Addicted To Love

Fancy a game of embarrass the politician? Lately they’ve needed no help, but if you run out of patience and fancy a bit of fun down at their Saturday surgery, ask them how much a pint of milk costs. TV and Radio interviewers do it all the time, a cheap and easy way to score points. The politician will probably guess the answer, at which point the interviewer can show off and say “it’s a trick question. They don’t do pints any more, and it’s around 80 pence per litre. Do you agree that you’re out of touch?”

Being out of touch is a terrible insult for anyone. We all feel we need to know every new singer, the latest signings for our favourite team, which emojis are in fashion, the price of crude oil and whether it means our petrol prices will come down, how many Kardashians are billionaires, and who Cheryl Cole’s going to marry this week. It’s exhausting.

I found myself hopelessly out of touch on Friday at Faro airport in Portugal. A r dio Programme Director who let me off my promise to cover the Breakfast show on his station so I could get a few days in the sun, asked me to bring him back some duty free cigarettes. Of course I guiltily agreed and asked “How many?” I was told to bring two packs, which I thought meant 40 ciggies, but he meant two packs of ten. “That’s 400 fags please.” This was going to be worth it. After all, how much is a holiday worth?

As someone who has never smoked in my life, I had no idea how much a packet of twenty costs, but I guessed at around three pounds sterling. So 400 would cost, in Paul world, around sixty pounds in the high street. But this was duty free, so let’s half that cost to £30. Cheap at the price to get myself off the radio and on to a plane instead. Done!

Except I was hopelessly wrong.

Apparently twenty cigarettes cost over eleven pounds for a packet in your local newsagent. That’s thirty three pounds per day for my friend who goes through three packs. Make that £210 per week, or £850 a month, which is over £10,000 each year. Enough for a nice return flight for two and a fortnight’s holiday in a health spa in Mauritius with a luxury suite thrown in.

When I saw that it was €100 for the packs he wanted, I called him to be sure, and I asked how he could possibly spend that amount of money. His answer was heartfelt. “It’s not a whim, or a hobby or pleasure. It’s an addiction.”

Call me naive, innocent, stupid or, horror of horrors, out of touch, but I was truly surprised.   On the flight home, as I thought some more, my surprise turned to gratitude. How lucky am I that I don’t have an addiction to cigarettes, or anything else that I know of? My usual dismissive intolerance of people who smoke when they know the health risks but go ahead anyway, is ridiculous. No one spends that kind of money every day, week, month and year willingly, so I called him when I got home and we spoke further. He’s going to try hypnotism to give up.

Meantime, of course, he wants the fags.

I had seen dozens of people queueing with boxes and boxes of cigarettes at Duty Free, and my sympathies, from now on, will be with them. Addicted to something that kills them and costs a fortune.

Why had I not woken up to this before, instead of joking or just dismissing smokers as stupid?

Out of touch. That’s why. That’s me. But not for long.