Posts tagged ‘Harold Wilson’

In your pipe and smoke it

The National

Simon Reynolds
Last Updated: April 27. 2010 6:44PM UAE / April 27. 2010 2:44PM GMT

Saw a chap smoking a pipe the other day. He was sitting in a café in a mall, reading a newspaper and drawing contentedly on a pipe. And it occurred to me that I don’t remember when last I saw such a thing.

Now, you understand that I am not talking about a shisha, but the sort of thing smoked by Maigret, Harold Wilson, General MacArthur – and you’ll notice how far back in time I have had to go for examples.

It appears to be a practice that has gone underground in the past decade or so, a casualty no doubt of the anti-smoking climate. I know that the British Pipesmokers’ Council discontinued its Pipesmoker of the Year award in 2004, worried that the event might fall foul of new laws against the promotion of tobacco.

So it was refreshing in a way to see this fellow puffing away as he read his newspaper. It also stirred an atavistic yearning, mixing memory and desire (it is, after all, cruel April), taking me back more than 30 years to my own days as a pipe-smoker. Aesthetically, there are not many men who can get away with a pipe. Medically, I imagine the proportion is even smaller. But the unwitting agent of my rekindled hunger in the café could. He had the strong face and candid expression necessary to carry it off. I do not.

Nor did Bing Crosby. Watching him with that idiotic briar in Holiday Inn, for example, I just want to strangle the props supervisor. I similarly cringe when I come across old photographs of myself posing pompously with my pipe.

But the look of the thing aside, I did enjoy it. I lived in Harare then and used to smoke my first pipe of the day sitting outside on a chair tipped against a whitewashed wall, the warmth of the early sun tempering the lingering chill of the night air.

Eventually, of course, the chair broke, but that’s not why I gave up. That was the result of a doctor’s advice after I contracted a particularly obstinate chest infection.

I had a girlfriend who worked in a tobacconist’s shop – the one, you will not be surprised to learn, where I took my tobacco business – and she told me a story that in recollection has something of the quality of an urban myth.

It seems that a man who had bought a pipe in the shop returned after a month or two, complaining that the bowl had burnt through. And sure enough, there was a charred-looking hole in the back, just above the stem. Great consternation and embarrassment, of course; the pipe was replaced and the customer compensated with a couple of free packets of tobacco.

A similar interval later he was back. It had happened again: there was a hole you could put your little finger through. This time consternation gave way to incredulity and they asked him how and where he smoked. “I’m a taxi driver, and I like to smoke on the road,” he replied. Didn’t his passengers object? “Yes, so I drive with my window open.”

Never mind the bowl of the pipe in the resulting inferno, I thought. The fellow must have had a tongue like asbestos.