Recently, a chum of mine – a young, debonair, devil-may-care sort of chap not unlike myself – had a birthday so I decided that I would get him a gift that would recall, for both of us in a shared and joyful experience, a gift that would recall our carefree days of youth.
Yes, I decided to buy him an ashtray.
I grew up surrounded by ashtrays. My father had one of those very stylish art deco chrome affairs called a smoker’s companion which had, all in one, an ashtray, a holder for the matches and a handy tray for his cigarettes and refreshing drink. It was really a piece of furniture and it stood proudly beside his chair.
And there were ashtrays scattered about the house – one was always within easy stubbing distance.
Those were the days when people who ran hospitals thoughtfully provided ashtrays on the bedside tables – battered tin things in the public hospitals and nice cut glass ones in the better sort of private hospitals. Guided by mummy’s advice, I bought father an ashtray for his birthday in about 1958 and he knew what positive parenting was all about – whenever I was around, he would dutifully use that ashtray.
Once, Mummy took me to an ear-nose and throat specialist once when I was about ten – this was 1959 – and he had an astray on his desk.
It all seemed so natural.
Anyhow, would you even begin to believe how difficult it is to actually purchase a new ashtray nowadays?
I checked with Myers and they had none; I checked with David Jones and they had two – both “Versace Medusa Crystal” items with 13cm and 16cm diameters and retailing at a very modest $569 and $689 respectively. However fond I am of my chum, frankly he isn’t worth that much to be honest.
I went downmarket to Target – again none. Yes, you can buy ashtrays at those specialist tobacconist shops but they are hardly tasteful. One I saw was shaped like a small pistol and described as “The smoking gun” which, presumably, is a hilarious play on words. Others I have seen are shaped like small coffins, hearses and ambulances which I suspect are from the gift shop at the Anti-Cancer Council.
Now I know that the number of smokers in Australia is declining and is now anywhere between 13.5% and 17% of the population depending on who you believe but this is still a sizeable slab of our 24 million souls. Are they all relying on ashtrays inherited from their parents?
Ashtrays still appear on eBay now and again and the bidding is anything but spirited. They appear in junk shops which like to pretend they are antique emporiums but they look forlorn, unloved and neglected and have the appearance of having been there since the owner snuffed it in about 1961.
And what new cars now have ashtrays and cigarette lighters as standard fittings? None as far as I can discover. When I was a kiddie, our family car had four ashtrays including two in the back which were there, I suppose, in case my little brother and I wanted to light up on a Sunday drive.
Nowadays, ashtrays and cigarette lighters in new cars have been replaced by storage spaces and power outlets so that you can charge your bits and pieces of technological gadgetry.
The trend started in the mid 1990s in the USA. Since then, it has become a very rare thing to be able to find a brand new car suitably fitted for a smoker. Our car, now two years old and of European lineage has no lighter and no ashtray which I suppose doesn’t matter since I would be dumped by the side of the road if I attempted or even thought about lighting up.
And the Anti-Smoking Nazis are utterly relentless – now it is a crime to smoke in a car while there are kiddies in it. It is a crime to smoke almost anywhere in public. A restaurant which we frequent naturally doesn’t allow smoking within something like ten kilometres of their doors but you can have the dubious pleasure of dining at a footpath table and have vehicle emissions envelop you.
But some cars happily still retain the glorious old fittings. I noticed only recently for sale a Rolls Royce 2015 Phantom with a twelve cylinder automatic transmission engine with all of the bells and whistles including what was discreetly described as a “cigar lighter” and ashtray. People who own a Roller obviously aren’t common and smoke cigarettes.
It was a real bargain at just under $1 million and an “easy payment plan” was available. If I bought it I would have to give up smoking just to try and meet the “easy” payments so what would be the bloody point?
Do you think they are a thing of the past?
To write for Starts at 60 and potentially win a $20 voucher, send your articles to our Community Editor here.