Brazil’s Slavery Legacy..

It tasted a little like sawdust. I coughed, liberally doused my feijoada in black bean sauce and managed another mouthful.

The second one was better – in fact, mixed up with some juice, the pork meat, white rice, orange and flour tasted quite delicious. ‘This dish comes from the slaves,’ said my friend Barbara, ‘but the real one uses pig’s feet, tail, ears and tongue.’

As she and I had driven along the coast from Sao Paolo, I’d become increasingly interested in the Portuguese slave trade to Brazil. In Paraty, an elderly painter had pointed out Our Lady of Rosary, a church once used to house slaves; on the enchanting island named Ilhabela, I’d visited Praia da Fome (“Hunger Beach”), where slaves were fed, housed and sold according to their weight.

And now the favelas of Rio, the fabled slums built on vertiginous forested slopes, beckoned.

Rio’s Favelas


In the nineteenth century, slaves’ freedom engendered yet another issue: a housing shortage. Cities were flooded with free men; Rio and other Brazilian cities were faced with a huge health problem. Shantytowns, or favelas, sprang up on the only living space available – the hillsides.

‘It’s OK to take pictures here in Vila Canoas, because of the lack of drug dealers,’ said Luis, a guide from Copacabana. He is a younger, more hyperactive version of Bill Bryson. ‘But if you see somebody changing clothes, please don’t photo.’ We witnessed how people live almost in each other’s pockets, privacy a rarity.



Luis explained the self-policing of the favelas, how – paradoxically – police booths have been torn down to make the residents feel safe. ‘But when we get to Rocinha, because of outlaws and armoured people, we can only take pictures of the view,’ he warned. ‘The police are seen as a social border there.’

Our minibus wound its way around the tortuous hairpin bends, the scenery a sea of rubbish bags strewn down the hillsides; motorbikes functioned as taxis, to compensate for the lack of public transport; a mass of telegraph wires looped down as we negotiated a three-point turn on a particularly tight corner. ‘Now we come to the filet mignon of the visit,’ chirruped Luis. ‘This is Rocinha.’



We entered a garage workshop and emerged onto a balcony blessed with a magnificent view of Rio’s favelas. ‘You see the blue and white building down there?’ he asked. ‘It’s a municipal school funded by the drug dealers. They’re keen to educate the kids … and they also use it as a warehouse.’
Lost in a reverie, I looked down on what is one of the most beautiful cities on earth. Yet its beguiling undulations mask a brutal past. Hundreds of thousands of emaciated Africans, their lives merely a commodity to the plantation owners, arrived in squalid ships in Rio de Janeiro.

And it didn’t end all that long ago: Brazil, in 1888, was the last colonial power to abolish slavery..

Brazil after Dark..

‘You want to go somewhere?’ giggled Barbara, as we kissed passionately in her parents’ porch. ‘I can take you to a motel if you like.’ It was a little after midnight.

She reversed a black Peugeot through the security gates, its engine purring contentedly on sugar cane ethanol. And we squealed off through the city of San Roque, Brazil, a city known for its wine and artichokes. ‘It’s not really a city,’ she explained. ‘It only has 70,000 people, but we don’t have a word for town in Portuguese.’

Within minutes we’d reached the inky blackness of the countryside, corrugated roadside shacks masking the Atlantic rainforest behind them. Barbara fastened her seatbelt, deftly negotiated the gearbox, and began cornering heavily on what seemed to constitute a racetrack.

The Motel..

Speed limits, posted regularly on the ribbon of tarmac leading to Sao Paolo, seemed barely even advisory; it appeared anything could happen in this country – the land of the bulletproof car. We slowed, a neon sign advertising the seedily lit MOTEL IPE. The tinted Peugeot nosed stealthily into the driveway.

‘Oi,’ said Barbara, lowering her driver window. The face behind the reception grill returned the greeting meaning hello, and it peremptorily demanded some ID. Meanwhile, I scanned the tariff board from the passenger seat, marvelling at the array of rooms available for bookings in three-hour blocks. Some even came with a dancing pole.

An electric gate whirred open, and armed with our fobbed room key, we drove in to the carport. Rather stifling amorous sentiments, a rat scurried past, but we’d come this far. After all, what’s a rat between friends? The spiral staircase beckoned.




It was an edifying experience, though the room itself was tack at its zenith: rubber toys – competitively priced at R$26 including batteries – vied with an ashtray, condoms and dice portraying sexual positions. Dreadful male-directed porn blared from the television. In its defence, however, the room comprised neither a motorised bed nor a mirror on the ceiling.

But, as I was to discover over the next three weeks, Brazilian motels are an institution, coming in all shapes and sizes. They are not necessarily sordid dens of iniquity: respectable couples regularly visit the nicer motels, simply wanting some private time together. One particular establishment in Sao Paolo – in fact popular with Barbara’s parents – was to be our next secret sojourn.



Cosseted in the black Peugeot once again, we drove up to the motel’s barred reception. Barbara gazed at the list of room prices and then looked across at me. She frowned, po-faced. ‘We don’t really need a swimming pool in the room, do we?’ she asked.

This time, I was soon padding around in a dressing gown, lighting candles, putting on relaxing music and drawing a Jacuzzi. It was romantic. In the end we’d decided to book twelve hours and a rooftop pool. With a bottle of Quinta Jubair thrown in, one of Sao Roque’s finest wines, I was beginning to get the hang of Brazil.

Fancy Yourself as a Proofreader?..

Don’t, whatever you do, scroll down. We’re going to play a little game. Now, how good would you say you are at spotting written mistakes? Jeepers, you’ve scrolled down already? Disqualify yourself and spend your time doing something more interesting like watching television.


For those that are left, do you fancy yourselves as proofreaders? If so, you may enjoy correcting the following paragraph. To all grammatical sleuths – yes, you beastly lot who trawl the broadsheets for split infinitives – I think you’ll have fun; to everybody else, good luck. Make a note of the mistakes – we’re using British English, needless to say – and then scroll down for the answers in bold underlined type.


“Whom is on the phone,’ I asked my freind Simon, with a plum in my mouth. ‘Your not going to beleive this, but its him,’ simon replied, ‘the fantom heavy breather sellling holiday again.’ I groaned inwardley and the boiled ketttle. I dont actually know who simon talks to on the phone; Simon, who do I not trust, is scetchy about teh Conservations with the holiday salesman. Simon is slipppery adn duplictous; in fact, I’d say that noone is more dihsonest than him. Also, my neighbor is as suspicous as me when it comes to simons virtues – we think him is different than us


Scroll down…











Keep scrolling. I don’t trust you not to cheat.









Who is on the phone?‘ I asked my friend Simon, with a plum in my mouth. ‘You‘re not going to believe this, but its he,’ Simon replied, ‘the phantom heavy breather selling holidays again.’ I groaned inwardly and boiled the kettle. I dont actually know whom Simon talks to on the phone; Simon, whom I do not trust, is sketchy about the conversations with the holiday salesman. Simon is slippery and duplicitous; in fact I’d say that no one is more dishonest than he. Also, my neighbour is as suspicious as I when it comes to Simons virtues – we think he is different from us.


How did you get on? Did you honestly spot all 33 mistakes? Yes, I know – proper English is simply fiendish. Still, if you’re under forty, you can justifiably blame the failing educational system; if you’re closer to fifty and were schooled properly, you can say you’ve become inured to poor grammar as a result of the next generation. Happy now? Jolly good. See you next week for more travel-related nonsense, quite possibly with subject and object pronouns all to cock..

In for a penny, in for a pound..

‘Ready Dad?’ I asked. The last thermos lid had been screwed on tight; walking boots had been donned.

‘More or less,’ he rejoined, scampering out of the conservatory door.

‘What do you mean by less,’ I pressed.

‘Well, I’ve just got to wander round the back of the garage for a wee-wee.’

Does the word penury spring to mind? There are three perfectly functioning toilets in the house, yet my father – he’s on a water meter – would prefer to frighten the cock pheasant and rabbit playing happily together in the garden. Dad promptly vanished like a discontented fairy, no doubt elated having saved approximately one-and-a-half pence for a loo flush. And I mean “fairy” in the traditional sense, of course, not in the sense of skipping along, one’s torso and upper limbs resembling the shape of a teapot.

Talking of pennies, where does the expression spend a penny originate? Well, in sexist bygone days – ooh, sixty years or so ago – girls had to pay to use public lavatories: a penny was required for the coin-operated lock. Meanwhile, men could marvel for free at the apogee of their own urine ascent against the urinals. But if one bears in mind that girls seem to eat toilet paper – how else could they possibly get through so much of the stuff? – then perhaps the charge was justified.

2p or not to pee?

The kybosh, I suppose, was finally put on the expression when the Daily Telegraph announced ‘2p to spend a penny’ in 1977. Yet you’ll still hear the odd fusty dragon use it. I think it’s rather quaint myself – a trifle more eloquent than saying, ‘I’m dying for a piss.’

Anyway, when we’d finally stopped faffing and got out the door, I took these pictures. They were taken on December 26th in Seaton, UK. The Axe Vale Hunt was champing at the bit outside the Hook and Parrot; lunatics were disrobing and leaping into the sea for charity – it’s a cultural anomaly in this country.


Nags in Drag


‘The horse riders in green are the top-notch ones,’ said my friend Allie, pretending he knew something about local hunting. ‘And it’s only a drag hunt, actually.’ Ooh, transvestites and horseplay? Let’s investigate further and interview some horsey crumpet. ‘Those girls are too young for you,’ added Dad in an arch, mischievous tone, before I’d even approached any.

So we walked to Beer instead, via Seaton Hole. What a splendid town Beer is, a town in which fat people can order “Cream by Post”. Hooray!  Enfeebled with hunger ourselves, we stopped for a flask and sandwiches on the way, on a bench offering a magical view. And what do I find? Only half a tomato with my cheese and pickle sandwich, that’s what. ‘A whole one wouldn’t fit in the box,’ said Dad, up to his parlour tricks again. Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves, as they say..