I was up early as usual, but no need to walk to the bakery this Sunday. We have plenty of bread in and we have borrowed a waffle iron for a couple of days – and the kids were very clear about their breakfast wishes. The sun was shining, which was not expected, so I was quite sorry to miss my early-morning walk but made myself busy mixing waffle batter.
I like listening to music when I am up on my own making breakfast. I get to listen to all the old and oddball stuff I like without people complaining. As I connected my phone to the speaker I saw a message from an old friend in Yorkshire, Rick, asking if I had been listening to any Prince lately. As Prince died two days ago, I had been listening to some old songs especially from Parade and Sign o the Times from the mid 80s. Not particularly because they were his best work, but they took me back to a time when I was 18 or 19 and can specifically remember listening to them then. That’s often the way with favourite songs that take you back to a certain moment. I then saw another message from Rick who had been for a walk on the “Billing” which is a hill near my old hometown near Leeds and a favourite party spot before we had reached legal drinking age. The so-called “Billing Parties” were legendary. You would buy a bottle of Woodpecker Cider and walk up there in the hope of finding a party and perhaps some girls. How we dreamed…
The reality was a little more sobering – usually there would be about 4 teenage youths huddled around a squeaky cassette recorder. The girls would never appear and the main event of the evening would be somebody throwing up a bottle of woodpecker cider on their denim jacket. Still, as these memories get further away they start to look better and I remember the Billing Parties with affection.
Back in England, the drinking age was 18 and alcohol seemed relatively expensive so any gathering or party where it was available was a big deal. Really, the only stuff we drunk was either beer or cider. Occasionally somebody would have a bottle of Martini or sherry that they’d snaffled from their Dad’s garage but that was a novelty. I remember being quite excited about tasting martini because of James Bond. But a swig from a bottle of sweet martini which had just been smuggled out of the house in someone’s armpit wasn’t quite as pleasant as I’d hoped.
Here in Germany, in 2016, the situation is quite different. Alcohol is really cheap and the whole drinking culture is different. The legal drinking age is, amazingly, 13! As long as the kids are in private and accompanied by parents. From 16 on you can buy beer and wine and from 18, spirits. I think that this mature and relaxed approach takes away a lot of the caché during those impressionable early teen years and this shows. The general approach to boozing is more relaxed. Even at the Oktoberfest, it is amazing how many people can consume lots of beer in a confined space and it still remains peaceful and good-natured.
Of course no system is foolproof, and teenagers will always want to rebel a bit. The kids here seem to have their own version of the Billing Party – at the local playground. We don’t go to the playground much any more as our girls are too old, but usually on a Sunday morning I would find a couple of cartons of fruit juice and an empty bottle of cheapo vodka and some cigarettes lying around – presumably evidence of a little adolescent gathering the night before. But on the whole, the youth are drinking less and less each year – back when records began in 1973