30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.
I had my first cigarette in school, like most people do. But it wasn’t until I was around 20 that I really, really took to it.
Now, I know there’s no way to justify smoking. There just isn’t. It’s utterly indefensible. I don’t really support people taking up smoking – although if you are a smoker already, then chances are I love having a cigarette with you. The best way to avoid it is t0 never start.
Tara once told me, quite matter-of-factly, that she just went for that whole ‘Just Say No’ campaign of the 80s.
So, with that said, none of the following justifies smoking. I’m going to say stuff like how much “I like Zippo lighters”, for instance. And an adoration for Zippo lighters in no way justifies the slow destruction of my body.
These days I am down to a pack every 3 or 4 days. A couple during work and a couple at night. Packs in London are only 20s, whereas in Sydney for many years I was half a (25) pack a day.
The real numbers come up when drinking. I can probably go through 2 cigarettes a pint, and I’m consciously pacing myself. If I’m drinking at a beer garden and sure no one will notice, I will chain smoke when I drink.
Smoking suits my restlessness. As Jo said to me once, it’s really unfair how she, as a non smoker, doesn’t get to just go out of a building and have a few minutes to herself, several times a day.
I especially loved this when I was seeing gigs and going to pubs and clubs. 2am, sober, surrounded by drunken hipsters and loud music – the excuse to get out of there for a few minutes is heaven. I don’t know how people stand being in those places for hours upon hours. Grabbing your drink, a fellow smoker, and getting a break from all that – it’s brilliant.
Constantly heading out for a cigarette – a few times a day for ten years – I wonder how it’s affected me. Has it turned me further into an introvert? In any given situation, I can get up, go, and just be in my own thoughts almost straight away. Just stop, and think.
The other thing is I’ve perfected is the five minute conversation. Heading out for a cigarette is an open invitation. Basically, anyone in your little party is allowed to join you. And you have five minutes to find that common ground, roll around in it, then head back inside. It doesn’t matter if you’re a friend of a friend of a friend, etc who just turned up for a little bit.
I have gotten to know a lot of people this way. Not many friends I know are smokers – but most of my best friends are. We just spend more quality time together. I think of my friend Piero, who I worked with for a few months. But our cigarette breaks were where I really got to know him. People I’ve worked closer with for 4 times that length – I know nothing about them.
My Dad smokes. And I don’t remember anyone else in my family smoking, growing up. I think my brother must have when we were younger. Mum hated the things and still does. Even aunties and uncles were pretty much non-smokers.
Not that Dad ever gave me a cigarette. It did his health no good in the end. He shouldn’t be smoking, but it’s hard. He’s old, and he’s been doing it all his life. Think about how easy it would be for YOU to give up something you’ve been doing several times a day for decades on end.
Don’t give me that “It’s killing you” bullshit. If I said to you that you had to give up ice cream, or chocolate, or coffee, etc. After you’ve had it for DECADES. It’s not easy. And it’s not like it’s a sudden, allergic reaction. One bit of ice cream is not going to kill you. But it will make you sicker, as your whole body is getting sicker anyway. So get off that high horse.
But I bring that up because that is justification for my Dad. I still have the odd cigarette after dinner with Dad in our backyard when I’m home. It’s our time together. We both wait all day for that moment. Who wants to live longer if I can’t have those moments.
I can’t roll cigarettes. If I could, I think I would have saved thousands of dollars over the years. In a way, it’s the coolest way to smoke. And so often, I feel like a few puffs but not a whole cigarette. Rollies would be the way.
Learning now kind of feels like giving in. Learning a new skill to help improve my smoking, and to save me money in doing it, seems like a big commitment. And every smoker is trying to cut down or quit. That just seems a step in the wrong direction.
Also, learning seems embarrassing. I know in theory how to do it, I just need to buy the filters and the tobacco and practise. Just sit around one weekend and smoke and practise.
But buying tobacco and filters at the same time, makes me feel like I’m a kid smoking for the first time. You know when you skipped school and you could smoke, but of course you didn’t even own a lighter? And you would buy smokes AND a lighter and it would give you away? I’m turning 30 and I still feel that way. I feel like if I buy filters and tobacco at the same time, the guy behind the counter will declare me an amateur and take away my smoking rights.
My brand is Marlboro Lights. On the odd chance there isn’t Marlboro Lights I would smoke Camels. This has happened maybe 4 times in the last decade. In France I smoke Gauloises because I am a try-hard Frenchie and I would do anything to pretend I lived there.
Why Marlboro lights? Mainly because the musicians that I liked who smoked, they smoked Marlboro lights. Before you declare me superficial, this is the reason why music sponsorships are a multi million dollar industry. Also, I’m not alone in this. Marlboro Lights are what the Strokes smoke. I know nothing else about the Strokes. But In know THAT. Because someone told me. Also, I know what my friends smoke. It’s just something I notice.
I try to get soft packs if I can but they are harder to find in London. There is a very specific way of ripping part of the foil at the top (on just one side of the sticker on the top face) so they dispense easily but the pack still keeps it’s shape. The advantage of the soft pack is they don’t destroy every pair of jeans you own with sharp cardboard corners. They also look a million times cooler.
My first lighter was a proper sized Bic lighter. I still have it, I know where it is. I prefer the smaller Bic lighters, the ones that are like 5cm tall and run out in barely a week. I went through so many of these. They are also light and small and slip easily into a soft pack once you’re had three or four.
In London, I use clipper lighters. This is because one of my first jobs in London, the company I worked for created boxes of promotional lighters. Then they worked out they couldn’t send lighters with flammable liquid in the mail. So I took a few boxes. 4 years later I still use them.
I have been given some great smoking presents. My favourites are the Zippo with the Fender logo on it (Casey), a cool 1930s looking robot ashtray (Marianne) and a flip top ball thing that was also an ashtray, that I adore (Johanna).
When am I going to quit? I really don’t know. Honestly, I probably never will completely.
There’s that age old image of the old man having a cigar after dinner. Maybe with a bit of whiskey. Knowing my friends, that cigar will be a joint. A small indulgence. And smoking will be mine. If I ever do quit for a while, and I start again, then that’s just the way it is. I don’t really take the idea of quitting seriously.