Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Smoking Car

Our business centre has a rich variety of people. People of all shapes and sizes mill around and go about their ‘business’. They carry items of post and piles of photocopying. It’s a hive of north eastern industry. Even members of my team join in from time to time – one of us will usually pop down for the morning post at about 2 in the afternoon. Lionel, the building manager, raises his eyebrows when he notices this – he doesn’t understand ‘the arts’. There is one member of the business centre staff, though, who trumps our lack of effort and seems to have opted out entirely from any exertion whatsoever. She is a large woman who works on the other side of the building. I’m guessing that she has a sedentary job. The building has 2 storeys and she takes the lift. It’s a very slow lift and by the time you have waited for it, you could easily be up the stairs and sat at your desk.

The building managers recently made provision for the smokers on the premises – a small space has been cleared beside the wheelie bins and a corrugated canopy stops the rain from extinguishing fags. The large lady smokes, but chooses not to join her fellow-smokers. Instead she always claims the parking space beside the smokers’ pen (she must get in early just to achieve this) and sits in her car to smoke. She reads her ‘Chat’ magazine as she does this. In my (limited) experience of ‘Chat’ magazine I have noticed a regularity of stories on obesity: 'Doctors gave me 2 days to live if I didn’t shed 5 stone’, ‘The Pain of Britain’s Fattest Toddler’ – that kind of thing. Such scaremongering is lost on the smoking lady and she carries on puffing away in there. She winds the window down a little and the smoke pours out. Passers-by, unfamiliar with her habits, often do a double-take to check that the car isn’t on fire. The car is a Ford Fiesta – a small, light vehicle. When the smoking lady is in place, the car groans and lists badly to one side. The smoking lady has the look of a large child abandoned on a see-saw.

I passed this morning as she was finishing her cigarette and placing a bookmark in this week’s ‘Chat’. I noticed that she cast her cigarette end onto a pile in the adjacent flowerbed. The pile was clearly all her own work – she can’t even make it into the smokers’ pen to dispose of her fag butts in the receptacle provided.

I imagine that, at some point in the future, enthusiastic archaeologists in shorts and armed with trowels will establish the boundaries of this small building created for the ancient habit/ritual of tobacco smoking. This will obviously be televised. They will produce a captivating CAD visualisation of the smokers’ pen as it would have looked some time in the early twenty first century. Delighted with their discovery and their contribution to the body of archaeological knowledge and social history they will return to the site to help to convert it into an interactive experience for visitors – so that future generations might stand and smoke (de-nicotined) cigarettes in an authentic recreation of 21st century office life. This would extend the experience of wandering the corridors of the restored ‘business centre’ in period business costume: using the restored office equipment and listening to authentic recordings of 21st century business voices. The archaeologists would then be truly thrown as one of their trowels unearths an inexplicable pile of well-preserved cigarette ends just beyond the boundary of the ancient communal smoking area…….

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