Saturday, June 14, 2008
I'm not sure when Maxima first became suspicious that Minora was smoking, but as is the general rule, she guessed long before I had a clue. This sums up the difference between men and women: forget about Venus and Mars, men escape into articles by Jeremy Clarkson while women are slogging it out in the real world.
I am told I have a disciplinarian streak, but I believe I am far more disciplinarian in my children's minds than in real life. This is probably why Minora had turned several shades paler when I called her into the kitchen. She was, therefore, rather surprised when I produced a pack of ten cigarettes from my top pocket.
Maxima was out at the time, which made things easier. She'd given Minora a lecture on how Granny had smoked and had died of cancer. I had to interject to say that while this was true, my mother had started smoking during the Second World War and had died in 1999. And such was the pain of the rheumatoid arthritis that had tortured the spirit out of her for a decade and a half, death had come as a friend.
Mum had started smoking furtively like Minora, stepping outside, or smoking in the toilet and then imitating a fan, not totally successfully, with her hands. Her father, who saw action in Gallipoli and France in the first war and was now a sergeant in a prison barracks, sat her down and said: "Look, don't sneak away from me. If you're going to smoke, do it in front of me. Here's some woodbines - these are the last cigarettes I'll ever buy you."
He could do so with a clean conscience - although effects upon health of smoking were first raised in the Lancet in 1858, a link between smoking and cancer wasn't established until 1950. So far, so fair. However, the use of, for example, a knife by one human being upon another also has deleterious effects upon health, but the Government only appears to have woken up to this recently, and in its rush to remedy the situation appears not to have noticed that, in Great Britain, carrying a weapon without permission has been illegal for a couple of centuries.
However, I digress. I'm not particularly in favour of smoking - but neither am I particularly against it. It happens. So does death. If Minora doesn't smoke, what's going to happen - will she never die?
I am not trying to minimise the sufferings and the message of, say, Maureen Hamilton (above), the one-time glamorous jet-setter who allowed pictures of her dying days to be published in order to persuade young people not to start smoking. In fact, I am more anxious than ever for Minora to read Ms Hamilton's message and see the pictures. But I think it's noteworthy that in a key interview she didn't say "smoking should be banned", but rather "lighting up should be made to look uncool." She was skeptical about the age for buying tobacco being raised from 16 to 18, saying that the problem wasn't 16-year-olds starting to smoke, it was 13-year-olds taking up the habit. I heartily concur. You don't stop problematic behaviour by passing another law, merely for the reason that people who are behaving problematically, in this case adolescent smokers, tend not to read Hansard.
So, I admit it. I'm not into breaking the law, but I have done so by buying cigarettes for a minor. I am sure that the British Government has the ability to work out who I am from my posts. I will wait for them to come for me. While we live in a society where a paedophile gets a community sentence, a rapist is jailed "reluctantly" and an immigrant can kill a policewoman and then flee to a country he could not be deported to because it is deemed to be unsafe for the poor flower, I am sure that the full weight of the law will fall upon me because in engaging with real life I have done something you just don't talk about at dinner parties attended by the ideologically beautiful. I am here, and I am ready. I just hope they have the Express in prison.
Maxima came home to a fait accompli - Minora was sitting with a cigarette in her hand and an ashtray in her lap, looking rather uncool, very uncomfortable and thoroughly guilty. The rebellion value was, I would say, zero.
Clever chap, my Grandad.