January 21, 2010
Return To Abnormality
I found an old friend on Tuesday night.
OK, maybe "an old friend" is going too far. Non-smokers may not get this, and anti-smokers will be enveloped in righteous fury.
It was an inanimate object. An ashtray. "So what?", I hear them shriek. Well, this one (with many of its friends), was in a bar. And it warmed the old cockles to see them. In March, it will be four years since I saw one of these rarities in a Scottish pub. It was an emotional moment for me: here I was, in Europe, my brand new homeland since December 1st 2009, in a bar, where I could smoke to my hearts content. And I can confirm that ye olde pump was never more contented.
I arrived in Hamburg around 5:30 pm and jumped in a taxi for the short ride to my hotel. The driver was a German (most taxi drivers-the world over- are not nationals) and we chatted about the changes since I was last there in the early eighties. I was thoroughly enjoying the chit-chat when we arrived at my hotel. I checked in and the guy on the desk (another German! At every hotel I have stayed at in the UK for the last four or five years I have never been checked in by a British national) was polite, friendly and courteous. He welcomed me, got me into a smoking room, and wished me a pleasant stay.
After working for a couple of hours on my presentation to my customer the following morning, I bimbled down to the bar for some scoff. It was here that I spotted my old pal. I sat down at the bar, ordered a beer and, with a furtive look around the half-full bar, lit a smoke. I needn't have bothered with the furtivity (if that isn't a word, it should be), as no-one in the bar gave a damn. Within a couple of minutes, I had relaxed fully, and I felt right with the world. It has been quite some time since I felt this way. It was, I have to say, bloody fantastic. How, I wondered, can such an innocent act have become so divisive in our country? How can such a small thing have created so much noise? I watched my fellow drinkers and eaters carefully. There was no outrage. There was none of that bizarre hand-waving and false-coughing so prevalent in my own country. There was no tut-tutting swiftly followed by those judgemental sneers. The demographics in the bar mirrored real life. Around twenty people in the place and six of us were smoking.
Still people watching, I was stunned when no-one died. I was amazed that no-one keeled over. There was no real coughing (not even from us smokers) let alone the fake kind. The bar, I noted, was using some sort of wizadry to clear the smoke. On investigation, this witchcraft turned out to be something called ven tee lay shun. Incredible stuff. I don't think we can get ven tee lay shun here. If we could, we would be able to smoke in our bars too. Maybe they only allow ven tee lay shun in Europe proper. It isn't for us late-comers. Perhaps if we behave ourselves this magic will be shared with us.
I confess that I smoked more than I should have, and I drank more than I should have (for a man negotiating a $4M deal the next morning), and I could not resist ordering the Giant Hamburger from the menu. It was cheesy (as was the hamburger) since I was in Hamburg, but it had to be done. The last time I saw a hamburger this big was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and it was labelled "The Heart-Stopper". I had to have one of those too.
My night, which I thought could simply not get any better, did exactly that. I took a drag on my smoke and as I exhaled I spotted another old friend not 18 inches from my head. In the shelf above the bar I saw a bottle of 12 year old Cardhu! It has been far too long since I enjoyed a nip of Cardhu. All the "purists" refused to stock it when the makers decided to use it in a blended whisky. It also happens to be my favourite malt. Long story short, a terrific night was had by yours truly.
My presentation went extremely well too. So much so, that they hung on to me for 2 hours after the meeting ended. With a bit of luck I will be returning often to their offices as we thrash out the global deal. I will be staying in the same hotel, smoking, and finishing off their bottle of Cardhu, smiling all the while, and being normal.
I returned to the airport (another German taxi driver!) to head home. The conversation in the taxi was odd, but enjoyable. The driver spoke to me in German and I answered in English. We both understood the chat from beginning to end.
Hamburg airport is smoker friendly. They have these little fish-tanks dotted about the place (although I didn't use them) and a superb Dunhill smokers lounge. You can de-stress in comfort before getting into that aluminium tube hurtling through the sky at 500mph.
The hotel (though friendly) was a bland Best Western. The best bit about this one was the bar, of course. It is located in Mexicoring to the north of the city, should you ever need to use it.
So, I am back. I have returned to abnormality. I will continue to avoid pubs, bars and clubs here until they see sense. I will continue to use pubs, bars and clubs abroad because they are not terrified of a little harmless smoke. For their bravery, I will reward them with whacking great slabs of their national currency. It's one of those win-win deals.
Time to go blog-trotting to see what has been going on in our funny little fucked up country.