Hi, you wouldn’t happen to have "a light, would you?" I’d only stepped outside to make a call on my mobile, but one look at the handsome stranger standing under the awning of a west London bar was enough to kick-start my craving for a cigarette, among other things. "No, I, um, just came out for a smoke," I lied, smiling, "but I seem to have run out."
After giving me his last cigarette, he told me that his name was Jamie, and that he was a musician. As we chatted, I realised that there were loads of cute men outside, all puffing away. I slipped him my number and slipped back inside to join my friends.
I’ve always been an occasional social smoker, never more than three cigarettes per night. But since the ban started I’ve been smoking more than ever, and it’s had an amazing effect on my love life. I’m not the only one: in Ireland, they have invented a word for the post-ban pick-up scene, a hybrid of smoking and flirting called "smirting".
After a few nights on the pull, I was becoming addicted. I’m not exactly a shrinking violet, but it can be intimidating to approach men in bars, especially if I don’t know their status. But cigarettes give conversations the perfect opener, and work for the same reason as speed dating: the built-in time limit. The verbal exchange only has to last as long as the cigarette, so if the guy is boring I can get it down to two long drags. I also have an innocent "out" if he has a girlfriend, since I can claim I wasn’t hitting on him – just getting a light.
When Jamie left I went back outside. This time I provided my own cigarette and started talking to Max, a lawyer. I started shivering, and he gave me his coat. Our shared cigarette gave us an instant bond: suddenly, Max and I weren’t just two losers huddled outside in the rain. We were rebels, taking a stand against the establishment.
Unfortunately, on our first date the thing that brought us together proved to be our downfall: Max literally chain-smoked so much that he couldn’t sit at the dinner table for more than five minutes, and when he took my hand I saw it was stained yellow.
A few days later, I woke up with a headache and a very un-sexy cough. Buying a little black dress to improve my love life is one thing, but I wasn’t prepared to risk a black lung. I may nip out for the occasional cigarette, but I’m not going to smoke compulsively just to have an excuse to talk to men.
So when Jamie offered me another ciggie on our first date, I confessed that I may have exaggerated my habit to have an excuse to hit on him. He looked relieved. "Cat, I don’t really smoke either. I just saw you outside digging through your bag and ‘Do you have a light?’ was the first thing that came out of my mouth. I borrowed the cigarette from my mate."
We had a good laugh, and I couldn’t help feeling relieved. I can think of much more fun things to do with my hands.