Tuesday, April 5, 2011


I was busy working at my desk yesterday when a foul smell permeated towards me, so bad it made my throat burn and I got that watery mouth feeling which is symptomatic of an impending desire to vomit.

With nostrils flared I looked to my colleague sitting next to me and wondered if it was him but as he is a very dapper and a smart sort of chap who cares about his appearance, and I hadn't noticed it before, I doubted it. Almost immediately my attention was drawn to a man at the front desk who had come into the office to place an advert.

He was dressed casually and looked a bit like Foggy of Last of the Summer Wine. His breath was foul like he was rotting inside and as he spoke I could smell it a few feet away. There was also a bitter musty smell, like putrid garlic mixed with decayed socks, urine soaked underpants, and a year's worth of dry sweat.

He was about to turn and leave after handing in a piece of paper when he turned back towards the receptionist.

"Oh, does it say non-smoker? It must be a non-smoker and is it going to cost any more?"

He was advised it would be an extra quid or two depending on how the lineage worked out. He decided his prejudice was worth it.

When he left, everyone in the office was relieved and I'm told he is quite a regular so they will have to put up with him again. I asked the lady at the desk what he wanted. She said he was advertising a property to rent. I am the only smoker in the office but not the only one to see the irony.

I'd been working on the big story of the day that a planning application in the paper's historic market town - that had been previously refused because it was out of character - had now been approved on appeal by a Govt inspector who didn't give a damn about how it would affect the local area or local people.

I was sent out to talk to this intensely interesting and cultured chap who will be adversely affected by it and other residents in the street who fought against it, won, and then saw local democracy in action overturned by Big Govt institutions who have decided what the town needs and not the local council or the people who live there.

As I arrived at Mr Wyatt's house, jazz music blared out and I wondered if he'd hear me knocking. I pushed two door bells and banged the old iron knocker on the huge door. My Wyatt appeared in his wheelchair and graciously invited me in. As I followed him into the kitchen there was the trace of an aroma of fresh tobacco and I found myself involuntarily smiling. I felt immediately at ease.

He was cutting onions in a special way that causes no tears and reduced smell - one when strong that I find quite unbearable but this was even mildly pleasant. There was one stump in the ashtray with the onion skins he'd removed and I smiled again but said nothing.

We chatted for while about why I was there and when all was said that needed to be said for my story, I couldn't help myself.

"I see you are a fellow friend," I said and nodded towards his ashtray.

He looked surprised for half a second and then smiled back.

"Oh yes, do feel free," he said. "And if you don't mind, do you have one spare?" He offered me a cup of tea, but then I'd have had two reasons to stay longer than I should have done so I politely declined.

I got out my elegant cigarette case with my ready rolled cigs inside, handed one to him, lit mine and then his as he didn't have a lighter handy. I apologised that they weren't tipped and he said that's how he liked them best.

We spent the next three quarters of an hour in perfect civility before he took me round to speak to others in the neighbourhod who were unhappy. I was sad to leave him as I'd had quite an enjoyable time and I felt connected in a way that I don't with people like Mr Stinky who came into the office earlier that day.

Mr Wyatt shared my dismay at the smoking ban which he dismissed as silly. As for the new development, he said it was indicative of how we were going backwards as a society from recognising and valuing local heritage to the bad old days of the 1960s. That was when many UK towns and cities unaffected by the bombings of World War 2 lost a lot of their history to aluminium and asbestos flat-topped buildings because "the future" was suddenly deemed more important. Vandalism of local heritage seemed a worthy price to pay back then in the name of "progress."

I could have said the same thing about the healthists who are ruining many aspects of our social lives and culture with their hysterical view of the "progressive" smoking ban but I didn't. I thanked him for his hospitality and help and left feeling comforted that there is still some semblance of normality in this bad, sad, uncultured modern world.