My first taste of alcohol was when I was nearly 17. By that time I was at boarding school on the English mainland: a classmate’s parents came to visit her and took us both out for lunch. To a pub.
I had never been in a pub before, for my family they were dens of iniquity and held little interest anyway for people who had signed the pledge.
These pledges were part of the Free Churches (Mehtodist, Baptist etc) Temperance Movement, which took England and Wales by storm in the early 20th century. Public meetings and rallies were held all over the country; in Sheffield a letter was sent to every woman in the city. The aim was to persuade people to pledge to abstain from drinking any type of alcohol.
There was a reason why my parents served milk at that wedding reception (I kid you not). My family had personal experience of the catastrophe of the wage-earner spending money on drink rather than on his family and in two cases the breadwinner died in an accident caused by drunkenness.
So that particular Sunday lunchtime stands out so clearly in my memory. It was a country pub in Dorset, with thick stone walls, a roaring fire in the grate and a warm, friendly atmosphere. I felt disoriented. I had been led to believe these were places of wickedness – but this was, well – nice. My friend’s parents ordered our meal, I remember the scampi and rare roast beef – also both firsts – but mostly I remember the red wine, which was ordered for me as a matter of course. It was the most delicious, most wonderful thing I had ever tasted. And I loved how it made me feel.
Many years later I was invited to my first ‘Coffee and cake’ in Germany. Being British, I had expected a mug of instant coffee and a biscuit, so was taken aback by the extreme beauty and professionality of everything. Starting with the cakes.
The table was beautifully set, there was a mountain of freshly whipped cream, fragrant coffee made from beans (!) and, hold on, a glass of champagne. Could this be, at four o’ clock on a Tuesday afternoon? Well, yes it could, and it was followed by a sweet rich cherry liqueur. Goodness me. These German ladies know a thing or two.
It wasn’t champagne, of course, it was ‘Sekt’, a type of sparkling wine produced and happily drunk at all sorts of times and occasions in Germany.
There are loads of different brands of Sekt, and all sorts of price ranges. A few years ago, on a very happy holiday in Sachsen-Anhalt, we had a guided tour of the Rotkäppchen Sekt production in Freyburg/Unstrut.
And since then, Rotkäppchen has been my favourite. So I put a bottle in the fridge on Tuesday, having told all my students that when Biden/Harris won I would drink Rotkäppchen all day. Well, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday passed by but as we Germans say, ‘Good things take their time’ and on Saturday evening – aperitif time in Germany – the news came through that Joe Biden had won the election. A few minutes later one of my students messaged: “Time for Rotkäppchen Sekt!”
I replied, ‘I’m on my second already!’
And, just because, here is my favourite election ad: