Rites of passage


IN MY mid-teens I could barely wait for 1965, the year I’d hit 18 and be allowed to get a gun.

This was in apartheid South Africa, where getting one’s first firearm was regarded as a rite of passage – but only if you were white, of course.

The local plods issued me with a licence after my dad, an early victim of pester power, reluctantly signed a permission form. So off I went to buy a .22 calibre Italian Bernardelli that I carried in event of attacks by enormous spiders and redneck hippie-haters and homophobes.

Within months of my acquiring the thing, it fell from my waistband in a cinema, hitting the floor with a loud thud. I felt around in the dark but couldn’t find it. “Well,” I thought, “once the lights go up I’ll locate it.”

No such luck. It had vanished. Then I noticed that, to the left of my seat, was a wide, vertical metal post that would once have supported by a long-gone arm-rest. I had no choice but to tell the fleapit’s owner that I thought my pistol had gone down the tube.

As a consequence, the next scheduled screening of How to Murder Your Wife had to be cancelled as we poked about with a wire coat hanger. An hour later we finally managed to hook it out, along with some vintage popcorn.

The furious owner threw me off the premises and warned me never to darken his doorstep again.

Months later, the firearm and I permanently parted company when I was on holiday in the coastal city of Durban. I placed it in the drawer of a bedside cabinet in my hotel before turning in, and awoke to discover that both gun and wallet had been nicked by a thief who had entered my room while I was sound asleep. Even more irritating was the fact that the intruder hadn’t bothered to steal the Gideon’s Bible on which they had rested.

In my late 50s, I realised I was hurtling towards another rite of passage: the acquisition of a senior citizen’s bus pass. Glumly I wondered how time had contrived to pass so fast.

I got the pass just after my 60th, but hardly ever used it as I was always belting around Brighton on a 600 cc Honda Hornet.

I sold the bike before I moved to Spain over six years ago, and, rather than buy new wheels, chose instead to make use of the local Benidorm buses. I then discovered that folk over 65 can enjoy great savings by obtaining a tarjeta oro (gold card) from the city hall for a mere €4.00. I am certain that this, or similar schemes must exist in other areas of Spain.

Last December, with far less satisfaction my gun licence gave me, I took possession of my shiny new gold card, put €20.00 worth of credit on it, then let loose a howl of rage when it died on the third day. I returned to the town hall to tell a clerk that it had simply stopped functioning, and was told to apply for a new one.

Because bus fares here are so cheap I simply can’t be asked to go through the whole process again. But, hey, the thing is pretty good at removing the silver gunk from lottery scratch cards, and – who knows? – before my final rite of passage to total oblivion I might win back the €24.00 it cost me.

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