Smatting, Smirting and Smonding

  • 12 November 2004
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Elsewhere in this magazine last week, there was a piece about smokers. (See, I don't just limit myself to reading my own column – though naturally I read that first.)

The piece in question was headed The Professor and one particular phrase jumped out at me: All intelligent people quit after the ban.' All remaining smokers are stupid? As a smoker, I must say I bridled at this – but only for a moment. After all many people consider idealists stupid. And that is what I am – an idealist.

I'm sure at some point I might have given up smoking but now, obviously, I can't. The ban has placed me in a position where to give up would be to give in.

Do you think I like huddling in doorways either sodden or frozen or both? Do you think I'm thrilled that every article of clothing I own is pinpricked with burns occasioned by sparks from my cigarette (or sombody else's) being blown in high wind?. Am I amused that I spend lunchtimes or dinners in restaurants having to jump to my feet at regular intervals, find my coat, root out an umbrella and leave the table for twenty minutes just when the conversation is getting interesting? I am a martyr to the cause, dear reader.

'Smirting' (smoking and flirting) is just one of the many terms of social change the ban has given rise to. There's also 'smatting' (mostly chatting about non-smokers) and, as the weather becomes increasingly inclement, a good deal of 'smoaning'.

There is, among smokers, a sort of underground railway similar to the one during the American Civil War.

We have a network of 'safe' spots - places a smoker can be sheltered from the rain and moderately warm. For example, if you're shopping in Grafton Street, The Bailey is an excellent spot. If you're desperate you can always pause outside Brown Thomas which can be quite cosy depending on how far you can insinuate yourself into the doorway.

I feel it is my duty not to look hunted, shifty and miserable and instead to exude a casual insouciance, a la Dietrich while I smoke; to give the impression that even though I'm leaning up against a wall, with the rain hammering down and a vicious east wind whipping at my coat, there is no place on earth I would rather be.

Standing up for one's beliefs can be quite uncomfortable sometimes.

I remember with nostalgia those British Ministry of Health advertisements in the sixties: ads designed to encourage you to visit your doctor. The doctor (deeply uneasy to find himself captured on camera) would beam up at the patient. 'Hello, John,' he would say to him. Then he'd lean across his desk pick up a packet of cigarettes and proffer it to nervous John. 'Cigarette?' he would say invitingly while giving John the nicest smile. Then the pair of them would sit there puffing companionably while John discussed his prostate or whatever little medical problem was troubling him.

How the times have changed.

Nowadays, we smokers are increasingly under threat There is no law in this country so rigorously enforced as the smoking ban. You can get away with bribery, corruption, flagrant larceny – even murder – but smoke, or allow one of your customers to smoke, and they will hunt you down. They will hunt you down and they will make you pay. Or perhaps they are just anxious to catch you before death intervenes – after all, smokers die younger.

While not the soundest basis for friendship, nevertheless a has become something that bonds people together. When we went to meet the owner of the house which we subsequently bought, the meeting was a little awkward in the way such meetings can be. The vendor is thinking, "Do I really want these people living in my house?" while you're wondering if they'll be offended if you plunge a Stanley knife into the skirting board to check for dry rot. Chatting to the artist from whom we later bought, I became so tense that I said I was going out for a cigarette.

"You smoke?" she asked, wreathed in smiles of relief. From the depths of her pocket she produced a packet of cigarettes.

Instant 'smonding'! Between puffs she told me that it was no wonder I liked the architectural-salvage floor I had admired earlier. It came from the Player Wills factory. The moment she said it, I fancied I could smell the scent of decades of tobacco coiling up from between the boards. Naturally we bought the house. How could we not?