Posts Tagged ‘cigarettes.’

The fascinating tale of the apprentice teetotaller.

August 1, 2020

Teetotallers on the rise: Why are young people drinking less than ...

The uncorking of the Shiraz usually heralded the end of long noontides for me and perhaps many of us. The beginning of the late afternoon arrived with a predictable ritual that stood the test of time over many decades. The comfortable chair beckons in perfect sync with the sun lowering its burnished lashes in a final blaze of golden amber. Wine- time had made its much cherished entree in my household over many decades. I can’t think of a time when an afternoon and evening would pass without this delightful airing of the bottled nectar for saints and sinners alike.

It doesn’t discriminate or pretend, and is totally moral to its faithful imbibers in its almost childlike innocence. My own choice was for a drink made from grapes. Others, I believe, get this same pleasure from the fermentations of wheat and flowing waters of the Scottish Highlands or anything that through the art of experts who studied alchemy, and conjured up fermented liquids that seemed to temporarily heighten the pleasures of  dull moments that fill most of our lives. I have yet to enjoy vacuuming, eat vegemite or pay gas bills.

If the reader noticed the past tense of the above yet to be written opus on my decision to an apprenticeship in teetotalling together, and at the same time, admit my admiration for alcohol and its glorious history of joy and its polished and burnished pleasures derived from the fruit of the land, it is due to my decision to break this ritual and start another one.

There is no reasonable logical explanation how this decision was reached. Perhaps the closest I can justify it might be that the ritual was becoming somewhat sated and as predictable as  paying gas bills or vacuuming. There was no flash of insight or a harping angel beckoning me to stop. There was this ritual of getting up to get the bottle, uncap it and then pour the drink in a glass. As I said, mine was a Shiraz and my late wife Helvi, a dry white. We both loved it and had decades together of happy sipping and quaffing.  Those sweet memories are so sustaining now.

After I became a single and widowed man I continued this habit and made sure I never was without. Day in day out, the afternoon would arrive and I would sit and sip, sit and sip, till four nights ago I had the epiphany. It struck me as odd for someone who prided himself on making life as interesting as possible accepting this ritual of drinking red liquid every day. Of course, I also take my pyjamas off every day, not a pretty sight, shower solemnly, and make my breakfast on whole seeded bread (every day). One slice with cheese and one slice with berry jam from Aldi.

I broke the habit this morning with keeping my pyjamas on while having breakfast. I also defied the bread with cheese and jam. Out of the blue I had two boiled eggs, just like that! I wanted to make the start of the day a bit more interesting.  A bit more verve really. Of course, I took my pyjamas off after the egg episode and the day progressed normally. I had my coffee at the local cricket café with friends and without cricket talk. A habit that I will continue hopefully for years to come.

And that breaking of habits is the closest reason I can come to. No other that I can think off. I am baffled myself, but there you are. One has to make a life as good as possible. I am now facing the fifth afternoon without the lure of the crimson nectar. I sleep soundly, and if anything with less toilet breaks during the night, which is a blessing. The garden is starting to respond to longer days and I will soon be able to show you the flowering grape hyacinths and irises.

I gave up smoking too, when in 1994 the time had come to chuck the habit. I only managed to do this by making the promise to smoke again when turning 65. Of course, after turning 65 I had lost the urge to smoke. I sometimes think how it would be to light up again. Would I like it or get addicted again? I sure was hooked to that one. I remember well that first puff of a new cigarette. It too was ritualistic, fingering the ciggy, holding it, delaying the lighting and then finally, that first glorious puff and holding it for a few seconds. And then the delight of blowing the smoke skywards. It was so lovely.

Sugar Tax? Yes, please.

January 28, 2019

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Even though Australia is one of the fattest countries in the world, it still obstinately refuses to seriously consider a tax on sugar including sugary drinks and sugary foods. Twenty eight countries so far have put a tax on sugar. Mexico, another country with enormously large people, introduced it in 2014. Seven US cities and several US states also introduced some form of penalty on sugar.

Anyone who has ever visited Australian shopping malls could not but have noticed the rapid increase in morbidly obese people. They also are getting younger. It is now not uncommon to see large swollen babies in prams being pushed by very obese parents. While there might be other contributing factors for this obesity epidemic, sugar certainly is one of them. Lack of exercise another one!

It is estimated the obesity problem is costing Australia 5.3 billion a year. Even a modest increase in the cost of sugar would return $ 500 million annually.

I could not have been prouder as a Dutch-born Australian than when Australia tackled and won a battle against the giants of the Cigarette and Tobacco industry. Australia was now leading the world. They gave us us a well deserved standing ovation. It was Julia Gillard and her minister, Nicola Roxon, who decided to  stand up for the health of its voters and won. It cost the Gillard Government almost 40 million to fight Phillip Morris.

Gillard and Roxon surely would have to be best politicians of all time. How many lives have they saved from the dreaded lung cancer? Why is this government so loath to follow suit? Thousands of people are getting diabetes of their addiction to sugar. The law to package cigarettes in Logo free and drab brown coloured packaging is helping to prevent and reduce smoking. Many countries including the European Union have followed Australia’s lead in controlling tobacco sales.

The same could be done with sugary drinks. Have them logo free and the liquid drab brown coloured. Put a tax on them equal to cigarettes and watch the shopping malls return to having a more svelte looking shopping crowd…

Of course there will always be large people around, and genetics, as with so much else, has a lot to do with that. This article is to do with the morbidly obese. People who are still walking around but are dying of obesity. Surely, a responsible government could follow so many countries that are now reaping the benefits of sugar tax and have a healthier population?

Sadly , our opposition, the Labor Party is opposed to a sugar tax and feel that personal choices should be made. But walking around, it is obvious that people’s healthy choices against the might of the sugar industry’s advertising might, fails miserably.



The return! (Auto-Biography)

August 16, 2015

While the three years in Holland are worthy of a book-tome on its own, I have to move on. Time is of the essence. Having arrived at seventy-five since the  seventh of August this year, and with at least another forty years to record, I must move on from the nineteen- seventies. A derailment is a possibility! Still, I must remain sanguine and take heart from the statistics that tell me there is an eighty percent chance of turning eighty- five for those that are in good health at seventy- five. However the odds of turning ninety-five at eighty-five years of age are less cheerful.

A few art shows followed the primary school triptych commission. Here and there paintings were sold and generally things were steaming along nicely. Our three children were growing fast but not so fast that driving around in the Kombi wasn’t at times a somewhat difficult  and testing task. Young children on long car trips is a job too far. Who would not be bored sitting confined in a metal box on rotating rubber wheels? Instead of long drives, we  set up tents in the paddocks together with sheep and Shetlands.  It was a blessing. The kids loved it and with two tents, they could swap around if there were disagreements on which teddy to sleep with or who had pinched an extra biscuit.

My brother Frank with his long suffering chronic schizophrenia was finally repatriated and taken back to Holland in 1975. Australia doesn’t serve the disadvantaged well.  It had been a hell. In bewildered desperation he had jumped off the Pyrmont bridge in Sydney. His left foot was to become forever damaged. He was fortunate to have survived the jump.

Years of tussles between the Australian bureaucracy and my parents did not resolve the lack of care for Frank. He would either be free to come and go as he liked, or, the alternative, have him ‘scheduled’ and he would never come home. The idea of ‘scheduling’ Frank into an Australian institute filled us all with horror. There did not seem to be anything in between. The very term ‘scheduled’ brings Charles Dickens and Bedlam into focus. Even today, I would not want to hear Mental Health and Australia mentioned in the same sentence. At least not during that period. When Frank jumped off the Pyrmont bridge he had for some years joined that army of the dishevelled, the uncombed and lost souls that roam streets, hovering between a vague sanity and death without much care by others except for the desperate parents or a rare kind person that would at times provide food, shelter and some encouraging words.


Two Dutch carers from Holland came to pick Frank up from Sydney and he was flown back to Holland together with my parents. It would not have been easy to have a mentally ill person on a plane, but the Dutch Government would have complied with the relevant regulations. One can imagine! My parents were informed of what to expect for Frank in the care of Dutch social welfare and mental health. He had a room on his own with TV, encouraged to play sport and swim. He would have his own income and free to do with it what he liked. ( mainly cigarettes) . My parents would be at all times kept informed about his health, medication. He would be given dental care, his feet, eyes, all would be looked at and maintained. His days would be spent with activities and at times would be taken in groups on outings, excursions, holidays; even at one stage to France! My parents were free to visit and Frank free to visit his parents but accompanied by nursing staff.

Helvi and I remember once visiting Frank at his new place in Holland and asked if we could speak to his doctor and staff. We were given a lunch, sat around the table talking to the psychiatrist, his doctor, staff and given all the information to do with Frank’s care. An unbelievable and wonderful experience. A weight was lifted from our family. Why was that so difficult to achieve in Australia?

My parents also left Australia for good and decided to be with Frank and own extended family of brothers and sisters. A considerable number had moved into an age in tandem with themselves. Their numerous children were now adults with own families. Many parents now retired and care-free to enjoy life, paint the town red, or if not red at least take a floating tour on the rivers of Europe, sipping champagne and soak up Habsburg’s castles perched on steep cliffs and rocky outposts.

My parents had put up their house for sale in Revesby, that would afford them a little nest egg. It was for them the right thing to do. They would be with Frank and their own family. The rest of us had settled, married and had children of our own.And a bolt of lightning, we decided, or rather I decided, to return to Australia… But of that…next time.

Confession of a reformed smoker.

January 28, 2015

Our first house in Balmain on harbour-waterfrontage bought for $12.500,- around 1968.

My first smoke was enjoyed by inhaling burning tobacco through a grass halm stuck into a hollowed out acorn. This pipe was handmade by me and the beginning of a promising artistic career. It was a primitive implement but it did work. That first draw was probably coughed out but I was hardened in persisting by the daily cod liver oil unguent given by my mum at earlier years. I was immensely proud of my resourcefulness even though the idea most likely came from other sources. I might have been about twelve or thirteen. A good age to explore. One can never be too young. A burning need the mother of all inventions.

From memory, my parents bought me the first real cigarettes in a packet of ten. It came after the pipe period. I am not sure what the occasion was. Perhaps a birthday or pure generosity of my parents wanting me to feel they thought I had reached a level of maturity cusping into an adulthood. We could question the wisdom but not the love of my parents. Smoking was almost obligatory and even doctors were quoted as promoting smoking in advertisement. Smoking was healthy. All movies showed smoking. I remember tapping the cigarette on the packet first before lighting up, with the élan of an Eva Gardner or even Humphrey Bogart.

It all happened while our family of eight lived here in a typical Dutch street in The Hague; We lived on the top storey and it had three bedrooms. Look closely at the steps going up! There were four entrances at the top of those stairs.,4.26686,3a,75y,189.8h,90t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sX4t_DFwx_o1zKp1SGNZBQg!2e0

In those days milk would be delivered daily by a horse and carriage and the milkman. He would shout ‘milk’, not unreasonable because bread was delivered as well. He, the baker would shout ‘baker’. We also had a scrap- man coming around taking peelings and other food scraps away to be re-sold for animal feed. Most likely for contented pigs. He would make a living too. The scrap-man’s cart was pulled by a large ferocious looking dog that was tied underneath. I stayed well clear off his cart…

After the milkman shouted his presence my mum would shout back the number of litres she needed for that day. At the bottom of our internal stairs a bucket had been placed the previous night by dad. The bucket was enamel green in colour and covered by a cotton cloth. The same bucket used during the war to get soup from the communal soup kitchen! The milkman would then scoop the milk into the bucket and would do the same to all the occupants of the building at the top of those slated stairs leading to four apartments.

As the smoking got hold of me and not being able to fund the habit as readily as I would like, I had taken to buying single cigarettes with coins secreted away from out of the churches collection scoop. This scoop was connected to a long pole that would do the rows on Sunday church. I would put buttons in and take coins out. Many schoolboys would drop into the tobacco shop that smelt deliciously of rich cigars and pipes. We would light up in secret underneath stairs. There must have been some concern though, why did we try and hide it? It was a normal practise to do it in secret. It could be that this secretness added spice to this ritual of schoolboy smoking.

But let me get back to the milkman. One morning on my way to school going down those slated steps, I noticed an open cigarette paper holding some tobacco resting near the bottom of those stairs. Next to it was the almost full and bulging packet of Douwe Egbert’s tobacco. Was I finally being rewarded for having been so good? I did the washing up and laid the table for dinner. “Gerard is the best boy”, mum used to blackmail my brothers and sister with. Of course stealing money from the churches collection scoop was on a different level of ‘goodness’.

Without hesitation I pocketed in one swoop both the ready to roll cigarette paper and the whole packet of tobacco. What a find and how glorious a moment. I haven’t forgotten. However, and here comes the confession, the milkman who was a great aficionado and lover of tobacco, was scooping milk to the owners of the apartment on the right-hand side of those stairs and on the street. ( have a look ) He had just put his tobacco goodies to rest on the slates, ready for a nice reward afterwards. He was out of sight on those stairs going down. I instantly knew and understood the situation but also kept on walking! My heart was pounding. A significant event edged in my conscience. What should I have done? Confess my tobacco habit and dishonesty to the milkman, return sheepishly the tobacco? It wasn’t in me then.

I have always wondered since if the milkman had actually taken notice of me walking past. In any case, he would have been astounded discovering his tobacco had disappeared. If he did know who done it; would he confront me, or worse my father? We were a large family with great milk needs, a good customer! Did he chose to just let it go? I avoided eye contact with the milkman since.

A year later or so we migrated to Australia.

Ps. haven’t smoked for decades.