Underneath The Archers

By Graham Harvey

A powerful memoir by the environmental campaigner & former agricultural story editor of The Archers.

Sunday, 6 March 2022

Cider Shed Dreams

With the relentless demands of modern life, many of us dream of a finding a secret hideaway somewhere, a place where we can escape to and be ourselves for a while. For some residents of Ambridge there’s already such a place – Eddie Grundy’s Cider Shed.

No one outside the village can say for sure what it looks like. What we do know is that inside there are couple of old sofas, a bottled gas cooker and a plentiful supply of cider on tap. Eddie and Joe first came up with the idea as a way of selling the stuff without contravening the licensing laws.

You joined the Cider Club for a fee, then as a member’s perk you got to glug down an agreed volume for free. If you helped with harvesting the apples, that also entitled you to so many litres of Grundy’s best. As you’d expect there were nights when the Cider Shed was a far more popular drinking venue than The Bull.

But I don’t mind admitting I had another reason for introducing the venue. I secretly hoped it might become a place for radical political debate. There’s a long history of radicalism in the English countryside. Think Wat Tyler and the Peasants’ Revolt; Kett’s Rebellion of 1549; the Diggers or True Levellers and their occupation of common land in Surrey at the time of the English Civil War.

There’s no shortage of contemporary issues for Ambridge reformers to get their teeth into. Tax breaks for landowners. GM crops. The buying up of farmland for carbon offsetting by business. Lack of affordable starter-farms for new entrants. The crowding of pigs into factory farms like Berrow. Even the shocking state of rural public transport.

All these are topics that ought to get an airing in Britain’s best-known village, I’d have thought. And the Cider Shed is by far the most promising venue for it. As bankrupted tenant farmers the Grundys – Eddie, Clarrie and the late-lamented Joe – are natural representatives of England’s lost peasantry. Who better to host a debate on land reform?

So far my planned radical debating club hasn’t really got off the ground. The only politics that get discussed in the Cider Shed are prices in the village shop and who’s likely to scoop the prizes in the Flower and Produce Show. Still we need to remember the microphones are only live in Ambridge for about 13 minutes each day. Maybe the great political debates are already going on even if they’re not being broadcast to the nation?

In my years writing for the show I’ve had some fun times in the Cider Shed. On one occasion I had Eddie and Lilian meet up for a surreptitious drink. At the time both had promised their partners they’d stay off the booze. It was an amusing scene, or so I thought at the time. Mostly about gin and cider. No radical rural politics.

So I’ve re-imagined the scene, this time with me in it too. Here’s how it starts:

ME                  (SIPPING CIDER) Do you know, this isn’t half bad.

EDDIE            Well you don’t have to sound so surprised. Me and dad have been at it for a long time. Ain’t that right, Lilian?

LILIAN           Best cider in the county, no question. Why else would I be sitting in a dump like this?

EDDIE            We like to keep the place informal.

LILIAN           There’s informal and there’s public health hazard, darling.

ME                  I think it’s great, this stuff. A proper peasant tipple.

EDDIE            Who’re you calling a peasant?

ME                  It’s a compliment. We need that culture back in the countryside.

LILIAN           You can say that again.

ME                  So tell me, Eddie. What do you think of these global corporations buying up UK land for carbon offsetting? Planting trees, and that?

EDDIE            Is that a fact?

ME                  Yeah, definitely.

EDDIE            I wonder how you get one of them tree-planting contacts…?


I’m not sure we’re quite there with the radical debating forum. But I’m still hopeful. Maybe the next generation. Young Ed Grundy was a bit of a rebel once. Wonder if he’s thought about politics…


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