Sunday 29 September, 2013 by Uncle Spike
Some people smoke. I get that, and in fact, I used to be one who was known to partake. And yes, I inhaled. I smoked regularly when I was younger, some 30 a day from the age of 16 to 24. I would say that I started much younger than that, maybe around 12, but my dear old mum might read this blog, so I’ll stick to age 16.
It was the thing to do, and all part and parcel of the scene to which I belonged. You see, we are talking back in the day then I was a biker chap, still am as a matter of fact, but then it wasn’t for the odd afternoon nip down to the bakers, but a way of life, a young spotty dude who could only be seen on 2 wheels. I also liked to frequent the odd tavern, wet my whistle most nights, and constantly wear a mixture of denim and leather, all adorned with sew-on-patches, badges and pins. So yes, I smoked. I kind of liked it too, and it wasn’t until a little later in life that it dawned on me that I wanted to make a move to the dark side; to become an ‘ex-smoker’, that semi-reptilian beast that is well known for making the lives of smokers worldwide a living hell. Actually, I tried not to be that oppressive, but equally, you won’t find me sitting pretty in a smoky bar these days, nor do I want my family anywhere near smoke, having also seen lung cancer up close and personal; and it ain’t nice, that’s for sure.
But health and habits aside, smoking was a way of life, and with it came a whole world of memorable recollections that I now write about a quarter of a century later (eek, now I feel especially ancient).
Smoking a cigarette was often like having your own built-in countdown timer. I can’t think how many times I would manage tasks based on smoking. For example, I would be waiting for a bus for ages and ages. After far too long had passed, you get to the point of taking that gamble; do I cross the road and walk towards the taxi rank, or wait for the bus, praying you wouldn’t be late. Almost certainly I know what I would do – have another cigarette first, just in case the bus was gonna turn up after all.
Smoking a cigarette was also a way of managing time in another way. As a biker, I often would ride fairly long distances. Like most bikers, we fall into one of two categories; either large and scary, or puny and stunted. I fell into the latter camp. And so, with less than ample padding on one’s nether region, most bike saddles were not all that comfy for me over longer distances. Add to that, the fact that biking safely takes a lot of concentration, so regular pit-stops were essential to any safe day out. My usual rule of thumb was to pull over every 50 miles (80 km) and stop for 10 minutes before continuing on my merry way. At every stop, I had a smoke. It was the perfect time-gap filler, and certainly not something I could have done very easily when riding.
At the time I gave up, I was bikeless, confined to 4-wheeled forms of transport, or the bus. It was a couple of years later that I started biking again as a marriage concession by my wife, or more probably, as a way of getting me out of the house with a hobby of my own. Anyway, what I do remember was one of my first long rides, from Poole on the south coast of England, up to Caernarfon in North Wales, a relaxing full day’s ride of some 290 miles (460 km). Off we went, bike all shiny, all fuelled up, luggage strapped on… After 50 miles we pulled off the A36 somewhere around Beckington. We got off. We stretched our legs. We waddled around a bit, ensuring that our rear-ends retook some of their original shape after our first stint back in the saddle. Then what…? Bored; couldn’t for the life of me work out what seemed to be wrong. Ah yes… I was supposed to have had a smoke, that was it! Even after a couple of years as a non-smoker, this was the first Bikers Break I had encountered. Sharing a piece of chewing gum just wasn’t the same.
The Smoking Elevator
This smoking related incident took place at the 40th birthday party of my wife’s best friend (sadly, both are no longer with us). It was in a hotel, don’t recall which one, but it was in downtown Swindon, a large town in the county of Wiltshire, in South West England. Swindon is situated midway on the M4 motorway between Bristol to the west and Reading to the east, with London another 40 miles (70 km) east past that. A ‘newtown’ or ‘expanded town’ as they were known, it is now a large place, most famous for its railway history, car production and an extraordinary experimentation with multiple mini-sized roundabouts (circular intersections, or traffic circles). The most famous one is called the Magic Roundabout – not one roundabout but five, the central point of which is a contra-rotational hub at the junction of five roads. It is a bizarre spectacle; very convenient for locals, who zoom across at light speed, but utter hilarity ensues when a non-native, or god-forbid, a foreign driver attempts to navigate from one side to the other.
Anyway, I digress, back to the party… Everyone was merry, with ample servings of drinks, music, dancing; you know, all the usual trappings of modern day merriment. Sometime later on into the party, around midnight I think, I went outside for a breath of fresh air, and to check that the rental car was still there. After 10 minutes or so, I wandered back into the hotel foyer, and at the same time, the doors of the elevator opened. There, in the elevator, stood a man in his late 30’s. When I say standing, I mean he was upright, and he was facing the right direction, but with a rather vacant expression on his face. His feet remained fixed to the spot, but his body swayed all over the place in the manner that liquid intoxication is famed for. Yes, he was well-gone. But he seemed happy with life.
Between his lips was a smoke, a newly lit king-size cigarette, pointing straight out towards those waiting to enter and ride back upstairs to the party. He stood. He swayed. But his brain did not manage to engage the feet into action for more than 17 milliseconds. Although he had moved forwards ever so slightly, he still remained ‘inside’ as the elevator doors started to close. The doors closed shut, the elevator rose, but the cigarette must have been caught between the doors as a small shower of sparks was seen to erupt at the very moment the doors banged shut. I don’t know what was funnier, the moment when we all looked at each other and burst out laughing, or the plaintive cry of the man in the now rising elevator…“It’s eaten my bloody smoke!”