Lots of people enjoy deriding political correctness, but I think that one great benefit that it has brought us is the ban on smoking in the workplace that’s now pretty much universal in western culture. It’s easy to forget how far we have come since other people’s smoking was just one of those things that you had to put up with, so here are the stories of two smokers from my early years in the workforce.
The Jolly Green Giant
My first boss was known to everyone as the Jolly Green Giant – a tenuous connection with an advertising poster somebody had once found, apparently because at one stage he’d worn a green suit to work. He’s long since dead, but perhaps it’s better if I leave out his name, so let’s just call him the JGG, as we all did.
The JGG smoked. A lot, between two and three packets a day. And he had this curious habit that for his brain to be able to think about the job at hand, he needed somebody sitting opposite him in his office. It didn’t seem to matter much what we said or did because he’d disagree anyway.
There were only a few of us to share the time in his visitor’s chair, so we all copped it for hours every day. I always came home with my clothes reeking of cigarette smoke. So if I ever die of lung cancer, it’s his fault. And as my second boss once curtly observed, the JGG didn’t even have the decency to die of a smoking related cancer himself.
I have no idea how he got his nickname, but that’s what it was. The Major smoked a pipe. I’ve been told that one of the hazards of pipe smoking is that it dulls the taste buds, so that you have to progress to stronger tobaccos.
The strongest is supposed to be Balkan Sobranie, and that's what The Major smoked. At the desk next to mine. I’d grown up with parents who smoked and managed to cope because at least Balkan Sobranie was much more aromatic than cigarettes – and I can still smell it now. But across the partition was a group who were all non-smokers, and they hated it. They had a row of four desk fans forlornly trying to blow it all back at him.
It was before I started work there that these guys decided to have their revenge. One morning they came in early, got a new full box of rubber bands from the stationery store, chopped them up into fine pieces, and mixed them into the tobacco tin. Then they waited for the results.
The major arrived, stoked his pipe, and lit up. Everything happened as it always did.
By mid morning, much of the building had been evacuated, except for The Major. The culprits gave up and told him what they had done.
"Oh", he said, "I thought it tasted a bit different this morning."