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