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Thursday, 4 February 2010

Ashes to Ashes

"The government's last crackdown secured a 25% drop in the number of smokers. Now it wants to cut that number in half again. What a long way we've come since footballers sneaked a crafty fag at half-time, 
said The Guardian yesterday.

I am sitting in a Restaurant at lunchtime, over a bowl of pasta, minding my own business and reading my new book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, when I become aware of a woman, seemingly well-dressed (I only see her back) loitering in front of the large window, apparently waiting for somebody. A few minutes later I look up and see that an ash-grey cloud has appeared around her head. She turns her head slightly, and I see her sucking on a cigarette. I use the word 'sucking' deliberately. The cloud is now billowing  without a break, these are no pretty little cumulus puffs, this is a storm cloud. There is a desperate need, a greed and a bit of embarrassment in this cloud.

Okay, frankly, I am now staring. The woman finishes her cigarette, drops it on the ground, and enters  the Restaurant, to re-join her lunch partner and continue her meal.

The first time Beloved wanted to give up the habit, many years ago, he saw an ad in the paper for an aid to stopping smoking. He duly sent off his coupon, cheque included, - in today's money about £20 -.
A small parcel arrived in due course, containing a kind of plastic hollow stick, cigarette shaped, tasteless, flavourless, free of any kind of visible value. He was so disgusted at his own stupidity, he threw the thing away, and gave up out of spite.

I haven't smoked for over 20 years.