Strike A Light. January 2015.

Dear Rowley,

The heaven of finding an unfamiliar Alec Guinness film, The Scapegoat, at the Cinema Store on Upper St Martin’s Lane this week. Finding a Bette Davis cameo in said film is the cat’s pyjamas. Having long mourned the loss of Centre Stage, the theatrical CD and DVD shop on Monmouth Street,  it is a comfort to know the Cinema Store basement DVD department is still run by men who can say ‘we’ve got 50% off on Bette and Joan’ in the full knowledge that we all know the polari.

Darling, I’ve been having a ghastly identity crisis having given up the gaspers before Christmas. As you know I’ve smoked ever since Rachel Corker corrupted me in the playground at Moorbank. When first offered a cigarette I gamely told her I’d given up. I was thirteen at the time. Anyway, it was love at first puff I’m afraid and I was still at it having jumped the broom into my forties.

Like a theatrical prop in the hands of an old ham I’ve leaned on cigarettes to enhance my performance in any given situation. Breaking the habit has always defeated me largely out of boredom and, perhaps, nerves. One can go for days thinking ‘free at last’ and taking exaggerated breaths before caving in to the tedium of life without cigarettes and sparking up forthwith.

Thus far I’ve gone for weeks not days smoke free despite the odd lapse when I put twenty in my mouth and lit them all at once. Admittedly the lungs do feel lighter and the brain clearer though I must agree with all the Cassandras that glamorous pictures of people one admires smoking do make one’s throat scream for tobacco.

One only has to look at a smoking classic such as Now Voyager to long for the taste of a St Moritz. There’s no getting around the fact that smoking in an era when it wasn’t demonised looked impossibly glamorous. Perhaps I wished I lived in that era when everyone smoked and nobody gave a toss about the consequences. Then again perhaps not or I wouldn’t have stopped kidding myself that sublime cigarettes were not a form of slow suicide.

Far be it from me to be a born again health nut darling. I managed about eight hours of Dry January and don’t think I go for more than twelve without topping up my blood sugar with lashings of Prosecco. At some point in everyone’s life one has to start playing the odds to enjoy one’s pleasures. I’m with Noël Coward on the subject of personal satisfaction. He famously wrote ‘my philosophy is as simple as ever. I love smoking, drinking, moderate sexual intercourse on a life diminishing scale, reading and writing (not arithmetic)’.

Apart from the smoking that arguably killed Mr Coward, I am with The Master word for word. There is a proviso that I would put reading and writing at the top of any list of pleasure albeit closely followed by a tot of gin and a glut of totty. As age encroaches I do tend to view sexual intercourse not on a life diminishing scale but in its place. Sex has driven men and women mad. It is probably the main reason most marriages break down.

Sex is a desire that can frustrate for hours/days/months/years yet can be satisfied in five minutes. For this reason alone we should put it in perspective. Build a marriage on it or gamble a fortune to achieve it and you’re going to slip on the banana peel like Laurel or Hardy. I can’t say either of us have been immune to the charms of a young swain with cow eyes and big thighs. Who hasn’t? But I know we’d both trade a million lustful looks for one that says ‘sleep easy while I watch over you’.

Anyway enough about the bump and the grind. I’m rather more interested in the match and the light this evening. Honestly I can spend a very happy working day without a thought for a cigarette but come 8pm I am longing for a reward. I pour my glass of Prosecco. I put my trotters up and watch a happy-making movie. But I don’t light a cigarette and that has always been my mental trigger if not to switch off then to kick off and enjoy.

So what else is new on the Rialto? Well, apart from showing nerves of steel not high tailing it to the corner shop to buy fags I am showing remarkable restraint. I am waiting on confirmation of a new book project that could be fun and a half and confirmation that another project will not happen thus closing a chapter in my life that should have closed an awfully long time ago. As Lucia would say ‘we shall see what we shall see’. Until next time…