Saturday, February 11, 2017


I was at the movies yesterday and the usual pre-screening announcement about "no smoking" in the theater reminded me of this experience of my teenage years...

Smoking was strictly forbidden at my boarding school, and punishable by "six of the best", if caught. So of course any rebellious teenager worth his salt took to smoking--behind the hedges, in the woods,  in back of the chapel, wherever a safe place could be found.

It will seem strange to anyone much younger than myself, but in those days--the fifties--the seats in every cinema were conveniently provided with an ashtray affixed to the back of the seat in front of it. You could smoke to your heart's content throughout the movie presentation, without fear of recognition or discovery in the dark.

Unless I was particularly flush with pocket money and I could afford my preferred Dunhills, my usual cigarettes were the working class man's Woodbines. They were tiny, thin cigarettes, about half the size of your normal smoke, and they came in small green packages of ten, for what...? A shilling or so. They could be inhaled quickly, on a working man's break, and snuffed out with a tweak, if necessary, for relighting at a later grabbed moment.

So at every opportunity--my school gave half-holidays on Saints' Days, for example--when we were allowed off school grounds for the length of an afternoon, I would choose to go to the cinema. No matter what the movie, I would light up as soon as the lights went down and chain-smoke through the end of the performance. No matter that I'd return to school feeling sick to my stomach...

God knows what damage to heart and lungs was caused to movie-goers those days. I remember, the air was thick with tobacco smoke. It took me another forty years to begin to undo the damage to myself that I cheerfully started during those teenage years. If it hadn't been banned, would I have chosen a less destructive, and eventually less addictive path to rebellion? Who knows?

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