Fire and brimstone. Cough O Eire. Lucifer.

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“Admiral Gunther Lutjens, Flottenchef, Ritterkreutz (RK) of the Kriegsmarine, looked around the table. Rarely had such power and influence been concentrated in one room. Outside the panoramic window, the shipyards stretched away almost as far as the human eye could see. The clang of riveting hammers came to the ears of the assembled officers. There had been a sudden change of plan. The order had come direct from the Fuhrer himself. Where are my umlauts when I need them? thought Lutjens. The smoke curled up, in a graceful arabesque, from his silver-tipped Balkan Sobranie cigarette.
‘It appears, that our secret agents in The Imperial Tobacco Company in Nottingham, have sent word that Players are about to issue a set of cigarette cards showing the entire fleet of the Royal Navy.’
He waited, enjoying the shock of surprise.

Even Goering raised his eyes from the magnifying glass with which he had been closely studying a complete set of risque bathing beauties, courtesy of W.D. and H. O. Wills. He looked at Lutjens, the lens transforming him into a magnificently attired, Cyclops.
‘Dumkopf Englanders!’ he exclaimed. ‘If only they would issue a set detailing the Royal Air Force as well. Then we would have England at our mercy. My Luftwafffe would study their strength and send them down in flames. Ha ha! But not even the Englanders could be so stupid.’ He returned to his anatomical studies.
‘But wait, Herr Reichsmarschall, Obersturmbahnfuhrer, Feldwebel, Kapitan, Achtung Scweinhund, Goering,’ (Goering liked to pull rank) ‘there is more. They will shortly issue a set depicting the railways of Britain.’
Goering smiled in delighted anticipation. Fire from the skies.
‘Military motors, infantry training., The Territorial Army.’
Rommel reached for the handsome cigarette case. His flicked his lighter. There was no shortage of petrol for cigarette lighters. His eyes narrowed. Soon the oilfields of Ploesti would be in German hands. And then Persia.

Lutjens was not finished.’The Fuhrer has ordered that we must all make sacrifices’. He took a last, long pull on the Sobranie, looked at it with regret then crushed it out. ‘From now on all ranks of the Wehrmacht, the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine, must smoke John Player, until all these vital cards are in our hands.’
Himmler winced at the notion. He coughed. Langsdorff wished himself elsewhere, a place where he could get a decent South American cigar.
Lutjens caught his eye. ‘And the Gestapo, my friend and the SS.’ Lutjens waited for a reaction. As a naval man, he liked the metaphor. The deck was loaded in Germany’s favour. Nobody spoke. They sat in silent shock.
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‘And by the way,’ concluded the admiral, ‘I bags HMS Hood.‘ ”

Monsieur Nicot, of Paris, made tobacco popular in Europe. I saw a poster in Paris, Anatomy of a Killer. It showed a dissection of a cigarette, detailing the many toxins contained in the lethal cylinder. Nicotine is first cousin to strychnine, used for killing rats. Walter Raleigh smoked his head off, to coin a phrase, in the Tower of London. His tobacco box bears the inscription, ‘My companion during that most miserable time.’ It did his health no good.

The bearded hero on the Players packet, is reputed to be Charles Stewart Parnell. The tribute was paid by the Imperial Tobacco Company in recognition of his advocacy in Parliament, for the abolition of flogging in the navy. Players Navy Cut. The Imperial Tobacco Company made it the patriotic duty of sailors and soldiers to ‘smoke for victory’ during two world wars. ‘So long as you’ve a lucifer to light your fag, smile boys, that’s the style.’ Perhaps, of course, the Fenians or other Irish incendiaries, had infiltrated the factory in Nottingham to further their cause. Or Lucifer? No smoke without fire.

During and after Hitler’s war, young lads in Skerries gathered dandelion roots along the sand dunes and sold them to a local entrepreneur. The roots were used to make an ersatz coffee, Coffo Eire, of unhappy memory. Other roots found their way into the bags; rocket lettuce, dock leaves, monks’ bane. Sure why not? ‘The Pony’ Daly, a noted local character, denounced it as undrinkable. He used to smoke it in his clay pipe. Perhaps ‘The Pony’ was ahead of the curve. He kept a lid on his pipe.

The tobacco industry expanded its interests. Racing cars raced in the livery of the major brands. The Marlboro Man, epitome of masculine cool, died, not in a pile up at Monza or Monaco. He died of lung cancer. So did millions of others, as many or more than died in the wars. An old friend told me how the doctor advised him to lose weight. ‘I gave up the pints and went back on the fags.’ It worked, but he died anyway, of lung cancer.

The growth markets for tobacco are in the Third World countries. There are fewer lawyers there. Representatives in brightly coloured tee shirts distribute free cigarettes to children. The lobbyists in Brussels and Strasbourg, buttonhole the MEPs, showing how more graphic information on packets would be counter productive. It’s a delicate balance. Cigarette taxes earn revenue. Finance ministers must calculate how much the smoker can cough up (metaphorically) before he croaks (literally).

” The Fuhrer sighed. He stood facing the fireplace, with his hands behind his back. He tried hard to control the trembling. The news was grim. He turned to the eminent scientist who waited in dread of his anger. He pounded the table. His voice was harsh.
‘ The Americans are developing an atom bomb. An atom bomb!’ His voice shook. ‘Vee too must have a doomsday veapon.’ ( He was of course, speaking German.) ‘ Vat do you say, Von Braun?’ He brushed his slick of hair from his sweating forehead. ‘ Vhy am I alvays surrounded by dolts?’
Von Braun shuffled awkwardly. He turned his ersatz cigarette furtively between finger and thumb. It consisted of shredded and withered lettuce leaves. It left an acrid taste. He wished that he had taken that offer of a job in America.’
The Fuhrer dismissed him with a snarl.

Von Braun hurried down the stairs. He fumbled to light the vile cigarette. The Fuhrer’s words echoed in his ears. ‘Vee too must have a doomsday veapon. Vee too..” He looked at the shreds of lettuce. It can’t be rocket science, can it? A spark ignited in his brain.”
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As for distributing cigarettes to children in Africa and elsewhere…. Bring back flogging, I say.

Dressed to kill. Karl Lagerfeld, Russell Brand and the Nazis. Sir Hartley.

I love an apocryphal story. You don’t have to be sure of any facts. ‘It’s apocryphal’, you say. Your listener says ‘Ah,’ and nods wisely. I have to rely on the apocryphal because I know nothing about either of the two gentlemen except what I saw in a newspaper recently. I see that Karl is a natty dresser, while Russell is not. It seems that Russell said that Karl designed uniforms for the Nazis. He then went on to say that they were brilliant uniforms, using some colourful language in saying so. This gave great offence to his audience. The report piqued my interest. I did some in-depth research. Okay, I Googled Karl. His date of birth is sort of apocryphal but if he did as Russell claimed, he must have gone out of business by the age of nine–or ten –or twelve, depending on which version you chose. Yet, today he an arbiter of fashion, another subject, about which I also know nothing.

There is no doubt that Hitler was a master showman. His Nuremberg rallies still give a chill of fear. Humanity looked into the abyss. A beast arose in Europe, out of the mud and carnage of the First World War. It was dressed in grey, black and red. Flags and uniforms compelled obedience without question. They still exercise a fascination. Somewhere on your television right now, men in field-grey are pointing at maps, diving in Stukas, tearing across country in Panzer tanks. The SS made black the new black. The generals wore sinister black leather coats. They look like winners. But don’t blame Karl.

I had some fashion dilemmas in the years immediately following the war. My older brother was brought to Mr. Boylan, the tailor in Quay Street to get a new jacket. Mr. Boylan was a real tailor, a man’s tailor. He actually sat cross-legged on a table as he worked. My brother got a jacket with flaps on the pockets to retain valuables, odd keys, sweets, chestnuts, a penknife, bits of string and the rubber out of old golf balls, maybe tuppence or thrippence, if he was lucky. I must mention pockets to Karl if I ever meet him. Fashionistas are not too good on functioning pockets. The schweinhund even got an inside pocket!

What can I say? My mother brought me to Miss Murphy, the dress-maker in The Square to have a coat cut down for me. I still find it difficult to talk about it. I specified flaps and an inside pocket. I have no recollection of the colour or whether it was an overcoat or a jacket, but she put the flaps on the outside edges of the pockets, like a lady’s coat! Maybe it had been a lady’s coat. It was a time of rationing after all. I asked about my inside pocket. ‘Oh, I couldn’t do that,’ she replied. ‘They would put me in gaol if I gave you an inside pocket.’ Sadly, I knew none of Russell’s colourful language at the time. My mother was a collaborator in all this. She pinched my arm, feeling the quality of the material, not the matchstick, ration era, arm. I later learned what happened to collaborators after the war. I learned some colourful language. I also learned that pockets were indeed rationed at the time. Did they have fashion police in the Forties? It was a long time ago. I have learned to forgive.

I’m sure I inherited the jacket from my brother. By that time it probably had no elbows in the sleeves. There was a button missing. The inside pocket was irrevocably sealed by a melted Honey-bee bar. There was a blue-black stain of Haughton’s ink from a malfunctioning fountain pen. The early biros were worse. Deep down I blamed Hitler for all the trouble he caused.

How did they lose the war? Picture Montgomery in his baggy shorts (So last year!) and skinny legs. Put him beside Rommel in his leather overcoat and celluloid sand goggles. Picture Churchill in a boiler suit and Goering in a white field-marshall uniform with a prairie of medals on his chest. No contest. Those celluloid goggles became a fashion must-have with kids after the war. James Mason made Rommel glamorous, even one of the good guys. Clothes make a man. So how did they lose?

Which brings me to Sir Hartley Shawcross, a man of undeniable brilliance. Perhaps the story is apocryphal but it is a good insight into the legal mind and the importance of dress. A senior British general was disturbed by noise and laughter one night in his hotel in Cairo. (See above, war in the desert, Rommel, Monty, baggy shorts etc.) It was a time of the gravest danger, before Alamein and the end of the beginning of the end and Stalingrad. German armies were sweeping south towards the Caucasus, threatening the oilfields of the Middle east. Hitler’s forces were poised to sweep through India and link up with the Japanese. The Americans were preparing to make their last stand at the Mississippi. Everyone buckled down to the task of holding the enemy back. Everyone except a naked man pursuing a naked woman around the corridors of a hotel in Cairo. The general recognised him as one of his own staff. The general was outraged and immediately put the miscreant on a charge. The officer was court-martialled for conduct unbecoming, for being out of uniform, for failing to stand to attention or maybe for standing too obviously to attention in the presence of his commanding officer. Down with that sort of thing , we say. Shoot the blighter at dawn. Break him to the ranks. Drum him out of the service. Leave a pistol beside his cutlery in the mess.

The officer was fortunate to have Hartley Shawcross as his defence. It looked hopeless until Shawcross found a way out: King’s Regulations. Paragraph such and such, subsection so and so. (I said it was apocryphal) “An officer must be properly attired for the sport in which he is participating.” Laughter in court. Case dismissed. A close-run thing all the same. So, who won the war, then?

I knew a German lady whose grandfather had been a Nazi. In his heart he was still a Nazi. He hated to see young people with long hair and hippy clothes, (a bit like Russell actually). He used to mutter audibly at bus-stops and in other public places, as grandfathers do, about the shortcomings of the younger generation. ‘Look at them,’ he would say. ‘Look at them. No use for war.’

The smirking Nazis returned to Nuremberg after the war. Shawcross was there. His closing statement left those criminals in tatters.

I have a pair of Jack Murphy trousers with pockets inside pockets and secret zipped pockets. Maybe I shouldn’t divulge this information. There are spies everywhere. If I had tuppence or thrippence to hide in them I would be doing okay.