Friday, 17 August 2012
Mr Blake steps up to the ashtray by James Leavey
There I was, swapping tales of old smoker-friendly Dublin with some eminent cigar comrades in an Irish smokeasy tucked away somewhere, the whereabouts of which I will tell you not.
Some of you unsainted sinners will, no doubt, know of similar havens.
This is a place where alternatively oxygenated persons step up to an anonymous door a nicotine companion has recommended, and knock three times.
Then the little hatch in the door opens and a voice deepened by decades of smoking intones, 'Yes?'
While this little bit of play acting is going on you get the first sniff of fine cigars gently wafting through the aperture.
'I'm a dedicated friend of St Nicotine and promise, hand on humidor, to ignite the brain of every anti-smoking pillock I meet who tells me I cannot enjoy something that I can still buy, legally, in Eire, and elsewheir.'
A moment passes and the door creaks open. 'Enter, friend of St Nicotine,' says the Galway giant whose eyes are carefully checking left and right in case some anti-smoking nutter decides to break in and berate all the sinners safely ensconced inside, where they're happily sipping fine booze, enjoying the craic, and dropping premium ash in the ashtrays.
By the way, if you're one of those anti-smoking puritanical zealots given to raging against the light of a cigar smoker's match, may I suggest that you never ever try to enter a smokeasy or any other smokers' refuge, for you risk your life and limbs – especially your balls, which we'll toast over the ashtray.
Getting back to the comrade's conversation, we were talking about great writers, most of whom, we all agreed, were either Irish or of Irish descent. Naturally, most of them were also smokers for the spark of the fire that lit their tobacco often served to ignite their genius.
'But,' I exhaled through of a cloud of smoke from my The Grafton robusto, which was burning and smoking well, 'I suppose we should allow, with our arms twisted up our back perhaps, that merit has also been shown by the occasional English writer, such as William Blake.'
There was a universal gasp and quick reigniting and inhaling of several cigars.
'Jaysus!' exhaled one comrade.
'For God's sake, man!' exhaled another.
'Come, come, comrades,' I said gently and reassuringly, 'any man who can write “The Goddess Fortune is the devil's servant, ready to kiss anyone's arse” has got to be worth including in our pantheon of prime particularists.'
'Ah go on with you, Seamus, you mad bugger,” came a voice beyond the third ashtray.
'Now look here, comrades, I'm being serious, for once.' I replied.
'There's always a first time...' said a fourth comrade, a cigar-totin' Yank who had recently moved to Dublin from across the water - London.
'That may be,' I said, 'but we are talking about a visionary poet, social critic of his time, one of the key people responsible for the birth of Romantic Poetry, and prophet of things to come.
'Blake was born in England in 1757 and by the time he died in 1827, was considered one of the greatest and most influential contributors to the English language.
'This is the man who wrote “Without contraries there is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence.”
'Can't you see? Blake summed up the need for smokers and, I hate to say it, non-smokers to co-exist. We're two necessary halves of the same coin – mankind. This is something the fanatical anti's should consider, even if I have to beat it into them with a pickaxe handle. The same goes for the rest of you.'
I took a long slow drag on the robusto and then very slowly exhaled, 'And, despite his protestations to the contrary, I believe William Blake may have been a secret smoker.'
The room went silent. Several glasses of The Wild Geese whisky were emptied and the smoke from fine Nicaraguan and Cuban cigars exhaled. Then the comrades sat up and cried, in unison, 'Well, why didn't you fucking say so in the first fucking place!'