Friday, June 12, 2009

Songs of Innocence and of Experience

Among those who claim descent from the Oghuz Turks, the Book of Dede Korkut is both epos and guide to etiquette.

This wonderful work, available in an elusive Penguin Classics edition, catalogues the manner in which Oghuz boy-cubs became prowling adult Turks. The process was simple and satisfying:

The Turks would gather to feast. Tents would be tethered to Turcoman traders, miscellaneous meats would be grilled on the backs of Circassian maidens, wine would flow from the hollowed skulls of Armenian waterbearers - the hollowed skulls of live Armenian waterbearers - and bards would drone out dastans to the baleful beat of the bağlama on bared Byzantine buttocks.

Everyone was having a good time, except for one group of beardless youths. They sat tentless at a ragged Bokhara rug. Blinded Bulgarian bumboys dumped gobs of gristle on their laps. The wine was boxed. Pointy-headed urchins etched their caricatures in dung, and the Owl of Afrasiab soiled their caps.

One angry jigit approached the ataman and asked wherefore were they being treated thus. The chieftan replied that they had not proven themselves as men, let alone Turks, and had no right to sit with their bone-sucking elders.

The youths decided to consult a friendly tribesman whose name, Crazy Dumrul, hinted at the nature of his advice. At his urging they rose as one and marched off towards Georgia, which they treated much as General Grant would in later, happier times.

After much rumspringa, charivari and defenestration, they returned to the camp with a skein of Mingrelian limbs and innards. From these they fashioned a remarkable coat for the ataman, who was well-pleased.

Aksakal Dede Korkut, the sage of the Oghuz, would then bestow beards and names upon the striplings - Wolfsmack, Lowbrow, Moonbelt - all good stuff like that, and they would have their lunch at last with much trilling of timbrels and strumming of Kurds.

Our Western societies are pleasantly devoid of spirituality and so largely lack these wholesome rites of passage:

  • Disentangling your classmates' underwear at a sixth-form disco or stealing an Oxford bobby's helmet are but echoes of our hunting fathers' bulging bugles.
  • In rural Wales the 18th birthday midnight beating in the police cells recalls the okipa ordeal of our fondly-imagined Mandan cousins on the banks of the Missouri.
  • Various guilds, boarding schools, cults and branches of the armed forces still shave and bludgeon novices' sweetbreads, but more out of colossal depravity than any tribal atavism.

Should we bring back spooky torment as an essential part of growing up? BBC Radio's Thought for the Day seeks to do so through the medium of whimsy, and the Catholic Church in Ireland has an individual take on the question as well.

Myself, I think that we fortysomethings can act like Dede Korkut and share our wisdom with the damp-palmed youths of today without the need for five-hour dutar riffs or flaying the citizens of Tbilisi alive. With that I would like to launch the No Good Boyo Moral Tutorial Course.

“Give us a boy and we will return you a man, a citizen of his country and a child of God”, the Jesuits used to lie.

I wouldn't go that far, but would venture the slogan "Let the boy listen to my self-serving tales of overseas misadventure, and he might be able to divert frisky ladies and not end up being steamboated in a Turkish gaol."

I aim low, so that others might soar.


Gorilla Bananas said...

Coitus with a woman at least twice his weight and three times his age is what every lad should experience before putting on the toga virilis.

No Good Boyo said...

Pithy, wise and compassionate as ever, GB. I recall that Georges Perec said something along the same lines in "Life: A User's Manual".

I hope your comment forms the start of a minor canon of advice to the young.

Ian Plenderleith said...

I can't be much use here, I'm afraid, unless the boy wants to learn how to juggle a football, or understand which Scottish indie-bands from the early 1980s are still worth listening to.

Dr Maroon said...

Toga virilis Mr GB? Don't try that cod classics schtik round here thank you so very much (no offence).

Boyo you utter aunt! Peter Wyngarde is a hero of mine see ctr passim. And, and, your clustrmap has swine fever. Apart from that, I hope I find you and yours in rude health.

No Good Boyo said...

Pop, the two skills you mention do not provide comprehensive insurance against failure in later life, but come close. I don't know one end of a football from another, but can still tell my Josef K from Bourgie Bourgie. That alone kept me in one piece through a night spent in the doorway of the Sauchiehall St branch of Wimpy's.

Maroon, we are well thank you. Wyngarde guards my blog from behind the looming strapline. "Night of the Eagle" is his second finest moment, after "The Innocents". Apart from his musical career, of course.

Kevin Musgrove said...

The truly wise man taps the man-child lightly with a copy of Buchan's Football Weekly and, his breath plangeant with the whiff of Potter's Catarrh Pastlles and Wincarnis, says: "it's not the same now they cover up the wicket."

I've found that phrase sums up most of the human condition, even including cricket.

Daphne Wayne-Bough said...

That's Kaiser Soze in the picture, innit?

No Good Boyo said...

Kevin, those three words - pastilles, Wincarnis and wicket - sum up as much wisdom as the whole of the Greek Tradition.

Daphne, he is the yet more dread figure of Peter Wyngarde. Everyone who reads this comment will die.

The Birdwatcher said...

We have the "dark river" at our rugby club. Sorts the men from the mummys boyos.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Flaying the citizens of Tbilisi alive may be indeed an excessive experience. However, participation in cheap vodka guzzling contest followed by loss of virginity in the hand(s) of a health professional described above by Gorilla Bananas could be a good start.

Behavior of the subject the morning after should be also a factor in the final decision, of course.

No Good Boyo said...

Watcher, I'm delighted to see that ordeals remain a part of the rugby world. I'd rather not ask the dark river is made of. Are biscuits involved.

Snoop, you seek the golden mean as ever. A bucket of Muscovite gutrot and a fat lass make a fight with a million knife-gargling Georgians seem a less daunting experience.

The Birdwatcher said...

Not seen biscuits used. Of course there is no reason why they shouldn't be, though on balance I feel it would distract from the real horror of the thing.

Gadjo Dilo said...

"Give me the boy until the age of seven" should only be uttered by polyglot parents and chimneysweeping entrepreneurs. I also died when I saw Peter Wyngarde.

M C Ward said...

Couldn't you have provided subtitles for the film? I watched until 07:36, but then they started talking and that.

There appears to be a Peter Sellers lookalike at around 07:19, which I admire.

Pls send subtitles, or at least a summary of the dialogue, forthwith.

No Good Boyo said...

MC, I salute your indefatigability!

The rest of you - as you were!

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