Cyril and the Cigarette Factory
I won a competition. Gregory Manheim Gasper, owner of a well-known tobacco manufacturer, had placed five golden tickets amongst five million packets of his best-selling Ahhhh cigarettes. Gasper, an oft-cited surrealist of the sixteenth cinnamon, proposed to offer the lucky winners a guided tour of his top secret factory in outer Tolpuddle and a lifetime supply of finest smokes. The competition ran for thirty days, during which the lung cancer rate rose by a hefty 400 per cent as men, women and children world-wide smoked themselves carcinogens in a bid to find a ticket. Traditionally a seven-a-day man, I myself trebled my daily intake in a order to better my chances. When I peeled back the foil and saw the flash of gold I knew it was worth it. Mine was the final ticket, found – I might add – on the final day: the media attention was enormous – my face appeared on a thousand magazines, the government health warning seemingly tattooed across my forehead by digital computer trickery.
Shortly before the grand day, I was visited by a mysterious man wearing a long black coat and sunglasses. After explaining to me that his other clothes were at the dry cleaners he introduced himself as a representative of a rival tobacco manufacturer. “Gasper’s about to release an everlasting cigarette onto the market,” he told me, “it’ll ruin us. We must have one – just name your price.” I thanked the man and left – only later realizing it was my apartment we had met in – secretly tempted by his offer, despite my long-standing loyalty to the Ahhhh brand.
And yet the everlasting cigarette (Ahhhh Eternals, as Gasper had cunningly named them) was only one of many wonders I was to witness on that fantastic day. We were shown everything. The inoffensive Aromifier, with its choice of special fruit and pot potpourri filters. The Tobbaccopops, a range of beginners cigarettes with flavors as diverse as lemonade, chewy sweets and mutton. Already on the production line was the ‘Digital Ashtray,’ a computer peripheral designed to monitor its ash content so precisely it could tell when you were down to your last five cigarettes and order you a new pack over the Internet for delivery the next day. Gasper had even worked out a scientific proof that cigarette smoke will always make its way towards a non-smoker – up-wind or not.
Gasper was a wildly eccentric man. He had imported his entire workforce – a hitherto undiscovered East Tunisian hunter-gatherer tribe known as the Huffa Puffas – in a bid to reduce industrial espionage, salaries and employee mortality rate (the Huffa Puffas held that heart disease was offensive to their traditions). As our tour progressed we discovered that the Huffa Puffas communicated through hastily improvised rhyme. One the shock revelation that one of my fellow winners was an ex-smoker, for example, the happy band of loyal workers sang the following, as they carted him of to the Baptism of Smoke room.
There’s one thing we just can’t abide
that jars, that grates, that hurts our pride,
and that’s a person who has lost
the will to smoke and cites the cost
to health, to pocket as his reason
for this act of total treason.
With non-smokers we can sympathise –
they’ve never smoked – it’s no surprise
they think the weed a dirty habit.
Even though they tend to rabbit
on about new legislation:
THEY’VE NEVER HAD THAT GREAT SENSATION.
Fags, we tell them, won’t be banned –
non-smokers just don’t understand.
But ex-smokers – if they kept their peace,
if they let their endless nagging cease,
if they simply stopped and said no more,
we, resentment would not store.
Instead they are the loudest voice,
the harshest critics of our choice,
the first to cough when we light up,
the first to gasp upon their cup
and cry, though being teamug-choked –
Gary/John/Sue – I never knew you smoked!
They’ll tell you you’re just not the sort,
they’ll calculate, on packets bought
the stocks and shares you could have stored,
the days you could have spent abroad
(we know – who would go over there
without a cigarette or two to spare?)
They’ll tut each time you must step out –
“He’s gone to smoke a fag, no doubt.”
They’ll define you, solely, by your pleasure,
consumption, daily, they will measure.
(“That’s seventeen you’ve had,” they’ll say
“you don’t need any more today.”)
You will be bored, we warn you now
of tales of mighty will and how
these days they feel just so much better,
energized, powerful, a real go-getter.
But when their lives do tougher get,
back to the cigs they’ll go, we bet.
To the garage they will fly
“Twenty fags – and fast,” they’ll cry.
A puff at first – no more, just while
they struggle through this heavy mile.
For surely in a moment’s stress
no-one will mind a slight regress
to happier times. And then it’s done –
the pack now finished – another one
is bought, but still it’s all OK:
“Just until next week,” they’ll say.
Five, six, seven years have passed,
after all, since the fag they called their last:
another month – they’ll give up then;
they’ve done it before, they’ll do it again.
And when acceptance comes at last
they’ll laugh off old remarks that fast.
And in assumption they will hold
their welcome, back within the fold.
So forgive us if we puffers seem
nonplussed by such a healthy dream.
It’s not respect for you we lack
when we say, with confidence:
YOU’LL BE BACK!
By the end of the tour I was, in fact, the only winner left at the side of the great Gasper. Jeremiah Plotsby, an unsuccessful kosher caterer from somewhere south of Swindon, exploded shortly after sneaking a quick drag from one of Gasper’s highly experimental Meal in a Fag cigarettes – a proposed brand that would not only take away your appetite, but leave you feeling bloated. Also in the laboratories, Kitty Moregress – an enormous woman who had turned to smoking as a last resort – was shrunk to an inch in height by a prototype Fat Bustahhhh. And then there was John, whose demise is simply too horrific to relate: suffice to say it involved a dropped cigarette and the patented Gasper Slice ‘n’ smash tobacco threshing machine. I’ll be checking the colour of my fags until the day I die after that.
Gasper and I retired to a sitting room, whereupon he presented me with my very own Ahhhh Eternal and pointed me in the direction of the door. In a moment of mad inspiration I returned the cigarette, stating blankly the problems it would cause me in a wartime blackout. Gasper leapt out of his seat and threw off his disguise to reveal himself as noneother than the mysterious man who had approached me just a few days earlier. “Cyril, my boy,” he cried, “You’re exactly what I’ve been looking for. My days as a cigarette maker are numbered – oh I know I’ve had my best times here – this factory was built on my sweat and tears, I tell you – but I can’t go on forever no! Besides, the lawsuits are about to start arriving. I determined in this competition to find myself a successor – you Cyril!”
And so, my head in a whirl, the contracts were signed and the cigarettes were lit. A mystery shopper for five years – specialist in the assessment of fruit-scented soap vendors – I was suddenly in the captain’s chair of an internationally renowned supplier of inhaled satisfaction.
Actually, I already have plans for expansion. With the legalization of cannabis fast approaching I have perfected a top secret formula for the ultimate tobacco lift. I call it the Great Grass Elevator.