Saturday, 10 August 2013

Sketches from a cigar smoker's album: Hotter than July

It was a hot day at Henley this year and I was struggling to pull myself together. After a rather boozy previous night at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery and only two hours sleep I was running on empty. 

The cab of Pimms on the train at 10:30 in the morning certainly wasn't helping as we made that slow, crowded drudge by train towards the regatta. As the tower blocks and warehouse of North West London gave way to the lush Berkshire suburbia and green belt I started to feel like my old self. The second can, a vile concoction of gin, tonic and ersatz cucumber slipped down easily and at last I was in the mood for a day at the race. Patting my blazer pocket I realised, shock horror, that I had forgotten my cigars... This would not do!

After sinking a few pints of Brakespeare at the Steward's Enclosure 'Real Ale Tent' I was ready for something to smoke. The sun was beating down upon us and it was one of those rare occasions that you are allowed to take off your jacket without fear of castigation from the the bowler-hatted menaces who patrol the enclosure maintaining standards and keeping order. 

Arranging to meet my friends at a designated spot I traipsed into town to find a stoggie, something suitable for such a scorcher. Rattling down a genteel high street in the one time constituency of Hezza (Michael Heseltine), Bozza (Boris Johnson) and now Timpers (Edward Timpson MP) I was spoilt for choice of off licences with counter-top humidors with an array of choices for the seasoned connoisseur or the budding amateur. 

Turning into one of these emporiums I decided to purchase a very pleasant, medium bodied Partagas and made my way through the throngs of chinless wonders and boozed up louts back to the enclosure.

There was no wind on that dry day and a thick plume of smoke went up, much to the dismay of all who were standing close to me in the crowded bar. Young rowers bustled past jugs of Pimms in their hands and a look of crinkled up disapproval on their faces. The girls were far more generous, with a few random ladies informing me about how much they loved the smell of cigar smoke and would I mind blowing some there way. 

But not everyone was so enthusiastic. So as not to smoke everyone out in the crowded bar area I accompanied one of my chums in a walk up the enclosure where I could enjoy my cigar in a bit of space. We left off at the perfect time for the cigar had got over the initial stage and gave way to a rich, dark flavour full of coffee and spice - a very heady mixture on a hot day. I was well and truly over my hangover and back on form! 

Sadly, like my time at the Regatta, good things don't last forever. The final deep draws were heavenly but gone too soon and following an excellent afternoon tea, more deep draughts from the Real Ale tent and a hellish train journey home, Henley was over for another year...

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