On The Buses: Frank’s cold turkey

If you’re reading this on Monday then it is exactly one month since I stopped smoking.

According to the “stopping smoking timeline” things that you can find all over the internet this means that my circulation is improving. I fully expect that as you’re reading these words I am right up in the face of a smoker screaming “Check out my circulation, slug-blood! It’s shooting round me like billy-o!” before dropping to the floor and doing a series of impromptu press-ups and then sprinting off at high-speed, my voice fading from a shout to a whisper “Oh my goodness, look at me go!”

Obviously none of this will actually be happening. To be honest, I don’t feel much different. I have also found it surprisingly easy, which makes me ask myself two questions: 1) Am I doing this wrong? and 2) Why didn’t I do this years ago?

There is also another unspoken thing going round my head, which is the fact that I will never be able to go to Seacroft again and pass myself off as a local. This is due to the fact that everyone in Seacroft over the age of seven smokes, and the ones who are under the age of seven also smoke but haven’t told their wheezing parents yet. I discovered this when I got off the bus there a few years ago, for reasons I don’t care to divulge, and saw before me a vision somewhat like the right-hand panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden Of Earthly Delights with slightly less bestial torture but infinitely more smoking. It isn’t often that someone who has grown up in LS10 and LS11 gets to feel superior and I milked the moment for all it was worth, imagining myself as The Queen would feel attending a “Gala For Only Averagely Posh People”. Walking around Seacroft was like being trapped in a Pathe Newsreel about the smogs of 1940s London. I would have shouted “Cor blimey guv! It’s a real pea-souper and no mistake!” but I couldn’t get more than three words out without stopping and having a little rest to get my breath back.

So, here I am, not smoking. I’m officially in the age group where giving things up is the New Rock’n’Roll. I suppose one aspect of this to be welcomed is the one where our lives become so cluttered with all the things we do that it’s nice to cut down to essentials and now that I’ve cut down to the life-equivalent of sitting in a bare concrete box, simply existing without joy, music, visual-pleasure or stimulation of any kind, I can really appreciate how fantastic my life is. “Just think of the money you’re saving,” I say to myself as I contemplate the empty, meaningless, days ahead during which I could spend it all on salad.

In reality, I suppose I am pleased that I’ve stopped for a month. Discussing the matter with a fellow long-term smoker, however, I advised against him becoming too sure of my non-smoking status because “in every other field of endeavour it’s a well-known fact that I am the equivalent of human-garbage.” The list of things I have failed at is a lengthy and varied one. You may have noticed that I’ve won no Olympic Gold medals nor had any Number One records; I’ve never represented my country on the world stage, nor have I ever overcome desperate odds to rise to the top of my chosen field. You might think “Well, neither have I,” but when I add to these with “Never have I gone to Asda when it’s been raining, nor run any distance in excess of the equivalent of ‘my house to the bus-stop’ since leaving school,” and you begin to get a handle on my epic under-achievement. Bearing in mind this history of failures I hereby promise not to become a smug ex-smoker if I manage to remain in the “ex” camp.

Part of refusing to give in to the clean-living smugness of ex-smokers has been to answer the standard “Just think what you could buy with the money you’ll save in the first month,” with “How much crack would it buy, do you think?”

To be slightly more serious, the main reason I’m trying is because if I don’t stop now, when will I stop? After my first heart-attack or stroke? When I’m initially diagnosed with whatever it is that will kill me? It’s too late then. The key is, of course, to never start but lacking a Time Machine there’s nothing I can do about that and so I climb into my sterile grey-box of self-denial and ponder a time in the future when I think of some ways of enjoying myself that are neither harmful nor illegal. Or both, ideally.

Presumably this time next year I will have developed an interest in Morris Dancing or watching “the Soaps” or some other activity that is marginally better than being flayed alive. In the meantime I’ll be even more moody and bad-tempered than ever with an all-time rock-bottom tolerance of other people and their faults. In fact, if it wasn’t for them ruining my perfect life I probably wouldn’t have started smoking in the first place! Pass me my Stress Balls.