Friday, September 23, 2005



Smoking, conventional wisdom tells us, is A Bad Thing.

This knowledge, however, does not stop legions of school kids getting their filthy paws on as many tobacco products as they can, and smoking them in the bushes behind the sports hall. All well and good, if it were not for the Great Bushes Behind The Sports Hall Fire of 1981, when the jackboot of authority stamped down on all forms of substance abuse in our school. And that, sadly, included the smoking of PG Tips teabags, of which we were aficionados. Even in Mr Law’s art class, where more-or-less anything goes. Or went.

Come the moment, come the man, and in this case it was my very own brother, who found that Darth Vader, the wheezing old consumptive who ran the newsagents where we had our paper rounds, was willing to sell us snuff. Snuff – that’s ground-up tobacco that you then snort up your nose and sneeze like a bastard.

Better still, snuff was far, far cheaper than regular cigarettes, and the small, blue tin could be secreted round the person in the event of an unexpected spot-check for illicit substances.

This discovery brought about the start of the great snuff craze, which led to entire lessons disrupted by bouts of sneezing and the frenzied groans of acolytes as they tried to hoover up whole lines of the stuff like proper druggies. Kate Moss would have been *so* proud. Snuff spread through the school like wild-fire, with the needy often approaching suppliers in the playground with a plaintive “Hey buddy, can you spare me a pinch?” while a black market flourished in the science block toilets.

Those who couldn't afford snuff, or were too chicken to ask at Darth’s paper shop, went out and sought alternatives. When parents’ kitchen cupboards were stripped bare of anything remotely powdery, they descended on the local supermarket for cinnamon, spices and anything else in powdered form that could be shovelled up the nostrils and sneezed all over the girl sitting at the desk in front.

There were, naturally, accidents. Bicarbonate of Soda was a particularly poor choice on Seany’s behalf, especially bearing in mind that he liked plenty of vinegar on his school dinner, which was, habitually, a double portion of chips. It was perhaps the first and only time I have ever seen somebody literally foaming from the mouth. Talcum powder, sold to unwitting first years at a horrendous mark-up, did have the unfortunate after-effect of preventing the victim from breathing.

We were told to stop, however, on the Day of the Nosebleeds. The Reverend Ratings' sermon during assembly was disrupted by Andy Chapman – the most nose-bleedy person I have ever met – whose surreptitious snort of the highest quality paprika unleashed a torrent of blood from his shattered nasal cavity, which he then sneezed all over the front six rows of the school hall.

“AAAAA-SWEEEEEGH!” he screamed, taking out several windows in the process.

His face spattered with red and yellow goo, Mr Bull, our demon headmaster, was quite understandably rather upset at this turn of events.

“What the dickens are you doing, boy?” he thundered as heads turned to face the culprit.

“I… I… I… AAAAA-SWEEEEEGH!”, he continued, repeating the blood-and-goo trick on the rest of the school, “Snuff sir.”

The cat out of the bag, snuff-taking was added to the ever-lengthening list of prohibited activities, which for some reason, still included “The buying and selling of Gideon Bibles for profit.”

Just say no, kids.

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