It was a mid afternoon sky that made me feel alive I sat on the rough concrete outside my old flat. It was one of those hand me down apartments, with cockroaches under the kitchen sink, and the porch weathered away by the claws in the rain. In the evenings I’d like to sit outside and listen to the beetles and birds in the gardens of adjacent houses.
Now I was never a fan of cigarettes. The taste attracted me although if I tried to inhale anything more than a puff, I’d end up wheezing and coughing like an old cat. Some friends of mine introduced me to the water pipe. Right at the top of this structure you’d pack the tobacco into a clay bowl. Fags and cigars come ready-made. This makes them expensive, but also quick and easy to get going. I’d started to learn that with most things in life, if you wanted to the experience to taste good you had to put in a lot of preparation.
So with this type of smoking the tobacco is a sticking molasses-looking substance you bought in boxes. I’d often visit the tobacconist and spend several minutes picking up the palm-sized boxes of tobacco and smelling them. I’d learnt by now which flavours were consistent, and which you should avoid. Generally I’d select fruity flavours like watermelon, orange and grape. Once in the clay bowl I’ll mix them up with a herb like flavour to give the taste consistency; something along the lines of mint or pan rasna.
Once you have the tobacco placed into a small clay bowl this sits on top of your hookah. You cover the top with a layer of tinfoil (with holes neatly poked through) and then continue to light a circular coal, and let it rest on the tin foil. After many house parties and sessions of listening to crickets at home, I’d learnt the science behind the hookah. The simple things no one else knew like how to properly aerate the tobacco so that it cooks slowly and in-between that clay bowl and tin foil the flavour is actually baking under the pocket of air left in the bowl.
Most people bought a rubber valve from the stores that is placed underneath the clay bowl. This allows it to sit securely on. I’d lost mine at a friend’s 21st and so I came up with a painstaking ritual that works more effectively…wet paper. I’d keep an exercise book (or roll of newspaper) in my bag with my travelling hookah. Every time I needed to smoke I’d wet the paper on both sides and mould it to the metal stem. It worked out to be even more air-tight than the rubber valve everyone else liked to use, and not to mention to absorbed the excess liquid flavour the generally ran off the rubber and left a tear stain down the side of the metal stem.
I smoked this machine long enough by now and learnt how to make it palatable whenever it went. This arm of metal makes a long descent into a bowl of water. The structure is secured to the bowl by a large rubber valve. Just above this rubber valve is a cone-shaped pipe curving outwards like the ear of a dog. This is where you insert you pipe (preferably leather), and place your lips around an ornately designed handle on the other end.
A cigarette or rolled up joint could never be this visceral and bonding. From the time to place your lips on the cold mouthpiece of the pipe, to the sucking in of a cooled down smoke that climaxes into a head rush that leaves your thoughts swirling once you’ve breathed out the soft and silent smoke. I started doing this because it made smoking feel vaguely luxuriate despite the health freaks jumping up and down about the dangers of smoking ‘unfiltered smoke’.
I realize I may be encouraging by-standers at various parties, but it gets people talking. One party that I remember being at was at a house. The event was intimate with only around thirty of us at the most. I say intimate because this was on the 31st of December, and normally you get unwanted people flocking. It was invite only, and I managed to meet two interesting girls, and a handful of guys. Early on I decided to pull out my hookah and get people to smoke.
If you ever want to get people interested in smoking make them smoke watermelon. It’s a flavour that everyone enjoys. I can’t think of anyone that hates eating a watermelon, it’s probably the one fruit that is great to eat and smell. For some reason one of the girls seem to be eager to smoke whether it was the alcohol, or my winning mix that did the trick I’m still can’t say.
House parties are as much a phenomena as smoking itself. I still remember fragments from that night. I remember things like a chessboard being used all the way through the night. I remember the other hookah I helped start that had a clay top the size of a coin, and a handle for a king. I seem to remember calling someone DJ Crank, but after the passing out cold my head couldn’t really make sense of the joke.
When you wake up the next morning, sounds are sharper. Your face is greasy with sweat and your voice feels like it’s talking to you from the back of the room. I remember looking at the table that was littered with ashtrays and empty cans. It seemed so like it had turned from a garden to Hooverville in a few hours. I can remember grabbing clothes strewn across the garden and watching a drunken guy walk around in his soaked-black socks with a champagne bottle in his hand. He seemed to have a nonchalant swagger and a smile slung onto his skin.
For some reason it took me back a good few years to my childhood, and made me think of the coolest cat in town.