A Counterblast to – ‘A Counterblast to Tobacco’



As you can see from above, King James the First was not impressed with tobacco back in 1604. His feelings were based on a personal dislike rather than on the reams of statistical evidence that assaults us everyday and provides proof positive that the black stinking fume is bad for us – for all of us – whether we smoke or not.

I hold my hands up in supplication.

I was a smoker.

I am writing this, not to defend smoking or smokers, nor to jump on the anti-smoking bandwagon, but merely to express my own very subjective thoughts on the  subject.

As I write, my atmosphere is slightly polluted by the whiff of Gap Boy’s latest fad – he has taken to sitting in a garden chair and smoking cigars round the corner of the patio where he thinks I can’t see him.

Ah, but I can SMELL you my dear!

And I won’t admit it to my darling GB but I quite like the odd whiff of cigar smoke because it reminds me of Christmas Past.

I know that GB dabbled with smoking at school, closely followed by a self-righteous condemnation that would have put old James to shame. Uni Boy has always been scathing about smoking – but then he IS a scientist!

The current cigar smoking is a GB affectation that Hub and I refuse to condone by actually buying any for him – yes, he actually put them on my shopping list! Neither do we complain however, because this is a surefire way of prolonging his fad.

Like his mother – GB is very good a being a rebel – so we try hard not to provide him with a cause.

My own first taste of the aforesaid offensive weed came after scrambling over the back fence of my primary school into the gorse bushes of Donkey Common, and ‘enjoying’ half a No. 6 pilfered from somebody’s dad’s  fag packet..

It was gross.

It was worse than gross, it tasted foul, smelled foul and made me feel very sick.

I was in the minority however because I wasn’t actually sick and I also managed to get back over the fence and eat a masking Murray Mint before playtime finished.

In terms of the playground etiquette, I had made my bones. Not bad for a posh speccy four-eyes who liked poetry.

Smoking did not become a habit at that time fortunately. I changed schools and having a fag wasn’t a part of their curriculum.

My next experiment with tobacco was in senior school and did unfortunately lead to my subsequent addiction – although I never smoked at home – my mother would have KILLED me!

I worked my way through Peter Stuyvesants and progressed on to Rothmans.  Then style and a Saturday job in Boots enabled me to explore the delights of Sobranie Black Russians  – and when I was feeling really outrageous – Sobranie Cocktail cigarettes.  They looked too pretty to smoke; lilac, pink, turquoise, yellow and a delicate shade of green, but they did have the advantage of enabling an element of colour coordination with my outfits.

Colour coordination has always been SO important to me.

I had a brief dalliance with St Moritz but the fresh mintiness seemed at odds with the naughtiness of smoking. The teacher who upbraided me for smoking them outside the school gates was outraged. I’m still not sure whether this was due to my temerity in smoking so close to school or whether she felt embarrassed by her own rather drab Silk Cut.

A change of boyfriend and I moved to Gauloise and Disque Bleu – accompanied by a hacking cough and a bad stomach from too much strong black coffee. I looked cute in the beret though.

In an attempt to please another lad and wean myself off the evil drug, I tried smoking Honeydew herbal cigarettes. I smelled like an autumn bonfire and very nearly gave up smoking altogether because the thought of sparking up the herbs made me very nauseous indeed.

Luckily for the tobacco producers, I changed boyfriends, gave up the Saturday job and took to rolling my own cigarettes. Oh, the delights of a fresh packet of Old Boots or Golden Virgins! Oh, the sadness of scraping together a few stale strands from the bottom of the packet to make a limp rollie that went out every few seconds.

I gave up smoking when I went off to drama school.

It was a choice between alcohol and tobacco, oh, and the odd meal here and there.

Two years later I left the bacchanalian delights of the theatre and took a more hardcore approach to alcohol by becoming a barmaid.

Asthma reared its ugly head and compounded by the boozy , smoky atmosphere of the pub, I managed to avoid taking up smoking again although, once I’d repaid my student overdraft, I had plenty of money at my disposal.

It was the stress of social work that was my undoing.

Having left the safety of the public bar for the complicated hierarchy of a children’s home, I quickly learned that a guaranteed way of getting respite away from the children, was to go into the office to write up the event book whilst having a ciggy.

Non-smokers had to wait till the end of the shift to be able to do this, and if it had been busy, this could add another half an hour onto the end of an already knackering shift. The possibility of having an asthma attack was preferable to doing unpaid work or looking on longingly when other staff disappearing for a fag break.

If you can’t beat them, join them, so I did.

I worked my way through Camels, Raffles (very sweet-tasting – ugh) and finally settled on 555 State Express. This was partly because they tasted okay and partly because my uncle and cousin worked in the baccy factory that produced them.

Even in my addiction I could be loyal!

I still didn’t smoke at home though, despite the fact that I had finally purchased my own first home – a ground floor studio flat that was mine, all mine – apart from the large part that belonged to the Alliance and Leicester Building Society.

I worked my way up the social care ladder, and as I did, so rules and regulations changed to ensure that vulnerable young people were only allowed to smoke in designated outdoor areas, had to be supervised by a member of staff (or two or three – depending on how many smokers were on duty), and that all cigarettes, matches and lighters had to be locked away in the office at the end of a smoking session.

My ability to make roll-ups made me quite popular with the kids – and although nowadays, social care departments would be up in arms at the very thought of a member of staff condoning smoking in this way, back in the eighties my nimble fingers were seen as part of my skill set. My manager was known to smile benignly at the sight of me, sitting on the verandah surrounded by maladjusted adolescents learning patience whilst waiting for me to roll them a ciggy.

It was whilst I was taking my social work degree and working part-time that I was struck down by a three-week bout of ‘flu that saw me bed-bound and existing on food that my mother ferried round to my bijou and Bohemian (untidy) studio flat.

The very thought of smoking  made me heave and cough. I had unwittingly given up the drug.

I still liked the smell of cigarette though and there were moments when our study syndicate meetings (which took place in the Bay Tree pub) tempted me to partner my drinking hand with a cigarette-wielding other.  The thought of how ill I’d felt stopped me and within another couple of weeks all my cravings had gone.

I was cured! And without the benefit of hypnosis, cold turkey, peer pressure, medical advice or guilt.

I’d also put on all the weight I’d lost during my ‘flu bout and acquired several pounds more.

So I take no real credit for kicking the habit and don’t feel that I can ever be one of those horribly self-righteous ex-smokers who make snide comments but look envious when the smokers troop outside to sit in designated gazebo.

Hub and I didn’t know each other then. He gave up smoking at almost exactly the same time – although his habit had been whittled down to a luxurious rollie smoked at the end of a long day at work whilst strolling around his parents’ rather large garden.

We met. We moved in together. We got engaged. We moved to a house. We got married. Neither of us needed to smoke. Twenty-seven years later we still don’t need to smoke. We are very, very lucky.

But, we love our friends who are smokers and wholeheartedly empathise with those who know the perils but can’t give up.  I have often gone outside for a spot of passive smoking when attending courses and conferences – it still seems to be the cool kids that are outside having a fag.

Things are getting more difficult though; not only do intelligent smokers appreciate the potential harm of their habit, they also get penalised at work as well as at play.

 In my last office, smokers had to clock off and on, and leave the premises in order to have a cigarette – or two – or three – may as well make it worth the walk.

Management smokers, however, got round this by leaving for meetings a good ten minutes early so that rather than being on a smoke break, they were considered to be ‘en route’.  Some managers would play the same game after meetings, claiming that the meeting had only just finished despite the fact that everyone had seen them out of the window, lurking in Smoker’s Corner.

Hub and I are unanimous however in our dislike of those who use their addiction to skyve  and dump the workload off onto the non-smokers. Neither do we like having to breathe in the stench of smoke-drenched breath – get a mint or some chewy for heaven’s sake!

I also think that there should be a separate office coat stand for non-smokers.  It is revolting having to rummage under a pile of stinky coats and jackets to find my own – now equally smelly and polluted coat.

I hate it when people stand right in the doorways of shops and smoke.

I hate it when a crowd of patients, some pregnant, others on drips, all in their nightclothes, stand or sit in wheelchairs outside the entrance to the hospital – having a fag.

I used to hate it when I was in a restaurant or cafe and someone on the next table lit up a cigarette when I was still eating.

I hate it when the government starts making noises about banning e-cigarettes despite the fact that they appear to have proved a life-saver for many smokers who are desperate to give up.

I have never tried one and I’m not sure that I fancy having a ciggie substitute that tastes of vanilla, bubblegum or chocolate.

GB had a very short-lived flirtation with e-cigarettes.

Another fad.

Dining with a friend with an e-cig does not offend me. On the contrary, I am no longer deprived of their company and they aren’t sitting there twitching, having rushed through their meal because they are desperate for a nicotine fix.

I am not against smoking.  I am against dying from smoking related diseases.

2 comments on “A Counterblast to – ‘A Counterblast to Tobacco’

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