I almost got killed this week. I went for a very early morning walk in a New Hampshire forest, in the icy rain. Black coat, black hood, black trousers. And so the hunter saw this hunched, awkward, shambling black beast, stumbling over sodden logs, and immediately raised his rifle to his eye and cocked the trigger. One thing, and one thing only, saved me. The armed cracker, looking through his telescopic lens, thought to himself: ‘Hey, it’s a bear — but it’s… smoking a cigarette?’ And so, at the last second, refrained from pulling the trigger.
I had this brush with death related to me, with great glee, by the people who ran the bed and breakfast where I was staying. I’d been quite oblivious. Word had got round the village quite quickly about this deranged Englishman wandering through the birch and maple in the teeming rain at ten to seven in the morning, apparently pulling off a remarkably accurate bear impersonation right in the middle of the state’s official bear season. My hosts were outraged less on my behalf than because of the fact that the bloodthirsty hick with his rifle didn’t have a license to shoot bears. That could get him into big trouble, I was told, by means of consolation. Thank Christ I smoke, then.
And praise the Lord too that my choice of cigarettes is Superkings, which are very long and thus more clearly visible. They were the reason I was taking a walk in the woods, in fact. You can’t smoke in New England within about a mile of anywhere people might be, and so I took to the forest for my first gasper of the day, thinking this would be about the only place I could do so without offending their recently acquired sensitivities. I was wrong about that, too, though. I had been walking on Audubon land, an area managed by conservationists, and smoking is prohibited there too, presumably in case the sight or smell of a cigarette upsets the woodchucks or chickadees and they take out a class action suit.
The day before all this happened my wife was buying a drink for our daughter and made the terrible mistake of requesting a straw. You’d have thought she’d demanded the stringing up of all black folk from the filthy look on the little SJW barmaid’s face. ‘We are in the process of banning straws from this state for the environmental damage they cause,’ she instructed, with all the refulgent sanctimony and humorlessness of a holy imbecile. I think New Hampshire — which is indeed lovely — should perhaps change its motto from ‘Live Free Or Die’ to ‘Don’t Do Anything At All, You Fascist’. But it was in the end cheering to have one’s life saved by a cigarette.
As soon as I got off my plane back from the States, I made for Gatwick’s tiny smoking area. I got into conversation with an elderly chap who told me proudly, as he lit his fag, that he had been smoking since he was 13. ‘Good for you!’ I cheered. ‘And all well now?’ His face fell a little. ‘Well, I have lung cancer and emphysema. But there we are.’
This article originally appeared in The Spectator magazine.