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.


Cultural Divisions – Part 1


It’s all Uni Boy’s fault.

He is a very bad influence on me.

He was paying us a sporadic summer break visit, and having emerged from his hermitage in the early afternoon, observed me flicking through the channels in search of some diversion.

‘Jeremy Kyle’s on.” he said, with that twinkle in his eye.

“Yuk.” I said.

“You may well say ‘Yuk’ Mother, but have you actually watched the show?” The sardonically curled lip should have warned me off – but I had to argue.

“Well, not really watched at length but it’s bad enough when you’re flicking through the channels. Don’t tell me that you watch it, you’re a scientist for heaven’s sake!”

He is now wearing that superior look that pushes my ‘I’m Mother yet!’ buttons. Lounging against the doorpost, his striped dressing gown worn with a Bertie Wooster loucheness, he proceeds to give me a lecture on why I simply MUST watch the Jeremy Kyle Show.

“Call yourself a psychologist!” he mocks, knowing full well that my interests fall into the realms of what he – as a student of research chemistry  – terms ‘pseudoscience’. “The whole programme is packed with research material, whether you are looking at the participants, the way Jezza handles them or what the resident psychologist does with them. If you watch a couple of shows you’ll be addicted.”

Knowing that he has baited and hooked me, he flashes that wicked grin and disappears into the downstairs bathroom for a leisurely shower that sees the rest of his family trudging upstairs for comfort breaks for the next hour or so.

I can’t resist a challenge.

I watched.

I got hooked.

Hub is dismissive of Jeremy (or Jezza but NEVER Jerry – that’s the American chap). Hub has been known to take unexplained dislikes to people in the public eye – he won’t stoop to call them ‘celebrities’. He has also been known to wander down the display racks in Asda (or Tesco) turning magazines over so that he doesn’t have to look at reality TV participants or ex-Page Three Stunnahs.

It’s a harmless enough pastime and costs nothing beyond the odd glare from a salesperson.

I have found a solution to Hub’s aversion to Mr Kyle.

I digibox Jezza’s shows and watch them with the sound off and subtitles on. This also enables me to fast forward through the Foxy Bingo adverts – well, all the adverts actually – and when the shouting, screaming and regional accents render interpretation impossible, I have the written word to assist me.

I now have a sneaking regard for Jezza.

I don’t agree with everything he says and does and there have been times when the car crash TV element is very evident as a way of boosting viewing figures.

But there are some aspects that intrigue me and others that perturb me.

1. Contraception – it really is a lot easier and cheaper to get and use contraception than it was when I was a teenager – and yet, judging by the number of teenaged ‘babymothers’  (and fathers) demanding DNA and lie detector tests for proof of paternity and fidelity, their sex education   and access to condoms is sorely lacking.

2. Some aggrieved grandparents have ventured to suggest that certain young women are having babies in order to acquire housing and benefits. I have heard this mooted before and whilst there does seem to be some evidence amongst the sneering young women on Jezza’s show, I also know that there are other families living in unsuitable accommodation who struggle to pay the bills.

3. There seems to be a lack of understanding that airing your dirty laundry on daytime TV might just prejudice your chances of a fair hearing at the offices of housing/benefits/court/job shop or anywhere else where you might want to be seen as honest and respectable.

4. Many of the young (and old) women who appear on the show have a curious idea of what is suitable to wear on a daytime TV show. At one end of the spectrum are the dowdy, greasy haired, toothless, spotty females sporting a ponytail facelift, and at the other are those who are intent on exposing as much flesh as possible and looking as if they’ve just done the walk of shame. Very occasionally someone comes on dressed in a more civilised fashion but it later transpires that they have been up to far more dreadful things than their grubby or exhibitionist counterparts.

5. Talking of teeth, is it a requirement of appearing on the show that you must have lost or damaged most of your front teeth? This seems to apply to young men and older women mostly. Perhaps, as well as offering counselling, detox and rehab, Jezza should also employ a resident dentist?

6. People rarely argue with the DNA test results – even when they aren’t what was wanted but the lie detector…… now there’s a different kettle of fish! It is used primarily as a method of finding out whether partners have been cheating or whether family members have been robbing.  Strange that when a challenging partner smiles smugly when s/he finds that their other half is telling the truth, they suddenly challenge the veracity of the test when it states that they were lying. You can’t take the test if you are pregnant, on certain drugs – or if you nod off whilst taking it. Some young men take the test purely because they think that they have such control of their emotions that they can fool the detector – they’ve seen it done in American crime shows you see.

7. There are a wide variety of regional accents – and I am not being judgemental here – but they do seem to become unintelligible when spoken by an angry and upset person who is more intent on having their say than in actually being understood.

8. Whilst many of the participants seem to possess sufficient intelligence to blag their way onto the show and get free accommodation at a local hotel, sometimes it is obvious that the person on set has learning difficulties and doesn’t really understand the full implications of their appearance on the show. Ethically, Jezza’s researchers should have gently persuaded them not to appear – and I have no doubt that in most cases this happens, but there have been a couple of occasions where people slipped through the net and I found it horribly sad.

9. Jezza can sometimes be very intuitive and often spots the liar or cheat without the use of technology. Most of the time he vents his spleen on both warring parties as nasty secrets emerge that hadn’t been disclosed to the researchers in the pre-appearance work up. I have seen him turn an aggressive young man denying responsibility for his drug use and violence into a sobbing child desperate for help. Luckily he has a good professional back up team to come in and pick up the pieces. I don’t always think that he’s spleen-venting at the correct person – but then he has access to other information that the public aren’t advised about.

10. I love Jezza’s security team; clad in black and hugely muscled, they lurk in the wings ready to insert themselves between the participants, protect Jezza or eject the really naughty people from the building.

I must admit, after an hour of observing screaming harpies, thuggish druggies, guilty parties and demanding parents, it is a relief to slip into the gentle world of ‘Homes Under the Hammer’ where gravel-voiced Martin, and Lucy with the nice hair and cute coats take me round the country to marvel at transformed dwellings whilst listening to the world’s most literal soundtrack. ‘Bargain Hunt’ can soothe my savage breast too; with only mild disagreements over whether to waste money on a piece of obviously modern tat, and brave faces when their carefully chosen bargains make a loss or even – fail to sell at all.

After spending more years than I care to mention trawling through the morass of child and adult social care, I like to think of myself as unshockable but my eyes have been well and truly opened by the participants of Jezza’s show.

I hate to admit that Uni Boy is right but my awful fascination is turning into an addiction. I am deeply thankful that I will never be in a position to appear on the show, nor even be in the audience – although according to Uni Boy, students are desperate to get tickets and experience the car crash first hand.

Hub and I had our moment of fame when we attended a recording of ‘The Sarah Millican Show’ a couple of years ago; much more my cup of latte macchiato.  I had a brief (and rehearsed) few words to say to camera and every time they show it again I get phone calls and emails from friends who didn’t see it the first time it was on.

Whilst I am confessing my guilty pleasures – so good for the soul – I have to admit to being a fan of ‘Judge Rinder’. I stumbled across this show when it first burst onto TV in August of this year and I LOVE it.

An Anglicised version of America’s’ Judge Judy’, I find this one SO much more entertaining. The cases that come before ‘Judge’ Robert Rinder (he’s a barrister actually) aren’t hugely expensive or controversial – in order to meet the criteria you can’t have had your case heard in court before or be waiting for it to be heard.  It is Judge Rinder that is the main attraction. Biting wit and sarcasm delivered in an unashamedly camp fashion; this man certainly knows his law.

His most oft quoted barbs ‘I can smell a lie like a fart in a lift’ , ‘I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing near you’ and the most definitive ‘When I’m talking, you are not’.  Unfortunately his barbs are appreciated more by the audience (full of students I have no doubt)  than those appearing before him who forgot to bring their evidence to court as well.

In terms of controlling wayward participants, Judge Rinder could teach Jezza a few lessons, though he does have a bouncer standing by for the control of disgruntled losers.

Must get my beauty sleep – I have another episode of Jezza to watch in the morning.