My boy, and almost all the members of his family on his mother’s side, are dedicated smokers. Cigarettes are the joy and consolation of their lives. Whenever I go abroad, they take up a collection and I am handed a wad of money to buy and bring back as many tax-free fags as possible. When I went to Egypt recently, I was given money for cigarettes by his mum, his Aunty Pat, his gran, his mum’s next-door neighbours, by Tom and Glenda at number 47, and by Betty, a lady my boy works with, who really shouldn’t be smoking as her circulation is so bad she can hardly walk. Because Egypt is a non-EU country and Christmas was coming up, they really lumped in.
I guessed that cigarettes in Egypt might be among the cheapest anywhere and I took my biggest suitcase — plus another collapsible one for hand luggage — with a view to buying an extra couple of thousand on top to give my boy a decent Christmas present. It sounds a bit irresponsible, I know, giving your child cigarettes for Christmas, but he’s currently spending £200 a month in Morrison’s for just 800, so a hefty consignment of duty-free fags would be the best Yuletide gift possible.
I went to Egypt to write a Style and Travel piece. But the weight of expectation from my boy’s mum and her co-financiers was so great that the commission to buy cigarettes caused me as much anxiety during the week as my journalistic one. The simplest plan would have been to stock up at the duty-free shop at Cairo airport before the return flight. But would these fags be the cheapest? And could I guarantee that there would be a duty-free shop, and that it would be open?
I’ve been caught out before.