Letter from Roger Tarbuck for June-July 2018

In the late Forties, as a twelve-year-old, I was walking with my father up a dark street (you could in those days), when we met two boys of my age who were smoking cigarettes.  Dad spoke sharply to them:  “What d’you think you’re doing?  Put them out.  Now!  What would your fathers say?”  The boys obediently dropped the cigarettes and stepped on them, and we went on our way.  That would be unlikely to happen today, but there is more temptation now: in those days, smoking cigarettes was about as far as you could go in the way of evil.  Of course, I was fascinated by smoking, but no cigarettes fell into my hands.  However, fortune solved this little problem for me – twist.  “Twisty bacco” was what we called it, and it came in a long, thick black twist, the exact diameter of the hole in a cotton reel – most convenient!  Twist was harder for children to get hold of than cigarettes, but somehow, a few inches of the powerful tobacco had miraculously come to a boy at school, and I received half an inch of it; an old cotton reel was no problem.  I’d seen twist cut up and converted into a fibrous little heap between the horny palms of my uncle, who impressed me with his tough, half-smiling presence and the serene way he puffed his pipe.  I didn’t bother rubbing my bacco:  I took my first step by stuffing the short, black piece into the cotton reel and lighting it by sucking hard (yes, indeed!) at the other end of the reel.

The most awful, blackest, thunderous feeling of nausea rocked my head, sweeping down into my body until my head and my stomach were one.  I just had time to reach the toilet before – well, I won’t go on: the experience was too disgusting.  From that day, I lost all interest in smoking – until I was sixteen, that is, and working in a bank, when the fascination with cigarettes rose again in my breast.  An adventurous aunt gave me my first cigarette and suggested that I start on Du Maurier cigarettes, which were mild – and of various colours!  I smoked these in the staff room of the bank, where we ate our sandwiches for lunch.  How to introduce my father to this dreadful secret was a problem, so I faced it head-on.  At home, one evening, I took out a bright pink cigarette and said, in an offhand way, “Can I have a light, Dad?”  My father exploded.  “You’ll never have any money!” he thundered, among other things – with his own cigarette in his hand, too!  Then he gave up, said “Here,” and flicked his lighter for me.

I made several attempts at stopping in later years.  These always failed – until the 26th September, 1966 (precisely!).  By this time, my father was ill and the doctor advised him that he had emphysema and ordered him to stop the habit.  Dad told me that it was impossible to stop after fifty years.  I said, “If you stop, I’ll stop.”  That did it for me.  I had to stop smoking, or my father would die.  Because of this joint effort, we succeeded, and Dad lived for another twelve years.  Nearly twenty years later, I started smoking a pipe, until I was told that I had diabetes and had to stop.  I don’t think about smoking now, simply because to do so would drag me back.  You see, I still occasionally dream of buying cigarettes – from the same tobacconist!  Some great need is still in my unconscious, long after I stopped smoking, and the spooky thing is that it was there, like a tension in my chest, before I ever touched a cigarette.  How could that be?

A Freudian might say that it is something to do with deep longings for the Mother.  A Jungian might decide that it indicates an imbalance in the qualities: Thinking, Feeling, Sensation and Intuition (spirituality), which I favour.  A weakness in intuition creates a lack of balance, with the result that there is overcompensation in Thinking (Super big-head) or Feeling (overemotional) or Sensation (physical things – any of them!).  Each of these qualities is good in balance, but not to the detriment of the others.

There are plenty of opportunities to develop the first three, but it’s not always easy to develop the spirit, in spite of the smorgasbord of mind, body and spirit themes that are on offer today.  The “balance” of Unitarianism plays an essential part in this super display, which reaches from orthodox Christianity, through other beliefs, even to superstitions, all of them claiming to relieve that tension in the chest.  I still feel the tension; sometimes the spirit seems so far away and elusive.  Then come the moments of remembering, when I know that the spirit has been hammering on my door all the time and “all manner of thing will be well”.  Tension relieved.

Yours sincerely,

Roger Tarbuck