Tom Conoboy Knows the Answers # 5


Here at Johnny America Headquarters we tend not know much about the lives and careers of the kind contributors who send us the wonderful things they write. But sometimes an author will mention something cryptic in correspondence, and we’ll embark on a Google miniature investigation. We already knew that Tom Conoboy is a librarian, and that he’s generous enough to answer the questions that come up in the normal course of events at J.A. HQ, but then he mentioned something about a grappling hook in one of his messages and we began to wonder exactly what kind of librarian this Tom Conoboy truly is. Is he the adventurous sort, like Noah Wyle’s character in the Made-for-TV flick The Librarian: Quest for the Spear? Google Tom Conoboy’s name and you’ll find this ‘publicity’ image in which he appears to be lounging on a cliff. But is he really lounging? Maybe Tom’s nemesis, an anti-intellectual Professor Moriarty sort is holding a trident to his back?. And what if Tom’s flashing a smile because he knows there’s a mini-sub waiting in the cold waters below, and all he has to do to get out of this pinch is combine what he learned during childhood lessons at the Shaolin temple with the awesome power of the Dewey Decimal System?

Q. What is your position, if you have one, on the smoking of cigarettes? Bad habit, clearly, but in certain pairings (with coffee, at a bar after the funeral of someone your own age) profoundly right.

Q. What’s the state of barbecue in Britain? Do you know, for example, the epicurean delight that is ‘burnt ends’?

Q. If you work with cash, and know your employer won’t catch you, how much is it fair to steal? A set maximum per day? A percentage?

  1. Since, from July 1st 2007, England will see a complete ban on smoking in public places1, this is an opportune time to discuss the lunacy of cigarette smoking, which naturally I shall do—being a former librarian—in a completely objective and unbiased way. The morons had it coming to them, that’s what I say. They’ve been stinking out bars and restaurants for years. Make them stand outside in the rain with their pathetic little tubes of burning, dried vegetable matter and leave our public spaces to the sensible people. There. Now—like a smoker after his morning expectoration—’ve got that off my chest, let’s debate the issues. The best position on the smoking of cigarettes is obviously several rooms removed from them. Failing that, however, the second best position is undoubtedly with the damned things hanging from your own lips. It is one of those unexplained peculiarities of life that cigarettes smell completely different to the smoker from how they do to the victims. With that smoke in your own head, they’re sweet, cool, fragrant, the tobacco fresh like it was harvested from the field only hours before. But that same smoke, the same smell, to anyone other than the smoker? It’s acrid, horrid, harsh. Even hardened smokers, if it isn’t their cigarette, will recoil from such smells. Why is that? Oh to be a boffin2 and be able to explain such mysteries. It should be obvious from the above that I’m one of that fearful breed, the reformed smoker. So to answer the question properly, is a cigarette ever profoundly right? Well, the best cigarette experience I ever had was one glorious late night/early morning al fresco drag in the aftermath of an equally glorious al fresco shag2 on Aberdeen beach many, many years ago. In the moonlight, with that woman curled against me and the warmth of love inside me, I watched my cigarette fray its smoke into the sky on its way to Orion, and I believed, for those few moments, that the world was perfect. Perfection, then, is the only time when it is appropriate to smoke a cigarette. 1 2 3
  2. Ah, summer in Britain, the sound of lawnmowers and loud music and domestic disputes, the threat of imminent rain and government warnings of water shortages, the visits from hated relatives and the ever-present, kerosene and charcoal smell of the fine British barbie. It’s every Englishman’s duty to dust off the barbie in the earliest weeks of April, blowtorch the congealed remains of last year’s last burger and prepare one and all for a brand new season of e-coli roulette. Summer in the suburbs—where would we be without the chicken breast carcinogenically charcoaled on one side and listeria-pink on the other? Or the trout, lovingly caught in Rutland Water, the only catch after eight hours of fishing, then barbied lightly for ten minutes, followed by incineration for the next hour as the noble fisherman falls asleep in the garden with his wine glass in his hand. Yes, summer—the smell of burnt fish, the anguished yell of the existential angler, the heady hum of ambulance sirens. It almost makes you nostalgic for winter.
  3. If you work with cash, and know your employer won’t catch you, how much is it fair to steal? A set maximum per day? A percentage? My mother, fine upstanding woman, used to say to us “cheats never prosper.” Considering how poor we were, that always made me wonder about the honesty of our own family, but it was just that she missed off the next line—“honest folks neither.” It’s one of those catch-22s that so beset human civilisation, like why the smoker smells his cigarette differently from everyone else and why al fresco perfection on Aberdeen beach doesn’t last forever. There is, thankfully, a straightforwardly complex mathematical formula for working out this moral equation. It balances self-esteem against corporate greed, weighted by residual risk, square-rooted for obvious reasons and multiplied by the size of your overdraft. In summary, it can be described thus:
    Which, all in all, is pretty self-explanatory. Just tell that to the judge.
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