Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Getting in Touch With My Inner Geezer

I have a birthday coming up shortly and, despite the obvious fact that it beats the alternative, I am not at all happy about it.

It’s one of those milestone birthdays, you see, the round kind, ending in zero. Modern convention holds that this particular age is “the new forty” but, assuming that is so, it is, nonetheless, a dodgy knee, stiff back and "can’t remember where I left the car keys" sort of forty.

Knowing this was in the offing, I began, some months ago, casting about for something new to do, something age-appropriate that I could aspire to, something I have not yet tried, that was not too taxing (or expensive) and—in keeping with my persona—a bit on the quirky side. So I decided to take up smoking the pipe.

J R R Tolkien -- he looks good with a pipe, so why not me?
As I mention here all too frequently, I smoke cigars. I find it a relaxing and enjoyable hobby. I am not someone with a nicotine addiction – in league with those unfortunates huddled under an awning in the pouring rain, sucking down the last half inch of their cigarettes – I am a tobacco aficionado. My postprandial cigar provides a comforting ritual, a time to pause and reflect. And this being so, I reflected one evening, while enjoying a Henry Clay, then how much more ritual and reflection would a pipe provide? Past observations of pipe-smokers led me to believe you could faff about endlessly with a pipe. (“Pipe smokers will rule the world,” a pipe-smoking friend told me many years ago, then added, “If we don’t run out of matches.”)

And so, as a man on the cusp of ssss…ssssiii…that age, I proposed to take to the pipe.

Is that Gandalf or Dumbledore?
Unlike other hobbies I have embarked upon, I did not leap into this one. Instead, I pondered, I studied, I calculated (and, yeah, it is much cheaper than cigars) and finally decided I would buy my inaugural pipe at my favourite smoke shop, Edleeze, in Albany, New York. That this smoke shop lay on the other side of a fairly large ocean presented only a minor problem, as our yearly pilgrimage to the States was only six weeks away.

In short, I went, I bought, I loved it. I loved the ritual, I loved the aroma (my wife likes the smell better than cigars, too, so that’s a bonus) and I loved the fiddling about with the matches and the tamper and the pipe cleaners. (Oh, the pipe cleaners! What a wonder to use them for what they are actually meant for. And the satisfaction one gets from cleaning out a pipe! It’s magic.) It felt natural, it felt right, it felt like something a man entering his “new” forties should be doing.

Another famous pipe smoker.
Upon my return to Britain I began alternating between cigars and the pipe (you didn’t think I gave up cigars, did you?) and with every bowl discovered I liked the pipe more and more.

But then I began to run low on tobacco, and I was down to my last few pipe cleaners, so I set about looking for replacements. That’s when things got ugly.

Have you ever tried to find pipe tobacco in a town that doesn’t have a tobacconist? Have you ever tried to find a town that has a tobacconist? Horsham used to have one but, like most of the others, it closed down years ago. Tobacco now is sold mainly by super markets, but pipe tobacco is such a rarity that some of the people I tried to buy it from didn’t even know what I was talking about.

At one super market, the woman minding the Cabinet Of Death told me they did, indeed, sell pipe tobacco and sold me a pouch. I hurried home gleefully, only to discover it was actually cigarette rolling tobacco. So I gave it to the kid next door and went out to try again. This time, I did some research and found a super market that did sell pipe tobacco and found the name of a brand I could ask for. So I went and asked and the woman minding that particular Cabinet Of Death sold me a pouch and I hurried home gleefully only to discover it was actually cigarette rolling tobacco. So I gave it to the kid next door and ordered some on line.

That solved the supply problem, but the next day I scoured the town in vain for pipe cleaners and ended up ordering them on line, as well (those 300 pipe cleaners I spoke of in my previous post). I had to be very careful with my order because almost all of the pipe cleaners I viewed were for arts and crafts and, as delightful as red, blue and purple pipe cleaners are for constructing dubious furry animals, they are rubbish at cleaning a pipe.

Now I need more pipes!
Thankfully, I am now fully stocked, and today my son sent me a nifty pipe-rack for my birthday; the first, I suspect, of many pipe-accoutrements. When my birthday arrives, I will already be an inveterate pipe-smoker, and this pleases me because, if I have to be a “man of a certain age,” I at least want to look the part.

I'm thinking of getting my hair done like this, too.


  1. Michael, I love this post. And I agree that there's something dignified about a man with a pipe. Perhaps it's because my dad smoked a pipe (a cigar and a pipe) so its ingrained in me. And I love the pictures you chose... all pretty much beloved figures. I mentioned this article in my recent post on Blogger. Hope this is OK...

    1. A pipe is unquestionably more civilized than a cigarette ;) and more people like the aroma of a pipe. They were pretty common back in the day, so I think a lot of people have a memory link to them, which is a good thing for us rare pipe smokers!
      Thanks for the mention! You talked me up pretty well, I hope I can live up it. ;)

  2. I love this post as well. And while I'm not a man about to turn sssiii ... ssssiii ... the new forty, I am a woman about to. Don't think I'll take up pipe smoking, as alluring as you make it sound. My new habit is writing (with some running thrown in when my bum tires of the chair). With any luck I hope one day before I turn the new sixty I'll be over on that side of the pond. Happiest of birthdays to you.

    1. Thanks, Sherit! Good luck with the writing, and the running. I've done both and I like writing a whole lot better ;)
      Best of luck in your "New" forties.

  3. Well, it could have been chewing baccie I suppose.

    1. Ew! With the stained tongue and everything to go with it!

      I definitely think the hairstyle in the last photo would suit you. Do go for it.

    2. Yes, chewing (or snuffing) would be, in my book, taking tobacco a step too far ;)