Saturday, December 18, 2021

Rites of Passage

In almost all known societies, from Amazonian tribes to the Incas to modern Europe, there exists the concept of a Rite of Passage. In its basic form this is a journey that every person goes on, to travel from a child to an adult. Human groups have highjacked this concept to serve many purposes. But historically, this is for the good of the society – to bind its individuals together with common experiences, to strengthen the society as a whole and preserve its societal norms and beliefs. Stories which do not encourage acceptance may exist within small groups but will not reach a wider audience so Rites of Passage tend to have broadly agreed themes. Scholars have also proposed that a rite of passage is about our mental history – our shared folklore of what it is to be a human.

Rites of passage may have three parts or five, depending on custom and variance. But broadly speaking, the sections are birth, separation and death, or child, transition and adulthood. They are the biological processes of life mirrored in our mental journey to maturity. For this reason, much of our culture, literature and art reflects on these rites of passage.

One of the common themes of this journey is about finding oneself, and one’s place. It can therefore be very important in reinforcing what the group (tribe, culture, society as a whole) believes is the ideal – whether that be an idealized type of person, or a role that a person must play. So, for instance, in a patriarchal society a rite of passage is commonly seen to be about a boy’s transition to become a man. Whether this is the stereotypical story of a child who must undertake a trial or challenge to be worthy of leading the tribe (The Lion King) or a boy who is different, awkward, unloved who leaves the tribe to explore the world and returns an adult hero, loved by all (Hercules) – many of the stories will be about the male lead. That is not to say that there are no female hero’s in the making, but the patriarchal society may have to cloak their rite of passage story in order to reveal it (Mulan). This tells us much about that societal group – it has to re-frame a women’s story in the pattern of a man’s in order to show the woman as a hero. Mulan would not be acclaimed a hero if she stayed at home and dealt with the challenges of a woman’s life, (as women were oppressed and confined in her society). Instead, her rite of passage had to be shown in the male mould – going to war and fighting our enemies.

I notice that another theme is often gender – because this mirrors our life processes when a child seeks out who they are, discovers the confines of their gender, and rebels against it to emerge triumphant as their own version of their gender. This is seen in novels by women who were ‘not allowed’ to be authors, taking on a male name in order to tell their story (George Sands). There are also many rites of passage stories that help us to overcome our limited beliefs and understanding of others. A child may not know their own true nature, but by testing themselves against societies rules, they may discover their full adult self (Boy in a Dress) or it may allow the author to scrutinise our prejudices and bigotry where we follow a person’s journey through these challenges to emerge victorious and redefine our society as a result (The Elephant Man).

Ancient societies often had strict definitions of roles for men and women, but recent historical finding reveal that some societies may have accepted non-binary definitions. But in many cases, someone who defied these basic descriptions was hard to categorize and place in society. This is reflected in stories where a person was born one gender but aspired to the role of another gender – and their rite of passage story would be crucial because it would allow both the person and society to understand how they might find their place. A tribe that can support all of its members to be active, useful participants would be a stronger unit, so it has always been important for society to understand that some people are gender-fluid, and others are non-binary, and their story from child to adult is a lesson for us all in tolerance and acceptance. A rite of passage story for any individual must support them to discover who they truly are, their strengths and weaknesses and then society can embrace and celebrate their unique contribution. We need more writers to tell these rite of passage stories to help us walk in someone’s else’s shoes for a brief while.

A rite of passage is also reflected in our customs and traditions. Spanish boys are encouraged to run with the bulls at 14, and young people in the UK go to bars for their first alcoholic drink at 18, but both are viewed by adults as a rite of passage. Perhaps in the UK, we need to study the rites of passage on offer and develop ones which better model our ideal future citizen?

Europe may have lived through a period of relative peace and stability in my and my parent’s lifetime, so our rites of passage may no longer be about preparing for war. Instead they reflect new challenges to society. Climate change, mental health and political instability are big topics affecting us all on a global scale, as is the challenge of pandemics. Rite of passage tales now will reflect these global concerns. Where our tribe used to be only those around our firepit, now it is those of us on the same planet, including all living species and our interconnected environment.

Rites of passage now could be the journey we all take to delve a little deeper into who we are and who we want to be, embracing our physical and mental wellbeing, and preparing to contribute to the planet, the people and living things on it.


Happy Reading !

The Catcher in the Rye JD Salinger, The Bell Jar Sylvia Plath, Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad, To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee, The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins, The Fitz and the Fool Robin Hobb, Curious Incident of the Dog in The Nighttime Mark Haddon, She Who Became The Sun Shelley Parker-Chan...

Saturday, September 18, 2021


In these times, don’t forget

to scrape the back near your tonsils

insert up your nostril as far as possible

rotate until your eyes water

deposit in the tube break the stick

press all the air from the bag unpeel silver foil close. Easy.


I haven’t just been tested – I was judged before this

when I wasn’t a groupie, I would suck lyrics for meaning

                              erecting my own greenhouse, thank you for asking

                              didn’t make them tea when I was the only girl in a hard hat

failed to drive around his kidney beans that meant

we’d end in a bath not a driving license

and aged 18, disgusted with Oxbridge

    dropped out of a class race                 

         I couldn’t win.

But hey, they could no longer refuse to serve me in a bar.


If I saw the abusive necklace marks, 

    the broken door, the intimidating porn;

               it’s true I opened his favourite biscuits to go stale and let my cat sleep on his shoes

 speaking before two hundred pairs of bald heads with colonial ears

                              as I lost a foetus and she gained 

                                    a tiny cancer in her feline body

                                             and I didn’t give back the Government 

                                                    Enterprise Allowance grant

when they asked if my poem had the word ‘vulva’ in it.


Monday, February 01, 2021

Spread a little happiness

It gives me a warm glow to discover other people adopting the Singular Cake mantra.

For instance, over at Positive News, young people battling climate change encouraged adults to:

1.     Change your diet: Cut down your consumption of meat, and if possible adopt a vegan or vegetarian diet

2.     Reduce travel in private vehicles: Try other means of transportation like walking, biking or using public transport.

3.     Quit flying: Train travel has a far lower carbon footprint, or you could go Greta-style and take a solar-powered boat

4.     Create a wildlife habitat in your garden: This will allow the ecosystem in your area to thrive but also give you a kinder relationship with nature

5.     Slow fashion: Buy clothes only when you genuinely need them, and try to opt for second hand or sustainable brands

Five ticks for me! Come on, it's easy, we've got this!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

 After Bukowski


You know,

that’s when I need it

When I’m in the rose garden

after a funeral

and they say ah, the Tequila Sunrise

and all I’m thinking of

is you leaning on the wood

behind the oak bar in the living room

hands slick with Grenadine

laughing over the twisted neck

of the Galliano bottle

making Wallbanger’s, sunrises, stingers, Negroni’s, ‘hoppers, spritzers,

getting juiced on pinky Mateus, Dubonnet, Campari

sending me out for ice, tongs a-jangling in the ice bucket

‘Pen, pop in parasols for the ladies’

plop in an olive, a maraschino cherry, a lemony twist

clinking glasses, reflecting the pastel tones of

evening dresses with rows of cloth covered buttons

the size and colour of chickpeas

while Uncle Ronnie plays darts badly

leaving pock marks in the wall

and falling off the bar stool

when you flick him with the wet bar towel.


In the Jack Daniels mirror,

their reflections are not kind;

as any poet knows but especially the Barfly himself

whose poetry I will not discover

for another ten years

when I get sent a copy as a half-arsed apology

after an embarrassing scene at the flicks

with you when you were still Dad and a few too many

Hartsman lagers in a plastic bag

and too many mouthfuls of dewy apricots

whose combined fermentation



is not contained

by your jeans

escaping looks in the darkness

as you exit the plush rows

to isolate in the loo cubicle

mopping pointlessly

while I watch the film



Charlie would get it;

that you can miss

that which you did not love -

the sound of family


and put-downs, slurred vitriol, scuffles

after which, drinking,

drinking, dancing

and smooching and eye-rolling looks

while I sit on our red velvet sofa

watching TV

in my knee-length patterned socks

with a book.


Drinks were lurid, exotic,

the colour of fun,

tantalising, desirable, lined up in rows,

reflecting dilute shades of vermilion,

sherbet lemon, neon blue,

like adult versions of the 

jam-jars for painting at school,

before the stained glasses became

familiar, painful, tasteless

evocative reminders of you

at every event after

and especially


you ask me to switch

you off

and after

you are gone

but the drinks are still here.


“Have a cocktail, Penny-love,

A fancy mixer?”

Just the thing.


Tequila Sunrise 

is an orangey red-stained garden rose

growing after someone else’s funeral

with trays of pyramid sandwiches

and twiglets and chitchat,

and pastel colours in the faded garden

and the best dresses

and the clinking glasses

and they are

no fun at all.

There's no fun in funeral -

despite the jokes in the car,

despite clasping hands,

and lips pressed to damp cheeks.


Our stab at history

is here upon us


and in the moment –

in the wine on the tongue

breath fogging the air

your words in my ear

his tongue (and more) in me

and I guess, in the end,



wouldn’t have it otherwise.



Reflections, after reading about Matjames Metson while in the garden at a wake

Wednesday, November 25, 2020