Tuesday, August 16, 2011
1980: They want us to join their fighting
I used to despise smoking. But of course, once everyone else was doing it and it you knew it was bad, well, you just had to find out what all the fuss was about didn't you?
Well I did.
I've never been one for peer pressure as such, though in the early days of these things mattering in your life it was a different story. That said, I tried to show that I wouldn't be cowed, even when I really wanted to do something I knew I shouldn't. Sometimes though, you've just got to.
Smoking never bothered me. Dad smoked, Uncle Tony smoked, everyone smoked. On buses, in pubs, in shops, in houses. No one said a word when our next door neighbour used to light up while doing the school run. We'd be in the back and he'd chainsmoke all the way, windows closed. Not ideal, but these days he'd probably be in court for that. But what did bother me was friends smoking.
I was properly shocked when I saw Vivienne Walters smoking outside the newsagent. 'And she was always such a nice girl!', I thought. I was totally taken aback. But then as I subsequently discovered, she wasn't the only one. Far from it. Everyone was at it. Classrooms smelt of smoke, it was in the air. There didn't seem to be much they could do to stop it.
She immediately fell in with what were considered a bad crowd, who at the time were really quite scary and all seemed really hard and clearly much, much older. They used to gather to smoke on the way home or at the local lake. I was terrified of some of them. They once chased me and my friend Jonathan into a river when we chanced upon them in a country park. By this time though, he'd joined them. I knew some of them, some being in my class or in other classes but I purposefully kept my distance. Mum would have killed me. And besides, they wouldn't have wanted me.
But there was a mystique, if not a glamour then some kind of pull. My friends Shaun and Richard were peripheral figures and one Saturday as autumn was coming to 1980 we went to the sports centre. It was a large place, more a park really but with a dry ski slope (coming soon 1981: My Skiiing Hell), and various sports pitches. It was usually empty and because it was sprawling you didn't really see a soul.
We went into the vast empty coffee bar and Richard put Stevie Wonder's Masterblaster on the jukebox. It sounded great. So when they got their fags out I was nervous but I finally gave in. I'd smoked. Oh my God what had I become! It was illicit, bad, I'd get in trouble if they smelt smoke on me. I was loving every minute of it.
At home, Mum and Dad had old friends Margaret and Philip for the weekend. Their son had recently died of a brain tumour and they've moved away. Dad was admiring Philips powder blue Chevette. Mum had bought the Barbara Streisand Guilty album. Woman In Love was number one. The next day, our rabbit died. I tell you, it was all go.
I had the odd cigarette over the years until I became a bona fide proper smoker in 1982. I haven't stopped since. And this is why peer pressure is bad for you, kids.