A very important time of day in which one who is hopelessly addicted to nicotine is allowed to leave their desk and head outside no matter what the weather to fulfill their need for the aforementioned drug. This frustrated non-smokers to no end as they watch the smokers stop working and getting to leave their desks for a while.

look to the skies

about a dozen years ago, i built up reasons to start smoking.

and nowadays i'm collecting reasons to quit.

now, alas, i've found a reason not to: smoke breaks.

i escape from the office out for a smoke break and --kablam-- hanging above in a deep blue sky is this thick oblong greydark to whitebright cloud. and it is just hanging there, not moving. a spherous mass of condensation with fibrous edges. edges like the stereotypical fluffed out ball of wool, and as i gape at this, seeming so near, full in my scope of vision, the stereotypical needle pierces it: a jet and its waketrail. rippling sunbeams pour from opaque gap in the cloud and i start to find references of stability. the cloud is in front of the sun, which is why i can see the filaments of the edges so clearly: as if i have 20/20 vision across miles. a spoke of an antenna between me and this allows me to pace the distance, and it seems as if the cloud only moves over the land at a millimetre a second. the sun begins to burn through the top edge as the cloud millipedes along, and a bulge of light crowns the top like some futture city sphere (celestial city lights) or a still moment of atom bomb blast. a corona of rays beam up to lighten the blue sky. a sky as blue as hitting the ceiling. i'm finishing my smoke as the sun breaks over the edge to shine clear edge surfaces and illuminate my carbon monoxide fog of exhaling. my smoke breath is sepia, an opposite of the sky breath cyan landscape.


i started on camel straights (smokin' 'em down to their balls. ah, the number of camel stories i've heard). several reasons had been collected for starting, the main one, curiously for most people i suppose, is having something to be addicted to, a vice at the time seeming less dangerous than pot, alcohol, heroin, smack. i knew i would be taking drugs, i just picked the easiest one to remind me how easy it was first. as it is, other drugs i take are with moderation, but with smokes, yep, i'm done well hooked. and not quite enjoying it (reason one to quit) unless in tandem with other drugs. so i'm building up reasons, collecting them until the pack is full (reason fourteen: damn sick of all the metaphors). i'm thinking that the next step in collecting is a visit to the cancer and stroke wards of my neighborhood hospital. look at what indecision does for one. but staring it in the face? ah, that's part of the appeal.

there's a guy who watches the lot at work who's been smoking since he was, oh about four or something. a couple of years ago, in his late 50's, he had a stroke due to smoking. everyone else in his ward was there for the same reason. he didn't quit. everyone else in the heart attack ward he later recuperated in was there because they smoked and ate lots of fish and chips. so he survived a second time and he and his wife quit together. and he looks at me smoking and tells me in the same breath, 'i'm taking it slow and easy, living a charmed life, i still want one.'


a few days into this city job i turned right instead of left during a smoke break and came across St. Dunstan's-in-the-East. a ruin of a church become a park. ol' st. dunstan built his church over some other one in saxon times. few hundred years later, it gets demolished by something or other, so it gets built again. demolished again, so good ol' wren added it to his coterie of churches to rebuild. wiped out again, so gets rebuilt gothicly. the blitz whomped it down again and the church saysos finally bought a clue, used it to restore the wren steeple, gut out the church to leave the four or so walls, and let the grounds be turned into a park. ivied walls, trees where the pulpit was, flowery bushes in place of choir. mossed walks. a nice theme of circles: from creeper covered sundial on a wall, a half hid by tree branches memorial with spiral can't-read inscription, shale circles in outside path, to six or so benches around a bump of a fountain. sunlight slathers through once ornately glassed windows across one's knees. a secret garden, only all the city suits are there during lunch, and i suppose the clutch of tour-led wren enthusiasts i see now and then down the end of cobblestreets as i explore also barge through here a few times a day. i'm there about once a day's smoke break.

a groundskeeper or two are around now and then, and this is an enviable job, being in and tending this encapsulated beauty. except now, in autumn, when all the foliage is dumping. (i'm tracking quick time in this job by watching an ivy green smoulder to ivy red, and discover the scarlet threads twisting into other plants.) they sweep and rake the fall into bin bags, along with the lunch waste of the suits: bags and chipscrispswrap and sandwich cartons and cigarette butts. i started on camel straights because i hated the sight of the fibrous butts around, graduated to rollyourown tobacco, and resigned to filters, usually flicking the butts into grates and gutters. sometimes, i find myself holding onto one, waiting for a bin to throw it away, and then light up again, marking time until some sight takes my breath away.

hooked. hooked on this life, and there's not much i want to change. except for returning to it again and again.

It has always struck me as odd that workplaces don't tend to have anti-smoking policies (no smoking in the office doesn't count). For example the company I work for won't allow employees to drink on the job in the belief that it lowers productivity (and of course it would if we drank excessively) but there is nothing to stop smokers from taking breaks whenever they feel the urge to poison themselves. Now, I'm not advocating workplace drinking but I'm sure that I could knock back a few light beers without affecting my on the job performance, and the same is probably true of most people. It seems strange then that smokers are permitted time off to feed their addiction while the rest of us toil away endlessly...

Out of interest I kept a log of an individual coworker's smoke breaks and the time taken for each visit. I found the results interesting and think they'd make a good case for curbing or banning smoking within work hours.

From my notes, each break took roughly 5 minutes and the guinea pig took seven such breaks in a day (basically one per hour). That's 42 minutes per day that he is out of the office. If we take the average number of working days per month as 22 this means that he has taken 15.4 hours off or almost two full working days. As everyone gets 20 days of annual leave I multipied this by eleven months to get the yearly average smoke break time and came up with 21 days. Simply by smoking this person has effectively doubled his annual leave entitlements, the catch being that 21 days of it are taken in five minutes slices).

If the smoker worked for the company for 18 years they would have lost about a year of work from him (plus any related health issues which may cause him to take further time off). Add to this the fact while he is gone there is one less staff member on deck (I work in a tech support call centre) and you have a habbit which is seriously detrimental to workplace efficiency. Much more so than a drink or two methinks...



Update: It has since been pointed out to me that not all workplaces are so relaxed regarding their accomodation of this habit. I put this to you then as a personal account only.

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