Green scrumpy and prat falls

Somerset Levels from Burrow Mump
Picture by Steve Bridger from Flickr Creative Commons.

By Bailey

This morning, a question on Twitter from Jeff Pickthall about whether cider should smell of manure prompted a vivid flashback to an incident from my childhood.

In, I think, the summer of 1988, during a heat wave, my parents decided to have a barbecue and invite a few people round for a session on the deck chairs in the back garden.

My family was living in a council house in Bridgwater, not because of the charming architecture (prefab concrete) or community atmosphere (the local kids used to throw stones at our house and our shed got burgled twenty or so times), but because we were on our uppers. As a result, bang for buck, when it came to the purchase of alcohol, was a significant consideration for my parents.

At around lunchtime, my Dad’s mate — a mumbling Chewbacca of a man my brother and I nicknamed ‘Womble’ — turned up to accompany my dad on a mission: the booze run. Womble, it seemed, had a hot lead on some farmhouse cider being sold at about half the price of posh stuff like Rich’s. When I say farmhouse, I don’t mean rustic, boutique Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall territory: this was a Farmer Palmer asbestos barn out on the Levels whose owner had a ‘relaxed’ attitude to taxation and the law.

When they returned, it was with a plastic gallon jerry can of what looked, for all the world, like the urine of a very dehydrated tramp.

“It’s bloody green,” said my Dad, inspecting it against the light.

“There were dead rats floating in the tank,” said Womble. (I’m not sure if he was trying to wind me up but suspect not.)

My Dad’s older brother, as I’ve mentioned before, drank a lot of rough cider in the sixties and seventies and, even now, can barely string a sentence together and has no short term memory to speak of. As a result, my Dad, to this day, is very wary of scrumpy. He and Womble took tentative tasters. Steam blew out their ears. Their faces went through contortions. They stamped their feet.

“How is it?” asked Mum.

“Bloody awful,” said Dad, before he and Womble set about drinking in earnest.

After two pints or so each, they were talking in tongues, or perhaps Unwinese, and apparently regressing to childhood. Eventually, giggling, Womble keeled over sideways taking his flimsy canvas folding chair with him.

The cider was abandoned with half a gallon remaining in the jug.

This is how I remember it, but I’m sure Mum will call me later to tell me I’m wrong.

10 thoughts on “Green scrumpy and prat falls”

  1. my neighbour’s cider in Chedzoy was a bit like that, only had half a pint and felt like death warmed up the next day — you weren’t living on the Sydenham estate were you? Good fish and chipper but a bit hostile in places…

    1. Yes, Sydenham, aka the Troubled Sydenham Estate. It was alright, really, if you knew a few shortcuts, which kids to avoid, and stayed indoors unless absolutely necessary…

  2. Obviously I don’t have to direct you to The Cider Bar in Newton Abbot – one of my favourite drinking holes in the entire world.
    Some of their stuff absolutely pongs of cow-shit but is magically transformed into quite a decent taste and odour with a pint topped with ginger beer.
    I love really rough farmhouse scrumpy but unfortunately it doesn’y always love me and when I can persuade Mrs Professor Pie-Tin to drive me to The Cider Bar whilst she heads off for some retail therapy I am warned of a four pint limit – or else.

  3. When my then-girlfriend’s brother lived in Tedburn St Mary in the 1970s, one of the two local farmhouse cider-makers was also the local milkman, and would deliver the scrumpy with the silvertop. Happy daze.

  4. Do you think there is any truth in the old wives’ tale that there is some kind of psychoactive ingredient in scrumpy that rots the brain in a way that other drinks don’t? I have certainly heard this from other sources.

    1. The story is that there is arsenic in apple skins (think I read that that’s a myth) and cyanide in the pips (which is true, I think, but you have to eat a lot before it’s a problem). Growing up, though, I heard frequent mention of ‘cider casualties’, and there is certainly a common belief that scrumpy does something funny to your brain that beer doesn’t.

  5. Got a good laugh reading this post.

    (Apple skins could have organic and inorganic arsenic, organic is not harmful and inorganic comes from man made pollutants (stay away from apple fields next to coal plants). You’d have to grind up a bushel worth of seeds/pips and then eat it all at once to succumb to cyanide poisoning.)

Comments are closed.