I imagine it is quite possible that one day smoking tobacco will become extinct as an occupation throughout the world; but for now it remains. Despite the dogged determination of most governments, at least in the Western world, those who continue to smoke take either a bold, confrontational stance of bravado about it or skulk in apologetic huddles professing their desire to quit whilst smoke issues from their orifices.
I am, myself an ex-smoker. I recall my first cigarette, smoked as a young child when, in the company of a friend I found a discarded packet of ten in a disused railway carriage that had once been used as an abode but then abandoned. ‘We will have to smoke them’ the friend declared, for no reason that I could discern, although I did my best to oblige, possibly in order to cement the friendship or through some ill-conceived desire not to cross her. In any event I did not wish to seem lacking and besides, my own mother was a smoker. How could it be wrong? Of course, as I discovered after the one or two puffs that surrendered me green with nausea, it was very wrong indeed.
About to become a student, and in thrall to the era of hippydom I experimented with pipe smoking. I smoked a small briar filled with Clan tobacco. It was beautiful, stylish and startling, and I considered, then that I cut an edgy and unusual figure with it dangling from my lips. All manner of colourful and unorthodox student characters drew me into their thrilling circles. No matter that it burnt my tongue and caused shooting pains across the roof of my mouth. My mother, horrified that I should produce such an uncouth item at the dinner table plied me with cigarettes in order to prevent embarrassment. Bingo. I became a cigarette smoker.
During the ensuing years, whilst I pursued the usual route into career, marriage, children and divorce my relationship with smoking waxed and waned as by turns I gave up, then took up the vice. Once I gave it up for a whole ten years, beginning with selfless denial for the sake of my unborn babies and ending with the stresses and strains of marriage fall-out. I turned from lowly cigarettes to the more debonair joys of small cigars, sharing the pleasure with Husband [who’d made his appearance by this time].
We jetted off for a few days in Barcelona, arriving to the hotel too late to buy cigars and with no prospect of obtaining any. We would have to do without. Next morning we determined not to succumb to cravings, resulting in some skirmishes as we went about our sightseeing-once, I believe in the middle of a busy thoroughfare. By the time we returned the worst was over and we were no longer nicotine addicts.
Here in the south of France, as in many outposts of Europe and the Americas where it is banned in public places, cigarette smoking is rife. They cluster around the doorways of bars or puff away brazenly, flouting the law.
I sometimes wonder if I shall take up electronic cigarettes as a consolation in old age-when all else is lost, perhaps, although I may well get to be as sick as my ten year old self in the old railway carriage…