Did you go ‘scrumping’ as a child?

The house I rent has an orchard at the bottom of the garden, which has yielded some magnificent fruit this year.

Without boasting about the juiciness of my plums, although they were something to behold, I found myself reflecting, while harvesting, on how times have changed.

Although the orchard is easily accessible, I have not had a single scrumper. This surprised me as, when I was a kid, we all went scrumping.

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“Scrumping” is a nice way of saying you’re going to pinch someone else’s fruit, and in those days we planned it as if we were carrying out a bank robbery.

John Halewood DoddJohn Halewood Dodd
John Halewood Dodd

We lived in an area of terraced streets, so didn’t have gardens, never mind fruit trees. However, there were a number of addresses just off our estate that did, and we saw them as fair game.

The lengths the owners of these fruit trees went to in order to prevent our petty larceny was nothing short of remarkable.

Fences and hedges were entwined with barbed wire, adjoining walls greased up, and more than one address had broken glass shards cemented on the top of their wall. That said, none of them deterred us, as we had our secret weapon, Big Craig!

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He was twice the size of the rest of us, but sadly not as quick-witted. Similar to Steinbeck’s Lennie – strong as an ox, loyal to the core, a true friend, and an asset to have on such missions. Big Craig’s role was that of “shaker,” shaking the tree as vigorously as possible while we remaining urchins were strategically placed around the garden to collect the fruit as it fell.

Brilliant plan, until fruit started hitting us and Craig couldn’t contain his laughter. More often than not, his guffaws would alert the homeowner, who would either release the hounds or rush out and attempt to whack us with sticks.

Smeared in grease, clothes, and sometimes skin lacerated, and often covered in lumps and bumps, we would head off home deliriously happy with our haul.

Nowadays, kids would be much happier buying the finished pie or crumble, and I really shouldn’t be condoning theft, but just reminiscing about those days had me in fits of laughter.