Merrie England Still Exists
I wish I was still a real cigarette smoker instead of a brain-fuddled alcoholic hanger-on. When I make one of my occasional cross-country forays by coach I watch with envy as, at the comfort stops, the nimble footed addicts are out of their seats and into the elements, faster than a fox with hounds on his tail, and already disappearing in a cloud of homemade fog, lungs going like the clappers of hell, phlegm flying in all directions, before the driver has finished opening the door or the rest of the crew have prized open their sleep-glued eyes.
Then, while their travelling companions are huddled over jam and drink spattered tables in the rip-off glare of the Services, trying to work out whether they are drinking tea, coffee or urine, our intrepid band of devil-may-care, brown fingered, ‘Whose afraid of the big bad C,’ warriors, are out in the God-given air, come sun, rain or snow, forging bonds of fearless companionship, as only the rejected, despised, outlawed and condemned can do.
Sensing the revival of a long lost breed, last seen in the bulldog stubborn Englishness of Robin Hood’s men, ‘Us against the world; Whose afraid of chemo and the surgeon’s knife,’ type of hero who once accompanied Raleigh and Cook on their voyages of discovery, and Nelson at Trafalgar, I feel I have no option but to join them. To do anything other would make me a lesser man – a gutless chicken of a total abstainer.
And so, forgoing the curly butties and soggy pastry of the Services; the bookshop; one armed bandits and McDonald’s; I weather the weather with my modern hero’s, inhale their passive smoke, assure them that I am one of them at heart, an ex smoker with tattered lungs, a heavy drinker with an addled brain and rotting liver and early onset rigor mortis; not up to their high standard maybe, but still a Merry Man at heart; cough and spit with the best of them; join in their merry banter of lung shadows, morning coughs, X-rays, lobectomies, pneumonectomies, cold turkey, stunted growth and breathlessness.
And sometimes, just sometimes, they accept me as one of them. And then, for one fleeting moment, I feel,
“Sod Your Five a Day Real!”