the mid 19th century when bowling underarm was still a feature of the game and three sticks are used as stumps though these are much more commonly substituted these days by empty plastic bottles.

old cricket bats

old cricket bats

Taco is played by two pairs, a batting pair and a fielding pair. The stumps (or cans or bottles) are placed either end of the wicket (though the term wicket is alien to the average Brazilian). Around each set of stumps is the crease (again this is not called a crease and is a circle drawn a full 360 degrees around the stumps).

At each end a fielding/bowling player stands behind the stumps and the batting players stand with their bat grounded inside the crease. The bowlers attempt to hit the stumps and the batters try to hit the ball as far as possible. Like cricket, on hitting the ball the batters are able to run to the opposite end and accumulate runs.

Unlike cricket, if the ball is hit behind, or catches an edge the batter is prohibited from running. Not only may they not run but, on the third occasion of the ball touching the bat and going behind, regardless of whether runs have been made in intervening balls, both batters are out and the two pairs exchange places.

taco, as it is played on beaches today

taco, as it is played on beaches today

A batter may be stumped either by being bowled out or by being run out either when their bat is not within the crease or, get this if either or both of their feet are within the crease. Each time a batter is caught (even if the ball is hit behind), bowled or run out, the batting pair field and the fielding pair go into bat. The batters when running need to touch their bats as they pass for the run to count. A batter can also be got out by being hit by the ball while making a run.

The ball can be bowled from either end, the ends do not need to alternate. The ball is usually bowled from the end nearest to where the ball has been retrieved but the bowler must bowl to the stumps furthest from the end from which they are bowling. If the ball is hit back to the bowler, the bowler may immediately bowl again whether the batter is ready or not.

Although the batters and fielders may exchange roles many times over the course of the game, each team’s runs accumulate until the first team to reach a pre-agreed total, for example, ten, is declared the winner.

Wikipedia lists 17 forms of cricket including many variations peculiar to particular regions or countries around the globe, What is the most peculiar derivation of cricket Corridor readers have encountered. I for one would be interested to know whether any are as close yet equally removed from cricket as Taco.

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#94 Moving house (again)

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As I write this, I am in the first phase of a house move, or rather flat move to be more accurate. For readers in the US a flat is an apartment and it is anything but flat.

Phase one of the move is when you try to get your current flat into roughly the same shape as it was before you moved in so that your landlord doesn’t remove huge chunks of your deposit.

For us, this has meant filling the plethora of holes I drilled while attempting to put up shelves so that the cats could fall asleep on them and then fall on our heads.

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Once the holes were filled the bumps have to be sanded down and the walls washed so that they can be painted while I am still on my easter holiday.

We’ll miss the nice view of the sunset but the new property is more modern and includes a swimming pool and a gym in the condominium so I will have no excuses to avoid doing some exercise and losing some weight.

The new flat also has a spacious balcony which has room for my vinyl records, turntable, armchair and a mini library of books. As well as being a corner for distraction, I am hoping that this corner might be a quiet place for me to write, only time will tell.

The removal vans don’t arrive until the end of the month but I’ll let you know in a future post how things turned out.

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#93 Not sweating the small stuff

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At this stage of my writing career, I find that I am working full time in a job that doesn’t require me to do much writing but that nevertheless is very demanding. At the end of the day I come home and try to reach my daily writing target which, at the moment, is a very modest 500 words per day. If I have any time after this, I might devote some attention to marketing. As a teacher, I do have the benefit of more holidays than most which I usually use to prepare for book launches.

If I’m not careful then the result of a busy life can be added stress and frustration and this frustration can soon develop into irritation unless I employ techniques of maintain patience with students, staff and everyone else I meet in an average day.

I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about how myself, my wife and my daughter were all finding ourselves getting very stressed and anxious about what life was throwing our way and he told me about a book which had helped him when he was a teenager: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson.

In small bite size chapters Carlson shares a whole range of tips to help you relax, develop more patience, put life into perspective and generally be a nicer person to yourself and those around you. It’s the kind of book that you probably need to dip into time and time again and, as I have downloaded the audiobook, I expect I will need to listen to it again from time to time.

Another demon who lingers around writers trying to put them off their work is the condition called Impostor Syndrome and it is something which afflicts the successful and famous just as much as the artist who is just starting out. It is typified by the feeling that I don’t know what I’m doing, that my manuscript is rubbish and that sooner or later I will be discovered for the fraud I really am.

Joanna Penn of the Creative Penn recounted a story of listening to a panel of speakers at ThrillerFest including Lee Child who writes the Jack Reacher novels and all of the successful authors on the platform admitted that they too suffered from this complex of inadequacy just as much as the first time writer. In fact, any good writer will have doubts about their manuscript. Only a poor writer would have absolute confidence in their work and have no doubts about its content.

My work in progress has a character who is so anxious that he his occasionally so overcome by his anxiety that he faints. I am enjoying exploring the character and hope that he is able to discover some of the techniques he needs to not sweat the small stuff.

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