Wednesday 16 March 2016


It’s Autumn in Melbourne, and the great deciduous trees in the streets and parks are sloughing their superficial splendour to gather strength for the coming chill. The evenings are warm for now, but the ever-hastening dusks are casting more than a shadow over the gentle cigar connoisseur. Playful licks of wind become biting squalls, clouds darken, and park benches develop a pervasive, dewy glaze, while the lay smoker, long banished from sheltered comforts, adapts or desists. Thus, with the below update, the inaugural season of Fitful Fires must conclude. Spare a thought for your host as he sits sadly in a threadbare armchair, playing scrabble against the computer, and sending text-messages into the merciless ether. Sure, there’ll be good times: I might save my shekels and order the occasional take-away Chinese dinner, and every now and again I’ll rent a Steve Martin DVD. My employer, usually equator-bound for warmer climes at this point, might offer me some lay occupation, but my hopes aren’t high. And so, like a twisted silver birch, I chuck the charge of excess and retreat into torpid isolation.

I will return, of course, in the summer, when beauty and light re-enter the periphery of my existence, where I’ll once again squander away my earnings on smoke and drink in the sunshine. Until then, friends, may all of your fires be fixed.



Punch Petit Coronas

It’s mid-March, but in Melbourne the sun still shines strong, and the afternoons stretch for hours into what by all rights should be the night. This has been a warm autumn, and the mild days are beckoning me to prise a cigar from my plastic tupperware container and alter my senses with drink and leaf. A little mid-afternoon outing is my want, and so I arm myself with a Punch Petit Coronas, my flimsy cigar cutter, a waning cigarette lighter, and a six-pack. I eye my rusting, long-dormant hulk of a bicycle and, holding its left hand grip in my right hand, look out onto my street. It’s time we two friends set off on another adventure.


I don’t recall how, but in my much younger years I wound up sleeping with a minor celebrity, named Ruby. She was the singer of a popular pub band called the The Garnet Set that featured all over Melbourne in the 1990s, but maintained that her real claim to fame was being the daughter of a long-serving Neighbours star. She was nice enough, but had an apartment full of giant astrology texts and weird crystals, and wouldn’t plan or, indeed, function, without consulting them. This shit was ridiculous, but nowhere near as problematic and annoying as her ugly, yapping, spoiled, toy poodle named Picnic. The dog was at once fiercely protective but spineless, so simply yapped shrilly and ceaselessly every time we were together. Its behaviour was reinforced by Ruby, who would quieten it with dog treats and cuddling, all while it looked on at me with soulless self-satisfaction plastered over its ugly, absurdly-manicured face.

The little Punch starts sour, like cold dregs of green tea, over light tobacco. I’ve traveled by bicycle to a park in Melbourne’s Docklands, and have found a secluded little alcove of dying tea trees and old cyclone fencing in which to smoke. Every now and then the same resident in the overlooking apartments comes out and, pacing around his balcony, surveys my activities. I’m pairing the cigar with a lazy, inoffensive, pale ale, and I’m wondering if it’s the smoking or the drinking that’s got the resident so agitated. The hop balance in the beer is perfect, but I’m regretting not going with something a bit more strong or complex, because I’m getting very little from the cigar. Only toward the midpoint does the tobacco strengthen, and with it comes the earthy notes of charred meat over an open fire.
We had extremely boring and predictable sex, which would begin with me kissing Ruby’s neck while she, ever emphasising her misplaced celebrity, would say ludicrous things like “ooooh Neighbours would be cancelled if this got out”. Her surrogate sense of fame was strange, especially considering she had her own small musical fanbase, which was at least earned, unlike her proximal relationship to some soap-opera nobody. By far the worst thing about the sex was Picnic, who would whine and yap in protest throughout, sometimes even pissing on or destroying things (I quickly learned to hang up my clothes). He would invariably end up between my legs as I hammered into his mistress, where I’d feel his hot, frenzied yapping on my vulnerably swinging ballsack, until eventually fear of castration would have me retreating, loins aflame, to my car. 

Beyond the midpoint the Punch becomes much better, with a comforting touch of chlorine over pepper and fryer oil. I wait until the resident retreats from his recon and, taking a knee behind my park bench, flood the dry earth with hot piss. It cascades toward the bench where my bag is sitting, and I must stem the flow and throw my belongings clear. The Punch goes out during my clownish manoeuvre, and a relight brings back the same bland, mid-tobacco. I wish there were more to this cigar but, given the pittance I paid for it, I’m mostly happy that it’s not too bad. I’ve been deliberately drawing on it deeply and often, and I’m hit with a stinging throb behind my eyeballs as the nicotine hits.

One afternoon Ruby and I found ourselves in an uncharacteristically energetic sexual exchange on her bed. She moaned comically while screaming to be fucked harder, while Picnic yelped and skated around the apartment, and the neighbours beat the walls and yelled for silence. It was a complex and awful cacophony, but I was enjoying the turn our usually dull coitus had taken. Eventually I felt the soft thud of manicured paws creeping toward me on the bed, my hanging sack presenting too temping a target from its usual missionary post. The yapping intensified, and I muttered “the fucking dog’s between my legs again”, at which Ruby, in the throes of pleasure, let out a booming “FUCK OFF, PICNIC”. I felt bolstered by this alliance and, withdrawing from the writhing Ruby, lay on my side and lashed out at the pampered little shit with my legs. I’d meant only to scare the dog away, but my kick connected with its spongy ribs and sent it flying off the bed, tumbling grotesquely on its head, before crashing into Ruby’s antique bureau. Ruby let out a blood-curdling shriek and, dislodging me with a throw of her elbows, went to cradle Picnic’s still body while I, with trademark cowardice, bolted for the door.  

As the Punch ends the wrapper comes apart, and I’m hit with heavy tar and strong tobacco. Nubbing it requires me to pinch the Punch between the forefinger and thumb of each hand while taking delicate little sucks, until my burning lips force me to give in. There was nothing wholly offensive about this little sucker. If you’re after a nicotine hit and only have an hour, go for it, but these guys are not for serious smoking. My residential overwatch looks on sadly as I, scattering the empty beer bottles and other detritus around the park, mount my old bicycle and wobble off into the afternoon. See you in 2017.

Punch on the Cuban Cigar Website.

Thursday 10 March 2016

Romeo y Julietta No. 2

It's a sublime afternoon in Sydney, with the day's heat slowly dissipating with the light breeze as the sunlight dances on the rippled waters of Rozelle Bay. I need to piss, urgently, but there are bouncy lady joggers and children and old people around, and I put a mental clamp on it while I take the initial uncut photos. I have a six-pack of beer and, for now, some time to myself, so my Romeo y Julietta No. 2 might be paired with some mental wandering and painful introspection. I take the cutter to its tip, steel myself against my straining bladder, and set the No. 2 aflame just as the wind picks up. It's immediately ashy and tannic, and I spit noisily between gaps in the timber decking as two lithe and perfumed blondes bounce past me on their afternoon run. 

I was instantly attracted to Sandy, with her bright eyed, bubbly blondness contrasting wonderfully with the bleak dramatics of the rest of the mining town. She was a Fly-In, Fly-Out banker who I met at a mutual friend's house one summer evening, and we were almost inseparable for months. Sex didn't feature beyond discussion, but there was an electricity between us that had to be acted upon. We had what I still consider a wonderful and passionate, romance-free, relationship; the end to which will be its sole legacy on these pages.

We were at my house one afternoon, and my housemate wasn't home, and Sandy and I sat awkwardly on my double bed together, alternately kissing and talking. I tried to take off her shirt but she stopped me and, referring to my housemate's potential arrival home, said she didn't want our first time together to be a rushed, high-school dorm affair. I responded by presenting her with my cock which, as a helpful hint to my male readers, works more often than it should. I lay back on the bed with my feet still resting on the floor, and she cradled my expanding shaft, remarking that it was "indeed a nice cock". I wanted to hear that it was indeed a nice, big, thick, cock, but begrudgingly let it slide. I tried again to deblouse her, and succeeded in freeing her breasts, which were huge and pale and lightly freckled on top. She smelled like sweat and light perfume, and I tried to slide her denim skirt down while sucking her nipple, but kept losing leverage and resorted to roughly prodding around the area with my fat fingers. She unhinged me from her breast and, hooking her thumbs into her panty and waistline, slid generously out of her skirt.

The No. 2 is peppery in the first inch, with some tar, over the bitterness of overbrewed tea. My employer has just joined me, and wearily informs me that smoking the cigar in direct wind, as I am, should be punishable by a violent death. I follow him, bladder still straining, to a more sheltered but less secluded deck area that overlooks the bay, and resume my smoking. The cigar has required several relights on the brief walk, but it doesn't suffer too badly for it. My urgency for a toilet induces panic, and I drag my penis from my shorts and, while still seated, stretch it at a grotesque right-angle along my thigh, so it overhangs the edge of the decking. I unleash a torrent of steaming piss into the undergrowth as my employer, appalled, laments the transition of public space. "What was an area where children played and couples jogged", he quips, "is now where degenerates like you fuck and piss and drink". The problem with my current urination plan is that, while allowing me to look fully clothed while urinating from a sitting position, leaves me in quite a bind when my head of piss loses pressure in the waning squirts. I overcome this by clamping the head of my cock so it balloons with urine, then unleashing it in a torrent, the end of which, despite my efforts, coats my thigh. I shrug against renewed admonishment, and notice a sweetness developing as the final inch draws to a close, with notes of sweet, sticky rice with a hint of clove.

I asked Sandy if we should use a condom, and she responded, as one does when dealing with idiots, with a stupefied "yes". I tried to explain that I did not have a dickload of AIDS, and that condoms were for the bourgeois, 80s-throwback, suburban neofaggotry, but she insisted all the same. I fished one out of my bedside drawer and rolled it angrily onto my cock then, silencing any protest with clumsy tongue kissing, slid my freshly-bagged and rapidly-waning cock into her. She came after around six seconds of clumsy fucking and, through rapid exhalations on the throes of further climax, explained that she came really easily, and not as a result of my ham-hipped thrusting. I have never come especially easily, so made my usual show of alternately fast and slow fucking, while letting my mind stray to whatever disgusting pornographic scene might tip me over the edge. Eventually it started to feel especially good, and I started vigorously pounding into her while saying insightful things like "I'm fucking your pussy". We both looked between our legs in tandem, and let out a harmonious sigh of frustration at the tattered remains of the condom flapping like kelp around my member. I withdrew and rolled onto my back, while Sandy smiled at me through the grubby, mirrored wardrobe near the foot of my bed. She raised one of her legs in the air and, directing my gaze in the reflection, made me note how much I'd "opened her up". I looked in silence as the mirror reflected her exposed arsehole and swollen labia, and above them her grinning face eyeing me, almost perversely, in the background.

Toward the mid point the clove endures, with orange zest over a mild, starchy base. It's too complex for a cigar of this price range and, as if fatefully cued, it fades quickly to mid tobacco and heavy tar. I guess that it has had a tough life under heavy wind and multiple relights, and I forgive its shortcomings. I'm about to blab my musings to my employer when the draw suddenly loosens, and I'm hit with notes of rockmelon and a hint of creme, with some bitter tea marking the back of my palate. The complexity delights me, as does the almost cloying sweetness that now presents with a pineapple tang as the cigar, after another inexplicable relight, burns fitfully toward the final third.

Being a selfish creature, and yet to orgasm, I shifted my position on the bed and coarsely cleared my throat. Sandy smiled, and wearily remarked that it must be my turn, before grabbing a handful of skin at the base of my shaft and dragging it up toward the angry head of my dick. I could feel her rings grip and pinch the tender skin, and once again fatefully looked down. We noticed the blood at the same time, barely visible at the tip, but thickening toward the base of my penis and eventually matting into my pubic hair with the scraps of condom that still clung to the base. I'd fuck-started her period, which I guess is a thing, and Sandy apologised for the mess. She told me to go wash up, adding that "fanny juice wouldn't be a problem to suck on, but blood is just gross". I hit the hallway, naked, on the way to the bathroom, and smashed heavily into my housemate, sending her to the hardwood floor with a coccyx-cracking thud. "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING HOME?", I shrilled, the outburst causing my deflating and bloodied noodle to judder below me on its awful descent as Sandy, in my periphery, gestured wildly for restraint. I quickly stepped back into my bedroom, took a breath and, blaming Sandy for my clumsy assault, ordered her out of the house.

I can, now that I'm writing this years later, take a detached and objective view of my conduct, and part of me likes the absurd, darkly comic memory. Still, Sandy, like the other women in these stories, is long gone from my world; her bubble and poise and lewdly splayed legs now contrast only with my dingy solitude and debt and drudging subjection. I miss you, Sandy. My summer evenings will always reek of you.

The Romeo's final third gives me a brief taste of raw hop bitterness over caramel, but the now constant relights are causing a rapid decay into tar and ash. It is awful as it draws to a nub, the bitterness an almost welcome distraction from the heat that blisters my lips and burns my throat. Still, I drown each acrid draw with a draught of ale and, sending my empty beer bottle crashing onto the path below, bid Sydney a lazy goodbye.

Wednesday 2 March 2016

Cuaba Divinios

Sometimes my benevolent employer requires my scraping servitude on his routine journeys around Australia, with the most common being to Sydney. We drove up, from Melbourne, in a cramped Japanese death-trap that skated around the Hume Highway in the wake of heftier craft (the result of his Mercedes being in the shop, and me bungling the car hire) and arrived sweaty and sore on a Friday night. The weekend’s weather is sunny and humid, and I have a surprise for my employer. It’s not my first rodeo, but it is the first time I’ve brought some cigars of my own, and I sheepishly present a Cuaba Divinios as I collect him from the hotel. He scoffs at my tiny little perfecto, but snatches it from my shaking paw and stores it roughly next to his own giant stogie, before handing me the travel case. We reach the destination, a cheerful smoke-friendly pub called the Annandale, where I am joining him and his friends for cigars. I set the Divinios alight and, through the almost unworkably tight draw, taste the sourness of bad home-brewed beer. My eyes flick from person to person as my cheeks billow and cave with the tightness, until a fellow smoker slams a cutter in front of me, and insists that I re-cut. I sense I am value-adding to the afternoon.

Sydney has recently developed some draconian nanny-state garbage laws that all but prevent the sale of alcohol after around 7:30pm, and I recall a recent desperate mission around the inner suburbs to find an obliging bar. It had just gone dark on a Sunday night, and my companion and I, suffering the early stages of alcohol withdrawal, were lurching from bar to pub to diner, only to be apologetically denied service everywhere we went. We passed the brightly-lit lobby of the Church of Scientology, which was teeming with people and promise, and I asked an emerging old lady if there was a bar inside. “IT’S A CHURCH!”, she shrieked, both dumbfounded and angry, and we continued our Godless quest for booze into the main drag of Glebe.

After an inch the Divinios starts to loosen up, and I'm met with bitter coffee bean, like the foam of a burned latte, which mingles with a light, dry, dusty taste, like an old person's home. It's a lot better than I expected, with no tar, and leaves a tang on my tongue as the first inch ends. Eventually the Divinios stars to burn harshly, and the light dust gives way to thick woodsmoke, and I feel like I'm sucking air from the embers of a loosely burning fireplace. As the cigar fades to the midpoint I get notes of old urine and musty old blanket, until the cigar starts burning hot and gets a little tarry and rough.

We eventually found a dingy hipster bar that had an extended liquor license, and the bartender, a chatty and attractive blonde with bad teeth, empathised with our quest and lamented the barbarity of the new laws. “We’re about to close bar service ourselves”, she chirped, “so I’ve poured you guys doubles”. It was 9pm. The chairs in the smoking area were stacked on the tables, and I smugly took two chairs to the ground, and plonked myself down. A raucous squawk of “he’s gonna hate that, the black fuck” broke through the night air, and a wrinkly old hag started cackling through drags of her cigarette. “The bouncer. He’ll come, and he’ll upturn that chair and smash ya, but you must refuse” she continued, and after a long draught of her Cooper’s Green, added “he’s fuckin’ black”. The hag was accompanied by a well-dressed gentleman in his early 60s, who sat in embarrassed silence throughout, while she made me promise to refuse to leave my seat, emphasising that I must simply say "no". I was excited at this rebellious prospect, and enjoyed the contrast of the drunkenly screeched orders with the gentleman's silence, and decided that I would stay put, no matter what.

At the midpoint, and due to less meddling on my part, the cigar's heat fades, and I taste the distinct malt of chocolate left in the sun for too long. My employer and his friends are sharing stories and listening to each other intently, when my friend Buckley arrives. He tries my cigar, and concurs with me on the malty chocolate notes that I'm tasting. My employer hears this and, eyeing first my little Cuaba, then regarding Buckley then myself with unfeigned scorn, declares us both morons. The malt soon fades as the cigar heats up, and I get renewed strong tobacco and some tar, leaving a burn on my lips. As the cigar draws toward the final inch I get bitter, harsh tobacco, and my fingers scald on the soggy wrapper.

Eventually a very tall, very authoritative and, indeed, very black man entered the courtyard, and with a voice teeming with power and gravitas, informed all present that we must move indoors. I gripped my seat, looked at him with a shit-eating grin, and said "no". He laughed, but with a casual point of his finger, had me scurrying inside, leaving the hag whooping and rasping behind me. We found some seats indoors, and I laboured away at my awful double G+T while making some feeble excuses for my cowardice. Eventually the hag staggered inside, pointed at me and emitted a mixture of Mutley-esque laughter and dry coughing, before beaming at her patient companion and staggering off. I looked sympathetically at the gentleman, thinking us allied against a common antagonist, and he stared stone-faced back at me. Finally he pivoted toward me and, with a sneer forming under his wispy grey mustache, grunted his first word of the night: "pussy".

In the final inch the cigar tapers toward its tip and and the heat reduces, and gives me delicious, light tobacco and a tangy, Sichuan-pepper spice on my palate. My fingers and mouth are chapped and raw with the heat from the Divinios's tiny nub, and I smoke it until it flops without ceremony from my tired mouth, completely spent. The burn on this little Cuaba was razor sharp, and I'm loathe to wash the lingering Sichuan tang down my gullet with beer, but I do anyway. Complex and delicious, punching well above its weight, and wholly endorsed.

Cuaba on the Cuban Cigar Website.