Jason Goodwin: ‘Most of them look like a cross between a walkie-talkie and Rosa Klebb’s toecaps ’

Our Spectator columnist discovers there is smoke without fire.

Whenever I plan to go away for a day or more, I pay a visit to my vape merchant. There are actually two of them, who together run the tiny shop that specialises in vaping perquisites like an old fashioned tobacconist.

The shop flourishes down a side street, opposite a hairdresser’s. Before vaping was invented, the premises were shuttered and forlorn, now the bell over the door tinkles incessantly. They often have their own little queue and they are selling the vapery stuff hand over fist.

I like them. Dave is craggy and handsome, with ears like a pugilist. He comes from Dagenham. His partner is small and dark and looks like a chess champion and I think he, too, is from Dagenham. When we were first introduced across the counter, I mentioned that I wrote detective books, which they found amusing.
Dave laid his hands on the counter and leaned across. ‘You could put us in your books,’ he suggested. ‘As crooks!’

As it happens, they are extremely honest and always helpful. They will leave a tiny bottle of vape liquid on top of the iron gates to their courtyard for me to pick up after hours. They extend credit, up to a point. They are doing so well that they are seldom in the original shop, which they leave in the care of a laidback youth
with plugs through his earlobes, who reminds me of Dylan, the spaced-out rabbit on The Magic Roundabout.

Dave and his partner have just opened a branch of their shop in the next town, which is managed by a tattooed patriot with a penchant for sea shanties. You can find these little shops in alleys off every high street in the country. Invented by a Chinese pharmacist whose father was made ill by smoking, vapes are what make the car in front suddenly fill with a cloud of white smoke. Most of them look like a cross between a walkie-talkie and Rosa Klebb’s toecaps.

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I like to spread my patronage and I sometimes get vape juice from young Mr Digby, who operates from a cowshed just outside Whitchurch Canonicorum, a village with the only tenanted shrine left in England besides the tomb of Edward the Con-fessor at Westminster Abbey and the grave of Georgi Markov, who was assassinated with an umbrella on Waterloo Bridge by the Bulgarian secret service.

Digby was a young computer programmer, who ran up a bit of flavoured vape juice for his friends, turned professional and now, three years later, sells tens of thousands of bottles of the stuff all over the world and employs half a dozen people.

The cowshed still looks like a cowshed until you step inside, into a sealed wonder of glass and steel, with a machine measuring the level of impurities in the air. He makes juice with names such as Jester and Rheum.

The only disconcerting thing about Dave is his side-business, which I learned about quite by chance. We were shooting the breeze. Dave was looking out a few bottles of Mum’s Custard at strength No 3, which is
my preferred vape and tastes of vanilla, when I happened to mention that a mouse was living in our car.

Dave straightened up. ‘You need to deal with that, fast. It’ll chew the wiring. I’ve known a mouse cause thousands of pounds worth of damage to a car in one night.’

I didn’t need to tell Dave that no mouse could cause that much damage to my car, but I took his point.
‘I do pest control,’ he added. ‘My original business.’ ‘Traps and sticky boards?’ ‘That,’ Dave said. ‘And poisons.’