One wouldn’t normally associate a book on pipes and pipe-smoking with deceit, guilt and posterior discomfort. This is how it happened.
It was 1964. I was a scholastically challenged 14-year-old from north London who had just undergone double maths. Still dazed, I’d wandered off to the back of the bike sheds where I came across Howard Payne and his cronies furtively dispatching a packet of Gauloises.
Payne was a schoolboy thug with whom I had nothing in common except that it was he who occupied my position at the bottom of the class on those rare occasions when I vacated it. His
favourite trick was to feign largesse by offering a cigarette to the unwary. If you refused, or failed to smoke it without coughing, you would be ridiculed and your shins remodelled.
As I’d never smoked anything before and was rather attached to Nature’s provision in the lower-leg department, I decided to put him off with the following: ‘No thank you, Payne,’ I said. ‘I used to smoke cigarettes when I was young but I now prefer the more mature smoke afforded by a good pipe.’ There followed a torrent of abuse and the fixing of a date after the Easter holidays when I would be required to back up my boast or suffer the aforementioned.
The following morning I was in my local library enquiring about the Government Assisted Passage Scheme to Australia when I happened upon a book written by a tobacconist called Dunhill, a name I’d seen on some of my father’s pipes. The Pipe Book sets out to trace the global history of pipes and pipe-smoking from the sixteenth century to the early decades of the twentieth. Full of easily parrotable facts and insights, comprehensive descriptions of the pipes themselves, photographs and line drawings, it seemed the ideal tool with which to fake expertise and get the better of Payne. I took it home and started reading.
In the 1920s, tobacco consumption in the UK reached its peak and so did Alfred Dunhill’s sales, b
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