Passing clouds

I ONCE worked with two old boys called Carl and Jimmy. They weren’t old really, they just seemed old at the time. It was the early 1980s and I’d be in my late twenties, they in their early forties. Early forties isn’t old, unless you happen to be observing things from the viewpoint of someone twelve years younger . . .

At break times we’d sit in the sunshine talking about stuff that happened in the days before I was born, and one of the old boys would pull a packet of cigarettes from his back pocket and offer the other a smoke. Because the packet had been stuffed in a back pocket, the cigarettes were invariably flat.

The other would take a cigarette, place it between his lips, light it inside a shield of knurled knuckles and, as he exhaled the smoke, utter the words “Passing clouds”. At which point the pair would chuckle before resuming their conversation.

Initially, I assumed these words and the ritual surrounding them formed some sort of poetic reference to the first drag being exhaled by a pensive smoker after a hard morning’s work on the floor of a quarry. But when I questioned the practice I learned something mildly interesting.

Passing Clouds were a brand of Turkish cigarettes available to British troops during the Second World War. They were famous for being tightly packed, to the point they had been flattened inside the packet. Carl and Jimmy were youngsters during 1940s and had grown up in possession of this knowledge; this embedded reference had become a humorous aside to be shared when an opportunity arose.

Now, thirty-five years later, I’m sitting in March sunshine dwelling on this appreciated recollection as clouds drift over the Sierra Nevada and disappear into inland Spain. Clouds pass and so does time. My new country is the greenest I have ever seen it and there is pink snow on the mountains, coloured by dust from the Sahara. The streams are full and the broad beans almost ripe.

Carl died of a heart attack a few years back; what became of Jimmy I have absolutely no idea. If I was a smoker, I’d flatten a cigarette and light it in their memory, then dwell for a while on the sublime miracle that is the human mind and how something as commonplace as atmospheric vapour can dislodge an event that barely merited recording – but one which has given me a few moments of bittersweet pleasure.

Passing clouds.

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24 thoughts on “Passing clouds

    1. Hi Carol. Apparently, on the northern slopes of the range, where the ski resort is situated, the pink mountains have big white stripes down them where the pistes are maintained.
      Cheers, Alen

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  1. A nice read Cuz. We had a bit of snow this morning, now that ‘spring’ is here! Gone now right enough. I take it the temps are beginning to rise again down there and it’ll be vaguely bearable for a couple of weeks before becoming oven-like for months on end? Went over to Sutherland last month and there was barely a drop of snow to be seen, just the tiniest hat of icing sugar on Suilven. Most strange. I blame Trump! 🙂

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    1. Suilven is a mountain I’ve always wanted to climb but never have. First time I saw it was back in 1977, so I’ve had plenty of time just not got round to it.
      The temperatures here lately have been crazy. Cold spells then hot spells. Apparently, it’s going to drop to -1C before the end of the week, which won’t do my spud plants any good. Perhaps more snow on the way. Good to hear from you, Cuz.
      Alen

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      1. Hi Alen, I’m kinda surprised you’ve never ventured up Suilven since it’s one of those famous ones that slobs like me point at and say, ‘Alen should climb that!’ Glad I’m not the only one with snow around but I keep forgetting you’re quite high up where you stay. You’ll appreciate it all the more when it turns ‘scorchio.’ 🙂

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        1. According to Google Earth, our house is at an altitude of 416 metres, or 1,365ft. The snowline on the south side of the mountains is about 2,600 metres, but much lower on the Granada side. Temperature dropping fast. Not as cold as Norway, though, I suppose.

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  2. Hi, bird whisperer here. Re Passing Clouds. When I was training for the smoking Olympics (well they did have live pigeon shooting in 1912) and was also in the squad for cinema clearing ( before the national anthem started) be that as it may. Roly,my pal and I decided as neither of us was ‘ sporty types’, we would run a bookmakers stand on the school sports day.Obviously undercover. Simple punters would put a half-penny on a favourite and would get a penny on a win. But we had forgotten the over 16 mile was to be featuring the school all time great KC. The punters formed a long long que. Facing the odds we wondered if we should bunk off and let the week-end cool tempers down. However this was the first year that the sports department marked the 440 course with pegs and flags. Towards the penultimate lap KC clipped one,fell,and was trampled by the following pack of runners. A mighty groan arose from the spectators (not the parents) Roly and I looked skywards and,with joy in our hearts as we made our way to the local tobacco shop. The owner reached for the Woodbine packet for our usual one fag. NO we shouted,”20 Passing Cloud kind sir! (As we heaped a mountain of coppers onto the counter) Boy did they taste perfect.Memories- memories! If you think Lindsay Andersons film IF (banned by watch committees) was bad We had ten years of far worse. pip pip Peter.

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    1. Absolutely brilliant, Peter. You have led a very colourful life. By the way, Lindsay Anderson’s If remains one of my all-time favourite films, along with his O Lucky Man, which also starred Malcolm McDowell in the leading role, if I remember correctly. Great stuff.
      On another note, there was a tiny shop outside our school gates called Johnny Jackson’s where you could buy three No 6 and a match for thrupence. Woodbines were even cheaper. Apparently you could also buy second-hand batteries which he’d warmed up in the oven to squeeze every last spark out of them, but we were only interested in the fags.
      All the best, Alen

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