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.