Thursday, July 03, 2008

The whole world is not your ashtray

I used to smoke. Like so many of my peers growing up in the 1970s I was enticed to the weed by unspoken promises of looking cool, grown up and sophisticated. Apparently the ladies would love nothing more than to lip-wrestle with a man who smelled like a bonfire made of soiled nappies. Later in my smoking career, I became a connoisseur of the ‘rolly’; buying liquorice papers and aromatic tobaccos from specialist shops and crafting huge, reefer-like constructions with filters. They looked like cheroots but tasted better. But, as I say, I used to smoke.

I stopped for two reasons. The first was the unexpected death of my smoking father at the age of 51. The other was realising how much of a hold this drug had on me when, just a few nights after Dad’s funeral, I found myself trudging half a mile to a 24 hour petrol station at 1am in the morning to buy a half ounce of Old Holborn. Madness. I stopped then and there. And I haven’t touched a butt for 18 years (careful now ...). I’m glad I did give it up for so many reasons, not the least of which is the UK government’s draconian war on the smoker.

(For the record, the pubs just aren’t the same without the smell of fag smoke. Yes, I know that they’re healthier and cleaner … but now all I can smell is pub food, bad breath, stale beer and other people’s farts. I think I preferred the smoke. But this, you see, is an example of the government applying the wrong solution to the problem. The problem is that cigarettes smell and can cause cancer and heart disease, to name but two. To properly solve the problem they should have tackled those issues instead. To use an entirely appropriate medical metaphor, they should have cured the disease rather than deal with the symptoms. If they’d thrown some of that cigarette tax money into making ciggies non-toxic and smell better (without losing their taste and ‘hit’), everyone would have been happy. And, because fags would then be safe, I bet all the kids would have given it up too. You know I’m right …)

Even when I did smoke, I tried to be a considerate one. I didn’t smoke where it would offend, or when I was with non-smokers. And I certainly didn’t throw my cigarette butts on the floor. But so many people do and I find it totally unacceptable. I’m prompted to write this by the arsehole who threw down his still lit fag end on the pavement outside Oxford Circus Tube Station this morning and which I then had to stamp out as it had rolled against a stack of bundled magazines outside of a news stand. Had he never heard of the Kings Cross fire of 1987 that killed 31 people? It all started from one dropped cigarette and prompted a total smoking ban on the London Underground. Sadly, Mr Inconsiderate was not the only offender; as I looked around I saw just how many dead butts there were, squashed and nicotine brown, each with an attendant ugly black smudge where it had been crushed into the pavement.

There is no need for this. Just as there is no need for chewing gum chompers to gob their used and tasteless mouth putty onto the pavement. Have you seen Oxford Street recently? The pavements are white with the stuff. After a sprinkle of rain the whole street smells of mint. Again, the problem is being tackled the wrong way. There will never be enough police officers or Community Support Officers or Street Wardens to catch and spot-fine every offender. But we can make chewing gum non-sticky. I'm pleased to see that Bristol University have done some work on this. But we're still a while away from seeing Clean Gum in the shops.

So, in the meantime dear smokers and gummers, please dispose of your beastly cast-offs in a more environmentally-friendly way. Make the world a nicer place not just for us that don’t share your habits but for those who do. I like to eat and drink. The cast-offs of those habits are soiled packaging and my own bodily waste. If I started spreading that lot around the place you’d soon moan.

And don’t get me started on spitting …

Photo credits: Top - Me in 1981. Middle - Taken by the excellently named Heathcliff O'Malley and published in the Daily Telegraph. Bottom - Courtesy of the Home Office.


willow said...

You know, in the US there is not nearly the cigarette butt and chewing gum problem that there once was, at least in the places I happen to be. The littering fines must have a lot to do with it. And I am glad to say I have smoked a few cigars, the cute little ones, but am not and never was a smoker.

Fun to see the younger you.

Michele said...

Ha! This is so perfect. We had just returned to our hotel room after fighting the crowds on Oxford Street when my son looked at the bottom of my shoe and asked if I was planning on keeping my souvenirs of the city streets. Gum, cello tape, and a cigarette butt had hitched a ride and I hadn't even noticed.

My husband and son thought my being a magnet for the sticky rubbish was just hilarious. Sigh.

All in all, I have to say, for the amount of people, London is definitely one of the cleanest places I've ever visited. I can't always say the same for parts of L.A. and Orange County.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Willow - I was a slim, fit 20 year old in that picture. Seeing it again brought back memories. Of being able to see my toes mostly.

Michele - Depends which part of London you go to. I could show you some places that would make you feel physically ill. Thankfully, they are very few and far between these days.

The Factory said...

You know you look just like Joe Orton in that picture. In a good way obviously.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Thanks for that Jed! I'll hope that the 'good way' you suggest is about the writing. I'd love to be able to come with a title as brilliantly ambiguous as 'Prick up your ears'!