Sunday, June 15, 2008

In Praise Of The Pipe

Some readers will have spotted that here at TDPC we tend toward traditional views of many things. There's a reason for this, and it bears pointing out to those who so love to label themselves with that most misleading of political epithets: "Progressive". Far from considering "traditional" to be a pejorative, we at TDPC consider it a compliment, because things didn't get to be traditional unless they worked in some way, had something to offer, or were just... smart. New ideas get tested, the good ones are the ones that last. And we call this tradition.

Some of our traditions are under constant challenge; nothing wrong with that - if they are good enough, they will survive. Others are in danger of dying out not from challenge, but from neglect. These are of more concern. We like to do our bit here to keep these things going, and so I am pleased to announce that I have now taken up pipe smoking.

I became an occasional smoker at age 14, and it was my mother's doing. My father was a pipe smoker for most of his adult life, but on occasion would enjoy a good cigar, most notably at Christmas. The family tradition arose that the youngest child would buy Dad the Christmas cigar. That youngest child was me, after I arrived on the scene. The Christmas when I was 14, my father had died in the preceding October. Consider my surprise, therefore, when I was duly presented with the cigar on Christmas day, and told that, since the house would not be the same without the aroma of Dad's Christmas cigar, it would henceforth be my duty to smoke it.

From then on, I've always enjoyed the occasional cigar, and with much greater frequency than my old Dad. I'm not hooked, but I probably smoke one or two a month.

The trip to Turkey started me thinking back over the 20+ years since my Dad's death; Turkey is the source of meerschaum, the Holy Grail of tobacco pipe materials. The idea hatched that I should look for a real meerschaum pipe in Turkey, and so I did. I also picked up a pack of my old Dad's favourite tobacco, St. Bruno, at duty free in Heathrow.

Since then, I've learned to smoke the pipe properly; the art of packing, lighting, smoking, cleaning and enjoying a tobacco pipe is actually something it takes a while to learn. But it's a tradition that will die within a generation unless some people make an effort to keep it alive. When did you last see anyone under 60 smoke a pipe?

Why should this tradition not die? There are lots of reasons: smoking a pipe is the very best way to enjoy tobacco. A pipe smokes cool, allowing you to enjoy the flavour and aroma of tobacco unspoilt by burning, hot smoke. A pipe is an intensely personal possession, one that you will come to treasure over time, that becomes part of you. Pipes can be extinguished and relit at will - perfect for the modern, don't smoke here, don't smoke there, world. Fresh pipe smoke smells delicious.

Yes, I'm a contrary old bugger, and as Doggerelle would say, an old fart. But it's worth it, because I would like my children and grandchildren to remember the same visceral things as I remember from my Dad, taken away though he was far too soon. Smells, tastes, textures, these are things that lie deep in memory, and the whiff of St. Bruno does more than any photograph to resurrect the man.

Traditions are traditions for a reason, and we are poorer whenever we lose them. And now, I'm off to the front porch for a smoke. Happy Father's Day