Unneeded Nostalgia


I miss those smoke-filled days with people behaving badly


Let’s all pat ourselves on the back and celebrate by going for a brisk walk. According to Public Health England, smoking is at the lowest level on record. In the bell-bottomed, kohl-eyed, curly-permed 1970s, more than 50 per cent of British men, and 40 per cent of women, smoked. Now only a grubby 16.9 per cent of us continue to let the side down.

This dramatic reduction is due to a combination of the smoking ban, health education, plain packaging and e-cigarettes, and it’s obviously an excellent thing.

I know it is. Of course it is. And yet. Though it’s many years since I smoked (bang on trend), I still sometimes feel a nostalgic pang as I watch a ghostly curl of smoke emerge from the end of someone else’s cigarette, or catch myself inhaling deeply if someone passes me in the street, burning fag in hand.

It’s not the nicotine one misses so much as the easy camaraderie and the instantly accessible badness. When I was a very young journalist working in a very large magazine company, you sort of had to smoke if you were to have any chance of knowing what was going on. The smoking room was where you met people on other titles, gossiped about who was about to be sacked and where there might be another, less filing-dependent job, along in a minute.

It was really, genuinely team building in a way that a country house brainstorming day (dress casual) could never hope to be. In my twenties, it was with endless cheap and nerve-jangling 2am espressos on the pavement outside Bar Italia in Soho that my brain was well and truly stormed.

And it’s not just the smoking. We live increasingly in a puritanical age of juice crawls, kale cleanses and cereal cafés. It’s as though everyone is ashamed of themselves. Only exhaustion from all that yoga and mindfulness can be keeping the all-pervading sense of guilt at bay…

…In a recent documentary, Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue, it wasn’t the clear-eyed, glossy-maned, clever young women of the fashion desk who captured the viewers’ hearts, so much as fashion director Lucinda Chambers, who’s been at the title for 36 years.

She said: “When I started at Vogue, you’d go in and there would be clouds of Gitanes smoke and people with their feet on the desks. It was a much more heightened place, people weren’t beavering away, getting on with it, behaving well. People behaved badly. There’d be lots of hangovers and parties and it was much more rackety.”

Doesn’t that sound delicious? A world where we were brave and confident enough to get messy, behave badly, full of the optimistic certainty that it would all work out just fine in the end. That’s truly something to feel nostalgic about.

No need to just be nostalgic about it. The need is to recover our world from the grasp of the puritans, and restore that happy, messy, optimistic world.

It would help if she stopped feeling guilty. What does she feel guilty about? Has she become a puritan too? Perhaps that’s the problem with the puritans: they all feel guilty about everything.

I don’t.

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12 Responses to Unneeded Nostalgia

  1. “Doesn’t that sound delicious? A world where we were brave and confident enough to get messy, behave badly, full of the optimistic certainty that it would all work out just fine in the end. That’s truly something to feel nostalgic about.”

    Yes. That sounds absolutely delicious and it is exactly the way I try to approach life every day, and dream of being amidst. There is no other way, really. Great post. Thank you, Frank.

  2. Smoking Lamp says:

    Too bad the masses don’t recall the pleasures of those days. Now bars and pubs are frequently empty and smokers are forced into the back alleys. Smoking bans were forced on the public by a small cadre of fanatics that fabricated the threat of second hand smoke to achieve their objective. No, smokers shouldn’t be guilty, the fanatics that sought to divide society to achieve their extreme, austere neo-Puritan society should be ashamed. Smokers should light up and demand accommodation!

  3. waltc says:

    A nd she’s obviously young enough that her nostalgia is only for office “smoking rooms” (the entire office was once a smoking room) and for 2 AM espresso on the sidewalk (as opposed to inside,) Soho joints. i’,m not sure she herself feels guilty, tho she’s apparently happy that she stopped smoking and thinks (or thinks she thinks) that that’s a “good thing”; she seems rather envious of the people who unabashedly continue “behaving badly.” Of course back before her time nobody thought smoking was bad behavior.

  4. Pat Nurse says:

    Nice piece. Shame that the obvious lie about plain packs, not yet with us, is repeated as why smoking rates are going down. When a journalist accepts without question a lie as truth, and then goes on to spread that lie until it becomes truth, is the sort of “journalist” who doesn’t deserve the title. In the pocket hack is more accurate. Therefore, how can I believe a single other word she says? Maybe it is all a lie. She has no credibility.

    • Thanks Pat! I saw the PP thing and thought, “I didn’t realize they’d already passed that??? How’d I miss it?” And your description about repeating it till it becomes truth was perfect AND reminded me of something that’s bugged me for years. At one point in the far past Stanton Glantz made some comment about how when a person lit a cigarette the people around them would back away and wave the smoke away… as if people back at that time EVER did that! I remember reading it and thinking, “What the Q is he on about?” and then realizing that he might be doing it deliberately… as a sort of “I create a world by speaking about it as it were true!” fashion in the much same way that a “responsible newscaster” reporting on the radio in the midst of a riot might say, “Most citizens are staying safely in their homes listening for updates about this small group of disruptors!”

      There’s a term/phrase for that, and it’s bugging me to no end that it eludes me. It’s sort of a royal “As I say, so shall it be!” proclamation, or a religious “His Word Was Made Flesh.” but with more of a sense of someone who views him or herself as important enough to be a trendsetter deliberately doing/presenting something different from reality with the idea of creating a future reality.

      One of the scariest aspects of the antismoking movement has been seeing how it has consciously set about to, and largely succeeded at, changing people’s brains: things that were totally accepted without an eyeblink 30 or 40 years ago now being looked at with horror. The fact that that could happen so easily, and with deliberate design behind it, makes the creation of an Orwellian future so much more real as we look forward — particularly with the power of media to distort even the things we clearly see with our own eyes (“Ms. Clinton stumbled slightly as she got into the limo…” Sheeesh… she collapsed and was DRAGGED into the limo as you watcher her prone feet dragged and lifted in the video! What if there had BEEN no video from that particular angle or if it had been successfully repressed before broadcast? It would have simply been “nonhistory.”)

      There’s a lot more at stake in our fight against the Antismokers than simply smoking.

      – MJM

  5. Timothy Goodacre says:

    No credibility at all. I’m fed up with stupid patronising articles written by airheads like this one. Instead of all this propaganda and lies we need a few extolling the pleasures of smoking a fine tobacco.

  6. slugbop007 says:

    Interesting news:The good news: “The Tax Foundation said that about 58 percent of all cigarettes in New York come via smuggling.” (Smokers’ version of dumping tea into Boston Harbor.)That makes Ms Arnott’s recent declaration rather suspect. How many tobacco consumers in the UK and elsewhere acquire their swag via the smugglers these days? Or online, like I do.slugbop007

  7. Bill Sticker says:

    Smoking used to be a very social activity, and it was all about the “Easy camaraderie and instantly accessible badness.” I last lit up back in the late 80’s, but didn’t stop joining the rest of the crew on breaks whether they smoked or not until the smokers were deliberately segregated in the early 1990’s..

  8. Lecroix says:

    Reblogged this on Contra la ley "antitabaco" and commented:
    Nostalgia innecesaria, ciertamente…

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