Offbeat 08 April 2016
The minister’s decree on smoking in public places has had the unintended consequence of proving to me that I am not a vampire. I used to hang around indoors, avoiding the sun for years at a time. Since the thing became law I have to go outside when I visit the pub. As I am an early-nighter (another sign that I am not a vampire) I go early, take my beer outside to the wall and sit there with all the other tobacco addicts. The hour means that I often see daylight.
Beer does not taste the same without a cigarette. Taste is the wrong word. It is the combination of the head-rush of the draw on the cigarette and the cool gulps of the beer. The many people who join me outside know the same.
There were chairs, tables and umbrellas for us once, but wanton theft of the chairs made the owner take the gear inside. That’s OK. The wall is comfortable. It’s just that the community have their reservations and complaints from time to time.
Sometimes it’s difficult to reconcile the concept of a line of engineers, senior executives, professionals, politicians and academics, smoking and drinking on a wall, with the idea of an outbreak of crime. We hide our cigarettes behind our backs when the police drive past, anyway, an echo of school days and a reminder of the thrill and risks of illicit pleasures.
In light of that, I am tempted to blame the police for prolonging my smoking habit, but it wouldn’t be fair. I know I have to quit as soon as possible. I am completely aware of the damage to my health.
I have made sallies into the realm of health. Smoking outside the pub doesn’t count. That’s about the health of others. I have spent two mornings now, not smoking before ten in the morning. That’s a good beginning for someone who has a smoke in his mouth before his eyes are open. I no longer buy ‘stange’, the cartons of ten. That means if I run out I have to go to the shop. The lack of convenience of straggling to the kitchen to open a pack is no longer an option. The problem is the instinct. Not smoking comes with small shocks as the body begs for nicotine. It also comes with the reflexive behaviour of reaching for a cigarette, but being distracted by the pack that is not there.
That might be manageable if the days were under control, but they aren’t. It is almost impossible to contend with the absence of cigarettes if you receive an unexpected deadline, or have to do some heavy duty thinking. Aluta continua. My personal struggle continues.
The irony of the smoking gig is that I didn’t start smoking for pleasure. I started as a kid to fit in with a group of friends, and especially to feel older than I was. After all, adults smoked, I reasoned, and who wants to look like a kid. It was one of those things I didn’t think through well.
Marketing had very little to do with it, I remember Joe Camel, and the Marlboro Man. Marlboro Man still interests me. Marlboro Country is now whatever stretch of the concrete and brick where a quick cigarette can be had. My Marlboro Country is the wall outside the pub, but I have stood smoking among litter, in urine stained places with obvious traces of gob as well.
There was a very small degree of pleasure in it, primarily the tobacco rush. There was the psychological satisfaction of fitting in though and feeling adult. That overcame the coughing. Now it is different. There is no pleasure in it other than the first contraction of the arteries with the morning cigarette. Now it is some kind of perverse, inverted lifeline. It brings me the calm of the moment, but I know it damages me in the long-term.
Momentary pleasures are dangerous things. Sugar is developing a reputation second only to smoking. I surmise that a coffee or tea in the morning has less to do with the caffeine than the jumpstart kick of the sugar. A momentary slip of morality can just as easily lead to a terminal STS.
There’s a moral in this somewhere, other than the standard cant of the anti smoking slogans: if it brings you pleasure, consider it carefully.