I’m sat on the train encased firstly by the lowest cost bidders steel shell and, secondly by a squawking aviary of electronic Christmas presents. To my left Video I-Prods, to my right manically tilted Sony PSPs and up front the irksome warble of Mario on steroids forced out of tiny Nintendo speakers. This cacophony of polyphonics is nutritionally accompanied by Resolution Salads prepared for those desperately exercising with all the effort a blistered thumb can offer.
Give it a month and the disagreeable smell of second hand vegetables will be replaced by the warm fug of Ginster’s pasties and half eaten Mars Bars. But right now I’m feeling worthy having endured my first visit to the pub since I gave up.
Gave up what I hear you ask “ surely not the Al-defining beer that is an essential component of a complex, but often misunderstood, athletic dietary plan? Well no, of course not “ I’m talking of the drinking equivalent of the Scottish Play; the cigarette. With the Government flipping smoking from social to antisocial at the start of July, this seemed an opportune moment to abandon the cheeky fag, or cancer stick as I’m increasingly coming to think of it.
I’ve never smoked properly “ well you wouldn’t would you as it’s unhealthy and potentially life threatening. But I started early at about eighteen, unbelievably believing it was somehow cool and, more importantly, adult. What followed was twenty years of packing up for long periods interspersed with a hardcore twenty a day habit in that happy twenties phase when you believe yourself immortal. I stopped for good once the birth of our first kid belatedly delivered maturity and parental responsibility in equally unwanted measures.
Well sort of. The odd cheeky cigar or a drunken assault on a packet of twenty doesn’t really count especially if one is vested with the willpower of a moth answering the siren call of a thousand watt lamp. But as a diagnosed asthmatic, smoking is pretty stupid if being around to watch your kids grow up forms any part of your life goals. So I counted this as stopping for a given value of quitting.
And then I sort of started again but “ as you would expect “ this is in no way my fault. We’re kind of the Arsenal of the Professional Services firms with an embedded drinking culture. And with a beer came the offered cigarette that soon became two, three and then ten. This habit never really extended beyond opening hours but a habit it was and self loathing followed me home after every cigarette.
So I was already determined to stop even before mono-lung bullied squatting rights, insidiously pushing out my previously working oxygen chambers. And it’s a perfect irony that my breathlessness coincided exactly with the quitting date of December 19th, 2006. But whatever, that’s a date going down in stone so they don’t have to inscribe one for me too soon – if you get my drift.
From this I surmised one of two things; either it was too late and “ to take a phrase from a respected medical dictionary “ I was fucked or that this was a warning, a bullet just dodged, a simple truth that this level of bodily abuse was in no way carbon balanced by a bit of cycling.
I haven’t wanted a fag since but tonight I needed a beer and so horns with locked with the nemesis of the quitters. The inaugural meeting of Smokers Anonymous (Strand Chapter) dived deep into a therapy session admitting to weight gain, increased appetite and an increasingly desperate yearning to smoke a beer-mat.
Leaving after a couple (of beers, not barely combustible beer mats), I jumped on the bike donning the guise of an untroubled commuter. Racing was now a jolly jape for younger men “ I would instead perambulate with all the haste of a man heading to the dentist’s chair to face painful root canal surgery.
All was good, my progress was serene, the weather unseasonably warm, my lungs unbothered by any of that sprinting nonsense and my legs turning easy circles. And then “ because God hates me “ lurching past was nothing less than Lucifer’s folding chariot. Arrange these words into a well known phrase or saying. Bull. Red Rag. To. A.
I wanted to dump the bike in the middle of the road and scream an wretched entreaty to the sky FUCK FUCK FUCK “ WHAT DID I DO TO DESERVE THIS? WHY WHY WHY HAVEN’T I SUFFERED ENOUGH?“
But I didn’t, I did this instead: brain uninvolved with the kraken like awakening of twitching muscles, I was instantly out of the saddle snicking a couple of gears and straightlining the entrance to Hyde Park. The race was on.
I locked onto his plethora of red LED’s which put me in mind of the emergency ward I’d probably end up in. But to my intense surprise, the allegedly problem lungs oxygenated frantically gulped air to the power of my competitive gland. Muscles suffused with pure o2 span ever bigger gears and he was gone, gone, gone in the beat of a rampaging heart.
But this wasn’t enough and because there was more, I sprinted on even though a small accountant process was screaming that I probably shouldn’t. But I was high on how it feels to be fast; the unadulterated joy of working your body hard, pushing swift circles while perfectly balanced between pedals and bars. Sometimes your heart takes flight and you have to bottle that feeling, guard it carefully and only let it seep out in your darkest hours. It’s the stuff of life.
Sadly this metamorphis didn’t last long and on locking up the bike a few minutes later, I was suffering a bit. But that’s ok, because in that glimpse of something I’ve always taken for granted told me more than any shocking advert or government warning ever could that the time has come to stop. For good. It feels like crossing the last river to adulthood. Gulp.
Oh and the title? It popped into my ears when surrounded by the emperor’s new toys on the train. A small prize if you can name the artist. And no Googling because I’ll know 🙂