Most of the time, I live a smoky existence with more or less non-stop cigarettes from dawn to dusk. Well, not quite, but it sometimes seems like that.
But I’ve been travelling this weekend, visiting a favourite aunt who I haven’t seen for ages. This meant sitting in the back seat of a car for 4 hours, not smoking. And also it meant staying in a non-smoking hotel room for 7 or 8 hours. And maybe I’d also have to spend hours indoors socialising without cigarettes. The prospect was so grim that I almost cancelled.
In the end I decided to go, just to see my favourite aunt, even if I had to endure hell for 48 hours. Because she was worth 48 hours of hell.
But the strange thing was, that, when it actually came to it, I didn’t mind at all. I didn’t mind sitting in the back of the car, not smoking. And I didn’t mind staying in the hotel either, not smoking. Pretty much the whole time I was away, I almost never wanted a cigarette. Even when the opportunity arose, at stopovers of one sort or other, I didn’t rush off for a smoke.
I was really quite perplexed by this. I thought I’d be dying for a smoke 95% of the time. But in fact it was more like 0.5% of the time. Even when at 7 am, and I’d woken up, and made myself a cup of tea in my hotel room, and waited for the cigarette reflex to kick in, I still didn’t want one.
I think that this means is that I’m not addicted to nicotine. I don’t need a regular nicotine fix. I felt no need to boost my depleted nicotine levels. Over the past couple of days I’ve smoking something like 10% of my usual rate, but I haven’t suffered from any cravings for cigarettes at all.
But I think I know the answer to this puzzle. And it’s that I really only smoke when I’m thinking. And the harder I’m thinking, the more cigarettes I need. Because somehow tobacco provides a slight intellectual boost, a slight extra focus. Tobacco is a thoughtful drug, that helps people focus on whatever they’re thinking about.
And, sitting in the back of a car, either dozing or gazing at English countryside rolling by, I wasn’t thinking about anything much at all. Neither was I thinking about anything much when I arrived dog-tired at my hotel room and fell asleep, nor when I woke up in the morning. The real trigger for my smoking is thinking. And I’ve done precious little thinking over the past two days. Ergo, precious little need for cigarettes.
It also explains why I always want to smoke when I go to a pub, whether I’m sitting on my own (as I often am) or talking to someone. And this is because for me, sitting in a pub on my own is a very thoughtful thing to do, during which I drift off into long reveries about all sorts of different things. And if I’m talking to someone, then I usually need quite a bit of my intellectual capabilities to maintain a conversation, and so talking to people is a thoughtful business too.
So, if I ever want to give up smoking, I’ll need to give up thinking. I’ll need to give up ideas like Idle Theory. I’ll need to stop puzzling over why cells divide, or how plants grow. I’ll need to stop thinking about the injustice of smoking bans, and the the nonsense of global warming, and the tyranny of the EU. I’ll have to become someone who never thinks about anything at all. And once I’ve given up thinking, I’ll never want another cigarette again. Easy!
And, to be perfectly honest, most of the arguments that are put up against smoking by antismokers very often strike me as being ill-thought-through. They aren’t people who think much about things. Most of their thinking is mostly dogmatic, rote thinking. They’re not creative, imaginative people. They think they know everything already. And they don’t need cigarettes, because they’ve given up thinking, and accept the consensus view on everything, the received wisdom on everything. And, furthermore, since they never give their intellectual faculties the slight boost that tobacco provides, they never get any sudden new insights, or any surprising realisations. They live in a sort of quiet pond, where nothing new ever happens, and nothing new is ever thought, and all beliefs are dogmatic, and anything different is quite literally unthinkable.
And it’s why artists and writers and scientists and philosophers are almost always smokers. It’s not accidental. They’re thinking a lot, and tobacco helps them think just a little bit more clearly.
Some of the antismokers I know smoke cannabis. And cannabis is an ‘idea’ drug. It’s actually a highly intellectual drug. But in my experience of cannabis, it sparks off far too many ideas. So if I do something like smoke cannabis and try and write a computer programme to simulate planetary orbital motions, I’ll probably end up writing something completely different. I’ll go off at a tangent, and I won’t stay focused on the original task. And, that way, I’ll usually end up doing nothing at all. Tobacco allows people to stay focused, and give greater attention to some task. Cannabis doesn’t. And that’s why I hardly touch the stuff these days.
Anyway, I got to meet my favourite aunt, and a great many family relatives. And the weather was fine, and we sat out in the garden. The ages of all these relatives ranged from late teens to late 80s. And it was interesting to see who was smoking.
Most of the middle-aged and over weren’t smoking. But a lot of the youngsters were smoking. It was when I saw a couple of slim, pretty, young blonde girls lighting up that I summoned up the nerve to roll a few cigarettes for myself. And as soon as I did that, it encouraged one or two of the fathers of the pretty, young blonde girls to roll up cigarettes too. There were no complaints, no denunciations, no fanning the air. I’d guess that about 20% of the people there were smokers. The interesting thing was that they were predominantly young (and pretty). In this little cross-section of England, smoking hadn’t become ‘denormalised’. It was as normal as it ever was.
So maybe it’s that when people reach a certain age, they stop thinking. They arrive at a set of certainties from which they never depart. Their thinking becomes rigid, rote, and conventional. And because they’ve stopped thinking, they give up smoking. They give up smoking because they’ve given up thinking, and they no longer need the extra focus or attention that tobacco provides.
But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give up thinking. I just love ideas. And I always will.
And that means that I’ll always love smoking.
P.S. Slightly OT, but Lana Del Rey has been (gasp!) smoking on stage.
That’s a new development for her, and suggests that smoking is a very deliberate component of her image. And so is Pall Mall Blue.