The Smoking Shelter

The smoker you think. . .

I smoked my first cigarette when I was about 13. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed the inrush of smoke, the burning taste and the light-headedness when I inhaled strongly.

Those first few tentative smokes were probably more designed to look cool than to benefit from whatever smoking added to my repertoire. Anyway, gradually I formed an addiction.

At school at Omagh CBS there was a surprisingly lax atmosphere to the habit with a ‘Smoking Shelter’ ironically located behind the gym, dedicated to those who wished to smoke. There was a healthy black market in fags – it cost ten pence for a cigarette. It made good sense to buy ten Regal, smoke a few, and sell the rest to cover your costs.

Other habits included the ‘hand drag’, where someone would let you have a toke on their fag whilst they still held on to it. The ultimate crime when getting a hand drag was to leave the butt wet. If you planned ahead, at the nearby shop you could buy single cigarettes and many did to feed the habit.

Also, it was common for lads that didn’t have their own fags or the resources to buy a single down at the smoking shelter, or if you were skint, to bags someone else’s butt.

This meant hanging around until some other lad had nearly finished smoking and then frantically sucking the last few drags out of his butt when he gave it to you. People who smoked king size fags or some upmarket brand were usually the best for a decent butt.

And, if you wanted to remain unpestered by fellow smokers all you had to do was smoke Marlboro Reds or Rothmans or worse again something like Gauloises or Players No 6. Nobody would bother you for such.

You soon got to know who left a generous butt with a decent bit of white paper as opposed to the man who pulled the life out of it, leaving a dark tar circle in the filter and squashed it to make matters worse.

It was a strange set up when you think about it in today’s anti-smoking climate. Then the Smoking Shelter was a fugue filled area, the smoke lying in swathes under the low roof. Nowadays it would constitute some sort of health and safety risk. The craic was ninety there though, and since the regime adopted a laissez faire attitude lads smoked their brains out, morning, break and lunchtime. Ironically football was banned on the all weather pitch but smoking permitted in the Smoking Shelter. I think the CBS may have changed that policy since. . .

The only other excitement was the occasional scrap that might break out behind the handball alley. Usually even then the smokers remained non-plussed preferring to finish the job in hand than watch a fight. I spent many’s a happy breaktime there with fellas like Pete McCloskey and Decky Coyle, two lads now sadly deceased. We discussed the issues of the day:  the merits of girls from the Convent and St Biddy’s; Big Lewis’s English class; Paddy Grogan’s unique blend of art and republicanism. Mickey Grimes’ biology class. All sadly departed the scene now too.

When I went to University, I smoked like a trooper. Total freedom, you could smoke in the room in halls, even in your bed if you wanted to or in someone else’s. I remember one oul yoke called Celine that did too but that’s a tale for another day.

Then I decided to give up smoking. Rather I gave up smoking my own fags and smoked others when I was drinking. I would wake the morning after with nicotine stained fingers and thumbs, even a burnt fingernail betimes. There was plenty of other shit to smoke too if you wanted to. This kept going for years and years. In the bar, especially playing music smoking was de rigeur. At Queen’s we majored in smoking and drinking.

Angela smoked from the day I met her. A pleasant waft of smoke and perfume accompanied her. She smelled, tasted and looked like a smoker. Occasionally she would try and give up but I used to find cigarette butts in the garage along with a smell of smoke. I knew she’d cracked. Again. Eventually I knew not to mention the war but when she did try to give up I would have been supportive although she probably didn’t view it like that. Her smoking irritated me intensely but unlike me I got on with it.

Myself? I gave up. Totally stopped after getting a serious bollocking from my brother in Manchester after a United versus Liverpool match. We were drinking in some achingly cool nightspot. I bought myself a packet of Marlboro reds and immediately Peter lit on me. Hard to believe but that was the end of it. He made a few salient blunt points about health risks and that was that.

Angela gave them up when Treasa was born, just like that. That made me happy. Whilst these days I could easily light a cigarette and smoke it and never touch another for the rest of my days, she couldn’t. Once a smoker always a smoker. She would still hanker for a fag but has remained steadfast even in the face of my mother in law continuing to smoke like a train.

Of course, nowadays anyone who smokes is a total pariah. Ushered out of pubs on the grounds of political correctness. Despatched to the furthest reaches of the beer garden. To me, bars were always about drinking, smoking and talking shite. Right-thinking pubs now have smoking shelters not unlike what the CBS in Omagh had in our day. We were truly ahead of our time. The craic. The banter. The problems we solved.

It’s not often standing outside a fancy bar though that you can you buy a single for ten pence. Or see if the fella next to you is willingto leave you his butt.

And as for asking the attractive girl standing smoking beside you for a hand drag. . .

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