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...

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

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’

WORDS GUY GRIEVE

Im­age: Where once cig­a­rettes were main­stream and ac­cept­able, to­day their al­lure has faded for our age­ing colum­nist.

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