Magazine article The Spectator

The Naked Truth

Magazine article The Spectator

The Naked Truth

Article excerpt

AT a hostel for the homeless in Plymouth I once stayed at, there was a sign in the gents' that said, `Please do not throw cigarette ends into the urinal as it makes them soggy and difficult to light.' I remember reading this sign and taking it entirely seriously, for in those days I wasn't above fishing dog-ends out of urinals and drying them out on radiators.

On my first evening there, a teenage lad burst in to the common room. Red-faced and panting, he announced that he'd found a retail outlet not half a mile away selling half-gallon flagons of farm cider at 50 pence each. This was sensational news, I gathered. Excitement in the hostel could not have been greater if he had announced the defeat of the Persian army and then dropped down dead. Fifty pence a half-gallon was ludicrously cheap, even in those days, and the panting lad was brushed aside in the stampede for the door. We all bought as much as we could afford - in my case a third share in a flagon. It was local farm cider, surreptitiously sold in unlabelled plastic containers by a newsagent. After sampling it, one of our more literate colleagues christened it Death in the Afternoon. I was new to the West Country, and it was on this dry, clear, cheap and exhilarating brew that I first became what they call down here a `scrumpy walloper'.

I liked the taste, but more importantly, of course, I enjoyed the effect it had on my consciousness. It was surprisingly subtle. The notion that rough cider merely has a bludgeoning effect on the brain is nonsense. It is commercially produced beer, with all its added chemicals, that clouds and fuddles the mind; wholesome, natural, farm cider clarifies it.

Traditionally made cider is fermented apple juice, nothing else. The only ingredient added to the fermentation barrel is more apple juice to keep the air out. …

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