I Give Up

Friday, April 07, 2006

Last summer, after two and a half years without doing so, I started smoking again. The habit crept back into my life very quietly and quickly. Base camp was established a year ago today with a cigar after dinner in Edinburgh (something no one can do anymore). I thought I could leave it at that, and for several weeks, I did.

Then, in May, the assault on the summit began in earnest when I found myself standing in Statue John’s garden sucking desperately at a Marlboro Light whilst anxiously watching the TV through the window - Liverpool were taking (and saving) penalties in the final of the European Cup. I’d managed that single cigar without becoming a smoker again, so I’d be fine to have just one cigarette, wouldn’t I?

The following week, one of my best friends came over to Oxford for a short visit. He smoked then (but has since quit), so I thought I’d just smoke along with him until he went home. And that was all it took – like some latter day Edmund Hillary, nicotine stood atop my lungs - I was smoking again.

There are four types of people in the world: smokers who smoke, smokers who don’t, non-smokers who don’t smoke, and non-smokers who do.

The smokers-who-smoke will generally make no apology for doing so, own at least one Bill Hick’s DVD, and have an armoury of questionable ‘scientific facts’ up their collective sleeve to hurl back at anyone who dares to suggest they ought to quit.

The smokers-who-don’t-smoke are a wretched bunch. They have seen the error of their ways and given up (often for the umpteenth time), but they still long for the emotional crutch, the element of cool, and the downright physical pleasure a cigarette can provide.

The non-smokers-who-don’t smoke are bemused by the whole situation. Some may have coughed their way through a John Player Special behind the bike sheds many moons ago, but most will never have gone near a cigarette in their lives and will blankly refuse to understand what all the fuss is about.

The non-smokers-who-smoke are the people who seem to be able to take it or leave it. They can (and usually do) smoke when they’re out at the weekend, and then go the whole week without even thinking about a cigarette. Everyone hates them. The non-smokers-who-don’t-smoke think they’re every bit as stupid as everyone else who smokes (or wants to); the smokers-who-don’t-smoke want to be able to do what they do, but can’t; and the smokers-who-smoke hate them because they are forever “borrowing” cigarettes.

I will always be a smoker, whether I smoke or not. Last Sunday, after a particularly heavy evening of playing poker, drinking whiskey and smoking disgusting Cuban cigarettes until three in the morning, I felt so sick all day that I didn’t have a cigarette.

Thirteen days later, I still haven’t had one. My sleeping pattern (dreadful at this time of year as a rule anyway) is all over the place, I can’t concentrate on anything for very long without getting distracted, and the other night in the pub I spent the whole evening nervously fingering a box of matches as though someone might at any minute shove a cigarette in my mouth and make me smoke it.

Like it or not, however, I seem to have quit again.

My knee is improving every day, even if it’s not quite happening as fast as I’d been lead to believe that it might. My lungs are shaping up too - I’ve stopped coughing for the first time in six months and the phantom chest pains have disappeared altogether. It’s a radical concept, but maybe if I start taking a bit better care of my body it might stop breaking down on me - and maybe then I could get on with trying some more Olympic events and have something more interesting to tell you on a Friday afternoon!