My contempt for vaping deepened as vaping contraptions became more ostentatious and people started hanging them from lanyards around their necks. When Trev starting vaping, I lost what little hope for the future of humankind that I had left. He puffs on his elaborate dummy non-stop when we go out. The first time I gave it a sceptical look, he took it out of his mouth and offered me the wet end. ‘Have a taste,’ he said. ‘Blueberry and cream flavour. Nice, isn’t it?’ ‘Ponce,’ I said.
During this summer’s Spectator cruise, smoking was banned except on the starboard side of two decks. It was a bit of a nuisance, especially on windy nights. One day we berthed at Heraklion, Crete, and took a taxi to visit the archaeological site of Knossos. The denseness of the crowds there, and the barging, and the gimcrack reconstructions, were depressing. After about three minutes I fled to the row of souvenir shops by the entrance and stayed there, browsing placidly among the tat until our party re-emerged from the rocky trenches sweatier and none the wiser.
In the first souvenir stall, rechargeable vaping sticks in a range of attractive colours were half price and the young woman in charge of the stall was a perfect ten. I expressed an interest in her special offer. She took one from the box, filled it with liquid, put it between her lovely lips and tested it. Then she handed it to me to try. Flavour of peach. It didn’t seem to be working properly. She took it again and got up a head of steam and passed it back. I had another go. She was kindness itself as we worked on my technique. When I think today of Sir Arthur Evans’s painstaking excavations at the Minoan palace at Knossos, I see only those lips, and the great rolling plume of vapour she expelled from her healthy lungs, and the two smaller plumes that came out of those wonderful nostrils. She was Ariadne to my Theseus. I said I’d take it, and she threw in a free bottle of peach flavour and told me to have a nice day.
From that day at the end of August, I’ve been vaping. Result: I’m ten times more addicted to nicotine than I ever was to cigarette smoke. But vaping is better for my health by a factor of ten, apparently. And although my craving is out of control, I can satisfy it virtually anywhere I please, including, if I am discreet, on buses, trains and best of all on aeroplanes. I’ve moved up from my Minoan vaping stick to a more complicated vapouriser called a ‘mod’ and ‘tank’, which is a big, solid, articulated unit that looks like nothing on earth. It has a console of tiny buttons that light up with which I can regulate the amount of vapour that comes out. No doubt an upgraded model with inbuilt Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a touch screen is in the pipeline. Grasped in the fist in the same manner as the traditional bunch of keys, a ‘mod’ and ‘tank’ vapouriser will also give me an unfair advantage in our traditional Christmas Day brawl. Best of all, the hipsters have taken to these outlandish, heavy-duty vapourisers, I’ve noticed. All I need now is a spade beard and a cloth cap and I’ll be right down with the kids.
Lately my nearest vaping supply shop has been in the town of Brignoles in the south of France. Brignoles is notorious across Europe because 57 per cent of a 47 per cent turnout voted for the Front National in the 2013 local elections. Worried, the Guardian and the Independent sent reporters down to Brignoles in the wake of the election results to try to understand why. (Poverty, they concluded, rather snootily, was the underlying cause.)
The Brignoles vaping shop is a meeting place for French hipsters, who sit around in their tweeds puffing benignly on their mods all day like a load of pensioners. The proprietor, a young hipster from central casting, sells a broad range of most unlikely liquid flavours, such as Kenyan coffee and tutti-frutti. When I go in, I amuse him by asking for intensely political flavours, such as Raoul Salan’s kepi flavour, or Frantz Fanon’s backless slippers, at which the lads all snigger intellectually into their long beards. The last time I was in Brignoles, depressingly meagre Christmas lights swung from lampposts in the shopping streets, but the vaping shop was convivially full of thoughtful beardies as usual. I went up to the counter. ‘Have you got,’ I said (the proprietor was already smiling with amusement), ‘any Christmas pudding flavour?’ Why yes, he had Christmas pudding flavour, he said, suddenly all businesslike. Bien sur. He had mince pie and custard flavour, too. Also pink champagne. What strength would I like and how many?