One of the good things about not smoking any more is that yesterday I did not get told off by a seven year old.
My daughter and the rest of her Year Two classmates were out on the streets of Caldas da Rainha to mark national no-smoking day by waving placards and handing out leaflets to any unfortunates they saw smoking. It seems social action gets younger every year.
Fortunately things have moved on since I was a kid and their efforts were met with good humour and appreciation. I was brought up in a time when cigarettes were associated with a world of beautiful women, speedboats, fast cars and lives of rugged glamour in the great outdoors. It was a time when children did not dare suggest lifestyle changes to the adults around them.
I made just one misguided attempt after an over-enthusiastic teacher told us that if we really loved our parents we would get them to kick the habit. Looking back I possibly picked a bad time to communicate this zeal to my father.
I can see now that he was having one of those moments at the end of a long and stressful working day when the pool of pleasures available to us as adults appears to be shrinking daily. At times like those smoking becomes a treasured treat that we guard and hang on to with all the ferocity of a rabid dog.
So nagging my Dad about it while caught in a bottleneck of Friday night traffic was perhaps a bad idea. I remember his Texan plain glowing red hot as he waved it about in the air, the steering wheel being thumped for emphasis, a voice so angry it felt like the windows would explode and my mother’s efforts to calm him down. The rest of the journey continued in icy silence and I never raised the subject again.
It could have been worse. My brother-in-law tells the story of how he once asked his mother to stop smoking in the car. She pulled over to the side of the road, kicked him out and drove off. It was night-time, they were four miles from home and he was just seven years old. He stood there alone in the dark until his father realised what had happened and went to fetch him. As far as I know my brother-in-law has never touched a cigarette.
I on the other hand smoked happily for 30 years and would still be smoking were it not for the savage coughing in the morning and the certain knowledge that it will kill me well before my time. Some people are born to be clean-cut and good-living with their honed bodies and polished faces, and some are born to smoke and drink and party through the night. I fall enthusiastically into the latter category.
The thing is I like smoking and I like smokers. I’ve never subscribed to the view that smoking is a disgusting habit. It doesn’t even make sense to me. When I set fire to a pile of leaves in my garden no one comes over to tell me I am committing a disgusting act. Ashtrays are just ash and tar, a bit like my fireplace and I’m very fond of that.
I’ve had some great times while smoking, and at parties would always head for wherever the smokers were hanging out simply because that was where the most fun was to be had. But now it seems as if hardly anyone smokes. None of our friends smoke and our living rooms are always fresh and bright the morning after.
Smokers are now pushed to the borders of society where they lurk on park benches and on street corners and hide from kids waving placards. I know that the end of smoking will make for a better society, longer lives and a healthier environment for our children. But I can’t help feel a little nostalgia for the old days of smoky pubs, shared cigarettes on winter beaches and a lit cigarette keeping me company through the night as I hammered away on a keyboard. The truth is I’m a natural born smoker. I just don’t smoke anymore.