There is nothing more boring than a reformed smoker.

But I am not sure that I am reformed, so I will run the risk of saying something about my old habit.

Do not mistake me ....I am not about to recommend it. I have regrets about the weed. But for all the hazards it was a source of enjoyment and a valued tranquilizer in times of stress.

I do feel sympathy for those still hooked and at times a secret envy. But the modern smoker has to skulk and hide whilst indulging the habit. Smokers nowadays bear the ostracism, black looks and signs everywhere forbidding them to light up. Really, it is no time to start again, and no thanks to the killjoys.
It has become impossibly expensive to smoke. It is no longer easy to wander down to the tobacconist to buy the weed. In fact the traditional tobacconist seems to have disappeared altogether.

Yet the sale of alcohol is tolerated, indeed encouraged to the extent that you can now get the drug at any time, almost anywhere and with little or no effective restraint. I will warrant that booze does as much if not more damage to society and the general health and well being of individuals and families as tobacco ever did.
We live in an increasing strange world of contradictions, hypocrisy and complication. My youth was spent in a simpler less constricted time and I have no regrets about that.

My family were habitual smokers. Mum and Dad were heavy smokers as were many of their generation. I can think of only one relative who never smoked...my grandmother. Poor tolerant soul, she seemed perpetually surrounded by family puffing away on cigarettes with an occasional cigar thrown in. No one really thought twice about it, it was part of what was normal; the thing one did...unless you were small that is. Then smoking was strictly forbidden, only to be tried on pain of some dire punishment.

Small boy up early in the morning
Curious, eager to explore.
Fingers in cold ash and crumpled butts
Mixed smells and aromas
Dregs of a boozy party.
What temptations!
Match to very dead cigar butt.
Inhale..like Dad -Cough, splutter.
Grab remains of a �cuba libre�
Ahhh , much better - coca cola with RUM...
Giddy spell
Dash to be sick.

Too much noise
Outraged parent finds hiding miscreant
No sympathy
Heavy retribution,
Sore behind
Stern reminder

So I did not. At least I did not until the next time. At school behind the sheds with others of my kind we often tried to imitate our betters. But these were just escapades of youth and a bit of a dare.
I was not really hooked until I took the Queen's shilling and joined up. Now I, was entitled to a recruit's pay of 5 shillings per day all found. I could buy a packet of Woodbines at the local NAAFI...one shilling for a pack of 10 these were a relative bargain even if it was one fifth of my daily pay. I avoided being regarded as weird by my peers by smoking like the rest of them. Strong cigarettes, Woodbines were certainly cheap and very popular especially with soldiers.

Strangely, smoking did alleviate the boredom and stress of the young soldier�s life even if it diminished the general fitness. In fact and hard to believe nowadays, smoking was encouraged by the Army...on active service we used to be issued with a tin of 50 or a 100 cigarettes as well as a slab of chocolate as part of our weekly rations. I often swapped my chocolate for another tin to feed my habit of 20 or so cigarettes per day. But matches were not in the ration. We had to find our own.

Even at the cost of little more than a penny per Woodbine the habit was still expensive. I used to save half smoked cigarettes when I could not finish a smoke. But that got me into trouble when visiting the Imperial War museum near Waterloo Station in London. I was dressed in my one and only best suit for my week end leave and as usual had a cigarette in hand as I approached this famous institution. The haughty Commissionaire at the entrance coldly pointed to the �No Smoking� sign insisting I put the cigarette out before he would let me in. So, as was my wont, I pinched the glowing end with my fingers and put the stub into my coat pocket for later on.

A few minutes later I was startled by a great hand on my shoulder. The Commissionaire had caught me by surprise to announce to all and sundry in the stentorian notes of an ex sergeant major: "SIR, you are on fire!"
After this loud announcement and with a happy chuckle he marched off leaving me to my desperate embarrassment and my ruined suit. How I hated this arrogant specimen of British authority at that moment! I blamed him when, really, he had done me a good turn and saved me from my own stupidity.
I took to smoking a pipe many years later in an attempt to clean up my act. I have been the proud owner of many different pipes including a Meerschaum, a Peterson (aka Sherlock Holmes), a Corncob (aka General Macarthur) and a Falcon in my collection. There was other paraphernalia: tobacco jars, leather pouches, filters, pipe stem cleaners, gas lighters, matches and the pipe smoker�s knife. This was a fiendish thing with several tools including a thin blade to cut the hard coke out of the bowl, a tamper to press tobacco into the pipe, a long pin to clean and bore out the stem and an awl like tool also to dig out the charred remains of tobacco and wood.

There was a huge variety of cigarette brands available many with odd names. Players Number 10, Peter Stuyvesant, Craven "A", Du Maurier and State Express 555 are reminiscent of England. In the USA Camels and Lucky Strike come to mind. Whilst in Mexico there were Elegantes, (my father's favourite) and Gauloise from France of similar noxious character and of appeal only to those with strong stomachs. There were also the Chinese "Double Happiness" brand and the Japanese "Golden Bat". I must say I still wonder how anyone could have devised such quite inappropriate names for these products, it is hard to imagine an elegant cigarette, or one that could have been designed by a committee like its name sake or one that can double your happiness.
Stranger still are the varieties of, would you believe, smokeless tobacco. I suppose these were made for those who chewed tobacco. Copenhagen was a premium, more expensive tobacco. It was made by the U.S. Smokeless company and usually of the most expensive moist tobacco. It came in long cut and snuff. The flavours were natural, straight and bourbon. There were also whiskey straight and smooth hickory flavours under the Cope brand.

The names given to the great variety of pipe tobaccos were also as weird and fanciful....Port Royal, Golden Virginia, Borkum Riff, Balkan Sobrienie, Sir Walter Raleigh ( appropriate I suppose as he started it all didn�t he?) and Mac Baren Harmony come to mind. I tried many and found, unlike cigarettes, that there were major differences in aroma, taste, strength. Some tobaccos were really pleasant to smoke others simply awful. Cigarettes for me became a very poor choice and I hardly ever used them after taking to the pipe. But occasionally when desperate I'd stuff my pipe with tobacco meant for rolling cigarettes. This was particularly disgusting, but when nothing else was available as a source of nicotine it had to do.

I liked using Swan Vesta matches. These were very convenient as they could be struck on any hard surface and came in boxes of about 100. I bought a lot of these as it took me many attempts to light a pipe and keep it going. I probably burnt more wood than tobacco in those days. I also developed the habit of putting dead matches back into the box for later disposal; this to avoid being seen as a litter lout by my young family.

The Cold War was then at its peak and the Army took the threat of the Nuclear Bomb very seriously indeed. Along with a number of other students I attended a highly classified lecture on weapon tests in a Staff College theatre. The audience included many high ranking individuals and so it was a very high profile affair. I was seated in the seats behind the VIPs and was well content to lose myself in the anonymity of the crowd.
Settling down to watch a film showing a nuclear bomb exploding underground I proceeded to light my pipe.....smoking was allowed pretty well everywhere in those days. I did so as the countdown for the explosion proceeded....10, 9, 8 etc. By the time it had got down to 4 I had struck my Vesta and applied it to the tobacco, by the count of 2 I had put the dead match back into the box. By the count of zero, coinciding with sight of the humongous explosion on the screen was the lesser sound of my match box going off in sympathy. My anonymity was destroyed however. I was enveloped in a cloud of smoke and there was nowhere to hide. Embarrassed by discovery I found myself looking into a sea of startled faces! Fortunately for me most thought that I had done it on purpose and the episode was laughed off...... but I acquired the undeserved reputation for stupid jokes and again ruined my clothing.

Some time I later began the struggle to give up the weed. It took many attempts and several years. It was not just the craving for nicotine that was the problem. Somehow a pipe clenched between my teeth was a comforting distraction. My wife, unrelenting in her campaign against smoking, unfairly described it as my substitute dummy.

Anyhow, I tried all sorts of "cures". These included chewing gum (another filthy habit!), sweets of all kinds including Polo Mints, Boiled JuJus and Minties. I tried nicotine substitutes, skin patches, sucking an unlit pipe and once the services of an amateur hypnotist. None of them worked. In one of my many attempts I was even asked to start again because I was getting so bad tempered! But I'd managed several times to go without for 2 to 3 days before succumbing.

A new life in New Zealand with its clean green environment and the fresh air finally provided renewed incentives to give up the habit. At last I managed to keep off tobacco for about two years but proceeded to encourage the rotting of my teeth by substituting the delights of smoking with sweets, chewing gum and too much good food.

That was until I was invited to a "men only" meal where the good food was followed by Port, the toasting of the Queen and the offer of a good cigar. The temptation of the aroma, the encouragement of my peers and the prospect of a good cigar were too much. Quick as a flash I was back on the weed and started puffing away quite happily. But this was much to the annoyance and disappointment of my immediate family, who once more had to put up with the ash, the dead matches, disgusting dottle, smelly clothes and the perpetual fire hazard. But I like to think that I was somewhat more even tempered and easy to get on with.
The weary round of trying to give up began again. By then the anti smoking campaign had gathered momentum reinforced by government advertisements, increasing taxation and the progressive banning of smoking in public places. Smokers were fast becoming a minority and the pressures on remaining one became harder and harder to ignore.

Finally I succeeded in the struggle to give up. But this was not through any of the so called cures. Rather it was mainly achieved through self interest. Sailing and smoking were not a good combination and my innate reluctance to spend money was a major factor in the end. Sure there was the added risk of setting fire to the boat by smoking on board, but the main problem was the loss of pipes. This happened most often when I was attempting to set or adjust the sails. I'd often do that with a pipe in my mouth. Inevitably a thrashing sail or line would knock the pipe from my clenched teeth and sent it flying overboard. I must have lost half a dozen pipes that way and certainly one tooth. Eventually the cost of replacing them became too much. I simply got fed up and just stopped "cold turkey".

Immediately I became persona grata again to my wife and family. I also began to feel clean and healthy again. What a relief...but giving up brought its own regret...I began to gain unwanted weight that brought another battle for control and proved the adage that: "you cannot get owt for nowt".
© Copyright M.& M.M.O.Dealy

This page last modified on Saturday, July 19, 2014