UK Business : One Pound For A Cigarette? Sorry, Mate

Last night, Joe Smithy asked a Sheffield lass if she could give him a cigarette for a pound. The proffered pound was unacceptable.

“Why shouldn’t I make more money?”

“Yes?” queried Joe.

“My cigarettes are two pounds each.”

“Really? OK, forget it.”

The incident reminded me of a long time ago – another pub (The Penny Black), another place (Bicester). “Can I have a cigarette?” “No.” “Oh.” “Bad for you. I’m not giving you a cigarette.”

In most parts of the world I think you can ask for a cigarette and get it free but not here. Indeed, you risk being ridiculed. It isn’t just English rudeness and profiteering. It’s something else, too, which can be loosely defined as “having a go”. After all, one pound is not bad for one cigarette.

“You asking for a cigarette, mate?”

Or have I got it all wrong?

How about asking for a light? That sometimes seems to be frowned on, too.

Changing the subject slightly : Yesterday, I asked for some bacon in my local shop. I think bacon is against the guy’s religion, so I didn’t get it because he doesn’t stock it. I noticed very little eye contact, a reluctance, which I can only put down to being in England. He seemed to be thinking : How can I deal with this customer with the minimum of human communication? And yet the shop-keeper is from a far-away country but Englishness must have rubbed off on him.

When T. S. Eliot wrote “The Waste Land” he was unhappy about his Dantean crowd flowing over London Bridge. There’s still something extremely odd in Britain today. It ebbs and it flows. What is it? Rudeness, a refusal to be kind, attachment to profit, one-upmanship? It really seems impossible for this sad, bad populace to understand their William Wordsworth:

“On that best portion of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
Of kindness and of love.”

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