As reported by Frank Davis recently, another blog has appeared which promises to be very interesting, called Smoking Bandits. What is interesting about it is that is an international blog, and all the blog posts are in three languages; English, German and French; and the authors of the posts are drawn from far and wide. Thus, we will have the pleasure of seeing reactions to smoking bans etc from the perspective of people from many different countries. On the first page to be published, there are two articles from Dmitry Kosyrev, a Russian author who has his own blog (published in Russian, but Google Translate usually does a fair job of translating it). Frank did a brief and informative bio on him in the above linked post, so I won’t bother repeating it. And there was also a post by Frank himself, on how he started smoking.
When I was reading Frank’s post, I thought back to when I first started smoking, and why.
I was about eight or nine years old. We’d arrived back in the UK from Singapore in 1956 (it was November, I think. I remember well standing on the quayside in Southampton docks, absolutely frozen and miserable; already longing for the tropics I’d recently left), where my father, an army officer, had been posted for a couple of years. After about a year of living in a rented house in Ascot, my parents bought a house in nearby Bracknell. Looking back, it was a rather splendid pile. Four bedrooms, half-timbered, detached and quite imposing, with diamond pane leaded windows, sitting in lonely splendour in two acres of gardens and orchards. But to me at the time, it was just another house, albeit with a big garden in which to play.
It was decided that I should attend a school in Reading, which I was able to get to by bus. It was, as far as I was concerned, an awful school; still mired firmly in the Victorian approach to teaching. We had nibbed pens and inkpots set into the desks (newfangled stuff like fountain pens were forbidden); classroom temperatures were kept at slightly above freezing, and discipline was brutal.
The school was divided into four houses – Angles (my house), Saxons, Danes and another whose name evades me now. Probably Celts, or something. The blazers were dark brown with yellow stripes, which made us all look like a swarm of wasps. I hated it with a passion.
On the bus to school, some of the older boys (from different schools) used to congregate on the top deck and smoke. My parents didn’t smoke, so I found the whole ritual of smoking novel and intriguing. It wasn’t long before I managed to start bumming the odd drag here and there off the older boys when they were passing one around. At first, it made me very dizzy, much to the amusement of the older kids, but I was determined to get the hang of it, so I persevered. When pocket money would stretch to it, I’d buy a packet of ‘Dominos’, which came in a packet of four cigarettes with no lid and no cellophane wrapping (I haven’t been able to find an image of the pack anywhere on the web. If anyone knows of one, a link would be great!). And of course no filter. They were rough as hell, but very cheap (as far as I recall, a pack of four cost sixpence, or 2½p in today’s money), so thus I honed my smoking skills. There was never any problem buying them in those days, despite my being very obviously still in single digits, age-wise.
Fortunately my tenure at that school was short-lived. It was obvious to all concerned that I wasn’t happy there. My results were lousy, and I got busted for playing truant several times – something that pissed my parents off, seeing as they were paying for it. So I moved to another private school the other side of Reading, which although still pretty archaic, was considerably more comfortable. During this period, I was an occasional smoker; an opportunist smoker. It was only after I took my eleven-plus, and insisted (probably much to my parents’ relief, since they didn’t have to pay) on going to a grammar school in Winnersh that I started smoking seriously. I rapidly established a smokers’ club of like-minded miscreants, and we had a smokers’ corner, with a network of lookouts to warn of any approaching teachers or prefects.
And from that point on, cigarettes were a constant companion, always ready to provide succour in times of need. I gave up a couple of times for maybe a year each time because of the propaganda and urging from peers, but decided in the end that I liked smoking more than I liked not smoking.
Anyway, going back to the title of this post, Smoking Bandits is a very polished site, and deserves all the support it can get. I was asked just recently to submit a post, but had to offer an old blog post from here, as this has been a busy week, and I didn’t have the time to write anything new. Next time, hopefully I’ll have the time to to submit an original post specifically for Smoking Bandits. May it have a long and popular life.
My apologies if this post seems a little truncated, but my youngest daughter and her boyfriend turned up today (she works in Malta), and I haven’t seen her for a couple of years, so I’m somewhat distracted.