By: SKIP BANDELE
Skip Bandele moved to the Algarve 10 years ago and has been with the Algarve Resident since 2003. His writing reflects views and opinions formed while living in Africa, Germany and England as well as Portugal.
TIME IS the one thing we can neither stop nor turn back as our biological clock ticks away relentlessly.
My father reached his 80th birthday last week and Eastender’s actress Wendy Richard married her fourth husband just days after revealing she is dying of cancer, facts which reminded me that every single moment made available to us on this earth is so precious that we really must seize and fully appreciate each and every one – after all, today could be the first day of the rest of your life, or, indeed, the last.
For thousands of years mankind has been preoccupied with the eternal mystery of life, how to prolong it, and with what lies beyond. Whereas a better standard of living, nutrition plans, anti-ageing creams and sheer good fortune have allowed us to almost triple the life expectancy of our not-so-distant ancestors that extended life span is still finite. All theories and religious beliefs aside, no-one can really say with certainty what, if anything at all, lies beyond. It is therefore of paramount importance that we take the time we have and make the most of it in whatever way most valuable or enjoyable to ourselves. Regret and remorse are bitter pills to swallow, and in this context, futile sentiments as what has passed can never be brought back, repeated or relived.
God forbid – it does not matter if you are 12, 20, 50 or indeed 80, today, this minute should be the focus of your attention, your concern, your time to positively input both on your own state of mind and your immediate surroundings. Let tomorrow take care of itself, for it will surely come or remain forever in the future, worrying will not change the situation for better or worse, curtail or prolong it. But let me climb off my pulpit now and tackle some other, not necessarily related, topics which have sprung to my attention.
My parents worry about my smoking, and probably justifiably so. My sister, who has been ‘clean’ for a few years now, took to the evil weed behind the proverbial bicycle sheds at the tender age of 14, and my mother occasionally made herself feel nauseous with the help of a packet of Silk Cut hidden in her left hand desk drawer while my father has been puffing away at his pipe for as long as I can remember.
I was 18 when my then best friend persuaded me to take my first few drags of nicotine in Corfu – somehow the beguiling and romanticised influences of advertising and film made it feel right during those balmy holiday weeks far away from home. Unfortunately, and in part due to my addictive personality, I still smoke 40 a day and have no immediate plans to stub out the habit despite rising cost and inconvenience. “240 million Indians fume over smoking ban”, read a recent newspaper headline. On the first of October the world’s second-biggest consumer of cigarettes behind China joined Portugal, Ireland, England and a host of other countries in banning smoking in public places. It appears that a fifth of deaths in India are linked to smoking and the government says the move is necessary to stem the loss of life. Mind you, sales are still rising and implementation of the ban could be a problem as past attempts to stop spitting and urinating in public on the subcontinent have proven spectacularly unsuccessful.
Here in the Algarve, last January’s introduction of similarly draconian measures – regarding smoking, that is – were initially met with typically Portuguese phlegmatic acquiescence before militant bar owners took the law into their own hands and replaced the red ‘No Smoking’ signs with permissive blue ones as a particularly wet start to the year saw customers stay away in droves. Today lighting up is again tolerated in almost 50 per cent of establishments while reports from Spain suggest that the law is being ignored almost everywhere.
The whole smoking argument has only reinforced my very cynical attitude towards our so-called democracies. We do not have benevolent dictatorships or governments concerned with the welfare of its citizens. It has been proven beyond a doubt that smoking is bad for you, can kill you – it even says so on the packet! As opposed to the consumption of alcohol in moderation, there are no ‘safe’ levels, the medium to long term effects being every bit as deadly as those resulting from the use of heroin or cocaine, the use of or trade in constitute a serious crime. This being true, why is it not illegal to buy, sell or smoke cigarettes? To answer a rhetorical question, because whole countries’ economies are dependent on the tax income generated by the tobacco industry and would rather put up with spiralling hospital costs, overcrowded cancer wards and unacceptable death tolls than outlaw a culture actively encouraged for more than a hundred years – bans and price hikes are no more than grudging and hypocritical lip service to a growing anti-smoking lobby. Ergo, had smoking been forbidden a long time ago, I would never have started it and be considerably better off today! The same applies to every future generation thus allowed to harm itself.
Let us end on a less sinister note and talk about the sun – it is warm and bright as I am writing although autumn is rapidly drawing to a close. The sun is also responsible for ripening the grapes used to make the many wonderful wines available locally. I’m seriously considering hitting the bottle (or two!) in place of my usual quota of ‘amber nectar’ after latest research has shown that drinking at least – I like that part – one glass of red wine a day reduces the risk of contracting lung cancer among smokers and ex-smokers by a whooping 60 per cent. Sunshine also boosts the levels of vitamin D in the human body which US scientists have now discovered considerably lowers the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. Last but not least, a spoonful of sugar – I have always taken two with my coffee – could make you a sweeter person, keeping prejudices such as those harboured against smokers and drinkers under control. A study claims that a sugar rush provides the brain with the fuel it needs to suppress unpleasant opinions and feelings – as always, Carpe Diem!