Saturday, 18 August 2012

When it all went up in smoke!

Things in life change gradually and the old ways tend to be slowly forgotten. Then one simple thing can jump-start all those memories again. Today I was chatting with another boat owner. He had inherited the boat from his brother in law. Now he was spending some time tidying and fixing all the bits his brother had "ignored" as you do.

I made him and me a cup of tea and we idly chattered away about this and that. He produced a packet of cigarettes offered me one which I declined. I have not had a cigarette for well over forty years and I was not about to start again now. The conversation came around to the smoking addiction. We both reminisced about when and how we had started.

I suppose I was about ten or maybe eleven when I had my first cigarette. I had clubbed together with some other boys to buy a packet of five Park Drive. We had a meeting spot down in the local woods where we would gather of an evening after school. We mainly sat around on a grass bank and talked about whatever the topic of interest was at the time. It was a sort of boys smoking club without rules.

Thinking back, I can remember one boy bringing his sisters bra. It was examined by everyone in fine detail as we tried to find out about what was normally contained within. We knew it was a taboo subject to talk about girls bits and that it had a "naughty element" associated with it. However, having a grown-up sister meant that I had been exposed to this stuff before I was interested in the contents of the undergarment and so I did not understand what all the fuss was about.

The first cigarette however was of great interest. There was much bravado and kudos associated with being a smoker. The more experienced boys lit the first cigarette and explained what we had to do. The ciggie would pass from one to another whilst the new boys plucked up courage for the first time.

I remember pursing my lips and drawing some smoke into my mouth. Keeping my lips pursed I released a thin stream of smoke back out. It was easy, not much of a taste either. I was a smoker! I was then reminded that I was supposed to do the "swallow." 

I waited until it was my turn again, and with some encouragement and jeers from the gathering I attempted my first swallow. I remember slowly drawing in the smoke. It seemed to reach a point halfway down my throat where the gagging reflex made sure that it was instantly expelled. More jeers ensued. 

Round it went again. This time we had lit a second ciggie. Again it was explained how I had to do a quick draw of smoke, remove the ciggie keep drawing in breath then hold it inside. It got halfway down my throat and it was the same gagging reflex as before.

A new technique was to be used. Breathe out first, then do the sharp intake of smoke and keep breathing in. Then when my lungs were full hold it. This time it worked, the smoke went all the way in and it felt like something had exploded in my chest. I had a good long cough, whilst everyone else laughed at my predicament. I needed to do a swallow without coughing or loose whatever remained of my credibility forever. Several goes all brought the same result.

My mate who could do the swallow came to my rescue. He lit up a third ciggie. But first he twisted the ciggie between his fingers which created a small hole in the paper. I don't know why but this seemed to do the trick. I could do the swallow. Yet at the same time, whilst wanting to cough I was able to stifle the cough. I did about three drags on the ciggie in quick succession. No cough and now I was a veteran. I was a smoker and I could jeer at the others.

The ciggeie came round again and this time I did about three or four more good draws. It was at this time that I started to feel strange and a bit dizzy. As nonchalant as possible I joined some of the other boys on the grassy bank and sat down with them. I was feeling a bit sick as well. Some of the others who were sat around had that glassy eyed look as well. Now I understood why they sat down on the bank to partake of a ciggie.

A bit later I felt the need to disappear off into the bushes for a "slash" However, at this time I needed to throw up as quietly as possible. I knew anyone who was sick was considered to be a complete wimp. I returned from the bushes feeling quite ill. I sat on the grassy bank for a while until I felt better. I  don't know why but I had no appetite when I got back home. I think it was about another five years before I had another ciggie and about another five years before I had my last. 

I remember that everyone smoked back then. In the cinema, on a bus, smoking was quite acceptable. Advertised on TV, bill boards and even on the cinema screen. Eucryl smokers tooth powder was used to stop your teeth from staining. The more accomplished smokers even had brown fingers.  The one thing we all shared was the "breath".

I met a very attractive girl, she was a non smoker. She would sometimes remark on the smell of my breath and that my clothes smelled of smoke. So I decided to stop smoking. There was a lot of mystique about how to quit. There was the gradual reduction method, but this would be no good if I wanted to gather favour with my new girl friend. Today we would call it going "cold turkey." It was a struggle but one I knew I had to win.

The temptation to revert was strong. There were certain times especially after a meal when the urge was at its worst. But I stuck it out to the bitter end. The girl friend and her family moved away some months later. We kept in touch for a while but as things do, our long distance relationship ended. About twenty years later I bumped into her by chance. She was smoking a cigarette.


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