Not many people nowadays smoke a pipe.
My father did.
And he wasn't the only one.
Many people smoked pipes of different shapes and sizes, from the ones that stuck out straight from the mouth, to the ones that bent like a slow snake. Well, they all seemed to like it, somehow, smoking a pipe.
For instance, I can remember a barge full of coal come chuntering down the Grand Union. That was the old canal beside whose banks we went to school. And steering this barge from the back was an old ladyI her teeth clamped hard around a pipe! But nobody seemed to like it as much as my father. He puffed on it in the morning and he puffed on it in the evening. And if his pipe was already lit, he puffed on it in the lavatory. And this is my story.
One day he dropped his pipe down the lavatory bowl. Well! You'd think he might have thrown it away. Yuck! But noI this was a favourite pipe. So he picked it up, and he washed it out, and he soaked it for seven days in disinfectant. He soaked it so long the bowl of his pipe turned a kind of rusty green. But it was clean! So he took it out and he filled it. And he lit it. Well, Iwasn't there, but my brother was. He told me what happened next.
A giant green flame came leaping out of my father's pipe. It burnt the ceiling and scorched his eyebrows. And apparently it didn't taste too good. "Good God!" he cried, as he sprang up from his chair. "Good God in Heaven!", and he danced round the room before throwing his pipe in the fire. Which just goes to show that a week's disinfectant is not the best thing to put in your pipe. Even if it's a favourite one.
One of my father's friends was called Clarence. Now Clarence didn't smoke a pipe: what he did was take snuff. Little pinches of it from a tin that was always in his pocket.
Clarence took a good deal of snuff. And on the way from the tin to hisnostrils a lot of it spilled on his clothes. In fact Clarence's clothes usually looked as though he'd been rolling on the ground in them. And once I did actually see him on the floor.
Poor Clarence suffered from very bad rheumatism, something he never complained about. He walked on two sticks and one day lost his footing and went crashing down. Everyone was appalled and rushed to his aid.
"Clarrie, are you hurt?" cried my father.
But Clarence lay on the floor, smiling.
"I'm fine," he said. "Sorry about the disturbance."
And he got his tin out and took a pinch of snuff!
Kit Wright lives in Hackney, East London, and writes for children and adults. He also broadcasts, gives poetry performances and runs writing workshops. His last publication was a re-telling of Rumpelstiltskin in the Magic Beans series (Scholastic). He is currently working on a new book of poems.