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Just 17 March 23, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

I think I’m in favour of social engineering. And intelligent machines, like that one they used somewhere in the Far East that could awfully cleverly tell if you had SARS when that ailment was de rigueur. It would be so convenient if, every time you entered some establishment or other, it could tell how dim you were and send you to the right section for your IQ-category. (I’d be in with the toddlers, obviously.) The machine would know, say, when I walked into the bank, from my skin-tone and stomach shape that I am clearly not a sensible type and it would send me to the can-I-have-my-swallowed-card-back woman, rather than the 12-year-old boy in a suit who deals with grander types, in suits themselves, often, or sensible but heeled footwear, who want to talk about how to juggle their investments or get a loan for some new pebbledash. Or, in the video-place, the artificial intelligence item would notice from my gentle step and thin neck that I could be steered straight away from any film with the word ‘raid’ in its title or ones featuring muscular, topless men with long hair wearing artillery necklaces on the cover, though it would also know, of course, that I wanted to see, and cleverly be able to produce, a slide-show projected onto the walls as I walked down the corridor to the films-in-European-languages section of the covers of the ‘raid’-in-title films cutting off the men’s long hair, removing their artillery necklaces and giving them a hint of chest hair.

Wouldn’t it just all make life so much easier?

As I was going to look at flats to move into, the relevant artificial intelligence item would put up a force-field preventing me even from entering areas where the residents have a high lip-pursing and complaining-to-neighbour indicator. It would also guide me away from houses where the residents were shown to be utterly, flagrantly in their 20s and who would, on discovery of my deliciously foreign passport, say, “Toll!” and try to get to know me. Houses with a high curtain-twitching indicator on the artificial intelligence item’s display would also be instantaneously enveloped in an impenetrable shroud.

And whenever a teenager came within a 200m-radius, I would instantaneously be teleported up into the clouds and teleported back down at the next convenient, teenager-free location. And if that teleportation transaction was to get in the way of an appointment with the can-I-have-my-swallowed-card-back woman or even something as conventional as meeting a (previously-screened) friend at a (screened and approved, and in possession of brown sugar) location for a (just so fucking not decaffeinated) coffee, the artificial intelligence item would instantaneously let them know, and perhaps we could do the whole thing virtually. Or something.

Because I just don’t know how to cope with the young.

Although I do actually rather like the young. But not as much as I like the old. And a trip to my old woman pends. I repeat, this is not a euphemism for rooneyanly paying for sex. No, I soon plan to go and visit my old woman friend, who was born before Jesus. It has, until now, always been an easy transaction, except that it involves getting on planes and being bollocked, twice, for the state of my passport. “It’s you that insists I carry it round with me every-flippin’-where I go,” I think hard at the German bollockers.

But now the awkward-aged are getting involved.

“Vvvvvv,” vibrated my mobile as we left our receptionless and joyless shopping centre the other day. A garbled, almost inaudible message in English from my old lady’s 17-year-old great-grandson who’s clearly reached a stage where he knows that everything that happens needs to have something for him in it – such a dreary stage – mentioning the words ‘duty free’, ‘cigarettes’, ‘friends’ and ‘selling on to’. Oh just fuck off.

Firstly, it’s obviously a lie. And I’m sure I’d never have had the balls at 17 to ring my gay quasi-uncle abroad and ask him to bring me something. But the national curriculum clearly now teaches that cigarettes are a billionth the price in Germany of what they cost in England and the 17-year-old, who naturally doesn’t have a bean, thinks Christmas has come early.

So what to do? I contacted a related-to-the-17-year-old person whom I could trust not to repeat a word and asked for advice. “Screen all your calls, ignore his messages and breezily, grown-uply say, ‘No, I haven’t bought you cigarettes,’ when he appears at the old woman’s house like a hungry cat within half a second of your arrival.”

A moral minefield. Firstly, I repeat, it’s clearly a lie that they’re for him to sell on to his friends. And, anyway, even if they are for him to become the West Sussex middle-of-nowhere teenage equivalent of the Berlin Vietnamese mafia flogging cheapo Ukrainian cigarettes, that’s hardly a money-spinner that I should avuncularly be promoting, is it? And, anyway, I don’t necessarily want my trips to have a commercial angle.

I can’t contact his uncle or grandmother, whom I know much better, as they would spit with fury and bollock him from now until the next millennium. I would instantly become a grass, and a cunt. I can’t contact his parents, as they would be twice as livid and actually kill him. Twice.

But I can’t just give him the god-damned cigarettes, can I? He is 17, after all. Old enough, technically-speaking. But as they peeked out clumsily from under his bed, half-smoked and unsold, his mother would spot them within a second with German writing all over them and then I’d be bollocked for adding an element of undesirableness to a visit which is, otherwise, a halo-polishing exercise. My halo is so fucking gleaming with this family for the most part that blindness is not unknown to occur in other West Sussex locations nearby.

Damn the young and their actions-don’t-have-consequences philosophy. Maybe my old lady and I should just video-conference instead.



1. mountpenguin - March 24, 2007

You carry your passport around with you all the time?

2. pleite - March 24, 2007

I do. Is that insanely bonkers? Don’t our kindly hosts insist as much?

3. mountpenguin - March 24, 2007

My understanding is that you must be able to identify yourself to a policeperson, if requested. A passport or other form of legitimate Ausweis is of course the most convenient way, but some other semi-official document (e.g. bank / Krankenkasse card) will do at a pinch, often combined with a comparision of your details against the Melderegister or whatever. Never had any problems; mind you I’ve only ever been stopped by the fuzz once, and that was in deepest Bavaria on the way to an anti-neonazi demo, when I was a) without passport; b) at the time technically not supposed to be in the country (this was slightly pre-EU); and c) carrying a cutter knife (which I’d forgotten was in my rucksack). Fortunately quick thinking, my innocent demeanour and a UK bank card were enough to convince them that I wasn’t on the list of RAF fugitives, and they let me on my way.

I suspect though, the world being as it is, it might be different if one is evidently from a nation whose citizens require a visa to enter the country.

4. Appy Linguist - March 24, 2007

How are your acting skills? When asked for the fags, can’t you just play the role of someone who seems genuinely upset at having forgotten to buy them? And then point out that duty-free doesn’t work within the EU, anyway?

5. pleite - March 24, 2007

I have never been stopped by the fuzz here once. In Russia it happened all the time. All the fucking time. And usually left me considerably more impecunious than I already was. But as I have lost everything the Germans have given me – Melde-thing and Ausland-Melde-thing – I always have my crumbly passport on me. Do you mean the police have some mobile computer, or even artificial intelligence item, which could instantly check the Melderegister for them? Just lying there in one of those cars? How clever. Maybe I’ll secretly become an ID-card fan and dash to get my British one, whenever they come in. Except isn’t it going to cost 200 euros or something?

Must move to the remotest spot of Russian/Canadian wilderness ASAP.

6. pleite - March 24, 2007

Appy, hello there, me old chum. How the fuck are you? I think years of practice mean I’m quite an accomplished liar. But I know I’ll be livid with myself, and internally trying to self-destruct all my organs, at not being able to tell someone under half my age to sod the fuck off and not put me in a quandary. Although he is only 17, of course, and can’t possibly have thought there’s any moral dilemma in the whole affair at all. Perhaps ignorance is bliss… Wouldn’t go back to being a teenager for ALL THE WORLD though.

7. mountpenguin - March 24, 2007

No, they have old-fashioned two-way radios, with which they talk to someone sitting in front of a computer.

My own passport is actually quite creased due to being carried in my pocket throughout Japan many times, but in Berlin it sits on a shelf.

8. William Thirteen - March 24, 2007

i carry a copy of my passport in the old wallet along with a copy of the anmeldewhatever. don’t know if it would satisfy the boys in green, but it makes me feel safer than walking around with my so difficult to replace passport hanging out of my pants. i don’t mind the presence of the teens, though preferably they would be naked and in chains….

9. annie - March 25, 2007

Oh BiB, you are too honest.

‘Text message? What text message?’

Or have you replied already?

10. Marsha Klein - March 26, 2007

Oh dear, how awkward. Look, I know teenagers can be scary ( I live with one and have another in the making!) but you must say “no”. He’s trying it on because he knows you’re well regarded by his family and, therefore, above blame. If he wants to smoke himself to death let him do it at his own risk and expense. It is not worth sacrificing the good opinion of friends just to appease some opportunist teen. he’ll only despise you if you do it anyway – that’s the odd thing about kids. I think, on some level, they actually want you to say “no”. However, some are just shameless little buggers – don’t know which applies in this case. If you can’t bring yourself to say an outright “no” you could always try the “Smoking’s a terrible thing. I really wish I could give it up” etc etc line.

11. chendaberry - March 26, 2007

you think that’s bad teenage behaviour? a couple of years ago i was engaged in selling stuff on various markets in berlin, one of them being the now horribly champagne-swilling and oysters-guzzling kollwitzplatz market – have you ever been there on a saturday afternoon? if not, don’t. EVER. anyway, i got a bunch of teenagers (probably not more than 12 years old actually) standing in a threatening gang around my stall telling me that they’d nick stuff off it and run away unless i gave them some money. i was so gobsmacked i didn’t really know what to do. luckily the migo with his broad shoulders and air of i might thump you if you don’t watch out turned up just in time and they skedaddled away. think i might have burst into tears otherwise.

12. narrowback - March 27, 2007

my teenaged relatives are all so well behaved – around adults that is – that i’ve questioned whether they are really of the family’s bloodline…not a single drinker, pot smoker, juvenile deliquent, disaffected and/or misanthrope amongst tem? can’t be ours.

however, as I told you I sure could have used that teleportation device earlier this month. that flight to berlin with over 100 high school students aged 14 to 16 just about pushed me over the edgewhen I walked up to the departure gate at newark and saw them all I almost fled in terror.

13. Blonde at Heart - March 27, 2007

Say no. He is my sister’s age and should not smoke. He can adopt this habit later in life when it is acceptable to smoke. Like forty, or seventy.

14. pleite - March 27, 2007

BaH, well, I miraculously managed to find my backbone and just simply not buy them. Of course he appeared with lightning speed at his great-grandmother’s house when I did, like an expectant hyena, and I just said, “I couldn’t get you any,” and he looked crestfallen and devastated. But, yes, he can smoke aged 36, as I currently do.

Narrowback, as far as I know, my teenage relatives are mostly goody-two-shoeses too. I’m proud to say I was properly naughty. Endless trouble for my parents with my school(s), having the wrong friends etc. etc. And I’m sure I’ve turned out only standardly bad, so it doesn’t seem to have done me too much harm.

Chen, hello. I don’t think you’ve been to my new place before. Make yourself at home… I think I’ve only accidentally stumbled through/past that market once in a while. And cheeky 12-year-olds? How hellish. Gits. Hurrah for broad-shouldered boyfriends. I might deliberately misbehave next time I’m in your company so the migo can come and look threatening at me, and then I’ll run away.

Marsha, you expert mother, you. Your words were so spot on. I think you’re right about the saying no. Of course he wanted the fags, but I think his disappointment had an element of being-put-in-his-place about it and he didn’t protest. I asked if his parents were going to have been informed of this transaction, had it taken place, and he said no, so he can rightly sod off. He’s sweet, though. A pain in the arse, because he’s 17, but sweet. But you’re so right, opportunist teen and shameless bugger.

Annie, I had been advised to just ignore his communications, and I did, though not internally, and they were getting round to ruining my trip in advance, though that passed when I saw him. Of course I then had to hide my own fags the whole time and hurl being-smoked cigarettes on the fire the second I heard the back door thundering open. His younger brother tried to put innocence in his voice when he asked if I was smoking during this visit. What sort of question is that?

William, I am resisting the urge to find teenagers attractive. As my own age trundles relentlessly on, I do now find everyone aged under 35 mindblowingly beautiful, but, luckily, as soon as anyone 19 or younger opens their mouth, I lose the will to live, which feature I hope will last. Though the naughty opportunistic teen had a new hyena in his pack this weekend, who was horribly beautiful. I actually asked his age, just to make sure I was still within the bounds of respectability, and he was 18. But he was still a total baby when he opened his mouth – he quite nicely asked me if Berlin was picturesque, which was vaguely gentlemanly of him – and made me want to run away, rather than get busy with him.

Penguin, I once had truck with the police here and it was all quite low-tech, I must say. The hulking brute of a cop was struggling with the printer and he printed the same thing out about twenty times. I noticed they were using environmentally-friendly recycled paper.

15. narrowback - March 28, 2007

i just can’t understand the lack of absolutely any “aberrant” behavior on their part… I fear a rubber band snap for one or more of them as they move into their 20’s…because their parents and other relatives got it out of their systems earlier

at the age of 16, I went from a goody-two-shoes to a sociopth in the course of three months. my mother still refers to it as the jeckell/hyde year

btw BiB did you ever get my post departure e-mail? I had some e-mail problems whe I got back so I’m not confident it got out. wouldn’t want you to think i’d be so rude so as to leave berlin without as much as a tip of the hat

16. Beaman - March 28, 2007

You’re welcome Bib! I will let you off, send the cheque to a charity of your choice instead.
There is nothing like joining a few blogrolls to get you new readers. I feel a bit of a cheat doing it but at least it gets people reading my prose.

17. pleite - March 28, 2007

Narrowback, I know for a fact you are a perfect gent and wouldn’t depart without a tip of the hat and I did indeed get your e-mail, and forgive me for not answering yet. I am such a bad correspondent. I will definitely get round to it soon. Needless to say, it was heaven to meet you.

…yes, I remember, when I was young, thinking some of my older cousins were afwully nerdy. Mind you, when I see teenagers now, they do seem SO young that I can’t believe I got away with what I got away with at their age. I almost want to laugh when I hear about them having boyfriends and girlfriends. They seem 2.

Beaman, not a bit of it. That’s the way to do it. And people like what you write, and there’s such a choice. Stories. Poems. Funny. Serious… I hope life’s being good to you back there in the garden of England. Is it?

18. narrowback - March 29, 2007

Ah BiB, no apologies are necessary drop me a line when you get the odd chance. As I said I just wanted to make sure the e-mail made it through. When I first got back Yahoo kept giving me a permanent error message when I tried to e-mail you so I made an attempt with the hotmail account.

Right, the teen relatives do seem like 2… I guess that’s why I’m somewhat suspicious/cynical about their apparent goody-two-shoe-ishness. I know what I – as well as their parents – was up to at the age of 17 and its going to be tough to convince me that they’re not at least somewhat similarly inclined.

19. pleite - March 29, 2007

I remember my especially nerdy-seeming-to-us older cousins’ youth and we all used to say, “Mark our words, they’ll go wild later and become drug-addicted prostitutes,” and they didn’t, and turned out uterly normal and perfectly nice, actually.

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