The transition from observer to participant
There is a rubicon that enthusiastic sub-teens have to cross. They can feel it coming with a sense of bewilderment and often with some reluctance. I'm not telling anyone anything new and I was no different. Sort of jumped from happy-go-lucky to hormones to pretentious git and then hopefully back to reasonable human again. These are the rites of passage.
My own Dad summed it up as follows: "When I was 10, my Dad knew everything. By the time I was 16, he knew nothing. A decade later he ended up knowing quite a lot." Corny it is but we've all been there. It's not a comfortable time in the second decade of a young life.
Romantic notions/admirations/relationships are perceived differently as are mind-altering substances and the differing levels of sophistication thereof. The responses vary according to individual. I don't wish to kick off a nature versus nurture storm here so I'll keep my own counsel. Suffice to say that shit happens to everyone and this is a personal account only.
Throughout my childhood and pre-teens we lived in Durban, which is on the coast and not too far South of the Tropic of Capricorn to prevent an often oppressive humidity. In my pre-teens I had developed chronic bronchitis, a pretty naff thing to have. The family GP was adamant.
"You need to send Mark to a secondary school where there's a drier climate," he insisted.
This meant going to boarding school, which was not such a downer as one might imagine. Firstly, it would've been an adventure but the predominant reason was that I had, at the time, a boy-crush on my rakish older cousin Donny who was a boarder at Maritzburg College.
Sadly, living in Donny's disreputable shadow was not to be. Thanks to zoning laws for state schools, I was supposed to go to a school in Durban North.
It was decided to send me to Hilton College. It would knock a chunk out of Dad's annual budget but it was at an altitude of 1100M. Ironically, when Dad developed chronic emphysema in his latter years he was living at 1400M and was advised to move to the coast to help his breathing. He died in Durban in 2001.
Pause for vignette #1
Mum got a bit more lively in the early 60s. Cath had arrived in 1958, making us quorate and, when she was old enough to go to nursery school, Mum wanted to go back to work. However, there weren't too many jobs going at the time for anthropologists so she decided to do a post-grad UED[4a] instead. This was cool and her stint as a student teacher was even cooler.
Then she got a job as a class teacher at Northlands Girls High in '64. Cousin Jane was there to keep an eye on her. This photo is of the class, I believe. I'm sure someone will correct me if I got any of the details wrong.
And now, resume. I am dispatched to Hilton.
As far as the rites are concerned, we learned to make pineapple cider during our first year in the boarding establishment ... a beverage that recently saw pineapple prices go through the roof when the recent C-19 lockdown banned the sale of conventional alcohol. We also learned what matric dances were for.
At that time it was still normal practice to beat education into a 13-year-old and to practise child-slavery in the form of "fagging". I remember the last matric dance in my time at the college. A few of us were sent off to decorate the school hall armed with blankets and cushions. Ours was not to question why but it turned out that we were required to build rows of boudoirs around the perimeter of the venue where the seniors could entertain their dates in comfort. I wouldn't stake my life's reputation on it but, in retrospect, it wouldn't be a shock to learn that hidden hip flasks were involved.
I only mention the hip flasks in preparation for a convent vs college debate when comparing invitations to these events 4 years later.
Even we "new pups/poops" were not convinced when it was announced in assembly that Pietermaritzburg and district head teachers had got together and decided that it would be more sociable to cease matric dances indefinitely and substitute more frequent social gatherings. Of course, the socials never happened.
Oops! Vignette #2 coming up. Please pause.
When you are a 13-year-old boy starting out life at a robust boarding school, anything can damage one's street cred. In one's own eyes, anyway, but I'll ask those reading this to be the judge:
"Your Mum's going to have another baby," one of my more precocious classmates told me after my family had departed ,following a rare visit to the school. We were only allowed to see our parents twice a term.
You're talking crap," I retorted, not unreasonably. It was the first I'd heard of it.
"Remember who told you first," my tormentor replied.
So the next time my family visited me, I studied Mum closely. Yep. Sure enough it was true. I demanded and got a confession. A new sibling would be arriving in July.
And so it came about that Paul entered our lives on the 5th of July 1965. We were all smitten. I think my body language in the first frame is sufficient evidence, even though Paul looks rather wary. Lots more about Paul and his impact on the Stellenbosch wine lake in later blogs ...
End of Vignette #2
Hopefully you'll remember that, before I so rudely interrupted with family vignettery, I was rabbiting on about the demise of matric dances and their substitute entertainment's failure to materialise.
Bizarrely, though, we had an annual party, named the Fleur-de-lys which happened in the first week of our year-end holidays. Anyone associated with the school could go, our prefect assured me, his recently-turned-14 slave. It was to be held in a Durban nightclub with a band led by a Springbok Radio hit parade singer of the day, Jody Wayne. I never believed Mum and Dad would allow me to go but Mum even set me up with a partner ... a friend's daughter. I coerced my schoolmate, Andrew R, to provide moral support and he brought his older sister. This was very cool because she knew how to order a round in a nightclub and we didn't, even though we were only allowed soft drinks. Jody Wayne! My date thought he was the drawcard. The rest of us were already into the Stones ... say no more.
Earlier Portuguese aniseed liqueur notwithstanding, young teens in our family were pretty naïve when it came to alcohol. Some of my friends were gagging to earn their spurs but, to start with, I didn't really like the taste of Castle Lager. I felt drawn to it by peer pressure. I didn't wish to appear inexperienced and naff. So I asked Dad how many Castles it would take to get me pissed. Big mistake No1.
"Two," he advised
That took place in one of the holidays from boarding school during which a bunch of my friends had gone on a school trip to Zimbabwe (then known as Rhodesia). On our return to school we always gathered around after supper to exchange holiday exploits. There were some pretty wild stories from the Zimbabwean tourists. Braggadocio reigned supreme.
"That 10th Castle finished me," someone commented with faux-ruefulness.
"You're talking crap," I responded, feeling a bit left out. "Ten Castles is impossible."
"How would you know?" came the challenge.
"My Da-a ... ," it was too late; my interlocutor knew what was coming. Big mistake No2.
Coming next week; Rites of Passage 2: More about matric dances - RC vs. Calvinist; Coming to terms with Booze; parties; discovering the opposite sex
 I use "Dad" here because he said it but I'm pretty sure Mum shared the same view.
 My life's partner is a counsellor and has strong views on the matter.
 Donny was probably blissfully unaware of this when I used to stay at their farm at Mid Illovo. The main reason for lionising my cousin was that he was allowed to drive the tractor and could speak fluent Zulu. He also led me to believe he had once shot two guinea fowl with one pellet from his air rifle. He shared a name with his Uncle Donavon, who was killed in WW2.
 Donny's being cast as a mischievous rake was purely a figment of my imagination. The last time I saw Donny was at my brother's funeral (at Hilton) in 1988.
[4a] University Education Diploma (UED)
 The American term, prom, seems to be more widely used nowadays.
 In the original meaning of the word where prefects were entitled to a personal servant in the form of a junior boy who did all their dirty work for free.
 I seem to recall the friend was one of those Mum made during her teacher training. There were a few mature students on the course with her and they tended to stick together and remained friends thereafter.
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