Man's World

Whilst scanning a list of winners of "Pipeman of the Year" the other day, I couldn't help thinking that the possibility of being the hippest person ever to smoke a pipe lay within my grasp. After all, the nearest thing to a young man on that list is Dave Lee Travis (triumphant in 1982), and the nearest thing to a rock star is James Galway, whose outstanding pipemanship was given the recognition it so richly deserved in 1985. I know that any minute now there's going to be a picture in a style section of some dude with a thrusting briar in his clenched jaw, accompanied by the words: "The pipe is back!" Why shouldn't that jaw be mine?

This is not just hypothetical; I do own a pipe, although I can't honestly say that I've ever managed to light it. If you added together all the times I've spent trying to get it going, I suppose they'd amount to about six months or so. I have an instruction book called Pipe Pleasures Start Here, which counsels patience to the beginner, but promises big rewards.

"Wherever you are," writes Rolf Christopherson, chairman of the Pipesmokers' Council, in the introduction, "whether on holiday, at a sporting occasion or out walking, you will always get a smile of recognition from a fellow pipeman."

It would be nice, indeed, to trade smoke-wreathed nods with such past pipemen as Jimmy Greaves, Henry Cooper or David Bryant, whoever he is, but I aim to become a new sort in regards to slippers. Rolf Christopherson may not believe this, but I do not even own a pair of slippers. Nor do I possess any of the other accessories traditionally associated with pipemanship - namely a pipe rack, a slobbering labrador, a personalised beer tankard and brown teeth. And I am not remotely avuncular, as my sister, whose daughter's birthday I tend to forget, will readily agree.

But there are others in the field - rivals for the style slot. The lead singer of Jethro Tull smokes a pipe - in between acquiring bits of Scotland. And a contemporary of mine who's high up in the magazine world smokes one, albeit covertly (I'd blast him off the Notting Hill dinner-party circuit if I named him). I also saw a newspaper interview with the fashionable rock star "E", and he was smoking a pipe in the photograph, or at any rate he had one in his mouth. Was he a bona fide pipeman or just pratting about? Maybe, I thought, as he trades in the intoxicants of his youth for a more mature form of relaxation, he'll change his name to "P". So I cut out the article to read later; but then I lost it.

On reflection, the cover photo to that style section is definitely up for grabs. It's just a question of lighting the damn pipe. What are those instructions again? "Pack the tobacco so that it is compact, yet springy enough to provide a steady burn." DLT can do all this with ease.

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