Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Farewell My Lovely

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Farewell My Lovely

Article excerpt


Smoking is not only set to be stubbed out in Italy and Ireland. It is also being branded as unfashionable.

Pete Clark considers giving it up - next week TWO bastions, some might say the twin bastions, of the smoking world are currently under fire. In what is being widely regarded as a highly co-ordinated pincer-movement, legislation is being drawn up in the Republic of Ireland and Italy which will dramatically affect the puffing classes. In Ireland, the Public Health (Tobacco) Bill is to be amended to include public houses.

The Italian Government, opting for a more sinuous approach to the matter, is proposing an act which, while not banning smoking outright, will insist that purification systems are installed in all workplaces - including bars and restaurants - to guarantee each person 80 cubic metres of clean air per hour. This appears to mean that the Italian smoker will, henceforth, be obliged to ply his or her trade in an air-conditioning gale, but they will surely find a technique to cope with that.

Whether you are a smoker or not, there must be a tinge of sadness at the imminent dismantling of a pair of romantic images, both of which have been burnished to a deep glow by the cigarette smoke of centuries. Consider the Irish pub - the real Irish pub rather than the sham shamrock establishments which proliferate in London. The door opens on a timeless scene, a bunch of men hunched comfortably over pints of Guinness or Murphys, the conversation embracing everything from horse racing to the influence of Spinoza on Samuel Beckett, the words approaching the state of poetry. What gives this image its peculiar distinction is the smoke which envelops the proceedings like a sea mist blown in from the Atlantic. It softens the sharp edges, and blurs the harsher sounds. These are the exhaust fumes belching from the engine of conviviality.

On tables are scattered packets - Major, Carrolls, Churchman and the immortal Sweet Afton with its couplet from Robbie Burns - and tins containing the blackest of shags. This is the fuel that, when combined with the contents of a pint pot, makes the engine purr.

Now, consider the Italian bar. Here, the energy is electrical rather than deriving from internal combustion. The men and women are perched on tall stools, or pacing the floor. The male of the species is a study in kinesis, his body convulsed with jolts of espresso. The female, who handles her coffee rather better, maintains an enigmatic silence, punctuated only by the occasional rasping phrase, which I have always translated as: "You don't know what you're talking about." What links the men and the women is the presence of a cigarette between index and middle finger.

The men wave theirs around, rather like a child with a sparkler. …

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