I hope you enjoy my memories of a pastime which was an integral part of life at Salvo for some people including yours truly.
As I remember, there were two so called smokers corners. The main one was on the redgra adjoining the back of the houses in Athelstone Road. Occasionally it was deemed safer to smoke on the redgra behind the Windsor & Newton factory using the trees for cover. I however never felt comfortable there and preferred the former. Of course smoking went on in many other places by individuals who wanted a bit of peace and quiet. I remember once having a quick puff in a deserted Art Room one winter's day at lunchtime when it was far too cold to hang around the playground. Another time, four of us bunked off a lesson and hung out in a toilet cubicle, all 4 of us merrily smoking away. The toilet area must have absolutely stunk, but we didn't care. I even heard of someone who went into the adjoining St Joseph's church for a quick drag, using an already lighted candle to light up. This could either be deemed ice cool or a sacrilege, depending on your point of view.
There were unwritten rules for the smoking fraternity and you transgressed them at your peril.
For a start, you always had to either give a cigarette or share one with a fellow smoker who didn't have any. In retrospect, the practice of sharing was particularly disgusting. The worst crime was to "bum" the filter tip, i.e. leaving it moist with your saliva.
My smoking started early. I would have my first cigarette of the day on my paper round and then have a further smoke at morning break and then at lunchtime. If we walked home from school, we would congregate at the back of the Fine Fare supermarket in Wealdstone High Street for what was in most cases my last cigarette of the day, as my Dad would have killed me if he'd caught me smoking at home.
Obviously the worst thing was to get caught smoking. Thankfully this only happened to me once. Myself and a couple of other boys were caught by a prefect and told to report to Fr Raymond the next day. I spent a worrying night wondering what was going to happen to us. However when we went to the staffroom the following lunchtime, Fr Raymond didn't turn up. The prefect told us to turn up again the following day and I went through the whole grisly process of worrying myself sick again. However he didn't turn up yet again, so the prefect told us to count ourselves lucky and not to smoke again. Needless to say we all dashed back to smokers corner to celebrate our good fortune with a cigarette.
There were a great variety of brands available in those days. The most popular were Players No 6 which were cheap. If you were really hard up, you could buy some brands in packets of 5.
If however you were flush, then Benson & Hedges king-size were the brand to buy. There were crazes for menthol cigarettes and also rollups with both plain and liquorice papers - I tried them all during my time. Very occasionally you would see exotic brands such as Peter Stuyvesant and Sobranie Black Russians. The strongest brand was Capstan full strength which made you go dizzy when you first inhaled.
... the other great space was the (lower?) sixth common room. It had a crap record player. Cigarette smoking was tolerated there as we was over sixteen. It was a seething pit of dog ends. How we must have stunk at lessons after break.
One boy was famous for always having two packs of ciggies. One full and the other containing only one fag. This was the one you were offered and mostly refused.
Gave up smoking when still nineteen though. Life seemed to be better and perhaps it required less escapist solace. Giving up made mood intensifying pot smoking more of a challenge though. Perhaps I puffed but did not inhale, just like Clinton.
One thing I remember with great humour (although it didn't seem so funny at the time) was being up at the smokers corner, with a boy from a younger year "keeping dogs" at the protruding corner of the playground.
Normally we'd get away with a sly cigarette there, or at least get enough of a warning of an approaching teacher to hide the ciggies and put on a air of innocence. However, one time we got totally caught out by the fiery science teacher, Mrs O'Donoghue. She must have gone all the way around to the priestsí house on the other side of the church, gone inside and up the stairs and exited through one of the windows above the staff room, onto the roof of the walkway by the tuck shop. Needless to say, *no-one* noticed as she slyly walked along the roof towards the art room, just in order to get a full look down at the smokers. I don't know how long she was there before we noticed her... but I can still remember her glare boring into me from across the full distance of the playground.
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