`In the boardroom,' according to a wonder- fully discreet advertisement for tobacco in the Sunday Times, 'a slow lighting up can be the best answer to a hasty turning down. In politics, it is difficult to heckle with a pipe firmly between the teeth. Wherever men fore- gather, a good tobacco can ensure that ill-will goes up in smoke. Just so does Balkan Sobranie spread its beneficent wisdom. In its long slow smoke, anger loses its venom. In its rare and magical aroma, argument loses its bite. Through its smoke-rings all men can see a rosier world —and be at peace.' My first reaction was to muse with malice on the copy writer, tanned and smelling of Sandalwood, a staunch Con- servative in a freshly laundered shirt and a key chain, pushing to one side his Thesaurus, straightening the typewriter, and allowing his eyes to narrow with pleasure at the perfect rhythm and balance of the sentences, fore- gather, beneficent, and the inspired dash before the final phrase. The image then faded, and a more fancifully dramatic one took its place.
The boardroom of Amalgamated Slum Holdings, Berkeley Square, on a warm summer afternoon in the late 'seventies. Disagreement has just been reached. The chairman is clearly past heckling, anger or argument, and lies asleep in the great armchair at the head of the table, his swollen red face slightly on one side, snoring with a soft wheeze. On opposite sides of the deep-polished mahogany the opponents glare at each other, elbows biting into the luxurious green leather blotters, faces flushed, jugular veins swollen, teeth grinding and eyes wild. The din mounts to a slowly building climax of garbled abuse, sudden barks, and sing-song screams of baffled anger. Then one of them, younger than the rest, with a fair moustache and a hint of innocence still play- ing about his thoughtful blue eyes, frowns. He pats his pockets, puts a pipe in his mouth, and begins to tease a little tobacco between his thumb and forefinger in an old pigskin pouch. One by one the angry men break off in mid- roar and turn to look at him. His eyes are placid, concentrating on his soothing work. Finally there is silence. Miss Undermilk, the chairman's old secretary, smiles wonderingly. The chairman's snores are once again audible, gentle and regular. The pipes are being filled.
At first there is no sound but the clinking of little probes and pipescrapers, the bubble of stale spit and nicotine, the scrape of matches on matchboxes, and the soft flop-flop of flame drawn down on to well-packed tobacco. Gradually the taut, angry faces relax into expressions of beneficent wisdom. Rascally eyebrows are cocked. Matches are shaken out with a rueful chuckle. Puffing at their aluminium-shafted briars, the opponents twinkle at one another and wink. A neighbour
punches the young man with the thoughtful blue eyes playfully on the shoulder and laughs.
Others laugh. Everyone laughs, raising their eyebrows to each other as if they were drinking their health and lifting their pipes in salute.
The smoke rolls up in slow blue circles, catch- ing the sunlight. One of them, more daring than the rest, gives a roguish guffaw and chucks Miss Undermilk under the chin. She
simpers, blushes, and says, 'Naughty, Mr Wimsleigh, naughty.' Immediately the vice- chairman, plucking a meerschaum from his mouth, suggests that the meeting should continue.
Amid roars of enthusiasm and goodwill the board return to the agenda. Squinting and glassy-eyed now from the smoke, they sway from side to side on their seats in unison, singing `La-la-la' as each resolution is read out, and shouting 'Agreed' to every one. Some find it hard to stay sitting down. One jumps up and floats dreamily round the room, sing- ing 'Agreed, agreed, agreed, agreed' to himself to the tune of the Emperor Waltz. The rest begin hammering on the table, drowning the resolutions with chanting. 'Agreed, agreed, hear, hear, everyone feels rosy . . With a crash the boardroom door opens. It is the Young People's Police. Eyes bulging with alarm and guilt the smokers attempt to thrust their pipes into their pockets, to conceal their tobacco. Four pipes, still burning, are pushed out of sight among Miss Undermilk's skirts. Cringing back in their chairs, peeping from under the table, the board look at the police. In their shoulder-length hair, garlanded with fresh flowers, their brocade jackets and lace cuffs they can have little sympathy for the smokers in their city suits and white collars.
Their leader wakes the chairman. The old man looks up in terror. In the unnatural silence they hear him charged with allowing his premises to be used for the smoking of nicotiney substances. The chairman slips from his chair and falls on his knees in front of the inspector from the Tobacco Squad, clawing at his psychedelic pink trousers and begging for „mercy. Lined up against the wall, the other members of the board stand with their hands above their heads, wincing as traces of nico- tine ash are discovered in their turn-ups: An inventory is made of Miss Undermilk's under- clothing with a view to providing details for the press in court. Weeping, one of the board turns and tries to protest their innocence, blaming the young man with the blue eyes and the moustache for leading them into bad ways and babbling that all they had wanted was the magical aroma, a glimpse of a rosier word. A psychedelic policeman strokes his chin with a buttercup and he reels back against the wall, moaning at the humiliation.
Suddenly Miss Undermilk comes to their defence. Speaking in a poignant whisper, she admits their wickedness in smoking substances known to have caused death among addicts, admits their lamentable influence on thousands of businessmen who think it is clever to wear bowler hats and smoke pipes and promises that in future they will live in accordance with the principles of love demanded by the hippies. `It is difficult,' she concludes, with a dramatic gesture, 'to make love with a pipe firmly be- tween the teeth, but they will try. I promise you, they will try.' Well,' replies the leader of the hippy police, 'they're going to have to. For about ten years, I should think.' Broken and shattered, the board lurch from the room, shackled together with marigolds.