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Sunday, 30 January 2011

Forty Years On: How many cigarettes to Arenal?

Continuing a story that begins in Forty Years On and Counting and continues with Putting a lid on it

Four weeks or so of diligently providing caps for (arguably) the nation’s favourite sandwich spreads, provided me with untold wealth.  Well, untold wealth from my point of view, my only comparison being the meagre rewards from my paper round before Mr. Kidger in Uxbridge Street, Burton, finally dispensed with my services (which is another story altogether).  Inevitably, all of this money burned a hole in my pocket and, one second-hand moped later (yet another story) I was returned to my usual impecunious state.

September arrived and I presented myself at Burton Technical College (as it then was) in Lichfield Street for my first day of lessons under the new regime.  I was to study ‘A’ Level English Literature and Economic & Social History.  As these two subjects together did not fill my week sufficiently to satisfy the Education Authority, I had also opted (rather optimistically) to take ‘O’ Level Mathematics. 

Day 1, and my first lesson of the week was History with the wonderfully laid-back Mr. M as our teacher.  The class was small, perhaps 15 students in total, and comprised of a large number of girls, mostly from my old school, plus two lads, me and Kev.  It soon became apparent that Kev was everything that I was not.  Tall, blond, handsome and supremely at ease with people in general and women in particular, he contrasted sharply with the short, dark-haired youth, with a face that only a mother could love, parked at the other end of the row of seats (me, if you were in any doubt).  Whilst Kev could charm birds from trees, I looked more like a candidate for Dutch Elm disease.  Crippled with shyness, I found it difficult to even hold a conversation with my ex-Anglesey classmates, let alone someone I didn’t know at all.

Tea break came and we trooped off to the Refectory,  Kev in animated conversation with some of the girls, me trailing along behind. This is probably how things would have stayed had my addiction not compelled me to take a leap of faith.  I had absolutely no cigarettes.  I hadn’t even been able to ‘borrow’ one from my dad’s packet (probably because he didn’t have any either).  So, by tea break every fibre of my being was screaming.  This was particularly galling as one of the main attractions of Burton Tech was that students were treated as adults and were allowed to smoke with impunity.  It was, therefore, particularly hard to be cigarette-less on the first occasion when I didn’t have to nip behind the bike sheds to indulge.

“Erm, you don’t happen to have a spare fag I could borrow?”

I surprised myself with this outburst, but needs must when the cravings drive.  Kev looked back up the stairs, said “Yeah, sure” and produced a packet of Players No. 6 Tipped, a rare luxury for someone who had previously existed on a diet of Senior Service Extra, Benson & Hedges Sovereign or Players No. 10, all of which had filter tips that were nearly as long as the tobacco portion, and that wasn’t saying much.

We chatted and, over the rest of the academic year, became firm friends.  It was a good match because he had cigarettes, money and an easy confidence with girls and I wished to acquire all three.  As the next summer holidays approached, we talked about how we could spend these doing something marginally more exciting that putting caps on jars of vegetable and beef extract.  Kev had dreams of hitch-hiking through France and grape-picking.  Exciting as these sounded, they came crashing up against my deeply conservative inner adult (other people have an inner child, I have an inner adult, it’s depressing but it keeps me out of trouble).  I set about modifying Kev’s ambitions.

It was 1971 and package holidays were being made available for the masses by firms like Clarksons (remember them?)  Somehow, I managed to persuade Kev to abandon his dreams of life on the open road and a bohemian existence amongst the peasant farmers, and settle instead for a week at the Hotel Arenal Park, Arenal, Majorca, of which more next time in No, Luton Airport!

You can find more stories from The Slightly Odd World of Phil Whiteland in e-book format - Steady Past Your Granny's - Kindle Edition (UK) or Steady Past Your Granny's - Kindle Edition (USA)