Wifey and I were in a bar called La Puerta Roja in the San Telmo district of Buenos Aires. There is nothing to advertise its existence except the red door of its own name; no sign, no lights not even a sticker on the door. You ring the bell, they buzz you in and you climb the wooden stairs to the bar. After this point the surreptitious behaviour ends and you realise you are in a very good place indeed. Friendly staff, subdued lights, draught Quilmes (a beer of German origin, which might explain why we can’t stop drinking it), a pool table, not crowded, massive Johnny Cash poster on the wall and football on the TV.
The game was Buenos Aires’ own River Plate, one of the country’s most famous and successful teams, playing in the second tier after being relegated last season. Well it can happen to the best of us I suppose. Except their fans trashed the stadium and tried to kill the owners and I bet Mike Ashley still thinks we’re unreasonable. River grabbed a late equaliser in a 2-2 draw, the next day Boca Juniors won 1-0 to go first in the top flight League. We consider ourselves Boca fans because River play in red and white and Nobby Solano played for Boca but not big enough fans to actually bother going to the game. They have two seasons per year here…. and that has exhausted my knowledge of domestic Argentine football so back to La Puerta Roja.
Into our second pint we made the mistake of starting a “what do you miss about our life in the UK?” conversation. No friends allowed because our best drinking mates are, at this point in time, scattered across five continents. And no Newcastle United either; I remember all too clearly my own outrage, when we used to be good enough to get to Cup Finals, when the local press would run stories about some bloody expat coming home from Timbuktu for the big game. Like they were somehow more deserving of a ticket than somebody who had stuck around and supported the team at the likes of Grimsby or Bristol Rovers; “no you made your f***ing choice and you chose to f*** off, so stay f***ed off!” I said and I stand by the sentiment even when looking down the barrel of it myself. Likewise workmates complaining about games not being on TV got short shrift – “If you want to see Newcastle play so bloody badly go to the bastard match.”
The starting place for seeing Newcastle United play is Newcastle, not South America. So I had little room for complaint when sitting in The Gibral the other day, with yet another pint of Quilmes, on discovering Spanish football and tennis on the channels we expected QPR v Newcastle to be broadcast on. Turns out we didn’t miss much anyway. With Joey playing for them and Shola playing for us it would have made for uncomfortable viewing, which might sound harsh, but Shola has drained my exasperation to the point where I think he might actually make me ill. Can you die from exasperation deficiency?
So what are we are missing? In no particular order we came up with; Rington’s tea, Match of the Day, black jeans and leather jackets (too heavy to pack), growing things, Sky +, MotoGP 2, Assassin’s Creed , cooking in our own kitchen, ordering CDs off Amazon, the new series of True Blood, not wondering where we will be sleeping tomorrow and wages. We also will be missing the Hug reunion (at the Star & Shadow, somebody tell Daz), Rise Against playing with Tom Morello out of Rage Against the Machine, Rammstein and The Smashing Pumpkins.
Ahh dear old Blighty, how we underestimated the draw of your charms. Perhaps we should abandon this fool’s mission and head home?
It took about ten minutes of listening to Radio 5 on the laptop to stop all that bollocks. We caught the news headlines about a disabled girl being tortured and killed and a phone-in about how hard life is for working mothers. Or more accurately we endured hearing how the most self-righteous group of moaning harpies on the planet want the rest of the world to provide their darling spawn with, not only the moon, but a silver stick to keep it on. By which I don’t mean mums with jobs who love their kids and get on with their lives but the sanctimonious semi-professional bellyachers who seem to think reproducing, like all other mammals seem to manage, is the most holy of rituals. People who believe the rest of us must worship at the feet of their ghastly offspring or else be proved the heartless swine we are. We nearly applied for Argentinean citizenship on the spot.
When checking the news we find ourselves thinking “When did Great Britain turn into such mean-minded, grasping, self-serving and poisonous bloody country?” Here’s a clue – today we accidently came across the memorial to the young men who died in the Falklands war and were so shocked by the amount of names on it that we were too embarrassed to take a photograph. Thank you Mrs Thatcher. But when you think about it adults in the 1970s thought being black, Irish or gay should be illegal so perhaps we are actually improving as a nation, I don’t know I’m not Desmond bloody Morris. Suffice to say the lure of home has waned.
We turned up in this city with no place to stay as the hostel we read about on the internet was full. We thought a long day traipsing around dispiriting rat holes loomed ahead. Not a bit of it; the lad on reception said, in brilliant English, “help yourself to coffee, breakfast and the internet and I’ll make a couple of calls.” He got us a place round the corner and remembered our names when we came back four days later. I can well imagine how that situation plays out in reverse, in London. If you stand looking confused long enough in this country somebody will come and ask if you need any help and the citizens of Buenos Aires are considered haughty by the rest of South America. Across the US, through Costa Rica, Chile and Argentina we have been genuinely astonished by how much time people have got for other people. Naturally kind and cheerful, not some disinterested waitress asking you five times if your pub-grub is alright because she is forced to for fear of being sacked from a job she clearly hates as much as she hates you personally.
Yeah I know I have got the rose tinted specs on and know that 30 years ago the authorities in Argentina were disappearing troublesome folk like me into the sea, but the people here right now have been astonishing and it’s infectious. People are nice to you, so you are nicer to the next person: why is that hard to understand?
To hammer the last nails into the coffin of our homesickness we got an email from our mate Jon who I shall allow the last word on the subject:
“You are missing something here. The grinding horror of the full implications of Cameron’s government; the spiralling despair at the decline in hope and civility; a football team that need only detain the committed and the most twisted of voyeurs; the sinking feeling that the clocks are about to go back. If you do decide to come back I will meet you at the airport – and kick your head in.”
Next stop Australia – Melbourne Mags, brace yourselves for disappointment, we are on our way.