I’m a smoker

person smoking
Photo by JESSICA TICOZZELLI from Pexels

I started smoking when I was about 14 (1957 or thereabouts) and I smoked, more or less without interruption, until I was 71.

I say “more or less” because I did try to give up on a number occasions – once I lasted four days and then my wife threatened that she would sit on my chest, force a lit cigarette into my mouth and bounce up and down to make me inhale it if I didn’t give up giving up. We were young and fit in those days so she could certainly have done it! It appears I had become a bit short-tempered in those four days.

Me? Surely not?

Smoking a pipe?

Once, during the seventies, I thought I’d try smoking a pipe instead. Didn’t work – I’d smoke a pipeful of baccy and then want a cigarette! And, if I’m honest, I usually had one because I always had an emergency supply hidden away.

The thing is, everybody smoked in the fifties (except my parents – and they didn’t drink either.  Methodists. Need I say more?).

Smoking with the young doctor

For reasons which aren’t relevant, our doctors’ surgery was on the other side of the town from where we lived so, when I was 18+ (might have been a bit younger) and wanted to see the doc, I’d be at the end of the queue, because in those days, of course, there were no appointments; you simply turned up and were seen in order of arrival. I always used to see Young Dr Burn.

(I didn’t like Old Dr Burn, his father, because he made light of things. He once told me that the severe stomach pains I was experiencing were just “a little lost fart.” Score nil for bedside manner! Anyway, that’s not really relevant.)

I’d go in to see Young Dr Burn and he’d say, “So you’re the last, are you?” I’d agree that I was and he’d say, “Right. Let’s have a fag then.” He’d give me a cigarette and push the ashtray into the middle of his desk so we could both share it and the consultation would begin.

Giving up smoking

It was rather different twenty-odd years later when I was with a different Practice and we had one doctor who, if you went to him with a broken leg, would purse his lips and, almost wagging his finger like an old-fashioned school ma’am, would say, “Oh dear! You’ll have to give up smoking, you know.”

But I didn’t! In fact, I gave up giving up for many years, until 2014 to be precise. Then the issue forced itself upon me. It began with a friend, who had come to the theatre with me, saying, “The wheezing in your chest is almost as loud as the actors’ voices.”

That was just the start. There was much worse to follow: doing some drama work with recovering addicts (drugs and alcohol, not cigarettes!) in Darlington and not being able to keep up with my colleague Jill while walking up the slight hill from the carpark, with her chatting away and me gasping like an old steam train; having to set out from home early because of the amount of time it was taking me to walk from the Prince Bishop carpark in Durham up the long hill to the rehearsal room on Palace Green; in a panto rehearsal demonstrating to the Comic how I wanted a particular scene to run and ending up lying against the proscenium arch gasping for breath.

Time for action!

Saw the doctor (another one) and was diagnosed with COPD – emphysema and chronic bronchitis, no less, to add to my hypertension – and so, at 3pm on 17th December, 2014, there I was, outside the vape shop in Park Lane, Sunderland – smoking a cigarette, of course. I finished it, walked into the shop and bought a vape and a couple of bottles of liquid. None of your poncy menthol or rhubarb and custard flavours for me. Nope! Nicotine – in the strongest concentration they offered.

That cigarette was the last I ever smoked. Nearly seven years later I am still smoke-free. I am a non-smoker! In fact, I’ve even stopped vaping.

Brilliant, eh? Not so much will power, I have to say, as fear power! But whatever works for you.

Except…

Not an ex-smoker

Often after a meal I reach out to the place on the coffee table where, six years ago, the cigs and lighter sat permanently (unless they were in my pocket). Or I’ll feel in said pocket.

And I still dream that I’m “having a tab” and feeling really good. I really did enjoy smoking…

And I can smell cigarette smoke at 200 yards!

“I think somebody had a tab here an hour ago!”

No, I am definitely not an ex-smoker. It would take only one moment of weakness and I’d be back on 40 a day as I was in 2014.

I’m a smoker who is just not having cigarettes from moment to moment. From hour to hour. From day to day.

Sometimes it feels like from lifetime to lifetime. Well, you get the picture. I’ll just keep on keeping on.

Read more by Peter Lathan

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