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.