these were hard little bastards, twelve, thirteen-year-old chain-smokers; they didn’t give a shit. they really didn’t give a shit your health, their health, teachers, parents, police whatever. smoking was their answer to the universe, their 42, their raison d’etre. they were passionate about fags. not connoisseurs, not fussy about brand, just fags, any fags. they pulled at them like babies at teats, and when they were finally finished they ground them into the mud with wet eyes. they fucking loved it. fags, fags, fags. their only interest outside fags was politics, or more precisely, this fucker, the chancellor, who kept on putting up the price of fags. because there was never enough money and there were never enough fags. you had to become an expert in bumming, cadging, begging, stealing fags. a popular ploy was to blow a week’s pocket money on twenty, give them out to all and sundry, and spend the next month reminding those with fags about that time when you gave them a fag. but this was a high-risk policy. better to have an utterly forgettable face, better to be able to cadge a fag and come back five minutes after for another without being remembered. better to cultivate a cipher-like persona, be a little featureless squib called Mart, Jules, Ian. otherwise you had to rely on charity and fag sharing. One fag could be split in a myriad of ways. It worked like this: someone (whoever had actually bought a pack of fags) lights up. someone shouts ‘halves’. at the halfway point the fag is passed over. As soon as it reaches the second person we hear ‘thirds’, then ‘saves’ (which is half a third) then ‘butt!” then, if the day is cold and the need for a fag overwhelming, ‘last toke!” but last toke is only for the desperate; it is beyond the perforation, beyond the brand name of the Me 1990, 1907 cigarette, beyond what could reasonably be described as the butt. last toke is the yellowing fabric of the roach, containing the stuff that is less than tobacco, the stuff that collects in the lungs like a time-bomb, destroys the immune system and brings permanent, sniffling, nasal flu. the stuff that turns white teeth yellow. everyone at glenard oak was at work; they were Babelians of every conceivable class and colour speaking in tongues, each in their own industrious corner, their busy censer mouths sending the votive offering of tobacco smoke to the many gods above them (Brent Schools Report 1990: 67 different faiths, 123 different languages). laborare est Orare: nerds by the pond, checking out frog sex, posh girls in the music department singing French rounds, speaking pig Latin, going on grape diets, suppressing lesbian instincts, fat boys in the P E corridor, wan king High-strung girls outside the language block, reading murder casebooks, indian kids playing cricket with tennis rackets on the football ground, irie Jones looking for millat Iqbal, scott Breeze and lisa Rainbow in the toilets, fucking, joshua Chalfen, a goblin, an elder and a dwarf, behind the science block playing Goblins and Gorgons, and everybody, everybody smoking fags, fags, fags, working hard at the begging of them, the lighting of them and the inhaling of them, the collecting of butts and the remaking of them, celebrating their power to bring people together across cultures and faiths, but mostly just smoking them -gis a fag, spare us a fag chuffing on them like little chimneys till the smoke grows so thick that those who had stoked the chimneys here back in 1886, back in the days of the workhouse, would not have felt out of place.