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Nicholas Lezard: It's all the fault of the apple juice

We should treat cider with respect. It is the absinthe of the United Kingdom

Monday 29 March 2010 00:00 BST

My heart invariably sinks after each Budget. There's always something that hits hard at one's lifestyle, and the only ray of sunshine I could find this year was that now that cigarettes are SO expensive, there is no longer any significant price differential between Senior Service and whatever the bog-standard cigarette of choice is among the populace. (Did you know that the Beatles were told, as their careers took off, to switch from smoking Players to Senior Service? It would give them a classier image, they were advised. And only one of them died of lung cancer. Those are fair odds, I think.)

But the measure that seems to have resonated most deeply among the electorate this year is the extra tax on cider. The reaction has been hostile, with barbed jokes about the Magner Carta and so on. Magners, m'lud, is a popular bottled cider whose success apparently resides in the way people have been encouraged to serve it with ice. Withnail, in the film which bears his name, specifically asked for his cider to be iced, and so the purist in me is defeated by the cineaste. But I am not sure if this is what Magners had in mind.

The punishment being doled out to cider drinkers seems disproportionate. Proper cider, the cloudy scrumpy which weighs in at about 7 per cent alcohol, is a drink to be treated with respect; with its reputation for causing blindness, insanity, and murderous rampages, it is the absinthe of the United Kingdom, and we should be drinking more of it rather than less. It also, I have found, has the curious effect of dehydrating you faster than you can drink it, and so is anti-thirst-quenching. I also like the fact that it is so easy to make; as we learn from Ian Marchant's superb book, The Longest Crawl, apple juice longs to become cider really badly; the difficulty is to stop it from becoming so.

At this time of year, then, I always end up entertaining a reverie, sometimes for days on end, about what I would do if I were Chancellor. My Budget would be more than a nine-day wonder, I feel. I would extend the Tory principle that you raise more revenue from lower rates of income tax than higher ones, and use my powers to yank this country back to a gentler and more communal age. The tax on proper real ale sold in pubs would become more or less nugatory. Artisanal cider producers, of course, would also feel my benevolence, as would the makers of fine Islay malt whiskies. But my boldest stroke would be with tobacco. All duty on pipe tobacco would be abolished.

Check out the obituary pages: those pictured with a pipe in their mouths die in their 80s or 90s, those with cigarettes rather earlier. And imagine now a country where gangstas and hoodies strut about with pipes in their mouths instead of fags or spliffs. They'd be too busy knocking out their dottle and tamping down their bowls to stab anyone. We'd be yanked back to the 1950s, and in a good way. If only we had a Chancellor with vision.

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