Saturday, 2 April 2011

I'd luuurvve a Babycham






Heading home from Branscombe the other day, taking the non-motorway route, I noticed that we'd be passing close to Huish Episcopi. "Have you ever been to the pub at Huish Episcopi?" I asked Deborah.

She hadn't.

"The Rose and Crown- Ian Marchant lists it as one of the ten best pubs in England. The last time I was there was, um, twenty eight years ago. I was bimbling round Somerset with my friend Mick Black, in my old Moggy van, and we had two pints of cider and fell asleep. They had to wake us up to throw us out. Really nice pub."

So we had to stop. Deborah knows her Devon and Somerset really well; every town and village we went through, she'd been able to give a potted description of the church interiors. Like the pulpit at Long Sutton, populated by saints brandishing the instruments of their martyrdom. Here, for instance, is St Simon, who was sawn in half.



..but that is another story.

It was very quiet in Eli's, but the young chap in the bar (a walk-in room where the drinks are served) assured us he'd be happy to serve us if we didn't mind sitting outside, as he had to get on with something. We didn't mind. Deborah had some Burrow Hill cider. I was playing it safe after the last time, so had a half of bitter. It seemed not quite right, in the heart of cider country.

Actually, where is the heart of cider country? I guess it's a different place for different people. James Russell, author of The Naked Guide to Cider, knows a thing or two about it, and has seen the inside of more cider houses than most people. I just watch from afar, an interested observer and enthusiastic consumer. The most involved I got was when I was working on a farm in South Devon. It was being renovated, and I did the odd jobs that needed doing, including tidying up the orchard.

But the apple crop and the cider making were looked after by Edward Camp, the octogenarian father of the former tenant of the farm. He would be at work in the orchard from first light, rumbling down the lane from his bungalow in the village on his Ferguson tractor- it was easy to spot his home in the row of otherwise similar homes, with their saloon cars parked outside.

One particularly cold and frosty morning I offered him a cup of tea.

"Tea? That's pi-son," he said. I took that as a no.

Somewhere in his extremely large mackintosh he kept an extremely large bottle of cider, which kept him going rather better than many men half his age. He bagged up the apples, and thwacked the last stubborn ones off with a big stick, then trundled off with them to Ivybridge, at a stately 5 MPH. There, they were put through the press by Cyril the cider man, a former Spitfire pilot, who retained his dapper Fighter Command moustache, waxed into upcurled spikes, and ran an equally ordered farm, with apple trees laid out in well-pruned rows, and a very effective hydraulic press.

Back on the farm, the juice was run down into barrels in the cellar, and spent the next couple of weeks fermenting furiously, with foam spuming out from the unplugged bungholes in the top, and a great drowsy fug of apple fumes filling the building. As the fermentation abated, we topped up the barrels with more juice, and then bunged them. And, in the fullness of time, we got to try the results. Which were very good. But made even nicer by the making and doing, and the genius loci.

So that, for me, is the heart of cider country.

Bristol's pretty cidery, though. Though there are various ways of being cidery.

I was in the supermarket the other day, with young Katie in tow, getting stuff for dinner. And I quite fancied getting some cider. In the alcohol aisle, some students were also looking for cider. Rather than Magners, the cider of choice for students, they got some South African stuff. Odd, I thought, never knew they made cider in South Africa. I got a big bottle of Westons still cider. And then saw a bottle of Babycham. It was in a champagne style bottle with gold foil round the cap. But it was still Babycham. "Hey, I'd luuuuurve a Babycham", I said to Katie, in a Theophilus P Wildebeest voice. This was a reference to a television ad that was on TV before she was even born.

"Don't ever do that voice again. Ever," she replied.

So I had to get it.

At the self service till, when we got to the drinks the machine said, in that irritatingly breezy and officious voice that self service tills have, "Approval needed!"

I waved for the assistant.

She came over.

She looked at the bottles.

"Do you both have ID?" she asked.

"I'm over 18," I said, "The alcohol is for me. This is my daughter. She is 14."

"You both need ID," she said. "It's the law. I'm sorry, but we'd get into trouble with the police if I let you have them".

She carried the bottles away. We went to the car and deposited the groceries there, then I went back in on my own and bought the damn alcohol.

A couple of days later, I got an e-mail from ASDA customer services in response to my query

On this occasion the colleague may have felt unable to serve you alcohol as a member of your party was under the legally permitted age. I agree that it is the person buying the alcohol who must of over 18 however if the colleague feels that the alcohol may be being bought for a minor then the sale can be refused. As legally the colleague can also be personally responsible as well as the company it is not our policy to over-rule their decision.

This is down to the colleagues own discretion and must be left for the colleague to decide. If someone approaches the till with a young child then it would still fall on the colleagues shoulders to make a judgement based on who they felt would be receiving the alcohol when purchased. Hopefully common sense would prevail.

I realise that your must have been very frustrated at this refusal. For this reason I have noted all the details of your complaint and discussed them with the store's Senior Management Team. They will be addressing those in future training sessions.

It was the Babycham, wasn't it? Students buy Magners, old crocks people of mature years buy gert-lush, proper-job Westons cider, and teenagers (apparently) try to buy Babycham.

The Babycham tasted a bit like those sweet flying saucers, the ones with sherbet in.

Katie drank Coca Cola. Drink of choice for that particular adolescent.