For fifteen years, or thereabouts, I was a heavy smoker. My fag of choice was the purple variety of the Silk Cut family, and I smoked at least twenty a day. I knew it was unwise, to say the least: A lifelong asthma sufferer, I was allergic to cigarette smoke well before inhaling it voluntarily.
But, you know how it is…
If you are, or have been, a smoker, you will be well aware of the addictive nature of the old Cancer Sticks. We think we are in control, but actually that capricious, and breath-stealing, God, Nicotine, is the one pulling the reins.
Why did I start? Social ineptness? Shyness? Wanting something to do with my hands in pub situations? Insecurity? All of them!
Did I ever truly enjoy smoking? No. But I was totally hooked: My first acts of a morning – now get this for sick irony! – were a puff on my blue asthma inhaler, followed by the first fag of the day!
Over those fifteen years, my rate of chest infections doubled; my asthma worsened; I got nose bleeds from sniffing so much and coughed up blood on more than one terrifying occasion. I had a chest x-ray which, fortunately, was clear – and still I kept wheezing my way through my daily ‘dose’ of gaspers…
Oh, I tried to give up gazillions of times – with bugger-all success. I seemed to have no willpower whatsoever!
Then, in early March 1997, feeling unaccountably peculiar, it occurred to me that, at the grand old age of thirty-nine, I might well be incubating a little stranger – and on Monday March 10th, I trotted off to the clinic at Weston-super-Mare hospital in order to get tested for bun-in-the-oven-ism.
I had to wee into a cup and, when it had had a frog dipped in it (or whatever arcane method they use to sort out the Up the Duff-ers from those decidedly not yet Duffing), the po-faced mare who was looking after me, announced, lugubriously, ‘Miss Browning, you are strongly pregnant…’
‘As opposed to what?’ thunk I to myself, ‘Slightly pregnant? Weakly fertilised? Only in half of an Interesting Condition?’
I walked back home, all of a doodah. Having worked out in my head that said tiny bean of a wean had probably been conceived on St Valentine’s Day, I reckoned I was going to hatch a Scorpio. Birth sign sorted out, my immediate need was for nicotine and alcohol, preferably through a drip.
Accordingly – and disgracefully – when I got home, and had told my partner that we were to be parents, I grabbed my just-started packet of Silk Cut, poured a half of Stella Artois and sat down for a smoke and a quaff.
That evening, I smoked the rest of the packet, got moderately pie-eyed (mildly bitten by the barn-weasel) – and gave up smoking then and there.
It will be twenty years next March – and I have not smoked since. Alcohol? I gave up for several years after the baby arrived – but now have the odd glass (or five) of wine perhaps twice a month.
Love of my unborn baby, however, gave me the incentive which no amount of willpower had been able to achieve, and I went from heavy smoker to non-smoker within about six hours.
I was, of course, unbearable to live with for a couple of weeks…
For a long time, I was tempted; for an even longer time, I kept away from smokers lest I gave in and cadged a fag. Now, however, I am quite happy to be in the company of those who smoke – without having any desire to do so myself.