On my most recent flight to China, I awoke from my drug-induced slumber to find that we had been diverted from Shanghai to Hangzhou. The reason was fog at Pudong. So we landed at Hangzhou and sat on the tarmac to wait out the fog – for three hours. Meanwhile, some older men became rather irate and criticised the flight attendants. Why? They wanted some ‘fresh air’ while we waited. That ‘fresh air’ turned out to be the sort that came through a cigarette filter. They had managed the flight by anticipating the welcome drag on a smoke at the end of the flight. Now they had to wait for an unspecified time on the tarmac, with no ‘fresh air’ in sight. The flight attendants seemed well used to such antics, and calmly told the cranky old men to take it easy.

I did ponder the usefulness of having some nicotine chewing gum on hand, or perhaps a few e-cigarettes to hand around. But it also made me wonder why those men didn’t take pleasure in the withdrawal symptoms. One of the lost pleasures of age and imminent grand-father status is the loss of that pleasure. Why? I think the thing  I enjoyed about smoking most was the withdrawal from nicotine. On the many occasions of giving up, the greatest pleasure of the craving, the bodily longing for a fix, the mental confusion and slowness of time that ensued. It gave me a different perspective on life and allowed me to indulge in my love of asceticism. On the last occasion that I gave up, I treasured the last time I could experience these feelings. No more, I’m afraid …

I wondered whether this insight would help these cranky old buggers on that flight. For some reason, I kept that advice to myself. Instead, it turned out that the fog stayed at Pudong airport in Shanghai, so we disembarked at Hangzhou and they immediately lit up – in the baggage claim area.

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