Tuesday, 30 March 2010

On the road again

Smoking should be banned in all cars as well as in public places where young people congregate, doctors are urging. The Royal College of Physicians wants England's imminent review of anti-smoking laws to consider such measures to protect the young.
(BBC News)

This story, featured on the news a few days ago, apparently in order to really annoy middle-England Daily Mail readers, reminded me of my childhood. Before you ask, I didn't spend my formative years smoking behind the wheel. But my Dad did - and so we all joined in. There wasn't really much choice in the matter.

My father used to be regularly wreathed in smoke. As a pipe-smoker, he would be surrounded by his own personal cumulonimbus wherever he went. He maintained that smoking a pipe had its advantages over cigarettes, as he could effect a scholarly air when asked any difficult question.

"Hmmm," he would always say, drawing on a new and glowing bowl of rough shag, "it's a good question. But I think that would be an ecumenical matter." Which would be a little odd if he'd just been asked what he wanted for dinner. But we never challenged him on it.

Once a year we'd be packed into the family car for the annual holiday. Dad in charge, Mom navigating, three boys unwillingly sharing the back seat in a way that would these days have the Health & Safety bods reaching for the Valerian.

Early on, the steed of choice was a Morris Minor. Following on from this was an extraordinary machine called a Moskvitch, made in Moscow and the only brand new car he could afford at the time. We never saw another one in all the years he had it. It was eventually succeeded by a bright yellow Datsun with vinyl black interior. Carrying your kinds around in something like that these days would land you a visit from Social Services, but it was the seventies, after all.

Anyway, having been woken at some ungodly hour and decanted into the back of whatever sorry pile of machinery Dad was driving that year, we'd bounce along the highway to a largely unknown seaside resort or caravan park where we could spend the next seven days watching a different county's rain.

Dad would get a pipeful of tobacco on the go and would puff away as we negotiated the A38 through Lydiate Ash. Winding down the window, he would be blissfully aware that sparks were flying back into the eyes of his three sons.

I swear I'm not making this next bit up. I've tried to rationalise it, but I actually do think it happened. No pipe can burn forever, and even Dad would need a rest from the Condor ready-rub once in a while. He'd hand the pipe to Mom for safekeeping. Then, half an hour later, he'd want it back.

Now I don't know if you've ever seen someone getting a pipe up and running, but it's generally a two-handed job. You need to clean it out, fill it out with fresh tobacco, tamp it down then light it, breathing slowly in to get air flowing through the tobacco.

Despite the casual safety standards of the day, even Dad would have baulked at taking his hands off the wheel for ten minutes. He must have asked Mom to help. This is probably why I recall waking up from a slumber to the sight of my saintly mother, lighter in hand, gently pulling at the pipe in her mouth as clouds of smoke began to rise. I seem to remember we overtook another vehicle at that precise moment, its driver doing a comedy double-take at the respectable 40-something woman making a bid for Pipesmoker of the Year in the passing Soviet hatchback.

This is where I would say something like, "Never did me any harm." I'm not entirely sure, though.

1 comment:

Dory said...

My dad smoked a pipe for quite a while, too. The smell of pipe smoke brings back memories.

Dory at Can't Remember Diddly

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