Smoking is the leading cause of Statistics: The History of The Cigarette

January 10th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

In my dreams I smoke. Last night I dreamt that I was sitting at a large kitchen table; I had a cigarette in one hand, a penknife in the other. I was carving the letter u into the wood. The letter f was already there. I was pissed off. I always smoke when I’m pissed off.

Yesterday I sat on the patio of a beautiful hotel, at a corner table in the shade, a light breeze on my back to keep me cool in the afternoon sun. Opposite me sat a gorgeous couple. He had a blonde beard and wore a white linen shirt.

Peep-toe high heels graced her feet; a black pencil skirt and silk red blouse clung to her body. Her hair was scooped back in a slick ponytail. She looked impeccable. She smoked continuously.

She reminded me of a latter day factory girl from Seville; the legendary cigarreras who are the reason that cigarette smoking is considered so goddamn sexy in women.

They were the inspiration for the feisty Carmen, the Spanish gypsy girl who wore her clothes loose, her morals looser and wouldn’t be caught dead without a smoke hanging from her juicy lips.

Carmen and her kind emerged in the days before industrialization when cigar-making was a delicate process that could only be done by nimble hands. Prior to 1829 no women had worked at a Seville cigar factory. That year astute fabrica-owners decided young single women were the answer to production problems and the cigarrera was born.

They worked sitting on factory floors, thousands of girls crammed together in large sheds baking in the hot Seville sun. They worked naked.

There was no other way to cope with the heat in those stultifying conditions. Hence, their reputations as wanton harlots evolved and the idea that women who smoked were wayward took hold across the western world, in much the same way that tobacco addiction itself took hold, like a rampart fever.

Actually, that’s not true. It was the French who were responsible for the fever in the case of the cigarreras. Seville was the birthplace of the cigar in Europe and with it came the whole package of old world romanticism. Cigar smoking was for the machismo, the poetic, the player and the elite.

The cache cigars earned stemmed from their dual appeal to aristocrats at one end of the social ladder and the bandoleros at the other. The bandoleros were smugglers who, like today’s hash smugglers, hid tobacco up their bums; the more they could carry, the more man they were.

Funny how men can dismiss their homophobic fears when it comes to breaking the law. Needs must. ¡Vamonos. Arriba!

Cigar smoking’s curious blend of macho chic attracted the French literati to 1830s Seville in their droves. One of those writers was Prosper Mérimée, a prominent figure in the French Romantic movement. When he encountered the factory girls of Seville he was so inspired, he penned Carmen. He and his fellow writers returned to Paris totally enthralled by the cigarreras and their cigarettes, and thus, the most famous word the French have given the world was born.

When they wrote about the cigarette, they always referred to it in the feminine and so a link between smoking and sexuality was forged. Smoking had always been the domain of men. The cigarette changed all that.

The romanticism associated with the cigarette is a far cry from the days when the Spanish Inquisition tortured to death anyone indulging in what they considered to be the satanic practice of smoking. Also a far cry from today when cigarettes smokers are brandished weak victims of an evil vice. The language has changed little in four-hundred years.

If it wasn’t for those factory girls, Marlene or Marilyn or Betty or Rihanna wouldn’t be smokers. If it wasn’t for those factory girls, I or my friends or my mother or my granny would not be smokers. Of course there was also a more virulent machine at work, American tobacco companies, hell bent on global domination.

They did everything to ensure we all smoked from creating unforgettable icons to drugging us. Mention Marlboro, you picture a macho man in a cowboy hat. Those tobacco boys did a good job on us. We were easy prey.

In 1967 it was proved conclusively at the University of Michigan that nicotine was the reason people smoked. The addictive quality of nicotine answered a question that had plagued scientists for centuries: why smoke?

But today we know all this and the question, why smoke has psychological implications that smokers, as a rule, largely ignore. We know it’s bad for us. We know it’s killing us slowly, that we’re utterly dependent. We know it reduces fertility and causes heart disease and lung cancer and yet the tobacco industry is robust.

In times of war, cigarettes and tobacco before them, were doled out to the fighting soldiers. Actually World War I is one of the reasons smoking became such a permanent fixture of twentieth century life. Prior to the war, smoking was loosing its sheen, but the soldiers smoked in such huge numbers that by the time they returned to civilian life, they were guaranteed puffers until their phlegm-filled deathbeds.

While they were fighting they smoked to calm their nerves, feel a bit normal, take a moment to steal away from the horrifying reality that surrounded them. That possibly gives a more precise clue as to why so many people continue to smoke today.

Don’t all of us have days when we need to calm our nerves, feel a bit normal, steal away from the reality that surrounds us?

The beautiful woman opposite lights another cigarette. Her man can’t take his eyes of her. He’s entranced. Me too. She doesn’t mind being a statistic, this proud, sexy, smoking woman. This perfect woman with the heart of a bandolero. I smoke when I’m happy too. In my dreams I smoke.

 

 

Man, Are you a Blockhead?

January 10th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

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I have come to the conclusion that there are a significant percentage of men who suffer from a little-documented but widespread affliction called ‘rightitis’ which basically means that no matter how idiotic they are being, they still believe they are right.

On its own, rightitis is not a harmful condition. But when brought into contact with a headstrong female, there is a strong possibility of frustration at best and relationship breakdown at worst.

Abusive language, fists through doors, windows off hinges, broken plates and that kind of thing are not uncommon in these instances.

Sadly there is no known cure for rightitis. The male appears to be born with the clumsy chromosone and try as he might to educate himself, the mind-numbing affliction lays dormant until the day that he feels enough confidence in himself to inflict it on the world.

The symptoms are universal but vary in their extremity from quietly obstinate to downright belligerent.

It doesn’t matter the specific personal circumstances of the male sufferer. He can be a dot com billionaire or a street dwelling bum; both have the power to be utterly deluded, happy to take a podium and blather total shite if randomly provoked.

The saddest outcome of this affliction is that very few males like to suffer it alone. You see they can only truly feel whole when they are lording it over someone else, so it’s likely he has recruited a pack to assert his prowess in any given field.

It occurs to me that here’s how it rolls: amongst men there is a consensus, as long as the bullshit is steeped in jargon it’s true so there isn’t any need for annoying questions.

Men are pretty much unanimously agreed on the suggestion that if there are any annoying questions, they will come from a woman. They don’t like this as it can potentially cause a number of male elements to rise: chiefly blood pressure, anxiety, impatience and voice.

This applies to explanations about off-side rules, car breaks, plumbing, extreme sports, spiritual living, food, wine and about any other God damn topic that has managed to develop a language of jargon in order to validate the worthiness of the activity for the man in question.

When they are forced to explain something, the explanation is accompanied by lots of heavy sighing, face scratching, eye rolling and a look of incredulous disbelief.

Cooking, typically female terrain, provides the perfect example.

For centuries women boiled potatoes, hacked and grilled meat, peeled and stewed vegetables. Meals were hearty and nutritious and people who could afford to eat did so and lived long (ish) lives.

Keen to blunt the impact of Fanny Craddock and Delia, Keith Floyd came along and did everything in his power to create a blaze in the kitchen and on TV screens across the country.

A whole new food vocabulary evolved. Recipes became works of art. Tiny portions and elaborate sauces became the flavour of the day.

Suddenly housewives across the western world were no longer satisfied with their Sunday special of glazed ham and plum sauce. And the kids were demanding sauté vegetables and risotto.

All those years, Delia Smith put into creating simple TV dinners, vanished overnight.

Although she dominated TV kitchen land in the 70s and 80s, no one ever thought to stick her in a real kitchen and have her treat unwilling minions like pig swill until they mastered the fine art of cooking up a feast under inhumane pressure.

But then good old Delia bought a football team. She came on TV and swore like a sailor. Every one was dutifully surprised when it transpired she was more foul-mouthed than Gordon Ramsay.

She should get a new cooking show. I can see it now, Delia and Her Kitchen Devils or Delia’s Wooden Spoons.

But I digress.

Women do that. It’s our wayward brains. Makes it impossible to have a logical conversation with us.

I suppose it helps that men always know what they are talking about and are always right. Makes things so much easier for us gals to understand.

 

 

My Dog is a Lush

January 10th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

 

529910990_imagesaas_f_improf_1198x897I live in a town called Tarifa. A port town, the transient locals never really feel settled until they own a dog, so the place is infested with them. From Pekinese to German Shepard, every breed is represented. And then there is one special breed of the town’s own making, the Tarifa Dog.

The Tarifa Dog is recognisable for its extreme independence, stubborn manner, excellent survival skills and quick temper should anyone attempt to interfere with its food.

The king of Tarifa Dogs is a mutt called Tafu; skinny, gnarly and father to half of the town’s canine population, Tafu is something of a legend. He is always on the prowl.

But it wasn’t a desire to join the legacy of Tarifa’s canine lore that inspired me to get a dog. My motivations were much more childish. I wanted a Labrador. I had a Golden Retriever when I was younger and was heartbroken when someone stole her.

I searched various pet shops but no waggy tails caught my eye. When a friend said his mongrel had just given birth to nine puppies and some of them looked like Labs, I hot-footed it over there.

They say that an owner never chooses a dog. The dog chooses the owner. When I spotted the nine six-week-old fluffy pups tumbling about on the floor my heart melted. It was impossible to choose one.

We played with them all trying to make out individual personality traits. One pup was particularly friendly and stood out because of her funny nipples. On a second visit, a little golden furball kept following me. When I finally picked her up, I saw it was the funny nipple dog. That was it. I took her home.

That was two and a half years ago.

When I first got her I realised I had entered a whole world of dogginess. First there’s the accessories, the coloured cushioned beds, the collars, the leads, the bowls; a girl could spend an entire afternoon on doggie accessories, but that might be a tad extravagant … also sad. This is the south of Spain not Venice Beach.

Taking her out for a walk was another doggy door-opener. Other dog owners stopped me to ask was it a boy or a girl? How old was she? What mix was she? Then they would ooh and aah over how cute she was. It was a world of doggie fluffiness.

As the years pass I understand more the lure of puppies for seasoned dog owners. It reminds them of a time when their own outsized hairball was cute and manageable. For a moment they remember moments of serenity that don’t involve tearing across fields and beaches in the vain hope of catching said outsized hairball.

My dog grew up fast. Unruly and feisty from the get-go, she quickly became a natural on the streets and a lover of nightlife. By the time she was six-months she was sociable, strong-willed and popular.

From an early age she liked to roam the unknown and the habit has not ceased with age. She relishes every moment free of the leash by racing down the beach at break-neck speed or slipping off into the back alleys of Tarifa.

She is always on a mission, always busy. Sometimes she likes to hook up with the other dogs round town and has her favourites. While some dogs are just good for a quick bum-sniff, others she regards as her fur-bond friends.

She has very little time for male dogs in general. If they bother her too much, she’ll attack. Can dogs be gay?

Despite this intense dislike for the male canine population, there is one mangy mutt whom she adores. I am sure their relationship is platonic because he’s been ‘done.’ He looks somewhere cross between a Spaniel and a Hedgehog.

He’s short, stumpy, shaggy and follows my dog at every opportunity. When they see each other, the two take a running leap at each other, then with my dog taking the lead, they bounce and dash off into the horizon.

This dog is owned by a spinster in her fifties. I have an innate dislike for the word ‘spinster’ with all its Victorian connotations, but there is no other way to describe this woman. Black-rimmed glasses, grey black hair worn in a lank pony-tail, clothes from a depressed era.

She has an epileptic fit every time she sees my dog coming and for good reason. One occasion after an all night bender – when they go they don’t come back till the next morning – her dog arrived back barely able to walk. Most likely a car him so her nervousness is understandable.

I have no idea what they do all night. Sniff out the best bins. Eat out of bins. Hang out with other dogs. Sniff each other’s asses. Sniff other dogs’ asses. Scour the beach for dead carcasses. Play with dead carcasses. No doubt it’s a night of non-stop full on woof madness.

And when she finally arrives home, her routine is always the same. Two full days she spends barely conscious on the couch. Yes folks, she sleeps it off.

The first day she is comatose while I wonder what whirlwind of activity could tire out a dog who otherwise makes the Tasmanian Devil look docile. The second day, she might move, but only because she has to go to the loo. Business done she’s back to the couch.

Some say that a dog assumes the traits of its owner.

I say, no chance! This bitch knows her own mind.

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