|Woodbine Packet circa 1947|
While I have never smoked, 70 years ago I would have been very familiar with packets of Woodbines - although I can't remember how much they cost. I was old enough to help my father in his tobacconist's shop and they were one of the most popular sales to our customers, many of who worked in a nearby railway engineering workshop. Sometime around this date I must have been diagnosed with "childhood bronchitis" - which I never grew out of and which may have been due to secondary smoking, although I am now told it is asthma.
As a child a cough was nothing unusual - my grandfather coughed until he had a fall, and died of a chest infection in the days before antibiotics became widely available. My father had chest problems and smoking undoubtedly shortened his life. Many friends and relatives over the years have died prematurely as a result of smoking. Many tried, and failed, to give up their addiction to nicotine.
I never started. When we actually lived at the shop one to the taboos was taking the stock. Tobacco,and the sweets he also sold, were there to sell and not for our personal use. Later we moved away from the shop and I went to an unconventional school called Dartington Hall where the pupils made their own rules - except one of the rules is that we all had the same amount of pocket money which parents were not meant to top up. There was no rule against smoking - so why the hell do it! In other schools you had to sneak behind the bicycle shed and have a quick "secret" drag and this made you feel you were doing something "grown up." But at Dartington there was no kudos from smoking. In four years I can only remember one occasion when anyone smoked in the common room - two girls came in smoking - and everyone laughed and grumbled about the smell. One teacher smoked Galois (a very strong French cigarette) in class - and when we complained he said we could smoke too. So the next lesson we all got something smelly to "smoke" - some had genuine cigarettes but I had some brown parcel string wrapped in paper. The air was thick when he entered the classroom and he never smoked in class again.
|Postcard on ebay from circa 1910|
Currently the top UK boarding schools charge about £30,000 per year and if I assume my father made a third of his income from tobacco (it could well have been higher) one is talking about at least one equivalent customer a year dying to fund my education.
So was my educationat Dartington worth it? While I find the idea frightening I reassure myself that my father's customers (and my father, grandfather and many others) were addicted to nicotine and if my father had not sold tobacco someone else would have sold it. Whether I had gone to Dartington or not they would have died prematurely (often after years of discomfort) anyway.