I really should’ve posted this up 11th November to get the dates right but, heck, I’m so busy at present (what with the new edition of the book due any day and the ongoing saga of clearing out Ma’s house) does it matter? …anyway….
Well, now it can be told. I quit smoking and that was six months ago. So my apologies if this blog sounds like some self-righteous muezzin proselytising about how great it’s been and how great I feel.
Let’s first look at how I came to be addicted in the first place. It was 1990 and I was in the middle of doing a long-form journalistic feature (about 18 months)about the City of London’s volunteer Territorial Army regiments. Part of this included my spending a week with them on the cruel and unforgiving terrain of the Brecon Beacons in Wales as part of their annual fortnight camp: you know, yomping and bivouacking and crossing rivers and camouflage and all that stuff - surprisingly, the green and khaki warpaint did Not colour-clash with my eyes.
Anyway, during this week, there were so many longeurs, we ended up mostly sitting round a campfire and…smoking fags. So I think I started partly as an attempt to bond with my subjects. [Well, you know, any man in a uniform…].
The irony is: in the years since those days, all the soldiers I kept in touch with had quit smoking. I as the only one left.
As we moved into the new millennium, Tony Blair’s health police were in power. My attitude had now hardened (somewhat like my arteries, no doubt) into: ‘the more this government tried to restrict my freedom of choice and right to smoke,the more I am determined to carry on smoking’. And so it remained for years.
But I suppose it was the convergence of two things that turned me:
1 - I guess by May of this year, I think I just got a bit bored with smoking.; I know I deeply resented the amount of money it was costing me (average £5.70 for a packet of twenty) even with the occasional ‘off-the-back-of-the-ferry’ cheapos courtesy of Harry my postman. And I thought that maybe the next time I visited my doctor I might ask him “if I wanted to quit, what sort of strategies would he suggest?”. etc.
2 - I’d visited my doctor for one of my regular half-yearly blood tests and the results were in. He said to: “Look, It's not your cholesterol level of 5.6 that worries me. What concerns me is your cardio-vascular risk, which is 24%”.
“OK,” I said, “so what pills do you give me to reduce it?”. And replied: “No pills. You may not believe this, but if you were to quit smoking, you would halve your cardio-vascular risk overnight, just like that”.
So I just turned to him and said “well, I suppose that’s as good a reason as any to quit then. There you are: I quit. Just like that”.
At which point he went into paroxysms of concern, “No, no, no. You need support. It’s been statistically proven that you’ll have greater success quitting by attending support groups and using patches and having things for your fingers to fiddle with…”.
But I was insistent: Nope! Don’t need nuthin’ like that. I will do this.
And looking back, I’m astonished at how - not ‘easy’ - well, straight-forward it all was. I’d made a decision, I quit and that was it. OK so there was a few days of some twitching in the veins and a couple of hot, sweaty periods in the night but no spasms of arteries erupting and veins throbbing as I had anticipated.
Another thing: once I’d quit I decided to put away the money I would’ve spent on cigarettes into an old teapot (30 snouts a day, that’s almost £7 worth). After a week I’d collected almost £50, and by the end of the month almost £200.
So at the end of the month I went out and bought myself a new Straw Panama hat from James Lock & Co. (and, later, the now-infamous Straw Boater); and the month after that, a suit from Daks’ summer sale. It’s important to congratulate yourself sometimes. [When I look back at all the money I’d spent I’m amazed I didn’t quit sooner].
Admittedly, for the first couple of weeks since quitting I was continually coughing up phlegm - just basically getting all that crap off my lungs (my Doc said it would take about two and a half years for the lungs to fully repair themselves). But it’s true what they say: within just a few days my senses of taste and smell returned, and my lung capacity expanded amazingly.
But 11th May was the date and, like I said, was astounded at simple and straight-forward it all was for me; especially since the week I quit was the same week that saw the final falling-apart of a 16-month long relationship. As Lloyd Bridges said in the movie Airplane: “Looks like I picked a fine week to quit smoking”.
I can honestly say I’ve not had a cigarette since that day. I have bought myself a couple of fine suits and some new hats though (especially those two beloved silk toppers). They all came from the Ex-Fag Fund.
I guess there is always the possibility of my falling off the wagon (I am a naturally addictive personality-type), but if I ever get a craving - which is incredibly rare - I just say to myself: “Look, it IS just a craving, it will pass”. Then I think: “cardio-vascular risk 24 per cent / cardio-vascular risk 12 per cent. Not Contest!”
Sorry if I’ve come over all evangelical and self-righteous. But once you’ve decided (and I mean completely 100% decided - if you have even the slightest tad of a doubt, don‘t even try it), quitting is remarkably straight-forward and do-able. [I never said it was easy].