Looking cool goes up in a puff

15th September 2006 at 01:00
On the last day of the summer holidays, I had the genuine Life on Mars experience. I stepped out on to the street and suddenly it was 1973. Was I mad? Was I in a coma? No, I was in Millport.

Actually, I was very taken with the place. My son and I did the usual Cumbrae thing of hiring bikes but eschewed convention, choosing to cycle up one of the island's few hills instead of toddling around the coastal road.

We then went to a cafe that had clean red Formica-topped tables and tasteful swathes of black and white Art Deco tiling on the walls. I ordered a ginger beer. It came in a chunky glass with a skinny green straw. I felt like I was in the sort of place where Oor Wullie and Fat Bob would have gone to share an ice cream floater, a place unchanged in 50 years.

Of course, I was wrong about the lack of change. All I had to do was to sniff the air. Not a hint of smoke.

Decisively and uncompromisingly, our Parliament has banned lighting up in public places. "Nanny state!" yelled the sort of people who doubtless would have claimed that votes for women was political correctness gone mad had they been around at the time.

Rightly, the ban was presented as being of benefit to those who worked in places where smoking took place. Undoubtedly, the hope is for a knock-on effect. Fewer people will smoke and those who continue to do so will smoke less.

Schools have been ahead of the game in this respect. When I started teaching there were staffrooms where I had to whip out a pocket chainsaw and slice away a slab of fug before I could enter. Now staff have to leave the premises for a fix. Good message.

An even better message will be sent when winter comes. It has been a cracking summer and smokers have enjoyed something of a pavement cafe atmosphere outside pubs.

Wait till the hail starts. Wait till the fag won't light in the teeth of a gale. Try looking like James Bond or a supermodel when there's a drip on the end of your nose and your fingers look like they belong in Tesco's frozen king prawn section.

If all of this stops even a small fraction of kids from becoming poor wee mingers who have traded their health for an image, I'll be ecstatic.

Paradoxically, we can no longer do quite as much in science departments to discourage the habit. For years, we used a smoking machine with a real cigarette to show just what ended up in your lungs. The advice from the Scottish Executive at the time of writing is that this would now be illegal indoors.

Michty! As they probably never say in Millport.

Gregor Steele likes Rothesay as much as he likes Millport

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