I spent last weekend in London, having a lovely summertime catch-up with my nearest and dearest. The balmy weather only served to confirm what I had already suspected – it is always sunny in England. This is a well-kept secret that is denied very regularly by all Brits, in an attempt to keep the otherwise marauding hoards at bay.
On Saturday night, I was in a pub in Angel with some friends and the moodiest, least pleasant pub manager in the world. I don’t want to be too blatant about it, but…the pub is called The Angelic and although the location and food are lovely, in my opinion the manager is far from charming. I got a bit huffy. That aside, we had a lovely evening.
There was something different though. I couldn’t quite work out what it was at the time but the following morning as I woke up and breathed in the fresh morning air, it hit me….the fresh morning air was fresh. There was no rancid fag aroma on my pillow. The smell of my own hair did not make me wretch.
It’s a bit of a different story in Prague, where smoking is banned in work places and on public transport, but is basically allowed everywhere else, at the café/restaurant/bar’s discretion. How I miss the smell of fresh, clean air in bars, clubs and restaurants. How I reminisce about being about to wear clothes out in the evening and not needing to wash them immediately the next day. How I resent having dry clean my winter coat every other week, as it has absorbed the odour of someone else’s nicotine habit.
I should point out that I am a massive hypocrite in this respect. I spent nine and a half very happy years puffing away. I was not a ‘social smoker’ but was properly addicted. I smoked morning, noon and night (although after a few years I gave myself a ‘not before midday’ rule). I didn’t think it was particularly cool and I knew smoking was bad for me. I drew the line at dating another smoker (why would I? On anyone except me it was always a nasty smelly habit, and I have massive double standards) but I carried on smoking – that’s what addictions do, I suppose.
I am also the worst type of ex-smoker. Inexplicably (and probably quite annoyingly for everyone else) I managed to quit on the first try and have since become a militant anti-smoker. I think I have become extra sensitive to the smell – I don’t really like people smoking near me outside in the otherwise fresh air, but I absolutely hate it inside cafes and restaurants. It makes me gag a bit, hurts my eyes and makes me feel like I’m suffocating. I ‘smell’ it on hubby sometimes and accuse him of having smoked. He does not, and has never, smoked, so this is completely in my mind. Apparently the constant accusation is annoying…
Some people have said that smoking in Czech pubs is part of the culture. I think that’s a fairly feeble excuse. The French are historically associated with the fug of smoke surrounding the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre who sat contemplating the deep stuff fag in hand, skinny women with even skinnier cigarettes, and Chanel’s cigarette pants. Old British pubs and working men’s clubs were traditionally somewhere that men especially would go, to nurse a pint and smoke a fag (or pipe – old school). Yet both England and France have had, and enforced, a smoking ban for years. Cigarettes aren’t part of a culture; they’re just a bit rank.
Worryingly though, the horrid, stale smell sometimes reminds me of what I’m ‘missing’ and I occasionally find myself inhaling extra deeply when I’m sitting near a smoker, to try to give myself a little nicotine hit. I’m not an idiot, I know that addictions don’t go away so quickly, if ever, and that one slip-up might spell the end of the self-righteousness that I currently enjoy so much.
So take your cigarettes away please. I am happy up here on my high horse. One slip-up and I might fall off entirely. So do not blow your smoke in my direction and do not allow me even a drag of yours, even when I ask very nicely. Or I’ll huff…and I’ll puff…