I Need A Fag…

Sunday, January 22nd, 2006

Over Christmas I got into watching re-runs of ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ which, if you don’t know it, was a BBC series that was made between 1978 and around 1990 (it was a mainstay of UK Sunday nights and was, judging by all the tourists we got up in Yorkshire, very popular on US PBS). Based on the memoirs of James Herriot, a rural vet, it was – as I have just rediscovered – a very funny and often touching drama series, well worth catching on DVD if possible.

Two things have happened as a result of me watching it: I want to move back to Yorkshire; I can just smell the air when I see the hills on the screen. The life they depict in the series is tough and, despite the technological advances, farming up there is still hard and increasingly without profit. But I can see myself retiring to a cottage in the dales – a broadband wireless network is all I need 😉

The second, and most worrying thing, is that I’ve started wanting to take up smoking. One of the characters keeps pulling out a packet of fags and lighting up and he manages to make it look really rather cool. It’s got me rethinking the whole ‘power of advertising’ thing that something so subtle can get someone like me to actually want to strike up and smoke one. It’s not just the historical accuracy of the drama (it’s set in the 1930s – 1950s) that’s notable, but the historical fact that such casual smoking wouldn’t be allowed if the series were made today.

I’m looking forward to a ban on smoking in public, if it ever happens. But the article below (by Libby Copeland of the Washington Post) raises an important cultural aspect of the death of smoking as part of everyday life, though I suspect this is possibly more of a problem in parts of the US than in the UK where it maybe has less significance as a chat-up line. Personally, I use the tried and tested technique of gazing longingly at someone in the hope that I can develop some sort of telepathic communication and get her to come over to me, just long enough to see them approached by someone else and lost forever – never fails…

Got a Light? A Ritual Gone in a Puff of Smoke: “Sure, we’ll all live longer, but how will this affect the future of flirting?

No smoking in bars, if the city pushes such legislation through, means no excuse to approach a stranger, unless you count You look familiar , which doesn’t count.

Why, just earlier on this night, at Rumors restaurant and bar south of Dupont Circle . . .

‘Girl comes up and she says, ‘Can I bum a smoke?’ and it was obviously a pretext,’ says a guy named Jason Ewart, 29. The girl talked to Ewart awhile after that, one of those classic Washington dialogues about law school.

‘Dude!’ says Ewart’s friend across the table. ‘She had to justify getting a cigarette!’

‘She did stay longer than necessary,’ says a third guy.

Ewart tells the story of a woman he met some while back, when he was single. She came over to bum a smoke, and only later, when they were exchanging cards, did he catch sight of the pack of cigarettes in her bag.

Cigarette etiquette is ancient stuff, stowed in the cultural marrow back when men wore real hats and glam movie stars with impossible cheekbones gave come-hither looks through unfiltered haze. What relics of chivalry still surround this tiny lethal object, the cigarette! What other than a cigarette could a person request of a total stranger? What but splendid pretense prompts a fellow to flick a lighter for a girl who already has a match?

Speaking of which, Ewart has a rule.

‘Why can’t you light another guy’s cigarette?’ asks his friend Nate Tamarin.

‘You just don’t do it,’ Ewart says.

Pinup Betty Grable in a turban, circa 1935, her eyebrows thin as starving commas: She rests a cigarette on her lips, cradled between two dark fingernails. The man beside her stares at the lit match he’s holding out, while she looks intently into his eyes. That look was part of the ritual, you figure; even if she didn’t mean it, that was the polite thing to do. He made her feel like a lady and she made him feel like a man. It seems a whole lot of silliness now, but everyone knew their parts.

These days, Americans flirt feebly, liquor-soaked and anxious. But for lo, these many years we at least have had cigarettes, instruments of seduction. How many love affairs have been started by a man offering a match? Scratch that. How many illicit couplings? How many first names saved in cell phones, responsible for sowing mistrust months later when discovered by significant others? ( But I wasn’t gonna call her !)

Two blondes at a bar: They don’t even consider the nonsmoking guys, who — they have determined from years of study — are no fun at all. The obscene adjective they use to describe these men can be forgiven, as the blondes have been tossing back rum runners. This is their third bar of the night. They’re headed to two more. Smoking, smoking, all the way.

‘That’s how I met my boyfriend,’ one of the blondes says. ‘He bummed a cigarette from me.'” [read more…]

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