I find smoking quite useful. This may be why one of my best friends says I am the most useless smoker she knows. I can’t distinguish between one kind of fag and another. I can barely keep them alight and only ever have the odd one. It must be annoying. Sure, I had a proper go at 14, but when I got home after a quick puff on the bus my mum said: “Here you are. I’ve got you a lovely silver cigarette case. And here are 40 fags. I don’t want you spending your dinner money on it.”
Immediately, much of the thrill was gone. Now that smoking is becoming more and more verboten, though, I long for something to replace it. Not the fags – it’s established that I don’t know one end from the other and have often been found trying to light the filter. No, I want something to replace the society of smoking.
I know that when you get hypnotised you have to unthink this stuff and imagine that smoking is deeply uncool. But that is not my experience. In fact, I can’t imagine surviving in newspapers years ago without regular trips to the smoking room.
Often it may have been disgusting but it was really the only place where hierarchies collapsed over a spare Silk Cut and you got to find out what was actually happening.
This was especially true when I went to work at the Independent in the Nineties, having been wooed by Andrew Marr’s idea of no news on the front page, something I totally believed in at the time. In those volatile years I found great solace in the smoking area.
But on a trip to San Francisco, it was obvious which way the wind was blowing. Even if you were sitting outside a restaurant, people 20 yards away would complain about a stray bit of smoke.
Waiting at the airport to go home, I was approached by a rather fine gentlemen. “Come on, darling, let’s go and have a fag for David. You know David, don’t you, darling?”
Smoking for David? It could only be Hockney. Smoker extraordinaire, and not a bad painter either. I had indeed once phoned him many years earlier and made him write something for me and was awed by his kindness.
This guy turned out to be an old friend of Hockney’s and the finest company in the world. So we stood outside in the sun as he talked of all the parties at David’s house.
This really was the best smoking ever. When we got on the plane he got us champagne: for his “medical condition”, as he could only drink macrobiotic drinks.
At Heathrow, however, we were pulled over.
“What’s in your suitcase?” a customs officer asked him.
“Nothing, darling,” he said. “Just some Betty Crocker Blueberry Muffin Mix and some extremely hardcore pornography.”
No one knew what to say, so we kept walking. Out into the cold air for a goodbye fag.