stubble scratching

Luke doesn’t smoke, but he steals a lot of cigarettes. It’s a habit we used to share. I was more honest about it. I admitted I was a smoker but was usually too broke to buy my own. Luke’s a drunk smoker. After x number of beers (or bottles of wine, measures of whisky, etc. etc.) he starts chaining somebody else’s cigarettes. Usually they’re his brother’s. Marcus is younger and as such tends to put up little resistance to this mooching.

We sat in the pub opposite the British Library and drank away our hangovers, the three of us, and Luke looked in horror as Marcus started rolling a cigarette.

‘What the fuck’s that?’

‘A rollie.’

‘That’s no good – you’re going to have to roll two every time.’


My hangover was particularly pronounced at this point, and I contributed little. There wasn’t much to add, really, just the odd chuckle. I rubbed my eyes a lot, and scratched my stubble – those little physical tics that seem to accompany the morning after.

Luke looked smart in a bespoke pin-striped suit, Marcus shabby in a blazer better-suited to a down-on-luck pensioner cracking open a tin of special brew. I wore shorts, flip-flops and a wrinkled shirt. I stood out a bit.

‘There’s a beer garden in the British Library.’ Luke’s kernel of information grabbed our attention. The bartering for cigarettes ceased. My beer slowly did its work and my hangover subsided. I stopped rubbing my eyes, though I still scratched my stubble occasionally.

‘Really?’ – Marcus and I, in chorus.

Beer garden was a bit of a stretch. There’s a terrace adjoining the café, and the café sells beer. Still, we pondered, it was theoretically possibly to organise a piss-up in the British Library. This delighted us. We set about a rough plan for such an event.

We’d have to be there for research. We agreed that the beers should be some manner of self-reward – we should do an hour or so’s worth of work before getting hammered. Luke chuckled mischievously, Marcus wandered outside to smoke his roll-up and I went to the bar to get another round in.

Walking back from the bar I was disappointed to find the table of pretty girls next to us had decamped and disappeared into the thronging London streets. Talk moved away from research-inspired drinking binges and into the generalities of life. Marcus and I described the antics of the night before to Luke, explaining the source of our hangover. Marcus drank slower that I did. I poured more ice into his cider and watched the sudden fizz as the new cubes splashed down. He rolled another and we watched them call the cricket for rain, after Australia pulled ahead of England. Marcus and Luke are big cricket fans; my interest casual at best. I turned around to check out the table of ladies and cursed, forgetting they’d left. Marcus placed his rollie on the table and Luke looked down on it with barely concealed contempt.

I looked at my watch and took another sip of beer. Time for the next pub. The British Library?

Not this time.

As we left, Luke clapped Marcus on the shoulder.

‘You’re going to be rolling a lot of cigarettes tonight.’