The End Of The World
Week 16

James Leavey's

WEEK SIXTEEN

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By James Leavey

For thoseof you wondering why I haven’t been updating this column recently, theshort answer is that I was rather busy, moving from north London toCowes on the Isle of Wight, just off the southern coast of England.  It,England, not the island, has for over six months become, for myself andmy wife, ‘foreign parts’. If the worst comes to the worst, there'senough room on the island for all of Britain's 13 million adult smokersto join me, shoulder to shoulder, while the anti-smoking lot can stay ontheir side of the water that divides us.

Oddlyenough, I wasn’t driven from Britain’s capital by the anti-smokers.  Inthe words of John Wayne, ‘That’ll be the day!’  No, I drove down here,all the way, all by myself, the car packed to the rafters with cigars,cigarettes and ashtrays.  And have been enjoying it ever since.

Indeed,I’ve just experienced my first residency during Cowes Week – thelongest-running, largest and most prestigious annual sailing Regatta inthe world.  It first took place in 1828 and has been held in Augustevery year since then, the only exception being during the two WorldWars.  Cowes Week is one of the most popular events in the Britishsocial calendar, which also includes Wimbledon, Henley and Ascot.

Half thetown seems to have rented out a room or two to visiting yachties, forthere have never been enough hotels here to cope with the 8,000 sailorswho arrive here every year to race over eight days in central, easternand western Solent – the name of the water betweenSouthampton and the island.

It's beenonly a few days since early in the morning I was looking out of myoffice window - at the top of my small but tobacco-tolerant Victorianhouse, - at around 1,000 boats of various sizes, ranging from the latesthigh-tech racing machines to classic craft.

Then therewas the 200,000 or so spectators who flocked to Cowes to enjoy ‘theWeek’, and who I had to step around and, occasionally, over, en route tothe tobacconists.

Last Friday night there was a spectacular fireworks display with over10,000 fireworks, effects and live music.  Around 170,000 people watchedit in Cowes and from the mainland.

Thestrangest thing about the island is that you rarely see people wanderingthe streets with a cigarette in their hand.  Perhaps that’s because theycan still sit in the pubs and most of the cafes and restaurants andenjoy an undisturbed smoke, though how long that will last is up to thelocal council and Britain’s Nanny state.

Well, theway I look at it, if you can afford several million pounds on some ofthe yachts I’ve been gazing at, then you can also afford to set fire tothe bloody things with the aid of a fine Havana.

Not faraway, an old friend of mine, known as ‘Shanghai Lil’ and former landladyof the Three Crowns pub, still runs what are known as the Sunday morningfishing parties.  You go round her house on Sunday mornings with afishing rod in your hand, pour yourself a drink, ignite whatever youprefer to smoke, and sit back for a few hours with like-minded,laid-back souls, shooting the breeze, which comes filtered throughexhaled tobacco smoke.

There’salso another club on the island, which has just invited me to speak onsmoking to its members.  The club has no rules, doesn’t raise money forcharity, has no reason to exist – aside from the excuse to mingle,natter and smoke.  And you don’t have to smoke, if you don’t want to.

It’srather like Matt Alan’s weekly radio show in California.  ‘Lighten up’ –see www.lightenup.com - which attracts the great, the good and thegifted every Saturday afternoon.  For it is the only place left – asidefrom a certain exclusive club in Beverley Hills, where Hollywood’s, orindeed anyone else’s, smokers can still enjoy themselves without beinglorded over by the anti-smoking, born-again puritans.

So Cowes,and Matt’s place in Encino, California, is where you will find me, andanybody like me who wants to share an ashtray, when this sad,politically correct world comes to an end.

Meanwhile,inCowes,we’re expecting the anti-smoking storm troopers any day now, kicking ourdoors in and dragging us off for public chastisement – whatever turnsthem on.  Such are the kicks these sad little bastards cling to, and allbecause they haven’t realized that life is not a rehearsal.

When theycome for me, I’ll be blowing Havana fumes in their face and singing‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’.


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