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Diary

Diary

The smoking ban approaches with terrifying speed

18 April 2007

4:39 PM

18 April 2007

4:39 PM

The smoking ban approaches with terrifying speed. I fear that all my righteous indignation, my libertarian instinct, is merely the frightened whimper of an addict whose last crutch is being kicked away by the men in grey suits. When I drank — and I drank a lot — I couldn’t imagine a life for myself in which I wasn’t drinking. When I eventually stopped, nearly four years ago, the reality of life without debts to bars, being slapped by women I was sure I’d never met, and a perpetual hangover was so pleasant that I wondered why I hadn’t stopped sooner. I want to stop smoking so should be grateful to a government that is making a decision for me. I can’t, however, imagine myself not smoking. If I didn’t smoke, what would I do? Jog? Finger rosary beads nervously at parties? Chew gum after dinner and after sex? I feel about July the way Tony Blair must feel about May. I am, however, prepared, and am halfway through replacing one addiction with another. It’s as if my subconscious knows that the smoking has got to go and that, with a little arm-bending from the state, this will happen soon.

***

My new addiction is to auction catalogues, and now that most auction houses post them online I spend hours trawling Christie’s for anything weird or beautiful. I search ‘Skull’ and ‘Erotic’ and always — such are the mechanics of supply and demand — get a hit. My latest fix was an early 19th-century ape’s head carved out of wood. It was bizarre and ugly and I had to have it. Bringing it home, I’d hoped that Sara, my fiancée, wouldn’t notice it. The ape’s open mouth, protruding tongue and intense green glass eyes rather gave the game away. On seeing it, Sara said, clutching the charms on her necklace, ‘I hope you haven’t brought evil into this house, Oscar.’ ‘What is that?’ friends ask when they come to my flat, pointing at ‘Ape’s head c. 1830s’. My great fear is that the ape will answer them in a shrill falsetto and that I have, indeed, brought evil into the home. But evil is too strong a word. I have brought kitsch into the home and am only guilty of bad taste — that most common crime of all.

***


Sara has her own addictions. These include eBay, ‘celebrity’ magazines, and telling me off for putting used tea bags in the sink. The eBay she can keep, if I can keep my auction websites. Her magazines, however, make my skin crawl. They describe, in the excruciating detail usually reserved for DVD-player instruction manuals, the routines, feeding and mating habits of famous people. The famous are referred to by their first names because, depressingly, we know their last names. I often catch Sara curled up on a sofa reading about how Paris has fallen out with Nicole because Nicole shagged someone called Jake, who once shagged Paris. This schoolyard gossip about the rich and attractive is not only mind-numbingly boring, I’m sure it’s also bad for people and should be banned. Pictures of celebrities holding takeaway coffee seem to make up the editorial backbone of Closer or Heat — ‘Jen spills skinny iced latte over new Ugg boots’. The more one reads these rags, presumably to get closer to the celebs, the less likely you are ever to meet one of them. I buy Sara books to try and tear her away from the literary equivalent of a lobotomy. So far, Nancy Mitford, Jane Austen and even Marian Keyes have all lost out to the intoxicating and mystifying moreishness of Becks and his ghastly wife.

***

Global warming is in the air. In Australia they are spoilt for good weather and take the beach and the sea and the sun for granted. In England we have our sun rationed — even if the portions are growing in size and intensity as our icebergs melt like the last cube in an hour-old gin and tonic. The sun comes out and everyone — in London at least — seems to take their clothes off. Hyde Park was a sea of pink last weekend — I couldn’t see the grass for the flesh. I loved the urgency of it; the English ‘bugger off, skin cancer; balls to hay fever’ attitude of it. This might be the last sun we see all year, but if the Independent and people who drink algae, kelp or seaweed of any kind are to be believed, this is but a taste of things to come. I managed to find a patch of green that wasn’t covered in dog poo or slightly pissed office workers. I left dehydrated and itchy two hours later wondering what Capability Brown would have made of all this. Thirsty, I joined the queue at Pret A Manger for a drink containing a fashionable berry. I couldn’t decide between the goji and the rather passé cranberry.

***

Dinner at the revamped Scott’s. Lemon sole, nettle soup, and no smoking — Scott’s, along with Le Caprice and The Ivy, has pre-empted the government by banning smoking. I survived the meal and got a taste of life without a dependence on nicotine. Exactly the same as my life now — only without cigarettes, ash, reeking ashtrays, death stares from mothers and coughs from their babies, and a tongue the colour of sulphur. I walked home from Mount Street to Pimlico. It was balmy and slightly muggy; people were dining outside and drinkers clustered around pubs. London had the whiff of the Continent about it. If I’d squinted, it could have been Athens or Paris or Rome. I got home and, thumbing through one of Sara’s magazines in the presence of Ape, lit a cigarette — something that, for now at least, remains legal.

***

Oscar Humphries is a freelance journalist and writer.


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