I HAVE had a lifelong abhorrence of smoking, yet at this time of year there are few things I like better than the heady aroma of a big fat cigar.

It’s as much a part of Christmas as Ferrero Rochers, Brussels sprouts and Clarence Odbody saving James Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life.

I have never had one in my mouth, but every festive season my father would gradually work his way through a cornucopia of cigars, from little ones like Mannikins, Wills Whiffs, Tom Thumb and other tinned treats before moving on to the more exotic stogies which came in individual aluminium tubes.

Some seemed as long as telegraph poles, and took an inordinate amount of fiddling with and poking at before they could be persuaded to draw evenly, and then he would sit contentedly wreathed in fragrant blue smoke for many long minutes.

He seldom smoked cigars at other time of year, so that aromatic blue smoke will forever be associated with Christmas in my mind.

It wasn’t just the cigars themselves I got vicarious pleasure from, but the TV advertising that came with them every Christmas, with each brand having its own jaunty tune and catchy lyrics, and who could forget the enchanting series of “Happiness is a Cigar called Hamlet” ads featuring Jacques Loussier playing Bach’s Air on a G String?

In fact a lot of the now banned cigarette adverts were really rather good, from the Take a Tip Take a Bristol and the Consulate - Cool as a Mountain Stream series through to You’re Never Alone with A Strand, memorably parodied with You’re always alone with a Herbal.

Smoking was a part of everyday life while I was growing up, and every time I went to the pictures I could see the beam of the projector carving its through clouds of smoke like a lighthouse illuminating a foggy night.

The smoking ban was amongst the best pieces of legislation ever passed, and I only wish It had come sooner, which would have spared me one of the worst days of my life many years ago. My hatred of smoking was brought about by being forced to sit next to a chain-smoking woman on a bus between Carlisle and Manchester some 60 years ago.

I had picked up a bug on my uncle’s farm in Cumberland, and was already feeling deeply unwell when I boarded the bus with my parents, but the relentless spirals of acrid poison emanating from this harridan gradually drove me over the edge as the bus made the tortuous 150 mile journey down the old A6.

I had the satisfaction of being lavishly sick all over her just before we got off the bus, but the hatred of cigarette smoke has never left me.

While schoolmates were gathering behind the bike sheds for an illicit drag of a Woodbine – purchased individually from a disreputable newsagents, along with a single match – I was never tempted to try one, and on more than one occasion threw water over pals in a vain attempt discourage them from lighting up.

A couple of lads got fed up of cigarettes, and shoplifted a pipe from the local tobacconist, but were unable to get hold of tobacco. Instead, they stuffed it with PG Tips tea, which they somehow managed to light up, achieving a two inch flame above the Meerschaum bowl.

My rebellious elder brother of course had no qualms about falling for the dubious charms of Lady Nicotine, and was a regular in the headmaster’s office for a couple of strokes of the cane for being in possession of smoking materials.

Finally our father found out, and took him to one side one day after school...“So you think you are a smoker do you?”

With that, he produced his trusty briar, laden with evil smelling dark shag, and ordered: “If you want to smoke, smoke this!”

Big brother gave it a go, turning greener and greener until he disgorged the entire contents of his stomach into the kitchen sink. It made no difference though – he was already hooked, and spent a fortune on hunting out more and more exotic brands, including Sobranie Black Russians, Perfectos and Passing Clouds.

My father bowed to the inevitable and was thereafter forever pestering my brother for exotic tabs: “Hey up Lad, give us a Pefecto!”