Nicotine patches used: None
Cigarettes smoked: None
Number of times I have been nasty to family and friends: Many
Number of previous attempts: Classified.
I suppose I’m not the only one in the country – and indeed the world – to have thrown their last packet of cigarettes away last Saturday night at the stroke of midnight? Typically, I didn’t do it til around 1am. Then I threw the packet – with 14 cigarettes. Fourteen – into the fireplace. There were only embers in the grate by then, but hot enough to turn my cigarette box – with my Fourteen cigarettes – into a quiet blue flame. Oddly, while the packet burned, the cigarettes themselves remained fairly intact. Blackened – like my unfortunate lungs and maybe even my soul, if I have one – but intact. I know this, not because I rummaged around in the embers the next day (and no, thinking about doing something and actually doing something is NOT the same thing)….I know this because my ten-year-old son, Neil, carried them out to me in his blackened hands. He had been clearing out the grate and came across the charred remains of my last FOURTEEN cigarettes.
‘I’m proud of you.’
That’s what he said.
I hadn’t done anything to deserve it. I hadn’t even wrestled with my first, proper craving. I was barely out of the bed. I may have polished off a bowl of Crunchy Nuts and perhaps put a load of filthy clothes in the washing machine, but that was about the height of my achievements on that particular morning.
‘I’m proud of you.’
This is why failure is not an option. Children. Bloody children. One of my friends describes them as ‘the worst financial investment you’ll ever make.’ Another confessed, when her children – 8, 5 and 1.5 – were briefly distracted by a plate of Jammie Dodgers, ‘I just never considered the permanence of the arrangement, when we talked about having kids. Do you know what I mean?’
Children. Bloody children. They make you do things you thought you’d never do. Like give away the chocolate flake bit of your 99. Or sew a button onto a school uniform at half eight on a Tuesday morning while your kid shouts at you to ‘hurry up, I will be late for school’, ignorant of the fact that you have never even managed to thread a needle before now, and that once, you made your sewing teacher cry. But children don’t think about things like that. They just assume you can do it. That’s how I got the thread through the eye of the needle in the end.
I started smoking at the Christmas Disco (we said ‘Disco’ back then) in Manor House School. I was in second year; scrawny and freckly with roaring red hair, like a bag of carrots. Before the ‘disco’, I told my friends that I smoked. I thought this might make me seem a little more interesting. Cool even, despite the flaming root vegetables on top my head. So, in between Give it Up (KC And The Sunshine Band) and Hard Habit To Break (Chicago), I walked into the toilets. And there they were. My friends. In a circle, passing one solitary cigarette from one to the other like a game of pass the parcel, but without the music. Or the prize at the end. Or the fighting about who was holding the parcel when the music stopped.
‘Ja want a drag?’ She could make smoke come out of her nose and it was coming now, out of both nostrils at the same time, thick and straight. She was brilliant at it. I nodded. Took a step forward. Held out my hand. Felt the filter between my fingers. I expected it to be hot. It was soggy. I lifted it to my mouth. Wrapped my lips around it. Took a drag. Tried not to inhale. Inhaled. And then the coughing and the terrible, terrible fear of vomiting. You heard about kids vomiting after their first drag. You heard about it all the time. I was about to become just another statistic…
So there I was, in my tartan mini skirt and bat-wing top and – God forgive me – my ‘indoor’ school shoes, coughing and doing my best not to vomit in the toilets beside the hall in Manor House School in Raheny, on a freezing night before Christmas in 1984. Surrounded by friends who now knew that I had never smoked before. They took it on the chin. ‘Not to worry’ they said. ‘We’ll show you how.’ And they did. It didn’t take long. By Christmas eve, I was pretty good. ‘You could do anything if you put your mind to it’ my mother said. Turned out she was right.
My friend says there were two things in her life where failure Was Not An Option: (1) breastfeeding, and (2) getting her degree. She did both. Brilliantly. She said, ‘Failure is not an option’ and it wasn’t. Simple, no? As if all you really have to do to make sure stuff gets done is to say those words. They’re like magic beans, those words. You plant them in your head. That’s it. You believe it and so it becomes true.
‘I’m proud of you.’
There’s nothing else to be done, in the face of that. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m planting the magic beans. I’m saying it out loud. I burnt a packet of cigarettes in the embers of a fire in the early hours of New Year’s Day and my son found their charred remains and told me he was proud of me. And that means that I can never smoke again.
Failure is not an option.
But wish me luck all the same….
Is mise le meas,