Smoking oneself to death

I was recently invited to stay with a nice cultured family from Istanbul living in the Royal Spa City of Bath, Middle England in a respectable part of the city.

 I was made most welcome. However, I was mortified by their smokingaddiction. The house rule was no smoking indoors because they had an adorable 11 year old daughter, so in turn or together, they would sit outside in the raised patio and smoke Marlboros day in, day out in all weathers. It mattered not if it was freezing, raining, blowing a gale or snowing, they sat and smoked. He smoked at least 30 a day and she about 20. Yes, she had tried to give up even reading Alan Carr's famous book, but to no avail. Their top kitchen cupboard was full of cartons of Marlboros no doubt bought in Istanbul where they were cheaper to buy than in Bath.

I told her the story of the good Spanish Doctor I had met in Segovia in the street when I hung onto a public bin thinking I might vomit into it. He came up to me with his wife who was constantly coughing and clearing her throat. Her voice was hoarse and her dyed black hair framed a forlorn white face so she looked even worse. The doctor invited me for a camomile infusion to settle my tummy. While she excused herself to go to the loo, I was compelled to say something about her rasping voice. He then confessed she was a doctor and at times it hurt her to swallow and speak. I am sure, like my late husband who died within one year of aggressive leukaemia, she is dead from cancer of the throat.

My magical husband Martin could not give up smoking and blamed me because, when we met again in 1980, he asked me to buy him duty free Havanas from the Paris airport. How could I know he had given up smoking? Then he asked me for a 200 carton of Gitanes or Gauloises cigarettes. I obliged but by then he was addicted. He just could not give up despite meeting, the enigmatic American Greek psychiatrist Dr Chris Kyriazis on a ferry boat who urged him to give up smoking. Martin flamboyantly threw his full Gitanes packet into the sparkling blue Aegean Sea promising to give up forever. Promises, promises!

When we were invited to Uri Geller's swish house for lunch, Uri being a health guru, commented on Martin's husky rasping voice, recognising him immediately to be a heavy smoker. There again Martin promised to give up and even went to a hypnotherapist but it was still no good. He was hooked despite trying patches and talking to his doctor. He switched and for a few years smoked a vintage pipe. I bought him an antique pipe rack and a humidor from Havana for his Cohibas. The day he was told his fate, although leukaemia was unconnected with his addictive habit, he gave up cold turkey. Mind over matter! 

Throughout our 25 years together, the rule was no smoking in the bedroom as the smell clung to the furnishings and no cigarette butts left in the ashtray overnight, either in the living room or kitchen because the pervading stale smell was horrific the following day.

Needless to say when my old friend (now ex friend) of 40 years, the Romanian poet emigre Vera Lungu invited herself to visit me in Istanbul about 3 years ago, she was the guest from hell, chain smoking throughout her 10 day stay.  She would sit every morning puffing away on the balcony overlooking the Golden Horn. Vera did not believe in spending money, moaning and groaning throughout her stay even though the hotel cost her nothing as I had invited her after she announced she would be coming having read Orhan Pemuk's book on 'Istanbul'.  What a dragon! She shouted at me when I complained that I could taste the smell of her Gitanes in my bedroom as she walked through, already lit in the bathroom, before sitting out on the balcony. She never spent any money but on her last day, came back with several cartons of Turkish strong fags because they would have cost her double in Paris where she lived. I was relieved when I finally heard the click of the bedroom door and she was gone out of my life forever. Not even a Merci. No doubt by now she will have smoked herself to death! 

Alice Sutton, the former Countess of Belleroche, forever smoking a Gauloise, had a permanent megot, stuck to her lower red lip, when she played classical guitar so she could keep her hands free to play!  So very Parisian with her red or black beret. I think of her fondly in Brighton, London or Paris. She too has passed away, the daughter of the painter Count Albert de Belleroche. 

Odd for a non smoker but I was involved visually throughout the 80s with old Turkish and Greek Ottoman cigarette tins. I would buy them mainly in Belgium selling them in Athens to Manos Haritatos who founded the ELIA archive in Plaka, Athens. He would also create facsimiles of cigarette posters and published a magnificent coffee table book lavishly illustrated on cigarette art plus an enormous corporate calendar with 12 visuals taken from the book. The other outlet was Germany and Switzerland. I was friendly with my Zurich based Romanian client Ivan Baronovsky who had a vast oriental cigarette tin collection. As a graphics designer and photographer he saw the value in these unique pieces of art and when the digital age came in, photographed all his tins, before selling his refined excellent collection on to a German collector.

Almost everyone has died. Manos, Martin, Alice and who knows or cares about Vera in Paris. My main concern is for the Turkish couple who just can't or won't stop even for the sake of their delightful little girl.

Written in Bath on 27.11.17.



ELIA In Athens
Ivan Baronovsky - Zurich
Alice de Belleroche
Albert de Belleroche
Vera Lungu poet
Orhan Pemuk - Istanbul
Martin Breese - magicpedia
Martin Breese - the passing of one of the finest gentlemen....
Uri Geller
Alan Carr stop smoking