“If I cannot smoke in heaven, than I shall not go,” Mark Twain.
As a youth, I’d been quite the fervent anti-smoker. Neither of my parents smoked, although my mum used to before my old man, er, encouraged her to give up.
At school, the hard, cool kids smoked in the traditional place – behind the bike sheds – but I thought they were daft. Smoking, as everybody knew, was bad for you. Leading to miserable looking diseases and, eventually, a miserable death.
I played cricket whilst still at school for BR (British Rail) North and most of the blokes I played with smoked. Being a weekend cricketer in England means you spend quite a lot of time sat indoors waiting for it to stop raining. I vividly recall Dick Bentley, with whom I opened the batting, deciding one wet afternoon to “Get the lad started off,” by buying me half a pint of mild. I thought it tasted like cold sick. I’d had a go on some of my old man’s crème de menthe, diluted with lemonade and I’d far preferred that. I don’t think I was offered a fag to go with it though. Dick Bentley used to break the filters off his to, “Get me money’s worth, son.” Dick Bentley didn’t piss about. He was nice to me though. Except when I ran him out, which happened periodically.
Diversion – Beer
I’ve not drunk a drop of beer since I was 24. Not in the same way that not a drop of vodka has passed my lips since I was 19, though. The reason I stopped drinking vodka was after drinking half a litre of blue label (apparently very strong vodka has blue labels. I don’t know. Maybe. You tell me.) vodka, diluted with Vimto after eating nothing more substantial than a small tin of Heinz Macaroni Cheese. The ramifications of this stupidity were broad and far-reaching. I decided – sensibly, for once – that the best course of action when that pissed is to just go to bed, like mother would have wanted, although she would probably have suggested I took my shoes off first – so I did. I vaguely remember waking up in the night need to vomit and realising that there was no chance of making it to the sink at the other end of my room, which was about ten feet away, so I leaned over and just hurled off the side of my bed. Revolting, right? It only gets worse. I awoke feeling dreadful, funnily enough, and stuck to my bed. Further investigation showed that I had thrown up over the wrong side of my bed and, coagulated on the wall there were bits of partially digested, purple macaroni set in an equally purple backdrop of God only knows what. It had gone through the quilt cover, through the quilt, through the bedsheet and had stained the mattress purple. I removed the quilt cover, shook it out of the window and went back to sleep.
Later, I had to use a screwdriver to chip the dried up sick from my wall as it had by then adopted the physical properties of hard toffee. Nice.
Anyway, it was beer I was going to write about. Don’t worry, this one doesn’t have any sick in it, it’s far more banal than that.
One afternoon, Balf and I were sat in the Haworth pub, which was our local. I say ‘our’, meaning Balf and Ploggy, who I went to Spiders with and, more recently, had moved into a shared house with them in order to prevent my girlfriend dumping me which hadn’t worked. (See ‘Yummy, Yummy, Yummy. Or, How I Inadvertently Drove My Girlfriend Certifiably Insane. Allegedly.’ For further detail.) drinking beer. It was Balf’s round and when we had about inch of beer left in our glasses, he said, “Same again, Mid?” and he stood, ready to go to the bar.
I nodded and began to finish off the dregs, at which point it suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t even like beer.
“Actually, don’t bother,” I called after him. “Can I have a gin and tonic instead?”
And that was it. The end of drinking beer because I finally worked out that I didn’t like it, despite having already worked it out aged about 13 when Dick Bentley first introduced me to it. I think I thought it might be an acquired taste, beer. Maybe it is, but if I hadn’t acquired it after ten years, I reckoned I probably never would. It left me feeling bloated, too. There was also far too much urinating involved with beer. No wonder. Some people drink eight or nine pints of beer a night don’t they? I don’t think I could drink eight or nine pints of water. That’s a lot of fluid, isn’t it? If only I could have applied the same logic to fags a few years prior to that on a shitty Sunday in York.
End of Diversion.
Later, when I started work, people still smoked in offices and certainly in pubs and clubs. It wasn’t as popular as it seemed to have been in the sixties and seventies – as far as I could tell from the telly – but a lot of people smoked. More or less everywhere, too.
When I’d come home from Spiders, I’d stink of smoke and periodically suffered fag burns from smoking dancers. I mean dancers who held lit fags in their hands, not dancers who were metaphorically burning the dancefloor up.
Sarah, who I worked with a Trading Standards and wrote about (see ‘Shitting (around) On The Dock For A Day (a Month)’ – smoked. Seeing as we shared lifts to and from work and I didn’t want to appear too ungroovy, I let her smoke in my car too. Obviously she smoked in her own while I was in it.
I had moments of curiosity about it. I nicked a couple of packets of Regal from behind a bar at a cricket once, but I didn’t like it and gave 39 Regal away so that Webbo could continue to stunt his growth.
So, even though I wasn’t into it, I couldn’t get away from it.
At university, I expected a lot of smoking to be going on, what with all the stress of having to do exams and write essays. That and all the public school kids who were pretending to be a bit of rough.
Diversion 2 – Unverifiable and subjective analysis of differences in social class in females’ smoking posture.
To stereotype 51% of the population into two arbitrary groups, based on social class, I was quite interested in the different ways that people smoked. To first consider the upper class group, if you can find a posh girl who smokes well, there’s nothing like it. I don’t know what it is, but some of them can’t half work a fag. To refer yet again to a previous post on this blog, the girl in ‘Yummy, Yummy, Yummy. Or, How I Inadvertently Drove My Girlfriend Certifiably Insane. Allegedly.’ was pretty posh and she was excellent with a fag in her hand. Suave, debonair, elegant. Even though smoking’s a load of bollocks, obviously. The lower class girls do it differently and, sometimes – although with less frequency than you find among the upper class female smokers – they can be truly excellent, too. Like with EAL kids, where the best ones tend to be better than the natives, the best lower class girl smokers beat the posh ones.
Obviously, some girls from both social groups – most, actually – don’t look so good when they smoke.
End of Diversion 2
The hall I lived in, in my first year, was called Fairfax House. It was alright, except the kid who lived above me turned into an elephant as soon as his door was closed, and the launderette was directly beneath my room. I got shouted at a couple of times for getting up and turning the machines off in the middle of the night because my entire room vibrated when they were on. Fair enough during the day, but by 3am, whatever wacky wanker decided to wash their shreddies at that time could suck a fart out of my arse.
I went out with a couple of girls from Fairfax and they were all great – like everyone else I’ve been lucky enough to go out with. The first one was called Becky and, so she said, her dad invented Hula Hoops. She was fucking posh. She was the slightest, shortest adult female I’ve ever met and she wore velvet teddies and acted a bit like a cat. I don’t mean she climbed up the curtains and licked her own bumhole, I mean she had that sort of easy serenity that seems to come with the west wing of daddy’s country pile, presumably. She didn’t smoke. Maybe she was worried about stunting her growth further. My mother met her when she came to pick me up at Christmas that year and gave me a look that I thought might have implied that she was concerned I might be a paedophile.
She dumped me for a Norwegian kid with a peculiar name that I can’t recall.
The next girl was called Tracey. She was a third year from London and working class, studying Chemistry. We got off with each other on a pub crawl and had it off in my room when we got home, having quietly slipped away from the rest of the group.
When we’d first kissed, ‘round the back of some pub or other, away from everyone else, I noted that it was, like the advert said, snogging an ashtray.
Not too super, in short. However, I liked Tracey and I liked snogging, so I was stuck, really. The answer came to me whilst sat in a pub with her. She was smoking, as she did, and I wasn’t, as I didn’t and this thought occurred to me: ‘If I have a fag, Tracey’s mouth probably won’t taste so bad,’ So I asked her if I could have one. She looked dubious, but relented and that was how I started smoking.
When she dumped me because she already had a boyfriend in London who she felt bad about cheating on, I carried on with the fags.
So, yeah, I smoked for years in order to make a girlfriend’s mouth taste better, a girlfriend with whom I went out for about a fortnight. Well done me, eh?
Diversion 3 – Smoking is cool.
Smoking is cool, there are no two ways about it. There’s no use pretending it’s not, because it is. The question is, why is it cool? I’ll tell you what I told my kids when I taught Biology.
Smoking kills you. There’s no debate about that. It causes dreadful diseases and drawn out, upsetting-for-all-concerned, debilitating suffering. Yeah, that’s not that cool, is it?
That’s not the cool part, though. The cool part of smoking is that, if you’re smoking, you know that it’s going to kill you. Everybody knows that. Therefore, choosing to smoke means that you’re not arsed whether you live or die.
And there’s nothing cooler than that, is there?
Well, nothing right up to the point where you have to have an oxygen tank in your house and your legs amputated through emphysema like my Auntie Val did.
End of Diversion 3
After that, I didn’t purposely try to go out with girls who smoked, but a lot did anyway. Perhaps I gravitated naturally towards cool girls. I don’t know what they were doing with me though.
I nearly gave it up a few times, not that long after I’d started.
The ‘attempt’ that springs most readily to mind happened quite close to the beginning of my third year at York. I’ve already written, to an extent, although not the whole story, of me making a prick of myself with two girls who lived in the same house that I did by mainly thinking with my prick.
The following happened at the point when I’d had my head turned by the first year girl from Morecambe, who was probably as funny, clever and interesting as anyone I’ve met before or since. We’d started seeing each other sort of a bit. She smoked, and she did it well, too. One of the less frequent working class girls who made a great job of it.
In those days – back in the early 90s – on Sunday, everything was shut by dinnertime. I ran out of fags and so did she. The fag machine in the launderette at the opposite end of St. Lawrence Court was out of order and the weather was shit.
Perhaps in order to ingratiate myself further with her, (things moved much slower than I was used to with her and I quite liked it, frankly) I offered to walk to the nearest petrol station – a couple of miles away – to buy some.
Traipsing off on my oddy knocky, it was bloody freezing. And wet. And windy. It was a shitty walk, and then as now, I liked walking. By the time I’d made it to the garage, I’d talked myself into giving up smoking, if this was what I had to go through in order to slowly kill myself. But I wasn’t just going for myself, was I? I couldn’t go back empty handed. And besides, maybe I could just start off by cutting down or something.
In those days, I smoked Royals, which came in packets of 25, the additional 5 fags, I considered bonuses. I have a feeling that she smoked Regal, but I might be remembering that wrong. Anyway, I made the executive decision that I would not be buying Royals, which most garages didn’t have anyway and buying Regals – or whatever they were – might have seemed a bit obsequious so, staring through watering eyes at the selection, my eyes fell upon the newly released ‘Silk Cut – Ultra Low’.
This seemed perfect: not looking selfish by buying my brand, not looking like a creep by buying hers and doing us both a favour by bringing home a pack of fags that might be the first step on the road to getting that tobacco monkey off our backs.
In the spirit of sharing, I didn’t even open the packet on the way home and have one. Again, I may be remembering that inaccurately too because there is the possibility that it was too wet and windy to smoke.
On arriving home, several hours later, she was waiting for me in the kitchen and was pleased to see me. She quite often was, even if I wasn’t bringing fags home, but that was before I blew it. I ballsed up buying fags, too, but that was more forgiveable.
Her delight was short lived however because, on seeing the all white Silk Cut – Ultra Low packet, her face fell. On lighting one, it became instantly apparent that, if you were going to smoke Silk Cut – Ultra Low, you might as well not bother at all because you got nothing whatsoever from it, no matter how hard you tugged on it. In fact, that was the closest that I got to getting a nicotine hit – feeling dizzy through sucking too hard on a pansy assed fag in a white packet.
She said, “I think I’m going to cry,” and I knew how she felt. Except it was my fault and I’d inflicted it on myself and she was suffering too.
I remember a lot of things extremely vividly, but not what I did about that. I know I’d worked out a bit later that you could tape up the little holes near the filter and it was a bit more like it, but I don’t think I knew that then.
I’d like to think that, as it was my fault, I went back out to the garage again and bought a proper packet of fags, but I’m really not convinced that I did. If Superman was partial to a fag with his cup of tea, that’s what he’d have done.
I’ve a feeling that what I suggested was that she went and batted her eyelashes at some lads who smoked and brought a few home for the pair of us. I’d like to think I didn’t suggest that, but I strongly suspect that I might have. I hope I didn’t. Superman wouldn’t have done that, but Nick O Teen probably would have. (Having given the matter thought, I still can’t access the memory properly, but what I have realised is that this girl had more than enough about her to not feel obliged to do whatever I told her to. If I did suggest that, and if she did agree to it, it would have been on her terms because she wasn’t a pushover).
If, as I suspect, I did do that, that’s not very cool, is it? And that’s why, ultimately, smoking is a load of bollocks: once you’ve started, you don’t even get a kick out of it after a few days. All you’re doing is putting off the withdrawal symptoms, which is the reason why people continue to smoke long after they’re totally fucking sick of it. And you, no, I, end up doing stupid and unpleasant things to kind people for sake of the tobacco monkey on your, no, my, back.
And maybe that was, eventually, a lesson for me: that which you start doing to be cool rapidly leads to doing enormously uncool things so you can carry on pretending you’re some sort of dude.
You’re better off never starting. It’s not like nobody tells you, is it? That, and it stunts your growth, of course.