For, you see, a good August evening, with a good book, and a good pipe, reminds me that it is quite simply the only thing. It is either pipe leaf, or modern crisps, when it comes to accompanying your pint, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the latter is more disastrous for your health.
And it is a beautiful art.
It requires work. But not too much work. It must be gently suckled; and yet not too gently - it needs a bit of bite, and no drool; and also you must not pump and pump at it, but lightly play upon its bellows with a breathing regime no less controlled than a choir’s; you want to keep it pacifically going, not consume it in a firestorm; and indeed respiration no less measured than a public orator’s is further required, when you are in the midst of good talk. Many have been the pressing debates upon the affairs of state in the parliamentary chambers of the local inn, suspended, alas, by an improperly timed puff and some rousing conclusion. Many the tears uncontrollably shed. Many the cries of “Order! Order! More ale! My eyes! My tongue!”
Pipe smoking is much more than doing a small impression of a steam train (though it is certainly nothing less).
But of course a good deal of this sentiment, as with many of our joys, requires, for the now, the past tense.
We should all feel privileged to have lived in the last time when a man could still cross the threshold of inn, feel the huge warmth of its fire, espy a vacant seat in an adjacent nook, order a damp mug of something local and set about a good pipe. The whole thing rushes upon me as I think of it!
Perhaps you have filled your pipe in advance, and it has sat carefully primed inside your jacket or coat pocket for your entire walk. Yet perhaps not - and perhaps now, with a forefinger and thumb stained with the homely odour of your wet dog, you come to rest beside him, and withdraw your pouch, for you have construction to see to.
In the leaf goes - drizzle of gamey brown by drizzle of gamey brown - tamped down each time, with all the delicacy of a gardener embedding his new plants - then that first match flaring! - and the first sizzling of the topsoil! Puff. Let it burn and go out. Wait a moment. Your pewter tankard has arrived.
Then the second match.
And ah, how it crinkles with the heat, with all the joy and noise of a childhood bowl of Rice Krispies; and ah, at the end of that first igniting breath, the release and - slightly delayed by the length of the pipe - how it now pours forth, the white, profuse smoke, curling out in slow waves and sluggish eruptions, easing out rhythmically with your breath, like the contented exhaust of a vintage biplane, or the comforting billows of a campfire, or the ghost of a waterfall flowing upwards.
Thou small cauldron of joy!
It is brought home to me that it is no bad thing that our gentleman’s club remains, for now, ethereal, for it is the only means by which it can proudly - and quite rightly - ignore the soft-Stalinist anti-smoking laws, against which some abolition movements should promptly be drafted.