When I announced to friends and family that I was contemplating becoming engaged, a chorus ensued. Aren't you both a bit young? What about freedom? You're still only 22. Won't you be tied down? You had plans to explore the world.
To engage or not to engage
I can only say, upon reflection, that my own plans to explore the world were only ever enhanced by having a partner to share them with. That is as true today as it was almost 50 years ago. Of course this was a purely selfish attitude and the benefits accrued almost entirely to me. I ploughed on selfishly thinking only of my own priorities and ignoring the damage they might be doing (and I suspect did do) to my partner's wellbeing.
I call myself Mr Responsible in this episode because I really did believe in the institution of marriage, not for the religious aspects but for its intrinsic romance and the unfettered companionship of living with a partner.
So when Carmela and I became engaged, I hadn't for one moment considered her age and emotional preparedness for leaping over a cliff into a much wider world than she had imagined when we posed for the traditional formal engagements photographs (below).
In fact, not in our wildest dreams had we even imagined what lay before us. Within weeks of our wedding we would be leaving the cocoon of respective sheltered parental homes, not for a new pad a few blocks down the road but for a continent 6,000 miles away.
Carmela and I met formally shortly after my "coming of age". Her older sister, Elena was a friend of mine. We worked together at Barclays in Durban and I had spotted her sister popping into the banking hall occasionally. I was accounted for at the time and believe we probably attended the same parties for quite a while. Around my 21st birthday I was single again. Elena came to the party along with some of my other work colleagues. It wasn't long after that that I received a telephone call from the middle Toscano sister (Elena and Carmela had two younger siblings, Anthony and Luisa) inviting me to be her partner at a scarily formal function. If I agreed, we would be accompanying her parents and I was to meet her at the venue. In full view of the Padrino Napolitano (or so I imagined).
Clearly I survived and, being the callow youth I still was really, I revelled in the wonderful Italian food that emerged every Sunday from Ciro's kitchen. From gamberi, deep fried in their carapaces, via a peppery calamari stew and arrosto di manzo l'osso to gelato. Oh, and a bowl of pasta Napolitana somewhere in there, too. I got fat for the first time in my life. In terms of dating I got two for the price of one, because Elena came, too, as a chaperone.
I was also eating more food while making sure the middle daughter was safe while in charge of the family deli, Elena's Cafe. Italian pane with lashings of proper Neapolitan salami and bel Paese cheese. I was trusted to be there because it turns out my favourite uncle, Graham, knew the Toscanos and handled their business insurance.
Unless their mum, Aurora, and Elena and Carmela kept a stash under their beds, the house was more or less dry of alcohol. Given the naïveté of my past experience, though, the ladies of the house could have been having secret binges on the forerunner of Prosecco while my back was turned.
And turned my back was soon to be. I didn't really like working in the bank and leapt at the prospect of becoming a junior reporter on the Daily News. Under the eagle eyes of Crime Supremo, Roy Barnard, and News Editor, Chris Smith, I was mentored through traffic violations and the occasional petty theft by Garnet (Groper) Currie. Before long Groper moved off to one of our bureaux, probably Piemburg while I became the Shipping beat flunkey (Durban being the busiest port in Africa in those days) under the watchful eye of Chip (WTF can't we have the Bell telephone system) Mogenson.
After six months, Groper was promoted to running the Empangeni bureau[3} and I scored his old patch, beating a path in my trusty old Beetle to and from the provincial Capital at the beginning and end of every working week.
I was back where I started. Dating only at weekends.
It was around this time that Carmela and I became engaged and the Beetle made way for a Fiat so that I could zoom back on Wednesday evenings and return to Piemburg by Midnight.
Ok, so the shorts came with the gig. Be kind.
While in Piemburg I came across Daryl "Bikey" Balfour. He was on the Natal Witness and we were both assigned to report on a streak from the uni there (his alma mater). The actual streak was a bit naff so Bikey ended up being the streaker on his motorbike. I still don't think he entirely believes that I am not retaining the negs to blackmail him out of his wine collection.
Eventually, Groper moved on from Empangeni and guess who ended up in his footsteps? I was back to weekends only.
On one of my home trips I was treated to a party (not necessarily in my honour) at the Toscano residence in Cowey Road. See if you can recognise any of the miscreants?
The bombshell came when I was languishing in Empangeni after an argument with a Daily News manager who had made a R0.10 trunk call from Durban to inform me that I had made a mistake on my expense claim in my favour of R0.06.
My boss on the other end of the line:
"I hear you're planning on getting married this year," he said.
"I am engaged, yes," I replied, wondering where this was going, "We haven't quite finalised a date yet, though."
"I spotted you in town at the weekend, hand in hand with your fiancée."
"Yes, she's far too good for you," he continued in his inimitable fashion, leaving me entirely baffled as to what he was trying to tell me.
"You're probably right, Chris," I responded. "I guess I'm just a lucky guy."
"The London bureau wants a married couple to start in the next secondment. They think they're more stable for their current needs. Think about it and let me know this week," my boss concluded the call.
Wedding date set
Thus it was that my first wife enabled me to see the world a whole lot sooner than I'd ever dreamed of doing. She was probably quite shocked and scared when I told her the news but she was then and still is entirely supportive of the decision we made to get married on the 28th of September 1974 and be in Fleet Street on the 1st of November.
She carries that generosity of spirit to this day by sending me some of the Fuzzy Photos to be used in this blog. During that time she has hosted my daughter, Kate, in Sydney where Carmela now lives.
A little detour into the future
If you're wondering how I can write so freely about my first marriage when I am now coming up to the 40th anniversary of my second attempt at partnership bliss I would like to explain with a little example.
Around 40 years ago when Shelley-ann (Shan) and I were clearing out my old flat in preparation for the one in which she and I were to spend the first period of our marriage, we had to make some decisions about some of the artefacts that remained. Having been crazy about photography and taken many of my ex-wife, it was decided that I should hand the whole lot over to Carmela.
Quite a few years later Shan and I were settled in Oxfordshire and the subject of my previous marriage came up during a dinner party at our house. Shan gave an affectionate description of Carmela.
"But what did she look like," one of the (female) guests asked.
"Hang on a minute'" Shan replied, disappearing from the room and bounding up the stairs. The sneaky so-and-so reappeared in about a minute and handed a picture to our friend.
"Where'd you get that?" I exclaimed.
"I wanted something to show any future children, if they ever asked, about your previous wife, so I snuck this one out of the box before you took the rest to Carmela."
The one Shan "snuck in" was the one on the left.This led to a decent amount of photo sharing in the early 2000s, including the one on the right. Kate was doing a degree project at university and asked if I thought Carmela would mind if she used the "picture of her with the flowers". I felt sure she wouldn't.
Coming up: The gap between the wedding and departure to London in 1974 incorporated our first ever proper Stellenbosch wine tasting ...
 Tom Sharpe worked in the DN bureau in Pietermaritzburg, the provincial capital of what is now Kwa Zulu Natal (KZN). Tom Sharpe renamed the city Piemburg in his seminal satrical novels Riotous Assembly (1971) and Indecent Exposure (1973) He had been deported from South Africa a decade earlier for his anti-apartheid views..
 I'm sure Rory or Andy will correct me on this if I'm mistaken
 The bureau consisted of one person and was the primary source of information for a huge area from the Tugela River to the Mozambique border, an area of something like 30,000 square kilometres
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