Snowfall in the UK rarely goes by without a touch of national hysteria and this past week is no exception. Thursday’s breakfast news was buzzing with the kind of excitable meteorological paranoia that we’ve come to expect in response to a moderate flurry, replete with duffle-coated reporters predicting the End Times stood beside a slushy stretch of the M25. This, we were told, was the beginning of end, for this was the SNOWPOCALYPSE!
Cut to the East Midlands where I was sat on the 7am city tram looking out the window at a schoolboy smoking a cigar in a bus shelter. At first I thought he was puffing away on a vape disguised as a cigar, but no, this was the real thing, and it was one of those oversized Churchillian affairs that can last the better part of fortnight. My initial thought, and one that I am not proud to admit, was that given his tender age and the surrounding neighbourhood he was most likely toasting the arrival of his first born. His body language could certainly be mistaken for that of the self-satisfied new father, but being a fully paid up member of the Guardian reading wokerati I quickly put such distasteful social commentary out of mind and then inwardly congratulated myself on being so evolved.
He must have swiped it from somewhere, or lifted it from an uncle’s humidor on a recent visit because there’s no way something like that could disappear from the household stash without being spotted, and those giant Churchill cigars are fiendishly expensive. Still, it was a remarkable sight, and this after several weeks of depressingly uneventful tram journeys. I was most impressed by his supremely carefree attitude – legs kicked out casually in front, back reclining lightly against the graffitied plexiglass of the shelter, an inviting cloud of cigar smoke gently mingling with the snow-streaked air, all perfectly absurd. I felt a pang of jealousy followed by a rush of questions, the most pressing of which was: why couldn’t I have been just half as cool when I was his age, or now for that matter. As the tram moved away I checked to see if I could buy a Churchill cigar on Amazon only to abandon my ambitions when I realised that Amazon only sell chocolate cigars and cigar paraphernalia and should I want to recreate this spectacle at home I would have to go through the rigmarole of buying direct from an online tobacconist, which was all too complicated at that time of the morning.
For the record I do enjoy a cigar, although I don’t have great cigar stamina and would have struggled to get through a full Churchill. I smoke a pipe from time to time, especially during the winter months when there is something deeply satisfying about sitting out in the cold quietly enjoying an aromatic tobacco. It feels primal and necessary, with a touch of nostalgia and I especially enjoy the delicate process of packing and lighting the pipe. In such meditative moments I feel connected to a more grounded, more contented version of myself, underpinned by something like an entirely performative notion of wisdom. A friend and fellow pipe smoker has a theory that the idle focus and gentle puffing required to keep a pipe alight lends itself to philosophical thinking, or at least gives that impression. Think of Bertrand Russell and his trusty meerschaum or poor old tormented Nietzsche with his nicotine stained walrus moustache, that kind of thinking requires time to digest each thought rather than blurting out another hollow opinion, or so the theory goes. In my limited experience cigars offer a similar promise of smug superiority, and again require a certain amount of conspicuous fussiness when it comes to trimming, lighting and savouring the cigar. I mean, can you really enjoy a cigar if someone somewhere isn’t offended by your enjoyment of it? It’s a metaphorical “fuck you, I’m doing this, deal with it!” which incidentally was the exact same energy of the bus shelter smoker.
Back inside the tram our numbers had been thinned by the coming SNOWPOCALYPSE! with many of the usual faces presumably having chosen to work from home. Those who had braved the terrifying 2C° temperatures were decked out in a range of styles, my favourites being an old woman sporting the latest in hurried Marks and Spencer Prepper wear, a look defined by a proliferation of neutral pastels and no less than forty individual items of purely functional clothing, and a young man in a puffer jacket and shorts. I’ve always viewed winter shorts as an overtly masculine statement, like ordering the hottest curry on the menu or doing colonialism, and I do fall into that trap myself from time to time (mostly winter shorts admittedly, but I guess I’m still on the colonialism pill because *gestures everywhere*) . Winter shorts are fine if you’re on your way home from soccer practice, but to bust them out on the 7am tram during the SNOWAPOCALYPSE! seems like overreaching. Maybe blue-legged hypothermia is the new heroin chic? The M&S Prepper woman wasn’t impressed either, and I could tell that she wanted to go over and say something, possibly reprimand the lad for his stupidity. He did seem rather too pleased with himself.
The snow wasn’t settling and by the time I was ready to head for home at the end of the day the streets were awash with that awful slush. Mercifully the return tram was even more bereft of passengers than the morning run, and I was glad for the extra leg room. A group of soggy teenagers got on at one point, their spirits dampened but not sufficient broken to deter them from trying to shepherd several snowballs across town for some reason. The man seated across from me was busy talking very loudly (drunkenly?) on the phone, providing a highly specific and detailed description of how it’s his preference to shave his balls while sat on the toilet. This saves on the clean-up, apparently.