The First Principle of Self

One thing I’ve noticed in recent years is that when public figures reveal themselves to be antismokers, any good opinion I might have had for them evaporates in about two seconds flat.

Conversely, when I learn that some public figure or other is a smoker, I feel a distinct glow of warmth for them, even if they have a few other undesirable characteristics – like being serial killers.

I can’t say that I ever had a particularly high opinion of Will Self. His chief claim to fame seems to have been that he (allegedly) snorted coke on a Prime Ministerial jet. As a writer I always found him a bit pompous, and seemingly forever in search of edgy and novel ways of stating the obvious, as if simple English was too tedious to use.

Anyway, he appeared on Question Time back in 2006 or 2007, back when I still had a TV set, to tell smokers that “The game’s up,”and how they’d have to pack in their habit and clean up their act. It was sneering, jeering little lecture he delivered. I could feel my hackles rise, and whatever good opinion I might have had for him draining away, never to revive.

Somebody bought me one of his books a few years ago, but I never managed to even open it. I seldom throw books away, but this is one that I’d happily drop into a street trash can, to end its life buried in a pile of empty cigarette packs and  soggy cigarette butts.

This weekend, Dick Puddlecote’s link tank featured an article by him in Esquire. It seemed he’d become an avid vaper, and was now singing the praises of vaping, and explaining how much better it was than smoking:

I realised what successful vaping required was a suspension of disbelief: it was important not to think of it as a substitute for smoking at all, because there were so many fundamental differences.

The taste of the e-liquid was cleaner and more wholesome than tobacco; the throat hit was more accurately targeted and so less harsh; and the vapour cloud wasn’t like the smoke one at all. At a subconscious level, the tobacco-smoker registers his smoke: the bluey shreds and curlicues pluming from the lit tip; the brownish puffs and mini-cumuli expelled from the damp lungs; all are combined into a miniature atmosphere that enshrouds Planet Me.

It is this profound sense of autonomy gifted by his personal thunderhead that makes it possible for the smoker to ignore the reality: he’s just one more of the myriad drones whose behaviour is severely restricted – and whose lifespan is severely curtailed – by this picayune addiction.

But vaping produces only water vapour, and whether inhaled or not, the vape cloud has the same hue and dynamic: a steamy, greyish-white plume that rapidly disperses into the kind of sfumato Renaissance painters delighted in creating, a tawny-golden haze, softening the Apennine peaks ahead and filling in the Umbrian valleys behind.

As ever, he can’t just say “insignificant” or “petty”, but has to dig out “picayune”. And he can’t just say “hazy”, but must employ “sfumato” instead. He knows, of course, that most people probably won’t know what either word means. But that’s the whole point. It’s a way of trampling upon his readers, rubbing their noses in their ignorance, and reminding them that Will Self knows a lot more words than they ever will.

And of course he takes a sneering swipe at smokers, whose “brownish puffs enshroud Planet Me” and “make it possible for them to ignore the reality” that they are “myriad drones”. By contrast vapour is “cleaner and more wholesome” and the throat hit “more accurately targeted and so less harsh” and “not like smoke at all”.

But what emerges in this over-long article is that he was a smoker himself for over 25 years, on occasion hitting 100 a day. He seems to have given up, or cut down, some time around 2000. So when he he was lecturing Question Time’s smokers, he’d only recently become the worst sort of antismoking ex-smoker. Unless of course he was into his pipe craze phase by then.

What emerges is someone who can never do things by halves. He has to throw himself headlong into the deep end.  First with cigarettes. Then pipes. Now vaping.  And at each step his former enthusiams must be derided and belittled, and his latest flame lauded to the skies – like girlfriends who are sublimely beautiful while they’re with him, but who becomes fat slags the moment they leave.

Yet he can see what’s coming:

Take my word on it: within five years, vaping will be under strict controls of one sort or another; either medical ones, so that you have to get a prescription for e-liquid, or commercial ones that make it prohibitively expensive (and stop the market diversifying).

Either way, THEY will do all they can to stop the fun. So, take my advice, and get steaming while you can, because only that way will you have the opportunity to find out what it feels like not just to be an ex-smoker, but a former vaper as well.

Because don’t you just know that, in five years time, Will Self will be an ex-vaper, and will be telling another Question Time audience that “The game’s up” for vapers. Because by then he will have been there and done that too, and will be poised ready to scoff and sneer at vapers like he already does at smokers.

And one thing you’ll never find him doing is offering any resistance to the tidal wave of rules and regulations that is overwhelming everybody. Because he surfs that tsunami, and his principal goal is to ride it ahead of everybody else as it sweeps through the streets. For the first principle of Self is self. So by the time smoking bans arrived, he’d given up smoking. And when vaping bans are enacted, he will have given up vaping. And when writers start being persecuted and imprisoned, he will of course have given up writing as well, and will be the first to deride writers and their compulsion to write – and particularly to write emptily and pretentiously, as he did all his life.

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About Frank Davis

smoker
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25 Responses to The First Principle of Self

  1. Smoking Lamp says:

    An excellent depiction of rampant self-interest at work!

  2. In 5 years time all the bans may well be gone…………..But I don’t much trust anyone that doesn’t have at least one bad habit, Its like a sin makes them more reliable and trustworthy. But a quitter nobody likes as all that does is make them self-righteous assholes of the first order.

    Obama smoked it took less than 30 days to figure out he was as big a Nazi as the rest were and getting cash for his efforts Ive no doubt with RWJFs Rizzo visiting a hundred times in his first 6 months in office…………..

  3. Lepercolonist says:

    “One thing I’ve noticed in recent years is that when public figures reveal themselves to be antismokers, any good opinion I might have had for them evaporates in about two seconds flat.”

    I have always admired CBS news correspondent Bob Schieffer until he lectured House Speaker John Boehner about his smoking. My respect for Scheiffer vanished instantly. Ditto for former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee who once supported a federal ban on smoking. Or White House smoke banner Hillary Clinton.

  4. Zaphod says:

    Everything you say about Will Self is true,
    but I do have to admit that I find him amusing. :-)
    Hell, I even find Russel Brand amusing, and he’s a complete idiot who talks total bollocks!
    At least Self is intelligent and creative. Brand just repeats impressive words like a parrot.
    “The Arts” is full of lefties. I think that’s what lefties are for. It takes all kinds to make a world.

    • I agree with Zaphod. Will Self was also (I believe) a heroin user and heaven knows what else. I like him because he can be self-mocking (hah!) in that quintessentially English way and he uses posh words because he loves arsing about with language, not to ‘get one over’ the rest of us. Not to everyone’s taste of course, but I usually enjoy reading him. I suspect he’s still a smoker at heart.

      Don’t get me started on Russell Brand. His chest hair has a higher IQ than his brain.

  5. alanxxx says:

    I dunno – I’m undecided about Will Self and consider that his public persona could be a highly contrived parody of a Literary type, a performance. I know about big words too btw.

    What is in the original article is a good record of obsessive collectophilia about smoking, a love of the knick knackery as well as the act, and also pointers towards the sensuality of vaping at least, and I recall also smoking.

    What Will Self ISN’T doing (I think) is that daily mail rhetorical trick, e.g.: “Some of my best friends are smokers / homosexuals / daily mail readers / transvestite pigeon fanciers (insert despised minority later), but if they do it in front of my wife and kids . . . ” sort of thing. He might be a quitter, which is his business, but he does not appear to be in denial about what he is quitting.

    Appear might be the most operative word here, Self being to do with appearances, or that’s where I’ve seen him most – he looks a theatrical presence to me.

    I’ll never meet the man, but it would be interesting to discuss with him how much of an utter prat is in his public image and how much of that is wholly deliberate, and my guess is that that would be a lot – which would be tres post moderne (to wax pretentious ballocks myself), as self conscious mockery is very much de rigueur, especially in dat dere londun.

    The rumour I’ve heard was smack in the plane toilet. It could be a lie, as putting about controversial myths (or truths) about yourself is a great way to build fame. There’s a recent Literary tradition of this, Byron was very good at it for instance.

    I’d be happier, of course, if Will Self joined Forest. Iread the original article as a defense of vaping myself.

  6. alanxxx says:

    Yet another divided Self? (ho ho)

  7. beobrigitte says:

    What emerges is someone who can never do things by halves. He has to throw himself headlong into the deep end. First with cigarettes. Then pipes. Now vaping. And at each step his former enthusiams must be derided and belittled, and his latest flame lauded to the skies – like girlfriends who are sublimely beautiful while they’re with him, but who becomes fat slags the moment they leave.

    I do wonder if he is aware of this:
    http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/e-cigarettes-encourage-smoking-school-children-5527740

    THIS is the problem the antismokers have with e-cigs:
    Last year Health Minister Mark Drakeford published a Health White Paper which claimed smoking behaviours could be “re-normalised” through e-cigarettes.

    Re-normalising smoking behaviours? Confidence trick? Sure, the media repeats and repeats and repeats anti-smokers’ blabb so often, that everyone by now begins to ignore it. People still smoke.
    Apropos smoking in cars: I never paid attention to what other people do in their cars. The other day I decided to count the people I can see smoking in their cars on my way to a friend. I quickly abandoned this idea – it distracted me from driving.
    So, are anti-smokers safe drivers?

  8. Ed says:

    Self’s wiki is quite revealing;
    “is sometimes presented as a bad-boy outsider, writing, like the Americans William S Burroughs and Hubert Selby Jr, about sex, drugs and violence in a very direct way. Yet he is not some class warrior storming the citadels of the literary establishment from the outside, but an Oxford educated, middle-class metropolitan who, despite his protestations to the contrary in interviews, is about as much at the heart of the establishment as you can get, a place he has occupied almost from the start of his career”
    Wonder if he has connections to intelligence like so many other British authors?

    Ed

  9. alanxxx says:

    Have re read the original article, imho it’s all about Will Self making money as a writer, that’s based on a second superficial reading. Whether the snippets of anti smoking rhetoric (” . . . stinking . . . “) are sincere or playing to the gallery cannot be figured out by myself.

    Self doesn’t tie the pro vaping fight to the pro smoking fight, and in my mind it is precisely the same thing. In fact Self doesn’t mention any fight at all, again possibly playing to the gallery as that’s what the passive man on the Clapham Omnibus does these days, goes along with any old shit. You could fall out with Self if you wanted to for his whole hearted depiction of smoking and vaping as an addiction.

    Leaving the article behind and speaking for myself, I like vaping and I like smoking. I like the way my e cigarette looks like a syringe. As a mixer, I find the tin pot alchemy of making up e liquid satisfying, there is a pleasant fetishism in it. What I’m sick to death of is meeting born again judgementalising vapers who talk in terms of vaping having saved millions of lives, – people in vape shops who feel the need to enquire how much I’m smoking these days. I tell ’em I’ve started using pigtail in an iolite, as well as the fags.

    • beobrigitte says:

      Leaving the article behind and speaking for myself, I like vaping and I like smoking.
      I am the same. I started vaping in order to stretch my tobacco I currently buy in Austria and some parts of Germany – the places in which I am being served with a drink and an ashtray on the table. I begrudge paying the extortionate tax levied in this country on smokers when we are being kicked out everywhere.

      What I’m sick to death of is meeting born again judgementalising vapers who talk in terms of vaping having saved millions of lives…
      They are the ones who haven’t understood that the anti-smokers are no friend of theirs, either.

    • nisakiman says:

      What I’m sick to death of is meeting born again judgementalising vapers who talk in terms of vaping having saved millions of lives…

      Here here! As a ‘dual user’ (God, how I hate those glib descriptives…), and one who really prefers the real thing, despite the rather sci-fi novelty value of e-cigs, I also deplore the way that so many vapers adopt so readily the rhetoric of the anti-smoking lobby. As if it will save them from the baleful eye of the zealots. Fools. They haven’t yet sussed out that because ‘it looks like smoking, there will be no reprieve.

  10. alanxxx says:

    He’s no outsider

  11. alanxxx says:

    Have just read his wiki – I suspect we’d get on.

  12. Edgar says:

    Another telling quote from Self’s Wiki entry: “For a May 2014 Guardian article, Self wrote: “the literary novel as an art work and a narrative art form central to our culture is indeed dying before our eyes”, explaining in a July 2014 article that his royalty income had decreased “dramatically” over the previous decade.” He sees his writing as a barometer of the decline of national culture. Well, maybe. And maybe people just don’t want to read that pretentious, overwrought, picayune drivel any more.

  13. beobrigitte says:

    Conversely, when I learn that some public figure or other is a smoker, I feel a distinct glow of warmth for them..

    Right now I am looking for a ticket for the next Groenemeyer concert!!! A friend emailed me this:

    At about 4 minutes in he finally does the most sensible thing – lights a cigarette and walks away!!!

    • Reinhold says:

      “Dieses Video ist in Deutschland leider nicht verfügbar, da es Musik enthalten könnte, über deren Verwendung wir uns mit der GEMA bisher nicht einigen konnten”

      • Reinhold says:

        Well, here it is (for the Germans amongst us): :-)

        • Reinhold says:

          Thank you, Brigitte, a great find!
          Now I like this guy again.

        • beobrigitte says:

          “The uploader has not made this video available in your country”

          LOL!

          Now I like this guy again.

          Me, too!!!! Maybe he isn’t as conform as I thought he was – or maybe he observes what is happening in NRW (the second Bundesland in which the smoking ban was dictated)?
          When I first watched the video I thought it was a good song – watching the vid a few few times made it grow on me – it is now in with my small collection of all time favourites!!!!

          I love the bit where he lights up, walks a bit, then quickly turns around with his cigarette in his mouth, taking another drag, before dancing a little, whisteling away…. *priceless*

  14. Ed says:

    @ Edgar
    You took the words right out of my mouth with that comment!
    Does anyone remember this scene from the Sleeper movie? It’s a pity we have to wait until 2173 for them to realise tobacco is good for you

  15. alanxxx says:

    “What I’m sick to death of is meeting born again judgementalising vapers who talk in terms of vaping having saved millions of lives…
    They are the ones who haven’t understood that the anti-smokers are no friend of theirs, either”

    – it looks like some vapers haven’t seen sense after the events on New Orleans and still won’t combine with pro smokers. Bad Government thrives on such self defeating divisions. Many smokers are in a self defeating division of their own.

    The political way forward may often be in combining with people one doesn’t actually like.

  16. alanxxx says:

    should read “of New Orleans”

  17. alanxxx says:

    And another thing whilst I’m in the mood for publicly exposing myself, the amount of people that think you want to give up smoking because you are vaping is annoying. I usually roll a fag and draw on it at the same time if the encounter takes place out of doors.

    What, how and why the fuck this invasive rampant judgemental finger waggery into so many fields of human behaviour persists is a mystery to me. “It’s a free country” ? – Not any more. It’s like being pestered by the intellectual equivalent of crab lice.

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