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Monday, June 15, 2009

Pub lore

Ferris on drink: "Given that the Air Balloon was the social centre for the Crickley diggers, it is surprising how little reminiscence there is on Crickley Hill Man's blog about the place. I suppose it's another case of 'if you were really there you won't remember'. Between 1972, my first year at Crickley, and 1983, my last short stay, the Balloon changed out of all recognition: from a small, run-down but homely pub filled with drinking locals to the much larger, day-tripper meal-and-a-dry-white-wine-or-spritzer clientele of today. The original pub was in fact so small that the only way for all the diggers to be accommodated was for most people to stay in the beer garden all evening, even when it was sometimes cold or rainy. The original, outside pub toilets for many years were home to successive families of nesting swallows. Maybe the sole remaining original interior feature today is the curved window seat in the front bar.

One particular visit to the Air Balloon sticks in my mind and followed John Boden and myself borrowing two bicycles from someone at Ullenwood one evening in perhaps 1974 and cycling to visit Great Witcombe Roman villa - we were very much archaeo-nerds at the time. The cycle back was exhausting, on a warm evening, after a hard day's work on the hill, and up that killer of a hill from the direction of Gloucester. When we finally reached the Air Balloon we headed straight for the bar and each had to rapidly order and quickly drink two or three pints of lemonade and lime to rehydrate before we could start on the GL cider. I haven't ridden a bike since.

As John Boden recalls, visits were only ever made to other pubs on very rare occasions, primarily because the Air Balloon was the only pub within walking distance of Ullenwood. On Thursday, as has been mentioned elsewhere on the blog, drinking took place at the Imperial Beer Gardens on Cheltenham Promenade and sometimes on Thursday evenings in The Cotswold in town. An evening visit by car to the White [you mean Golden. Ed.] Heart was, as John recalls, a great treat. I first went there as a passenger in Clive Anderson's splendid red MG sports car-this was in Clive's louche bachelor days-and was much taken with the excellent scrumpy cider and the general rusticity of the place at the time-there was no bar as such, simply barrels of beer and cider on the ground from which customers were served. I expect it's a little grander today."

While we're on Air Balloon memories, do I not recall that there was a very decent governor there in 1976 and 1977 who later fell from grace? I seem to recall he had a fling with one of the diggers (was her name Sandy?) and we all thought he was very nice. Later, it transpired he got bored with the locals one night and lost his job after discharging a shotgun into the ceiling of the pub in an effort to bring a lock-in to an end. This was at a time when the Gloucestershire Police would occasionally lie in wait up the road and look out for car headlights leaving the Balloon at hours later than legitimate and then pounce on the offenders. Hence, I seem to recall being told that they weren't far away and intervened rather swiftly. I think we were told the story when we arrived for the 1978 season and wondered what had happened to the nice bloke who used to run the pub.

I think it's conceivable that I may have attended the odd lock-in myself. Obviously only for the purposes of research, you understand. I think on one or two occasions the police may have joined us for a drink. Surely not? I'm damn sure Chipper joined us for a drink because he more or less lived in the Air Balloon.

It now seems mildly ludicrous, given the ubiquity of the mobile phone, that the Air Balloon porch contained the nearest and only payphone to which 100 plus diggers had access. There was no accessible phone at Ullenwood (though doubtless Lofty had one that could have been called upon by negotiation and in a genuine emergency). If you wanted to make a phone call you had to walk down to the Air Balloon armed with a liberal quantity of 2p pieces.

Many a digger, like me, found out their exam results, hanging on the end of that ancient payphone, desperately hoping the supply 2p bits would last long enough for the phone call home that boded either triumph or disappointment. I remember John Parry kindly bought me a tot or two of Southern Comfort to celebrate my A-level results. At lunchtime on a digging day, as well. What were we thinking, John?

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