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.)

    1. Dave -
      The sort of cider being dis­cussed here def­i­nite­ly doesn’t get pack­aged in cans.

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