Guest Post: Don Ostertag

Don spent his working life in Theatres, and has many wonderful tales to tell of the people he met, and some of the quirky characters on the stage and behind the scenes of showbusiness. His writing style is like an enjoyable cosy chat, and his blog is a joy. So I am delighted to feature a guest post from him today.

https://donostertag.wordpress.com/

OLD JAZZ VOICES

Louis Armstrong had a sold-out gig at Northrop Auditorium at the U of Mn.. The band drifted in from the bus for the sound check, but no Louis. The road manager told me that Mr. Armstrong didn’t take the bus and would be along shortly. I relayed this to Eddie Drake, the Comptroller of Concerts and Lectures. Eddie checked at the end of sound check and did not like it that Armstrong had not made it yet.

Come half-hour and still no Louis. Eddie Drake was getting nervous. The road manager told him no sweat, Louis would along.

The opening act went on and still no Louis. By now Eddie was beyond nervous. The last thing he wanted was to have to call off the show and return the money for the full house. The manager assured Eddie that Mr. Armstrong would show up soon.

The opening act was were playing their encore and Drake was standing in the wings signaling them to stretch it out when I got a call from the Head Usher.

She told me Mr. Armstrong was in the front lobby and asked if I could come up and bring him backstage. If he was still there when the audience broke for intermission they would mob him for autographs.

I told Eddie and he signaled the act to keep stretching.

Drake was waiting when I escorted Louis backstage. He was livid. Normally, after he has a glass of water and vodka, his nose takes on a red glow. The glow was redder than usual and even his cheeks were looked like they were on fire.

He glared at Armstrong and asked why he was so late. But he didn’t wait for an answer. He made a crack about professionals arrive on time.

The manager walked over and reminded Drake that he told him Louis would be coming. And nobody calls Mr. Armstrong unprofessional.

‘Well, Eddie said, looking up at the manager who stood a good half a foot taller than Eddie, ‘Maybe unprofessional is too strong. I should have said it was inconsiderate. He should have been here for sound check.’

Louis, who until then, answered laughingly, ‘Oh, I know how those boys sound. And those boys know how is sound. Sound does right for them, it’ll be right for me.’

‘Mr. Armstrong doesn’t need to be at sound check,’ the manager said,.‘Besides I told you he had things to do and would come when he was finished.’

Drake said that an act should be in the theater at half-hour.

Louis laughed again and said the first half-hour call was for the opening act. He showed up at the half-hour before he had to go on.

I tried not to laugh. Eddie was so angry, even his high forehead was red.

The manager took Louis by the elbow to walk him away; but Eddie wasn’t through. He continued his rant. Louis stopped and turned back to him.

It was evident that Louis Armstrong was having fun. He had that familiar smile on his face and a glint in his eyes.

Eddie threw out what he considered his biggest reason why Armstrong should have been in the Hall with the rest of his band. “What if your instrument didn’t arrive? When you come this late it would be impossible to get you another one in time for the show. Did you ever think of that? Huh? Huh?’

‘Well then I’d just blow one of the boys’ extra horn,’ Louis replied, reaching into his shirt pocket and pulling out his mouthpiece.

‘It’s not the horn, man.’ He held up his mouthpiece. ‘It’s the mouthpiece. Fits my lips good. Always carry with with me so I don’t lose it. Had it since I was jamming on the street for nickles. This is the instrument that counts. Put it in any horn and old Satchmo is ready to blow.’

‘Tell you what,’ Louis continued, ‘Get me an empty peach can. I’ll cut a hole in the bottom, stick my mouthpiece in the hole, and I’ll go deep, seriously deep.’

Eddie shrugged his shoulders, threw up his hands, and went back to his office. He needed another glass of his special water.

Louis turned to the road manager and laughingly asked, ‘Something I said, you think?

‘Yeah, I wonder if you’ll be laughing if he comes back with an empty peach can,’ the manager said. ‘I know I will be.’

PS: The audience got what they came for that night. What a concert! Mr. Louis Armstrong gave us what we wanted to hear… even if he was fashionably late to the theater.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

If James Lombard, the founder and ‘Impresario’ of the Concerts and Lectures at the U of MN, had his way the season would be nothing but classical and operatic soloists, artists he looked up to; but the Regents decreed that there be one jazz concert each season. The season after Louis Armstrong, had, in my opinion, two main acts in one concert, Wes Montgomery, great jazz guitarist, opened the concert, followed by Cannonball Adderley on alto sax. Eddie Drake told me it was a package deal. Only nine musicians total in the two groups. He said they alternated as to who opened and who followed.

Wes Montgomery opened. He had broken into mainstream jazz a few years before. He was backed up for this concert by his two brothers, Buddy and Monk and an organist. They didn’t disappoint. Instead of the usual 30 to 45 minutes for the front act, they played a full set, with encores, almost an hour and a half. No jealousy from the ‘main’ act. Most of them were in the wings enjoying the Montgomery boys.

The sad thing was that a few weeks after this concert, Wes Montgomery died of a heart attack.

(Six years later I worked a Duke Ellington concert at the Guthrie, and the Duke died shortly after.)

Cannonball Adderley had also been adopted into mainstream jazz a few years before. He had his brother, Nat, on coronet. Nat was the one constant in any of Cannonball’s quintet. The other three positions fluctuated musicians over the years.

At intermission I was surprised when I saw James Lombard stride in backstage. He never came for concerts he considered beneath him. Later, Eddie Drake told me that Lombard showed up because he was curious to see any one who was named Cannonball.

Lombard always looked the part of an impresario, the man in charge. Tall, broad shouldered, distinguished gray hair. Suits that cried they were too expensive for most men.

He always walked as if all eyes were on him and with his height advantaged he looked down on most everyone he talked to. If you looked up the word pompous in the dictionary, you would probably see a picture of James Lombard.

I was waiting for Lombard to come up to me when Cannonball Adderley tapped me on the shoulder.

‘Hey, man,’ he said, ‘Who do I see about the bread? Never play a gig without the bread upfront.’

I brought him over to where Lombard had stopped. Then since it was a money talk, I walked away, but I didn’t get far before Lombard called me back.

‘Don,’ he said in his low bass voice, ‘Would you send one of your crew to Dinky Town and bring back a loaf of bread? Mr. Cannonball says he has to eat before he goes on.’

Cannonball looked at me and slapped his forehead.

I explained to Lombard that Adderley didn’t want bread bread. Bread was jazz talk for money. He meant he wanted the money upfront before they played.

Lombard stiffened up and said, briskly, ‘He should have said spoken in English. Bread! Bring him down to see Drake. I don’t have time for this nonsense.’ He gave a loud haroomph and walked off stage. He got what he came for. He met the man named Cannonball.

‘Hey, man, is that cat for real,’ Cannonball asked me, ‘Or is he jiving with me?’

I told Cannonball there wasn’t a jive bone in that man’s body. He was born with the stick up his…

‘Cat needs to loosen up,’ Cannonball said. ‘I got some gooooood stuff…bet that would mellow him out.’

PS: Another great concert even if Lombard didn’t hang around to listen.

In these days of darkness, I suppose the method of mellowing out prescribed by Cannonball is a favorite among many people. As for me, I found that my day goes better if I start it out by listening to Louis singing…

WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

I see trees of green

red roses too

I see them bloom for me and you

and I say to myself

What a Wonderful World

And that is a wrap for today. Please, please, listen to the medical experts and Stay Safe.

Oh, if you want to read a tale of a famous musician that didn’t make it to the theater on time, here’s one you might get a kick out of: https://donostertag.wordpress.com/2013/05/18/screamed-james-brown/

Visit Don’s blog for more great stories like this one.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

How Old?

I went to bed last night thinking about age. Not my own age, but the age of other people. Those who were stars in my youth, and are still alive today.

I know how old I am, and when I was a teenager, I knew those film stars and singers were older that me. But as I have grown older, they started to get old. Very old. They did this seemingly without me being aware that there was still the age gap that existed when I was watching them on screen or stage. Of course, many have died too, but it is the living ones who are in my thoughts today.

Twitter has many users who habitually congratulate celebrities on their birthdays. There are others who mark the birthdays of famous people who have been dead for perhaps fifty years. Occasionally, the great age of some living stars that I expected to not be much older than me comes over as startling.

Olivia De Havilland, famous for her roles in films as diverse as ‘Gone With The Wind’ and ‘The Snake Pit’ was 104 years old this week. Yes, 104! In my youth, I was greatly attracted to the stunning actress Gina Lollobrigida. Today, she was 93 years old. 93? How is that possible? Do you remember Eva Marie Saint, the American actress? She was 96 today and was born one week before my own mother!

Genvieve Bujold is an actress I used to watch in films like ‘Anne of The Thousand days’, and Coma. She was 78 today. 78! And the delightful Leslie Caron, star of ‘Gigi’, ‘Father Goose’, and ‘Chocolat’. Wait for it, she was 89 years old on the first of this month. 89!

There is something very wrong about all this, and has it dawned on me what it is.

I am a lot older than I ever imagined.

Not just celebrities

The Internet and blogs have been awash with blog posts and articles about the amount of celebrities who have died during 2016. I even posted a tribute to David Bowie myself, on this blog. And as the year went on, it didn’t seem possible that so many famous people could pass away, in such a short space of time. With all the tributes, emotional memories and recollections, vigils outside houses, and television specials, it is understandable that the deaths of so many ‘ordinary’ people might be overlooked. But it is not only celebrities who have left us, during this cruel year.

In the early hours of this morning, my beloved Aunt Edie died.

She had never written a book.
She never made a record.
She was never in a film.
She had never appeared on TV.
She never had to deal with a well-publicised drink or drug problem.
She never had to ‘come out’ in public.
She was never hounded by paparazzi.
She didn’t have to cope with rich parents who didn’t really love her.
She never appeared on the front page of a national newspaper.

But to me, she was as famous as anyone could ever be. Brought up in South London, enduring the Blitz, and working hard all of her life. She raised two lovely children, and gave them the chances that she had never enjoyed herself. She outlived her husband, both of her sisters, and her only brother. She loved her family, and was well-known for playing the piano, banging those ivories all night during long parties of sing-songs at my Grandmother’s house.

When I was young, we all lived together in the same house, and she was as good as a second mother to me, when my own Mum was out at work, or off somewhere with my Dad. She went on to become the redoubtable landlady of three South London pubs, following a family tradition started by her own uncle. Whenever she could, she helped other family members, raised money for charity, and supported her husband when he became terminally ill. She never forgot her roots, and personified the hard working-class life that made her the woman that she was.

In her latter years, she retired to rural Essex, but even when she became infirm, she refused to let any medical problems get the better of her. In a final gesture of her innate social responsibility, she even donated her body to medical research, so that future generations of doctors might learn from the circumstances of her demise.

I will miss her much more than I will miss Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, George Michael, David Bowie, or any of the other celebrities that I never met.

I will miss her more than she will ever know.
Rest in peace, Edie. You were much loved in life.

Whac-a-mole

Whac

 

Whac-a-mole is a fairground/arcade game that involves hitting toy moles with a mallet, as their heads pop up out of the five holes on the game’s surface. For a better description of this, please see the following Wikipedia link; that is if you are not already conversant with the general idea.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whac-A-Mole

I have a different concept of my version of this game, call it a fantasy, if you will. In my version, the machine would be large; large enough to accommodate humans. It would sit in a cellar, or shed, somewhere out of earshot, and away from prying eyes. Inside, would be the people that annoy me the most. The smug, the self-important, the self-satisfied, swollen of ego, and enjoying undeserved reputations. Those that think that they really are ‘it’, and that their music, or skills, or humour and personality are beyond criticism. They believe that what they have to say is important, and that they hold a relevant, and distinguished place in society, if not in the World itself. They see themselves as the epitome of fashion, pillars of the establishment, and believe themselves intelligent, attractive, and above others. At least, that is how I perceive them to behave; which is enough for me.

They would be ‘collected’, in some unknown way, and installed in my giant ‘Whac-a-mole’ look-alike. If they popped their heads out, for food, water, or probably just to say something that they believe is important, then they would get a good whack with the mallet. They get just enough sustenance to keep them alive, so as to prolong my enjoyment of malleting them over a period of many years. Whenever I was unable to fulfil my role, due to illness, holiday, or some other indisposition, I would make my machine available to other like-minded individuals, who would stand by, mallet ready.

So, who is on my list so far? Who, in the fantasy of beetleypete, deserves such a fate? I have no doubt that many of you will not agree with my potential candidates for insertion into the machine, to face a life in fear of the random mallet. However, it is my idea, my newly-disclosed desire, so there!

Bono. Who can like this insufferable, sunglasses-adorned, Irish warbler? (Even his ‘one name’ is so annoying, it makes me fight for breath. His real name is Paul Hewson, what’s wrong with that?) Not me, that’s for sure. he is in pride of place.

Russel Brand. This completely unfunny, so-called comedian. Devoid of charisma or personality, yet seemingly famous for his ability to seduce attractive, though generally stupid women. He gets a spot.

Bob Geldof. Former punk band front man, now turned spokesman for anything and everything Geldof. Given a knighthood, and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, yet such a bad singer, he couldn’t fill a pub’s club room. A talentless big mouth of the highest order. It wouldn’t be my Whac-a-mole without him.

Paul McCartney. Once the co-writer of some good songs. Now an ageing, dyed-hair embarrassing, trading on former reputation, elderly scouser. He just can’t let it go. Into the machine with him.

Jimmy Carr. Desperately humourless, tax-dodging, supposedly entertaining, panel show pundit and latter-day comic. He looks weird, as if from another time (possibly the future), and of a sex somewhere between male and female. He must be one of the smuggest people to ever grace the planet with their presence. He has to be in the box.

There are so many more, I am sure you will agree. Lord Sugar, Terry Wogan, (the worst wig in the country), George Osborne (just for being alive), and I haven’t even started with the women yet. Chris Martin, Brian May (he almost pipped McCartney), musicians featuring heavily, I know. It is because they believe themselves to be so important. Boris Johnson, for pretending to be a buffoon when he clearly is not. Cliff Richard, for refusing to age and die, like a normal person. Tracey Emin, for pretending to be an artist, and making pretentious fools believe it too. The list just goes on, and on, and on.

It is fair to say then, that they should all be in there. Trouble is, there are only five holes in a ‘Whac-a-mole’. I’m going to need a much much bigger machine…

Smoking

When I was very young, everyone I knew, with perhaps three exceptions, was a smoker. My Mum smoked, as did my Dad, my Grandparents, almost all of my Uncles and Aunts, and all the family friends. Smoking was normal. In the street, on the bus or train, in shops, cinemas, theatres, everyone seemed to be smoking. The only place I had never seen anyone smoke was in a church. If you visited someone in hospital, they had an ashtray next to their bed. Cigarettes were sold everywhere; in pubs, shops, railway stations, cafes, restaurants, and even from vending machines in the street. If you are under 40 years of age, you would find it hard to believe how acceptable it was to smoke.

Furniture was even sold with built in ashtrays, in recesses in the arms. Cigarette boxes were coordinated with other ornaments, and every room would have a selection of ashtrays, of all shapes and sizes. These ashtrays were usually the most popular gift to bring someone from a holiday, covered in sea-shells, or bearing the name of the resort where you had spent your summer break. Novelty cigarette dispensers were also popular, at least with the working classes. My Grandmother was very proud of a plastic donkey that she had received. It carried a box on its back. When filled with cigarettes, the large ears could be pulled forward, the tail would raise, and a fresh cigarette would appear out of the donkey’s rear end! This fascinated me as a child, and I would happily play with it for hours.

Cigarettes, and cigars, as well as pipes, were common gifts for Christmas and birthdays, and they were always well-received. In the build up the the Festive Season, the tobacco companies would prepare special gift ranges. Cigarettes would be packaged in larger numbers, in 50’s or 100’s. They would be sold in special tins, or large boxes with nice designs. Cigars were considered the height of luxury, and were much too expensive for the average worker. So, the companies made sure everyone could afford to buy some, by adding smaller packs, of 2’s and 5’s, or selling single cigars, in stylish metal tubes. All of these would be passed around in the pub, or at family parties.

Offering cigarettes to guests was as natural as offering tea, food, or alcohol, and it was often the role of the children of the house to make this gesture, while the adults chatted and made small-talk. I recall an onyx cigarette box, with matching table lighter and ashtrays. In my mid teens, I would offer this around to callers at the family home, and light the cigarettes of those who took one. Pipes are almost unseen these days. Then, pipe smoking was common, and a good pipe was an expensive item, frequently given as a gift upon Retirement, or when reaching a birthday of a certain age.

There were few distinctions on smoking between the classes, except perhaps for the brand of cigarette, the cost of it, or how it was smoked. Richer people, celebrities, and a lot of women, would use a cigarette holder. This came from the days before filter tips, when the paper, or small bits of tobacco, would stick to the lips, and lipstick would smear the end of the cigarette. In my circles, using a holder was considered very upper class, or effeminate, depending on the person. Smoking was not discouraged amongst the young. Some men felt that boys should be smoking by the time they were 14, or at least have tried their first cigarette by then. It was seen as a rite of passage, along with your first glass of beer, and losing your virginity. Is it any wonder then, that by the age of 16, I was desperate to become a smoker?

There were two main reasons why I had not started before. Although cigarettes were affordable to all, by comparison with today’s prices, I didn’t really have a lot of money, as I had decided to stay on at school. More importantly, I was afraid that I would cough, or smoke in a funny way, fail to be an accomplished smoker, and let the side down. I resolved that during the coming summer holidays of July 1968, I would buy some cigarettes, and give it a try, teach myself to smoke when there was nobody around.

I had already decided which brand to try. Benson and hedges, in the gold packet that looked like an ingot. Luxury personified, and King Size, so marginally longer than most cigarettes. They had a filter too, so would not be as harsh as the still popular ‘Plain’ , or non-tipped brands. I bought 10 cigarettes, and a box of matches. There was no question that the shopkeeper would serve me, as there was no age restriction on the sale of anything. A small child going to buy sweets would often be given the extra money to bring home cigarettes for their parents.

This was a time when a child could buy fireworks, knives, or anything that they had the money to pay for. I went home, and lit my first cigarette. I decided to read the previous weekend’s copy of the ‘Sunday Times’ newspaper as I smoked it. This somehow seemed appropriate. I had been studying every adult I knew for the last ten years. I knew how to smoke, what to do, how to hold it, even when to flick off the ash. And there I was, no coughing or choking, no ‘going green’ and vomiting. I was pleasantly light headed, felt totally relaxed, and enjoyed the whole experience. I was now a smoker. I had chosen a path that would affect my future, cost me untold thousands of pounds, and ultimately be responsible for my demise. I couldn’t care less. I was finally like everyone else. I could pass my cigarettes around to friends, and freely accept those offered to me. I would no longer be the outsider, the teenager who didn’t smoke, the only male I knew, over the age of 15, who wasn’t part of the mainstream. I had arrived.

At first, I didn’t let on to my parents that I had started smoking. In fact, I did not smoke openly in front of them for some years. This may seem a contradiction, after all the reasons I gave to want to start smoking but it had dawned on me that it would be too expensive to be perceived as a smoker. I would have to keep up with my parent’s phenomenal smoking rate, accepting and offering cigarettes with the same frequency that they were used to. I just wouldn’t be able to afford it.

If this all seems strange to the reader in 2012, you may have to look into the archives, watch some old films, or newsreels, to get some understanding of how smoking was just a part of life back then. Watch any footage of The Duke of Windsor (Edward VIII) from the 1930’s, through to the 1970’s. You will almost never see him without a cigarette in his hand, or hanging from his lips. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, Princess Margaret was usually seen smoking, as were other members of the Royal Family. Churchill, with his cigar, Roosevelt with his cigarette holder, Stalin with his pipe or Russian cardboard cigarette. These men won the War, so we were told, and they were all, always, smoking.

Every person of importance, every Film Star, or leading actor and actress, Television presenters, popular entertainers, politicians, soldiers, airmen, sailors, even some sportsmen. They all smoked. In the case of Film Stars and actors, they also endorsed cigarettes, appearing in advertisements for different brands. Product placement was widespread, as cigarette packets were being shown in every film or television programme. Even in historical films, set in the time before smoking was so common, you would see someone smoking a clay pipe, or a cowboy rolling a cigarette from what looked like newspaper and dust. If they could have got away with it, they would have had ‘Ben Hur’ lighting up after the chariot race. In war films, everyone smoked. Cigarettes, and their availability would be part of the narrative.

Brands would also be mentioned. ‘Give me a Lucky’, a reference to the American brand ‘Lucky Strike’, was a common line in film scripts. German prisoners would ask for cigarettes, then declare with a huge grin, ‘American tobacco-good’. Red Indians and U.S. Cavalry would smoke peace-pipes, with the wise old chiefs thinking for a while, then, upon exhaling a cloud of smoke, they would also say ‘ your tobacco-good’. Wounded soldiers, in films or in actual newsreels filmed at the front, would be given a cigarette before a bandage. Anyone due to be executed would always request a ‘last cigarette’; the most important thing that they could think of to do before death, was to enjoy that last smoke.

The advertising employed by the big tobacco companies had to be seen to be believed. Anyone who was not around at that time would be amazed at the quality and concentration of it. With the advent of commercial television, tobacco advertising had found its true home. Mini feature films, many years ahead of the pop video, extolled not only the benefits of a particular brand, but also the coolness and desirability of smoking. There had always been the hoardings and the newspapers but these were nothing compared to the opportunities that the film and TV industry opened up to the advertisers.

Like many of my generation, I can still recall the jingles, and the catchphrases, the individual scenes, and the association with brand colour, that dominated the world of advertising before the ban. Brands had a market that they aspired to, as much as consumers had a brand that they identified with. Rothmans and Peter Stuyvesant had airline associations. Jets arriving, pilots checking watches, lighting cigarettes for attractive hostesses in bars. Marlboro had a rugged image. The Marlboro Man, a modern cowboy, riding into the scorching sun of south western America. Some brands played on their name. Guards used cigarettes as cartoon Guardsmen, complete with bearskin hats. Senior Service traded on the association with the Royal Navy, using animated cigarettes playing the part of a crew on a sailing ship.

Some were less direct. The famous cinema advertising campaign for Benson and Hedges showed no cigarettes at all. It featured lizards, swimming pools, abstract images, with just a tantalising glance of a gold packet, in there somewhere. The importance of all this money spent on advertising cannot be stressed enough. Like a Pavlovian dog, I now recognise red and white as Marlboro, black and gold as John Player Special, green and white as Consulate, gold as Benson and Hedges, blue and white as Rothmans. I don’t ever need to see the packet, or catch sight of a cigarette. I am brand aware, until my dying day. Try to imagine the ‘Thriller ‘ video, with Michael Jackson smoking, and recommending a brand. Or Duran Duran all lighting up on the deck of the sailing ship, with the brand name emblazoned on the sail, and you may have some idea what I am on about.

None of the above is offered as an excuse, or an apology for being a smoker . I am well aware that many thousands of others, subjected to the same imagery, bombarded with the same advertising, or watching the same films, chose not to smoke. In many cases, it did not even occur to them to try. I had always wanted to smoke, and everything else was just confirming to me that it was a good idea.

At the time, most non-smokers that I met seemed pretty dull. All the people I wanted to be like, or to look like, or to be with, were smokers. Cliff Richard didn’t smoke but Jimi Hendrix did. Most pop groups would smoke live on stage, tucking the lit cigarette into the strings of their guitar as they played a solo. The biggest star entertainers of the day, like Frank Sinatra, smoked on stage, on TV, and in interviews. All the hard men and lovers in films smoked, and the non-smokers didn’t get the girl, or kill the bad guy. Look at the Spaghetti Westerns. Clint Eastwood as the man with no name, chewing a cheroot, unstoppable, impossible to kill.

When I later joined the Ambulance Service in London, smoking had started to become less popular. Many of my colleagues had never smoked, and for the first time, I found myself in a minority in the workplace. However, I needn’t have worried, as I soon discovered that most of the Doctors and Nurses I met were heavy smokers, so I would have plenty of company for what became known here as ‘fag breaks’. I then recall hearing something about the stopping of sport sponsorship by the big tobacco companies. Then, there was talk of smoking being banned on all public transport, and airlines. Restaurants and cinemas started to have ‘smoking sections’, and companies began to make smokers use ‘designated areas’.

Civil Litigation had crossed the Atlantic, and every big company and organisation was getting worried. Could someone sue a place where I once worked, because they had allowed me to sit smoking, next to someone who later developed breathing difficulties? If someone saw an advertisement for tobacco at a football match, decided to smoke for 40 years, then died of lung cancer, who could the family sue? Suddenly, smoking was the new Leprosy. Places to smoke started to disappear fast, those havens falling like dominoes. Transport and planes, gone. Restaurants, gone. Public Buildings and staff rest areas, gone.

Then came the final indignity for the poor smoker. The British (and Irish) pub, traditional home of the smoker since tobacco arrived from the New World, gone. This was probably one step too far. The pubs have gone too. Thousands closing all over the Country, few new ones opening. The ones that still manage to keep going can be spotted by the fact that most of their customers are standing outside, smoking. The pavements of Central London, on any given evening, are blocked by the crowds smoking outside bars. Fun people smoke. Lots of drinkers like to smoke, and the vacancies left behind by the expulsion of the smokers, have not been filled by the non-smokers who complained in the first place. Pubs have pretty much become restaurants that serve drinks now, and one day soon they will be consigned to history, along with ashtrays on the back of bus seats.

A life spent smoking for 44 years. I tried all brands, then settled on the American style of Marlboro/Lucky Strike after all. With the exception of my wife, and my step-children, I hardly know anyone who smokes anymore. Strangely, few of those now gone died of smoking related problems, though my poor Mum suffered many years of breathing problems as a result of her lifetime of smoking. The taxation on cigarettes is making them harder and harder to afford. The cost of two of us smoking far exceeds our weekly grocery bill. As we have moved to a different house, we have decided to smoke in just one room. Otherwise, nobody will ever visit us again.

Former smokers amongst our friends seem to find it the most difficult. As for visiting anyone else’s home, be prepared to smoke outside, away from the doors, in any weather. If they get their way, the authorities will soon ban smoking in all Public Areas, even outside. A further ban in private cars will follow, and then your own home, probably for insurance reasons, you will be told.

If the Government really wanted people not to smoke, they could just ban the sale of cigarettes completely, destroy all the stock, and forbid the importation of tobacco. They won’t do that though, they have too many friends in the big Tobacco companies, and they need the untold millions in tax revenue. Truth is, smoking is not on a national decline. There are still around 15 million smokers, about 1 in 4 of the population. This is a smaller figure than in the 1970’s but still significant . It is more common in working class areas, and is increasing in popularity with young women. This is all probably a bad thing. I don’t pretend that smoking is not detrimental to your health, and I have to accept the very real possibility that I will die of something awful that is smoking related.

However, the Government has to realise that banning something in places, not allowing the product to be seen, and not permitting it to be advertised, it a sure way of making it seem more attractive to the young. In my day, I was proof that advertising and familiarity caused me to smoke. In years to come, it may well be that the opposite is true, and the youngster of today starts smoking because it is unseen, frowned on by their elders and betters, and it has become cooler than ever.

Got to go now, I really need a cigarette after all that.