James Leavey's Corner
The First Time, But Not Necessarily The Last

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The first time, but notnecessarily the last

by James Leavey, editor, The FOREST Guide to Smoking in London
and The FOREST Guide to Smoking in Scotland

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James Leavey

Although I started smoking cigarettes at the age of twelve and had tried theoccasional cheroot, the first time I encountered anyone smoking a propercigar was when I worked for a South African newspaper and magazine companybased in Fleet Street, in London, not long after I left school at 15.

One of my colleagues, a 15 year-oldoffice messenger from Islington in north London, suggested I accompany hisfriend to see an X certificate film called 'Mono Cane' at a cinema in theHolloway Road. Having spent a night on the tiles the previous evening, wecouldn't afford the price of three admission tickets, so we decided to sneakin. My friend, five feet 4 inches tall and dressed in a flashy mohair suitthat convinced the cinema's cashier that he was indeed old enough to see thefilm, bought a ticket, went in, and sat down. A few minutes later he went tothe toilet, and opened up the back door to the cinema so that his two palscould get in for free.

Wethen sat down, carefully, in the only three seats left in this crowdedcinema - in the front row of the front stalls. The other young man, alsofrom Islington and also dressed in a trendy mohair suit, then pulled out adouble corona, bit the end off it, inserted a match to 'keep the hole open',ignited the cigar and sat back to watch the film.

Mondo Cane, made in Italy in 1961,was a notoriously gruesome documentary of thirty sequences of violentlyeccentric human behaviour, including cannibalism, a dog meal restaurant,insects as food, and women's skin peeled as part of a beauty treatment, andis now best remembered for its theme song, 'More', which became a worldwidehit. The film itself has rarely been shown since.

MondoCane also featured, about halfway through, the beheading of an ox by a manwith a large sword, at which point, the young cigar smoker seated on myright, who had avidly watched every horrible detail, threw up all over thefront stalls. Later, he blamed it on the cigar. Or maybe it was the match.

Unfortunately, this over-reaction toan exceptionally nasty bit of movie-making attracted the attention of thecinema manager - who asked us to produce our tickets and, when we wereunable to do so, quite rightly threw the three of us out.

And Inever actually got to try that cigar - which ended up on the floor in thegoo.

Nowadays, such violent imagery iscommonplace in cinemas, where cigars are now banned. Long gone are the dayswhen you would try to see what was on the big screen through the clouds ofexhaled smoke.

Notthat I dislike going to the movies. Or that I ever gave up on cigars.

But nowadays I prefer to watch filmsfrom the comfort of my armchair at home.

And I avoid most gruesomedocumentaries, especially any that go on about the death-knell of smokers.


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