Sunday 18 August 2013

Looking Back Beyond the Smoke

Getting married was ace. It rained. I put on my Barbour and took it off again for the ten minutes when the sun came out. There are now several misleadingly bright photographs of everyone eating ice cream. This is why you can't rely on visual evidence alone. Friday, 24 May 2013 was freezing cold. I didn't and don't care one jot though. I've just married the most superb person ever. Lucky me.

Emerging from the “pre-math” and aftermath of getting married has meant that writing anything has been low on the priority list. Quite frankly, after writing eighty thank you letters can you blame me for not wanting to write much more? However, a stern word from my Boss has forced me to take action.

My husband has admitted to me that most things terrify him. Flying, missing deadlines and not knowing which tube stop to change at are make him edgy and sometimes a little sweaty.

I fear very little. Cows, snapping my fishing rod and high places on windy days scare me. I frequently wade in water as high as my waders (neck height) and up until recently I smoked. It's not that I am particularly devil may care but I accept the consequences of my actions. I enjoyed the sense that with every cancer making suck, I was making a point about freedom of choice and expression; my two fingered gesture to the goody-goodies. It's also just lovely. However, without putting any pressure on me, I could sense my husband's fear of my death. Having a smoking wife would have been an uncontrollable variable in his data set. I couldn't do that to him. So, I'm doing my best to stop and haven't smoked since my wedding day. It was also getting a little expensive.

However, here a four fags to remember, because I miss them.

1)             May 2000

It’s 5 o'clock in the morning of my history exam. I'm nervous. So many dates to remember. I'm trudging across the hockey pitches. There is a yellowed path along the grass from the sixth form block; the result of teenagers trudging towards the pavilion for an illicit fag. There was a line of trees and rhododendrons behind the pavilion, which was really a large rotting shed. I settled myself down on a stump with my revision cards spreading them out over my lap. I lit up and looked ahead to the meadows. My sight-line was obstructed by swaying branches. The sun was still rising. It’s golden light barely reaching the top of the tall meadow grasses which a trio of small deer were nibbling at.

2)             October 2000

We sat in a beige and wooden room with a disgusting carpet. Lines of crooked photos of former students drew my eye to a messy notice board.  It was our first afternoon of our first day at University. We were waiting for something I've no idea what. We said nothing to each other. The blonde girl grinned and drew out a packet of cigarettes. “I can’t be fooked with this” and she started smoking. I smiled and drew out my packet of Camels from my disgusting but in those days, painfully cool cardigan. The pale-faced dark haired boy then asked me in the strongest Essex accent in the world, “Can I ponce a fag off you?” We were firm friends from that day forward.

3)             May 2006

It’s my final exam ever it’s on Aquinas for my Masters. It’s in the Exam Schools, Oxford  It’s a strange building designed by Inigo Jones a scarily important architectural den.  Two hours have passed and I'm two essays down with one hour to go. I raise my hand and ask to go the loo. I need to wash my face, focus and gather my thoughts.
I stare in the mirror. A Russian voice comes out of nowhere. “Do you smoke?” It’s an aggressive whisper. I feel compelled to answer. “Umm, well, yes I do”. I say this in the quietest voice possible. It’s not allowed to speak in exams, right. She then throws a packet of cigarettes at me. “Here! Take Cigarette! Smoke!” It was an order, not a request but I'm scared. We could get caught and actually, I was sort of quite busy. “What the fuck are they going to do! Throw us out! Just smoke!” She then marches towards me with a lighter. Suddenly, I'm smoking, I'm smoking during an exam!

4)             July 2008

I'm fishing alone, my parents have headed downstream for some coffee and cake. Suddenly the river is bubbling, there’s a rise on. I cast to the general area and I'm in. The take is soft, so, soft. Nothing seems to happen, there’s no splashing. Suddenly there’s a pull. It’s a big pull heading straight downwards  It becomes clear, this fish is big and it knows what it is doing. When it shakes its head it feels heavy and slow in my hand. It’s a slow fight, I don’t want to lose it I want to put it back and make sure it’s well recovered. I actually will need help to net it. The bank is quite steep. No one hears me. I'm alone. After a time, the fish tires and I have struggle bringing it to the net, controlling a rod and net and fish whilst lying on one’s belly is tricky. I get him, remove the fly and hold the fish in my hands, cuddling him with my fingers allowing him to recover. Only in this quiet moment do I realise that my trout is easily four pounds. This was a stocked river but this fish had been in a fair while, you don’t become this big overnight.
I settle down on my bank and I try to light my cigarette but it’s really difficult. My hands are shaking.