The last smoker

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In Competition No. 2411 you were invited to supply a poem or piece of prose entitled ‘The Last Smoker on Earth’.

William Danes-Volkov wrote to me, ‘Anyone attempting this competition should read Garrison Keillor’s brilliant and terrifying story “The Last Cigarette Smoker in America”.’ Terrifying too is Thomas Hood’s poem ‘The Last Man’, in which a man who thinks he is the sole survivor of a global pestilence meets another lonely scavenger, quarrels with him, hangs him, and then realises with horror that there is no one left on earth who can perform the same office for him. Back to smoking (which I gave up a fortnight ago). This was a delightful competition which threw up a great variety of approaches. The prizewinners, printed below, get £25 each, and G.M. Davis’s unprosaic piece of prose earns the extra fiver.

The expression on Crawford’s face told Clarice Starling that this was going to be a VI-CAP priority. She suppressed a complacent smile, knowing what was coming. ‘I want to emphasise,’ Crawford said, ‘that this will be a purely voluntary assignment. I can’t order anyone to do it.’

‘Don’t worry,’ Starling told him. ‘I handled him before, I can do it again.’

‘What?’ Crawford looked puzzled, then recovered. ‘No — it’s not Lecter. If only it were. Take a look at this.’ He started the video, which Starling watched with accelerating horror. The man on the tape — outwardly normal, like Lecter — was ...She shielded her eyes, battling a wave of nausea. ‘I thought they’d all been terminated,’ she said, trying to keep her voice level. Crawford’s face was grim.

‘Me too. But the tape’s genuine. And we haven’t a goddam clue where he might be.’

G.M. Davis

If from the public way you turn your steps

Up the tumultuous brook of Greenhead Ghyll,

Atop there stands a notice, Smoking Zone,

The last in England. In it Michael dwells.

There he has spent the past half-century

Haloed in peace, philosophy and smoke.

His last companion faded years ago

And few have risked their health to see him since.

But now approaches Michael’s hundredth year.

Despite the joy of tabloid journalists,

Coach parties, and the Lakeland Tourist Board,

Grave ministers in London are aghast:

Spin doctors are afoot: Michael is ill,

Cannot be seen, his eyrie out of bounds,

His age in doubt, the Royal greeting blocked,

While Michael, on his fell, smokes on and on.

Noel Petty

I’m the last of the smokers, the wheezers and chokers

Who’ve paid through the nose for their habit.

Though I do not repent of the money I’ve spent

I regret that the government grab it.

I’ve paid single-handed for troops who have landed

On many a ‘peace-keeping’ mission,

The care of the barmy, and half of the army

Of boffins in nuclear fission.

On my own I’ve endowed the whole Whitehall crowd

Of servants both civil and un.

I’ve subbed Job Creation, the Arts, Immigration

And the harm that most quangos have done.

Today or tomorrow, to the Treasury’s sorrow,

I’ll be dead. But by then, knowing them,

They’ll have thought up a way to make someone else pay

Before I light up at the crem.

Martin Parker

Throughout his long, long life he’d smoked;

‘Rolled up with Raleigh!’ so he joked.

He wasn’t sure, but thought he might,

Have asked Prometheus for a light.

The only world he’d ever seen

Was filter-screened through nicotine.

Blends and brands beyond recall —

At some time he had tried them all.

He had no right, then, to survive

Until the age of ninety-five.

It was decreed this last pariah

Should die, as he had lived, by fire:

No ifs, no butts, due execration

Was followed by incineration.

(His ashes, though, when tossed aside

Described a phoenix, wings spread wide.)

W.J. Webster

I sit by myself in a quarantined zone.

I’m always despondent and always alone,

The butt of my neighbours’ contemptuous mirth

For being the very last smoker on earth.

I hate my addiction. It’s really no joke.

I’ve tried to give up but I’m hard-wired to smoke,

And when I seek help there’s a definite dearth

Of sympathy for the last smoker on earth.

I look on the bright side. At least I’m not fat,

And there’s many non-smokers who cannot say that,

But what is the point of restraining one’s girth

When one’s fated to be the last smoker on earth?

In future all habits will be nice and clean

As Homo nicotinus departs from the scene,

And meanwhile my role, for whatever it’s worth,

Is simply to be the last smoker on earth.

Basil Ransome-Davies

The last weed smoked of any type

On earth was Bert’s. He smoked a pipe,

Not smack or crack or even whacky,

Bert was quite content with baccy.

Lacking it one day, he chose

To smoke some petals from a rose.

He picked enough to pack and fill

The briar’s bowl, then lit a spill,

Igniting, as he should have feared,

Both petals and his ample beard!

Now roses mark the smouldering grave

Of one the world had tried to save,

And glowing words from Eliot

Sum up poor Bert’s unhappy lot,

To wit: ‘Ash on an old man’s sleeve

Is all the ash burnt roses leave.’

Alan Millard

No. 2414: Tittle-tattle

The most boring and embarrassing item in a newspaper is usually the gossip column. You are invited to supply up to 150 words of typically trivial twaddle. Entries to ‘Competition No. 2414’ by 13 October.