(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson, of Glasgow – February 2021)
In the Brazilian Amazon, young boys belonging to the indigenous Sateré-Mawé tribe, mark their coming of age when they turn 13 in a Bullet Ant initiation. Collected ants are sedated in a herbal solution by tribe leaders and then woven into gloves with their stings pointed inwards
An hour or so later, the ants awaken. Needless to say, they are not in best humour. The poor youngsters who must wear the gloves for a period of ten minutes, feel the full force of the searing stings. The pain has been described as, ‘like walking over flaming charcoal with a three-inch nail embedded in your heel’ but crying out would be a sign of weakness, so the suffering is endured in silence.
In Kenya, young Maasai boys attain ‘warrior’ status by spending the night before their ceremony in the forest. The following morning they return to the village where they sing, dance and gorge on a mixture of alcohol, cow’s blood and milk whilst also packing away huge amounts of meat.
They are then ready to be circumcised, making the official transformation into a man, warrior, and protector. Of course, to flinch or cry out would again be a sign of weakness, bring shame upon their families and question their warrior spirit.
Coming of age traditions, are as varied as they’re commonplace the world over. In 1970s West of Scotland, for instance, the transformation from ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ to ‘young adult’ was marked by ‘getting a paper round.’
In the summer of 1970, I turned twelve. I started secondary school and made lots of new friends, many of them older than me. They had ‘stuff.’ ‘Stuff’ that I aspired to. A whole new, exciting life beckoned. But ‘stuff’ costs money and my parents were rather disparaging of it.
“You want it? You pay for it,” was the usual reply when the subject of a new Subbuteo team, or burgundy coloured platform shoes arose.
So when an advert appeared, stuck to the window of our local bus shelter, looking for boys or girls to deliver morning papers around the town, I was right in there – especially as the job paid the princely sum of just under two whole pounds a week. That sounds ridiculous now, I know, but it’s the equivalent of around twenty-five pounds nowadays.
Back in those pre-internet days, just as commercial radio stations were beginning to woo advertising money from the print media, eighty percent of households bought, or had delivered, a daily newspaper. Big business then for those who had shrewdly set themselves up as distributors.
Of course, a small army of delivery kids were require to deliver the papers each morning before the householders left for work. The only stated prerequisite for the job was that you provided your own means of transporting the papers to your allocated ‘run.’ For most of us that mode was bicycle, though some did simply walk, dragging little trolleys or bogeys behind them onto which the papers were stacked.
The collection point was by the town station, about one and a half miles from my home. Being a kindly soul, Mr Forrest, the distributor, initially gave me a run local to my own address. So, a round trip of three miles plus delivery, finishing up in my own street – just over an hour, tops. Time for a quick breakfast, grab my school bag and off for the bus to school. Job’s a good ‘un.
Except! Except, we had not long moved into that address. I was not as familiar with the street names as I thought and for the first three days I mixed two of them up. Job wasn’t quite such a good ‘un after all – less than a week in and I was already visiting the boss’s office.
Fortunately, I was allowed to keep my job, and several months later, I was given a run right next to the collection point. Though I’d never heard the names of Ledcameroch Road and Camastraden Drive, I was told they were just the opposite side of the railway station. This obviously meant less distance to carry the papers to their delivery addresses. I’d cracked it.
Or so I thought. The morning I first collected my run order, I noticed the majority of deliveries included the heftier broadsheets of the day: the Times; The Telgraph and The Financial Times. There was dearth of Express, Record and Mirror. My bag was crammed. And ultra heavy.
As I tentatively found my balance on the bike and started towards my first address, I was sure I could hear some sniggering from the kids still sorting their papers.
It didn’t take long to realise why my so called friends found it funny I’d been given that run – the houses were all huge mansion types, with driveways that seemed to go on forever. No skipping over the hedge to pop the neighbour’s paper through their letterbox. The neighbours were almost a bus ride away! And to make it even worse, most had letterboxes at the foot of the door – every paperboy / papergirl’s nightmare.
Even more challenging was that several of these huge homes had guard dogs, or at least just very protective canine pets, that roamed off leash. Deep, crunchy gravel paths led to the front door which would alert the dogs to my arrival while also hindering my getaway as the back wheel of my Raleigh spun round and round in frantic and futile search for traction.
After several days I realised the best method to adopt was to leave my bike and paper bag at the entrance gate and quietly sneak over the lawn and flower beds to the door. Quiet as I could, I’d post the paper through the letterbox. I then had a twenty second window of opportunity to make my escape before an irate Doberman or the like would come racing round from the back of the house.
It’s no great surprise that I honed my athletics skills on that particular run – ‘run’ being the operative word.
As I got older and stronger, I was allocated runs further and further from home, until I found myself delivering papers at the opposite end of town, some three and a half miles away. As a now experienced delivery boy, I was offered the privilege of double rounds. Double rounds / double money. I’d have been a fool not to, right?
Yeah, it sounds attractive, and sure, the money came in handy. But cycling that distance, invariably through any combination of wind, rain, hail or snow, with two great big heavy bags of newspapers across my shoulders, whilst dodging the early morning commuter traffic …
I was now reaching the age when the attraction summer jobs was preferred to year-round daily slog, having to brave the vagaries of a West of Scotland micro climate. But those paper rounds taught me the values of the age-old mantra by which I live to this day: work hard, play hard.
(More of that later, perhaps.)
My legs were weary from pedalling; my shoulders were hunched from carrying abnormal loads and I had a perpetual chesty cough from working in the cold and damp early morning air.
But I had graduated from boyhood; I had earned my rite of passage. And while I may have been saddle sore and chaffed, at least I emerged with my bits intact!