WHY TABBING IS A REAL DRAG
For many years Guy Grieve associated smoking with working outdoors, but now he’s got his own kids he knows it’s time to quit the noxious weed...
Guy Grieve bites the bullet and gives up smoking
Irecently completed the painful job of our annual boat refit. This involves hauling her out of the water and attending to all those niggling jobs that have needed to be done for the past year – handing the skilled work on the engine and electrics over to the experts while I do the monkey work of scraping her down and repainting her. Not a craftsman’s job but a perfectly serviceable coat of paint that will keep her covered and protected for the rigours of the year to come. It is a reflective time, days spent quietly working and thinking about the rigours of the past winter and the hopefully gentler months to come. It feels good to give the old girl some TLC as she’s survived her 43rd year working at sea. My days took on a routine as I carried out the monotonous yet exacting work of scraping and painting her clinker built hull. The work is cold and uncomfortable and there was invariably a sharp wind blowing into the boatyard from the sea. With work like this, one survives on small comforts, and around mid-morning I would climb the ladder onto the boat and head for the snug shelter of the wheelhouse. Inside, the diesel stove would be purring, creating a warm fug. Kettle would clank onto the hob, and here I would embark on my chief indulgence: rolling a cigarette. As tendrils of steam rose from the kettle my frozen fingers would roll rich, sweet-smelling Virginia tobacco into a delicate made-to-measure smoke. Sugar would be stirred into my mug of coffee, and I’d step out onto the deck, still in the shelter of the wheelhouse door, and light up. Toasted tobacco smoke, coffee and a view out across the sea. Pure bliss. Whilst enjoying this ritual my mind would invariably wander to other occasions when tobacco has provided similar comfort. Five years ago in the jungles of Equatorial Africa, it was the end of a hard day in pulsing heat. I’d been fishing from a dug-out canoe and lucky to catch some chubby white fleshed fish in the
waters of the jungle-clad estuary. We’d got a fire going, there was thunder in the air and we saw distant lightning. A cigarette was lit and each inhalation tasted a little herby from the wood smoke of the fire. Tree frogs chorused in the gathering darkness around us.
Rolling, rolling, rolling
I could list a series of such moments, some exotic, others less so. Home on Mull, each morning during the dark months in the runup to Christmas I’d arrive at our boat to find one of the crew in the warmly lit wheelhouse brewing coffee while the engine warmed. As soon as the mugs had been handed round the rolling tobacco would appear. It is a mainstay of the British fishing fleet, just as rum was for the Navy; an old-fashioned morale boost when feeling a little daunted by the darkness and weather and the prospect of another day at sea.
Smoking is also big in the Armed Forces; in fact in every situation of danger and physical adversity. The beauty of it is that it’s about the moment. Everything stops. Life simplifies down to the pure simple process of burning leaves and inhaling smoke. All problems, all worries, cease to exist.
During the first three years of establishing our dive fishing venture I worked all year round from an open six-metre rib. It was tough work, exposed as we were to everything the north Atlantic winters could throw at us. Few men worked with me for long as they couldn’t keep up with the relentless pace of work. As a result I had a high turnover of diving companions, each one a unique and interesting character. One was a hard-core smoker. On our first day out I picked him up from his home on Loch Sunart. As the rib battered out to sea he deftly rolled cigarette after cigarette until we reached the scallop grounds. In a moment his gear was on and he dropped in. Thirty minutes passed, then fifty, then an hour. I looked out over the bleak grey wastes and began to panic.
After an hour and twenty minutes, by which time I’d nearly given up and was considering mounting a rescue, he popped up. He waited patiently for me to pick him up and seemed to see nothing out of the ordinary.
‘Bloody Hell,’ I exploded as he came back on the boat. ‘I thought you were dead!’ ‘Why?’ he enquired calmly. ‘You were down for so long. And with your smoking…’
He laughed and waved an arm. ‘Och don’t worry about that. See my smoking means I only need a wee nip of air – my lungs and body are used to doing without it, so I use less air from the tank and I can stay down longer.’
This was a theory new to me, but it makes sense. A healthy person’s lungs will suck litres of air from his cylinder at a steady rate, but large parts of a smoker’s lungs are inactive or function at a reduced level so they cannot take in as much air and are used to coping with less. A mountaineer friend told me that high altitude climbers who smoke fare well in the oxygenstarved heights for the same reason.
Yet despite such dubious justifications, smoking is very bad for you. I may romanticise smoking from literature read in my childhood from heroes like Hemingway and Orwell, who described smoking so lovingly, but I cannot genuinely argue that it’s a good thing. Smoking remains popular amongst youngsters and is still the cool thing to do at my parties. My younger son Luke, however, is a great disapprover. During the boat refit he proved very effective in tackling boy-sized jobs such as cleaning out the bilges. He was happy to be covered in paint and grease and bilge grime, but took a very dim view of my smoking habit. ‘You stink of fags Dad,’ he announced in disgust.
At that point every memory of scenic romance, every moment of remembered relaxation evaporated as I realised that, just like every addict, I had lost all self-awareness. To the smoker it is a beautiful harmonious place of calm and ritual; but to the non-smokers around us there is not much on offer from our company.
More importantly, I cannot afford for my body to give out on me. My entire living depends on being strong enough to keep taking the knocks. My smoking is akin to running a good engine on dirty fuel. So, with regrets, I have now decided to give up. I have reached and passed through the acceptance stage. ‘My name is Guy and I am a smoker.’ There, I said it. And like an evangelist, to every other smoky outdoorsman in Scotland who might have been enjoying my earlier ode to the joys of smoking, I urge you to join me.
My approach is going to be to embrace my love of tobacco and the joys of inhaling smoke and to accept my longing to spark up… and yet to resist it. I shall have to live with my weakness, to befriend the longing as the desire is never going to go away. The question is how else can I capture the moments of pure simple relaxation. Yoga? Meditation? I’m not sure the sight of a man in the Lotus position on board a fishing boat will go down very well in Oban…
‘“You stink of fags,” he announced in disgust’
Image: Where once cigarettes were mainstream and acceptable, today their allure has faded for our ageing columnist.