How many of you think you know what Rites of Passage (RoP) are? It slides off the tongue so easily and yet I'd guess that most people, unless they are anthropologists, would be surprised by some aspects of a more formal definition. I intend to abandon the phrase after this blog. I'll explain.
The phrase is often ascribed to a certain genre of movies, which, more often than not, leads to expectations of descriptions of teenage sexuality. This would be misleading in my personal experience. It just seemed like a convenient handle to describe the early steps in one's life and to give those steps an ending. A bit like a first floor landing on which to rest before ascending the next flight.
Strictly speaking, this was probably a more accurate anthropological interpretation anyway.
My favourite film of this so-called genre was Cinema Paradiso, which I saw in round about 1990, long after achieving the supposed post-rites stage.
What are rites of passage? Paraphrasing the link just provided, they are the rituals that occur between three phases of one's life, as defined by Arnold von Gennep, namely: separation, liminality, and incorporation.
So far I have been describing separation from my initial state of almost total dependency on Mum and Dad for everything and dropping into a void of incomprehension.
OK, so now I'll explain my totally gratuitous adoption of the strap-line "Before sex was invented". That does NOT mean you can assume this blog is going to descend into a continuous scene of rumpy pumpy. In fact, as I mentioned before, there will be no revelation as to when or with whom that Rubicon may or may not have been crossed either.
Before sex was invented
The picture strip above is of Gillian. The centrepiece is from my cousin Jane's school group photo, probably in 1969 before I met her. The two outer frames were taken in London on the 9th of July, 2005. Shelley-ann (Shan) and I dined with Gillian in an atmosphere of solidarity with the victims of the London Transport bomb attacks two days earlier.
The fact of the matter is that the phrase above the photos was a perfectly innocent attempt by Gillian to allay the fears of my wife and daughter, who were trying to make my 60th birthday celebrations special and were asking past acquaintances for anecdotes. Not that Shan had any fears that needed allaying, having engineered my thumb-screw catharsis before accepting my offer of marriage.
Before I repeat Gillian's anecdote I must just explain that this event probably took place in 1971 when the contemporary local argot for going somewhere included the word "shooting". For example: "I'm just shooting off to the bank" did not mean I was planning a heist or "Mum, I'm just shooting up to Andrew's" was not an obscure means of breaking it to my mother that I'd become a heroin addict.
I probably said as I was leaving our house that day, "I'm just shooting off now, Dad." I liked to venture off into the countryside in my greasy-grey Beetle to discover parts of the Kwa-Zulu Natal countryside. I won't deny that my journey that day may have been subliminally influenced by the fact the Gillian lived in the general direction I had been travelling.
This is her verbatim anecdote that is now immortalised in the lovely book that Shan, Kate and Garnet collated from sources mined by my lovely wife.
"Once upon a time, after rock 'n roll but before sex was invented, Mark was a former boyfriend. As far as my parents were concerned his manners were a mark-ed improvement on his predecessor's and they were delighted to cultivate his visits. On one such occasion he dropped in unexpectedly and explained himself thus to my mother:
"'Oh I'm sorry so sorry Mrs Cargill - I was shooting down the North Coast and I thought that as I was in the area I'd pop in.'
"My mother, who may or may not have had a G&T or two (and if so, more likely the latter) said wide-eyed:
"'Oh Mark! I didn't know you went shooting!'
"I have never forgotten the look on Mark's face as he struggled to ascertain whether he had heard correctly or if she was joking. She wasn't joking"
Homogenisation of dating
The mention of G&T in that passage reminds me that this episode in my life was probably the closing chapter in "separation" for a number of reasons. Dating was the first of these.
Gillian was an adult and was treated as such by her family. For the first time activities were not constrained by school nights. We could go to night clubs and bars as couples instead of reserving bars for male company only. Alcohol became less of a shibboleth even if it did come with a safety warning. To be honest, I genuinely believe we behaved more sensibly around drink and began to discriminate. Wine wasn't just a cheap means of getting high. It could be savoured for its quality of taste.
Dad probably had some influence on this. Suffice to say that a couple of years later when I went on my first proper wine tasting in the Cape, I was well aware that Backsberg was the place to go.
This may have had something to do with Mum's renewed friendship with one of her university buddies, Molly Green. Molly and Michael were frequent visitors to our house, drank wine and encouraged younger adults to speak out.
While Gillian was a responsible adult and deserved her parents' trust, I had treated my early university episodes like a dilettante. Played a lot of bridge and wore an oversized Harris Tweed jacket with books of poems artfully peeping from an outside pocket. Even smoked a pipe briefly, although that proved to be too much hassle and cigarettes won out. Gauloises seemed to bridge that gap so I was not only a bit of a pseud, I also smelled, as did my Beetle.
Dad, understandably lost patience with paying my university fees.
"You're on your own now," he announced when my second year's results at the end of 1971 proved I had woefully failed to apply myself. "You can continue living here but you will need to pay rent. You'll also have to pay for your own university education. You'll amount to nothing if you don't get a degree."
I couldn't argue with this analysis. It was a much-needed wakeup call for a privileged twat. The only thing that stung from that conversation, which had been delivered by both parents, was the allegation, as I accepted my fate and prepared to leave the room: "Your friends' parents are blaming you for their poor performance at university." Mum and Dad refused to reveal their source(s). The list of possibilities was too large for me to review the evidence and be confident enough to work out who had put the knife in.
I got a job in a bank rather too easily and, despite meeting Gillian during that period, the rudderless, if romantic, milieu continued without much further academic success. After two years I switched jobs and it rapidly became clear that I would need to leave the parental nest if I was to progress in my new found career.
Separation had occurred
I cannot take credit for all of the content in this latest blog. Shan sought the anecdote from Gillian along with so many others that Kate had to work like a trojan to collate them into a fabulous layout which Garnet helped get printed in time for my 60th birthday celebration.
I'll end off "Rites of Passage" there and move on to new blog pastures but, before I do, here's one last little story that Shan loves to tell.
60th birthday in a prehistoric campsite
By calling it a little story isn't to diminish the stupendous effort that went into the organisation of getting more than 100 people into a seriously rustic site adjacent to the Uffington White Horse prehistoric monument. That deserves a blog of its own. This is merely a small fragment as a taster for stories to come.
Suffice to say that Shan asked what I wanted to do to celebrate my 60th. I said I didn't wish for anything elaborate just a bunch of friends in a field around a log fire singing songs. At one point I did stipulate musical instruments and bicycles might be an option.
Excuse me while I duck from the arrows of rightful indignation about the logistical naïveté of the idea that this would be simple to organise.
A few of our friends might be firing some of those arrows, too, as I had insisted that camping was de rigueur for the occasion. Almost 10 years later, friends remind me that they had to purchase tents especially ... and then at the last moment I pitch up in a newly-acquired motor home (Campy). Not only that, but my wife and my ex-girlfriend from the early 70s shared our first outing in Campy.
Gillian DID take some fabulous pics, though. A sample follows and a fuller gallery will be supplied when I can persuade Shan to tell her version of the event to accompany them.
Coming up next: Another detour into the future recalling some wonderful anecdotes from a favourite winemaker has fascinating adventures and recalls his own ruminations with flair. After that, my first 70s wine tasting.
 Or maybe not
 A headline writer's cheap attempt to draw in more readers
 Agsisnomen you really gave that one the tweetment, Ms Cargill!
 Was a I really that grovelling? I'm pretty sure I wasn't that grovelling.
 What a greaseball ... if someone used that excuse on me, I'd be tempted to exclaim: "Get a bit of backbone young man. You wished to visit our daughter. Is that something to be ashamed of."
 And presented them to me in another book
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