9 October 2009


Perhaps my favourite shop in Sheffield is just off Chesterfield Road near to the Heeley railway bridge. It's called Langton's Antiques Emporium. Here we are not talking about highly-polished catalogue stuff that belongs in the homes of the hoity toity but about bric-a-brac and curiosities ranging from old beer tankards and badgers' heads to Victorian fireplaces and "Eagle" comics. You never know what you might find in Langton's. For the curious and the openly nostalgic, Langton's is an Aladdin's cave - more like a museum than a shop.

Well the other day, I took our son Ian for breakfast in the little workaday cafe that is also housed in the emporium. Afterwards, Ian and I had a nose about Langton's latest junk and there in a glass case we saw some second world war memorabilia - including, shiveringly, a grubby little white arm band with a blue star of David embroidered upon it and the label "Juden". Momentarily, you wonder who might have worn it and how it came to be in this glass case. As well as being a symbol of Nazi evil, it was an emblem of the rejected, outcasts, people who were considered to be less than human.

This brings me to the title of this post - "Huddles" - and sorry for my odd mental linkage - I'm not thinking about huddles of Jews in the streets of Warsaw or Prague but about Britain's remaining smokers. You must have seen them - outside offices, shops, bars and even hospitals - huddles of smokers looking, well, like modern-day outcasts, the rejected ones. They have furtive body language and seem self-conscious as you pass by. One arm will often be crossed over the chest as they suck on the evil weed, billows of acrid blue-grey smoke rising above their pasty heads. I want to go over and yell - "Stop this stupidity and get inside! Give the horrible things up!"

I hate it when I have to enter a building that is being guarded by a smokers' huddle. It's best to take a deep breath of unpolluted air and then dash through, taking care not to catch the smokers' eyes. You never know how these odorous outcasts might react. In fact, returning to those WWII armbands, I think new dayglo orange armbands should be mandatory for all smokers complete with the embroidered label "Smoker" and a suitable symbol - maybe a little chimney belching smoke or a cigarette being stubbed in an ashtray or perhaps, to keep it simpler, the cutesy swastika and cancer stick design shown above. Absolutely no apology to any smoker who may be coughing over this post. Give em up!


  1. I've never smoked and am SO pleased that pubs no longer reek of smoke. But many streets do now! I hope that in future generations it will not be seen as "cool" - as it still is in some places and with some people.

  2. As an ex smoker now of all of 13 months it would be very easy of me to join the section of society who oppress the downtrodden weed junkies. (of which there are still a sizeable minority)

    However, I know lots of people who are trying to give up- but it's not easy. Especially in a world that creates so much disappointment, smoking like drinking, is an easily ready-made antidote to modern living.

    Indeed, the fact that most people treat it as such a big thing in their lives (along with this you can include fatty foods and chocolate etc)it becomes such a psychological burden and only when it's treated as simply something that you have to live without (like a friend that's dragging you down or a long-lost love that you'll never see again)will you ever have the will-power to stop.

    I commend the smoking ban because it has worked, but I also deplore the way smokers are treated as second-class citizens- made to feel like Heroin addicts or something.

    Shame on the Nazis that try to perpetuate this myth too!

  3. Good post, YP. I was a long term heavy smoker but gave up the ghastly weed in 1988. I was thankful for the smoking ban and now curse the smoke screen I have to walk through when I visit the shops. I have noticed by the body language that some smokers seem to be embarrassed to be standing outside puffing like a steam engine. If that was me, I'd give up, although I can appreciate the difficulty some people have in doing so.
    But I cannot sympathise. Giving up is not as hard as some believe it to be. Just DO IT for goodness sake. They should remember that it's probably killing them anyway.

  4. I agree about the smoking but not about the making things mandatory.

  5. Smokers don't need any special armband or symbol to identify them, all you need is to take a good sniff and you know immediately!

  6. DAPHNE Smokers used to "own" public places. They had licence to pollute the air. Now that licence is gone I am pleased that they look furtive and guilty because in such an environment it will be easier to give up.
    B.B.BOOTHKOK Your defence of smokers suggests that you are still on their side. We will see you at the barricades!
    VALERIE I agree with you. There are too many excuses made. Giving up is easier than people might think. I was a smoker for thirteen long and smelly years and in the end it was simple - chuck the fags in the bin and leave the habit behind. Willpower!
    RHYMES WITH P. The armband bit was tongue-in-cheek sir. We English call it ironic humour.
    SHAMMICKITE As a non-smoking teacher I could always tell which kids had had crafty cigarettes before lessons. They stank!

  7. I didn't realise Langton's was still there. I had somehow come to beieve that it had closed. Will have to go back and have a visit.

  8. There's only one thing I hate more than smokers, and that's sanctimonious tw*ts.

  9. Lucy - what was the missing letter? Would it have been an "a" by any chance? I guess you would certainly know what one of those was. I tried to access your blog but you don't seem to have one. You could call yours "I Love Lucy" after the banal American comedy of that name.

  10. YP - I don't suppose you've ever heard the word twat before, in all your years of teaching. Thank goodness for the protection of asterisks!
    (Lucy, come on over to my blog, I'm a sanctimonious smoker-hating twat and sarky with it!)


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