I was too weedy for the evil weed

There was an anti-smoking advertisement which showed an alluring woman puffing away while a horrified male voiceover whined: "It's like kissing an old ashtray." As sexual aversion therapy, this seemed curiously crude. Without wishing to go as far as James Dean, whose rough-trade soubriquet was apparently "The Human Ashtray", I have to confess that the taint of smoke can be positively erotic.

My first experimental drag tasted overwhelmingly of the mouth of a sexy smoking boyfriend, and brought a rush of pleasurable, Proustian associations. Being a non-smoker in a nightshelter for the homeless was to miss out on a powerful symbolic tool. I gave myself 36 hours shut up in a small flat and vowed to learn to smoke.

It didn't help that I'd started with John Player Specials, the Pot Noodle of the cigarette world, but after a few hours of lounging around and posing critically in the mirror - hand flipped up or flopping down, cig pinched between finger and thumb, or dangling casually between index and third finger, sucking seductively a la Bacall or surreptitously like the spiv in Dad's Army - I had progressed to the slow, thick curl of smoke rolling over the upper lip and disappearing into flared nostrils. The next day I emerged, blinking and puffing and practising my new mantras: "Got a match?" and "God, I know I put my cigarettes down here somewhere..."

I thought there would be a few jokes, a few raised eyebrows back at the house, where stained fingers and whiskers were the norm, but no one expressed any surprise. But then, in a nightshelter, no one expresses much surprise at anything: people throwing tantrums, or bricks, or each other downstairs. Cornering a belligerent resident became much easier with the offer of a fag. Smoking was somehow egalitarian; workers who really wanted to go native started rolling their own, though this was largely seen as an irritating affectation by residents, whose plaintive, begging cry was always: "Got any straights?"

According to her biographer, the writer Elizabeth Smart preferred Gauloise, except on "non-smoking" days, when she switched to Marlboro. Attagirl! I was soon up to 30 a day, working my way through the brands, revelling in packaging, the rip and slither of the cellophane wrapper. The smart, dull gold of B&H, comic-strip Camels, Sobranie Black Russians, Kents in the squashy soft packets, St Moritz, packaged for the sophisticated lady.

Six months later I sat in the smoking section of a jumbo jet (this was when they still had them) gloomily smoking my "last" packet before rejoining militantly non-smoking parents in Canada. They lived in a mobile home perched on the rocky slopes beneath a mine several hundred miles north of civilisation. There wasn't much to do. Within days I was itching to smoke again. I felt a pang about stealing cigarettes from the kindly and inobservant custodian of the mine-shop, but if I'd bought a pack it would have been all round town by teatime. The next problem was how to escape from observation. I scrabbled up the steep slope and into the woods, where I lurked, puffing melancholically and gazing at the glacier. Occasionally I would leave off puffing and sample uncontaminated mountain air. Smoking just didn't seem as much fun as it was in London.

But what really pushed me into quitting, as well as the fact that the storekeeper was beginning to wonder why I kept hanging about, grinning vacuously and never buying anything, was the bilingual government leaflet: "YOU are in bear country!/ VOUS etes en pays d'ours!" A fascinating, if rather fatalistic, document, it pointed out that it was no good running away or climbing a tree since bears can run like racehorses and climb faster than you can. In fact any movement towards or away from the animal is considered bad form in ursine society, and would probably result in you having your head clawed off. The only hope was to play dead, whereupon the bear would drag you away and bury you (shallowly, it was hoped) for later consumption. Providing this procedure hadn't broken too many limbs, you would then be able to crawl away when the bear had cleared off. We knew the bears were never far away because they came down regularly in the night to forage in the town dustbins, leaving long scratches one night on our kitchen door.

Never mind the cancer risks: you can't have a relaxing smoke when you nearly have a coronary every time a pine-cone falls.

i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries are at risk of tinnitus
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

    salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

    Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

    Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

    Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower