In the 1920 Republican Census, there were 9,637 Englishmen in Brazil. Among them, E, born in Sao Paulo in 1924 to his ex pat parents. He’s 93 now, more bent and stooped than he was in his younger days, but, with some encouragement, he will speak Portuguese, the language of his youth. He’s teaching me too.
I’m fascinated when this most English of gentleman tells me he has dual nationality – British and Brazilian. Reasons why his parents were in South America in the 1920s has been lost in the mists of time. His memory of his early days there are brief and hazy, yet some imprint remains.
He was sent back to England for his schooling when he was eight. From then on his parents made the journey from Brazil to visit him, or E would return to his Sao Paolo home. Talk of tennis on his trips home see his eyes widen: ‘I loved tennis. We played it all the time.’
It’s not just Portuguese he speaks. He claims not to have flourished in Latin at school but in his time, E spoke Italian, Spanish, and French (so adeptly he was once mistaken for a native). In my few weeks at the Forbury, he has taught me (a very definite non-linguist) Ola, obrigada and ate logo. I now greet him in Porguese and the flicker of recognition in his eyes makes my day.
Occasionally, E, like other residents at the Forbury, will utter sentences of such profundity, that they both delight and floor me: ‘I’m seeking it. I’m not sure where it is.’
We go through to the lounge and I tell him about my recent skiing trip and he tells me he learnt to ski in Canada during WWII. How come?
‘I was training to be a pilot on Lancaster bombers. I had a crew of seven, a navigator, and very young boys as gunners. I remember the ‘ack ack’ from below as they shot at us.
“I was very lucky to survive. Some of our aircraft didn’t make it back, they were shot down. I always thought if I was shot down I would survive.’
And he has.