The Weekend Australian - Review - - Rear View -

EV­ERY time I hear about Robert Mu­gabe I long for a cig­a­rette. Not only be­cause I would very much like to put his eyes out with one, but be­cause Rhode­sia was where I learned to smoke. This was in the mid1950s, the golden age of smok­ing, re­cently re­called on ABC’s Ra­dio Na­tional, bring­ing on a se­vere bout of sticky nos­tal­gia.

I was in the pas­sen­ger seat of a car the size of a match­box, go­ing with my mother to visit my aunt in Bu­l­awayo, when we were tailed by a car full of young men.

My mother, con­vinced we would be forced off the road and be set upon, put her foot down on the pedal and we skud­ded along through the night. Her only con­ver­sa­tion was a terse, ‘‘ Light me a cig­a­rette.’’

I should think that, given the nanny state we’re in­creas­ingly be­com­ing, if a mother told a teenager to smoke th­ese days she’d be locked up and the key thrown away. It’s also only a mat­ter of time be­fore our Gov­ern­ment fol­lows the lead of the New Zealan­ders and leg­is­lates against smack­ing your chil­dren.

I heard Norman Swan on the ra­dio gasp­ing with dis­may when he was told of the Kiwi law. What, he asked, if you are cross­ing the road with a three- year- old and he lets your hand go and throws him­self into the traf­fic? Surely an im­me­di­ate smack on the bum would be enough to stop it hap­pen­ing again. No, you have to rea­son with the child. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’d like to see any­one ne­go­ti­ate with a tod­dler in melt­down.

There’s no law against smok­ing, well at least in the pri­vacy of your own home. Many of the twen­tysome­things I know have thrown in the towel be­cause they find it sham­ing to stand in the street out­side their work­places. So hardly any­one smokes any more, which is a good thing, but it was once de rigueur. Ev­ery­one I knew in Syd­ney in the 60s did a packet a day, in­clud­ing in­ter­na­tional ten­nis play­ers; quite a few of them were ac­tu­ally spon­sored by cig­a­rette com­pa­nies.

Some world lead­ers are still good ad­ver­tise­ments for the odd ci­gar: Bill Clin­ton and Thabo Mbeki come im­me­di­ately to mind. I’m read­ing a bi­og­ra­phy on Mu­gabe at the mo­ment ( his mother spoiled him rot­ten; never a smack), and there’s no men­tion of him ever puff­ing away. Per­haps if he did have the odd ciggie it would re­lieve some of the enor­mous ten­sion he must suf­fer from work­ing so hard to bring his coun­try to its knees.

When I told my aunt on that hol­i­day that I wished to live in Aus­tralia one day, she al­most had a heart at­tack: it was dan­ger­ous, back­ward, un­so­phis­ti­cated, she warned. Some years later she moved to the rel­a­tively safe South Africa. She’s 90, still smokes a packet a day and doesn’t even have a cough.

And as for the men who fol­lowed us on the jour­ney, some hours later they caught up and roared past, shak­ing their fists in the air in tri­umph. They were young and in a hurry.

fraserj@ theaus­tralian. com. au

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