[Nabokov because of the elegant prose and refined depravity, Bunyan because of Blake's stellar illustrations, Voltaire because there was a naked breast on the cover of a paperback edition, and Simenon because of the frequent evocative mentions of food and mood.]
I also ended up smoking a pipe. Many teenagers will experiment with such a thing, but I went about it quite by accident. There was a beautiful item in the window of the local tobacconist, which I only purchased because it looked so nice. I was thirteen at the time.
Several weeks later, when I had turned fourteen, I bought some tobacco to smoke in it, thinking that owning a piece of smoking equipment without anything to burn therein was rather silly. It took me about two months of secret burl-fondling to come to that staggering conclusion.
Several months after that the cat discovered my equipment and the jig was up. When I came home, my mother gave me a stern lecture about how smoking causes lung cancer, kidney disease, esophageal scarring, shrunken testicles, slope brows, bad breath, gum and tooth decay, inflamed pustules on the privates, baldness, and severe social damage. She laid it on thick, using all the medical terminology at her command.
Given that one of her favourite books was the Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, her command was immense. I had read much of that book too, so I knew what she was talking about.
And, because she chainsmoked three Kent Filter Kings during the speech, none of it sunk in.
Then she handed me over to my father, a former pipe-smoker, who lowered his newspaper, disdainfully held up my half-finished tin of 'Scottish Mixture' (fine Cavendish and Heather Honey with a touch of whisky), and informed me: "son, good pipe tobacco does NOT smell like a Turkish cat house, please smoke clean stuff".
All I heard was "please smoke".
So I did.
I had bought a pouch of Voortrekker that afternoon.
Clean stuff; I was in the clear.
In the last few months that I lived in Valkenswaard, my father went to London for ten days, leaving me more than enough money for necessary household expenses and a few small indulgences, an unlocked liquor cabinet, and an empty house, because my brother studying in Tilburg would not return home for several weeks.
This was too good an opportunity to miss!
Empty house! No one to cramp my style! Unlimited freedom!
No sooner had the VW beetle disappeared from sight down the alley than I raced upstairs to his desk in the hayloft, went directly to the second drawer, and pulled out his box of pipes. Filled the Comoy Blue Riband squat bulldog with Balkan Sobranie, and lit up.
Ten whole days!
His pipes were so much nicer than mine. And they had a special smell.
He had only smoked clean stuff in them.
No, I didn't touch the liquor cabinet, nor did I bring home women.
At that age I had no idea how to approach the female of the species (they still confuse me), and I wouldn't have had quite the confidence to pull it off. But I smoked heaps of Balkan Sobranie (a necessary household expense if ever there was one), drank buckets of strong coffee, and re-read Nabokov, Simenon, and Pilgrim's Progress.
I regret that last one.
It's rather dreary.
Other young men by that time were reading Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein, and several of them had girlfriends. But, as they did not have Balkan Sobranie, an empty house, tons of coffee, and a fevered imagination, I did not envy them.
The old Balkan Sobranie mixture has not existed since the early eighties when Redstone sold out. But the imagination is more feverishly toxic than ever before.
Caffeinated beverages are (still) excellent.
I have become a man of sober habits.
Yes, it surprises me too.
Let's call it 'maturity'.
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