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Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Fag-End of Philosophy

On the bus this morning I sat next to a woman with an almighty hacking cough. She looked harmless enough, but clearly she was hiding her phlegm under a bushel. Because as soon as I sat down she started with the chesty burbling death rattle. It was like eavesdropping on a bunch of orcs having rough sex.

Do you think there are some people in the world who, on sitting next to a hacking cougher, feel sympathy rather than revulsion? I hope so. I hope there are good Samaritans out there who might have patted her arm or offered a blackcurrant Soother, rather than miming an imaginary barrier between us and fashioning blinkers from a copy of The Scotsman.

When we both alighted at the same stop, she scrabbled frantically in her bag and pulled out a packet of fags, nearly extinguishing the lighter flame with the force of her cough, before taking one huge comic book draw so that her cheeks disappeared like a Chilean sink hole. Immediately she seemed calmer and almost as quickly I felt a pang of sympathy, pity even, for her addiction to the evil weed.

I am aware that this will infuriate those smokers who do it for the love of it, for whom it is a pleasure without guilt, a means of self-expression, a fetishistic ritual of indulgence to be savoured and worn as a badge of honour. Fair enough, you lot carry on, knock yourselves out, I don't feel sorry for you AT ALL.

But, I do pity the others, the ones who would dearly love to be able to kick their habit, who have tried many, many times to escape it's wraith-like clutches before once more falling sobbing and spent back into the lethally seductive arms of Lady Nicotine.

I don't pretend to understand how addiction to nicotine works, y'know biologically nor nuthin'. I was one of the lucky ones. Despite having my first fag in my mid teens and smoking on and off till I had my daughter in my mid thirties, I just never really seemed to get clinically, literally, addicted.

Sure I had nights where, after a few cans of Forge lager, I would worry the sofa upholstery with my bare teeth hoping to find a long forgotten SilkCut, but I was that classic oxymoron of the social smoker, happy to puff away on a Saturday night out, but then equally happy to do without Monday to Friday. Then when I got pregnant I stopped, made a conscious decision not to start again and never did.

Many of my friends were not so lucky and woke up one day suddenly one of the unhappy band who cannot get through the day without the old tar sticks. Their addiction makes them unhappy, it worries them and frightens them and gnaws at their self esteem. Some have given up, but others are still miserably addicted, and their mantra is often the same, "I just wish I'd never started."

For them there is no doubt that being a smoker, becoming addicted to cigarettes, is a matter of profound regret. I think of them whenever I pick up Hello! and read a Chopra loving, snake-oil salesman of an NLP addicted celebrity say smugly that they 'don't believe in regrets.' Well, in return I'm tempted to say that you're either a saint or a sociopath.

If you can say hand on heart that you have never been selfish or petulant or greedy or casually mean or unkind then congratulations and you may be excused. If, as I suspect is more likely, you are human just like the rest of us, are we to take it that you don’t regret your behaviour and the hurt it caused?

At the very least, are we no longer to be permitted a quiet moment of reflection where we admit that perhaps we wouldn't do it ALL again? I have never understood the appeal of surveying the human wreckage of a catastrophic decision and saying "If I had my time over, I wouldn't change a thing." If the same principles were applied to scientific endeavour, we'd still be eating spit roasted vole and using portable hooded hairdryers by Pifco.

Similarly, when team positivity asserts that “you make your own luck” we can hopefully assume they don’t
really mean it was your fault when that pesky drunk driver crossed the central reservation.

But of course lets not forget that “everything happens for a reason”, a philosophy most recently espoused in a lead Vanity Fair article by the shining example of good judgement and sober self awareness that is Lindsay Lohan.

The marvellous thing about clinging to this philosophical flotsam and jetsam is that it simply reaffirms that bad stuff only happens cos something better is waiting round the corner. And anyway, it wasn't your fault, it was the Universe did it and ran away.

Yes, yes, I know I'm probably being far too literal and what you really mean is that we should seize the day, follow the dream, give a Simon Cowell approved 120 per cent - and for what it’s worth, I agree. I'm not suggesting it's healthy to spend one's life brooding about the mistakes of the past or feeling burdened by the guilt caused by other people's unhappiness.

But at the very least I object to these slogans – for that’s what they are – on the grounds of borderline idiocy since they don’t even say what they mean. I'm tired of bumper stickers masquerading as wisdom.

Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we regret it. Sometimes we light up yet another fag and wish we hadn't. That's life and not believing in it doesn't mean it's not true.


  1. Loved this- thanks. You're so right about us living in a bumper-stickers-masquerading-as-wisdom world. Off to watch last night's X Factor . . .


    PS Love your tweets


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