Having grown up in what Recusant nails as the 'banker' part of Gloucestershire, I wasn't reared on locally-produced cider. The drink was usually first encountered in sweet, bottled form at the back of the village hall hosting that week's disco. And then when you were old enough to drink in pubs it was rarely drank straight, usually being consumed as an ingredient in that devil's own drink, the snakebite - but still from the keg and so mass-produced, fizzy and characterless.
My first consistent exposure to the proper stuff - that is scrumpy - came whilst I lived in Bath. I shared a flat with a chap who played rugby for Bath Football Club (as it still was then) located on the erroneously-named Quiet Street, a Georgian canyon linking Milsom Street and Queen's Street. The place was very cheap, very leaky and at the top of five flights of steep stairs.
We used to drink our scrumpy - this was back in the early-90s - at a pub called The Beehive. I think it was somewhere up Lansdowne Hill and was a proper, old-fashioned cider house. They may have sold beer but only incidentally. It featured lots of wood, including a sawdust floor, and smelled of pine boards, fresh wood-shavings and a mixture of pear drops, fag smoke and urine.
It seemed to permanently host a number of fellers of indeterminate age, who we thought of as cider-heads, but a more visual description would have been cider-noses (all a cheery and vibrant red) or cider-eyes (all watery and bleared). Perched unsteadily at the bar, they didn't move much, just shuffling periodically to the gents and back.
We used to begin our evenings there, which is why I picture it infused with a golden evening light, not unlike that found in a clear example of what we were drinking. Usually a pint; a pint-and-a-half if we were feeling bullish.
Anyway, the combination of this modest pomaceous libation with our five flights of stairs invariably proved lethal to our prospects of spending the whole night's sleep under a duvet. I guess the scrumpy acted as a sort of depth charge, its full effect only becoming evident late in the evening. One would wake in the permanent darkness of the stairwell, mouth not unlike the dusty floor of the distantly-remembered Beehive, wondering where the hell you were, before recommencing one's interrupted assault on the summit and its comfortable bed.
I'm conscious that this is hardly an advert for the healthy benefits of cider as part of a balanced and mature approach to alcohol. But, hey, I don't care! Blasted preachers!
But what I do think really sad is the loss of places like The Beehive, which I found had been converted into another bland wine bar sort of place when I went to look for it a few years ago. Yes, it was home to a number of alcies but, as we know, these people haven't gone away, they just sit at home, lonely and even more immobile, their red noses dimmed by the ghostly light of a cathode ray tube.
It's sad to lose one of those minor cultural peculiarities that help make one city different to another; making Bath different to Winchester or Cambridge or Gloucester. I for one don't want to live in a homogenised, pasteurised culture of crappy blandness. And that's one reason to be very annoyed at a Government that in withdrawing a sensibly encouraging tax benefit has so casually put the boot into a traditional, indigenous industry that is productive of a distinctive and enjoyable cultural by-way.
But we should not despair! Here's some encouraging cider protest history. To help the current protest along constructively, here's a very sensible compromise that this government or the next should adopt. I shall be posting it to the Facebook protest group's Wall. As I think someone recently said: "oo-ar, we can!"