Whatever happened to the post-work cigarette?

Well, we might be stretching it a little this month, but the ritual of the after-work boozer bitching session just won’t be the same without fag in hand.

There’s something innately and irrationally satisfying about clubbing together all of your change for the grossly overpriced cigarette machine, feeding in the pound coins that clunk their way through and have to be fed in again because for some reason the machine doesn’t recognise them as money the first time round, being mildly disappointed by the fact that there are only 16 instead of the usual 20 as you rip open the cellophane wrapper and pluck out the little piece of silver-backed paper, offering the packet round the table, scrabbling around to find a lighter only to discover you left it in the office and going to the bar to beg for some free matches, and finally lighting up the first in what will be a long chain of cigarettes to come throughout the evening, with fewer and fewer gaps between them as the giant-sized glass of sauvignon blanc kicks in.

So it’s goodbye to the scene of workers crowded round a tiny round table in the pub’s already limited smoking section, berating their low salaries, high workloads, grumpy bosses, sweaty commutes, lack of creative input, irritating colleagues, rubbish desks, slow computers and general ennui, all punctuated by the collective sucking in and puffing out of grey/blue spirals of sweetly passifying smoke. It’s goodbye to the overflowing ashtray filled to the brim with lipstick-stained butts and the coughing, spluttering realisation that you’ve smoked all 16 and the machine’s no longer working and the nearest shop is 12 minutes walk away and it’s raining but you go on a mission anyway because there’s nothing that can stand between you and your next beautiful cigarette.

Now that the smoking ban is not just some distant myth but an all-too-enforceable reality, perhaps those disgruntled gaggles of workers will be a little bit more fired up, a little bit less distracted and rally forth some really serious union action. Perhaps employers should start getting worried. Then again, maybe they’ll just breathe a little easier and their clothes smell a little fresher.

Published in Onoffice magazine, August 2007. To view it in context, click on the PDF link below.

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