NEARLY TWO WEEKS ago, I gave up smoking. One day, I feel I may be able to capture in writing what that actually means to me, but that day is not yet. As someone said to me: “Wow. I didn’t realize you were going to have to say goodbye to every single cigarette you ever smoked.” As you can imagine, that takes quite a long time.
I have lots of reasons to give up smoking, a couple of which make me feel sad in a proper, grown-up sort of way; but most of them are more closely related to the fact that it is probably healthy, eventually, to dismantle fortresses of lunatic self-delusion and sentiment, even if they have been lovingly assembled over decades.
All I want to say for now, though, is that I am quite angry and I think it would be helpful to me to go through some of the causes of that anger. I think the rage may be beginning to subside, or at least to be punctuated by other things; for example, in the middle of swearing at another motorist (see below) last week, I began to sing along to George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”, and then I began to cry because it’s such a beautiful song, and then I had a momentary apprehension of the kind of beautiful things that might be possible in a world where you had given up smoking and were no longer angry about it.
For now, though, fury is my constant companion and this is what, in the last few days, has most successfully provoked it:
- Other people. You are just always there, wanting to be interacted with and related to and you never, ever realize that when I was smoking cigarette, I didn’t notice you. It was just me and it, quiet and private, thinking our thoughts and making our modest plans for the next little pocket of time. Now you, other people, are always there, forever wanting me to notice your problems. You don’t actually want me to solve them. You just want to entrap me into talking about them for an interminable length of time, during which I cannot even have a cigarette.
- The dust-buster. It is filled with dust because when I escape from other people all I can do to occupy the time that I used to spend smoking is vacuum up the lint that collects behind the clothes dryer. That and many other household tasks, such as descaling the kettle and unclogging the outside drain and re-lining the curtains in the spare bedroom. Getting rid of dust, obviously, is a very nice lung metaphor: I want everything to be clean and clear and free of obstruction. But the dust-buster won’t open; the catch is stuck and the little arrows that have to line up won’t line up and it will not open. Nothing. Will. Open.
- When I was a little girl, the ripening of a piece of fruit was one of the most hallowed of domestic rituals. Fruit that particularly needed to be ripened was often non-indigenous and therefore exotic, such as peaches; homegrown fruit, like a pear, might have a short season of optimal deliciousness. Fruit that was not a dutiful, boring apple was expensive, and sometimes bought with a specific meal in mind – perhaps to bring luxury to a weekend fruit salad. Anyway, it was a minor big deal, in the sense that you might reasonably expect to be scolded for squeezing it to test for ripeness and told frequently that it was not yet ready. Some years ago, as part of the developed world’s literally insane drive for perpetual and instant gratification, this nonsense was done away with; for a premium, you could pay the supermarket more to make absolutely sure that your nectarine or plum or avocado was ripe to the point of near unbearable deliciousness before you took it home. A special label would even give you some kind of (presumably unenforceable) guarantee. Ban disappointment from your fruit-eating! Except that, in my view, it hasn’t worked. You pay your more money, and you buy your top-range fruit items, which have been packaged extremely carefully so that they will not be damaged in transit (or so that you can’t cop a really good feel in the shop), and you take them home to eat, remembering to buy extra bibs because they will be so juicy you may end up drenched, or even drowned, and in the end you actually decide to eat them standing over the kitchen sink and then, and then… crunch. Crunch. Not ripe at all. Still crisp. Juiceless. So well done, fruit retailers: you have taken my money under false pretences, spoiled my lunch and fucked with my childhood, all at once. Well done.
- Social media. Ah! Now I realise what made putting up with this degree of fake intimacy with the rest of the world bearable. Time will tell if raw baby carrots – I shit you not, a suggested substitute for cigarettes – can work the same magic. I fear not.
- Person behind me, breathing down my neck, I detest you. What is it that you want? That I walk faster and faster until I fall flat on my face, so that you can get to your stupid meeting about nothing more quickly, or so that I understand that you own the street and I am nothing to you, nothing at all? Meanwhile, I am equally enraged by the person dawdling, just ahead of me. Did we all come to live in the city so that we could pretend we were strolling down a country lane in the middle of the afternoon, with no reason to be anywhere in particular? Did we?
- People in front, people behind, you are all hateful, but you court another level of opprobrium if you are idling because you are consulting your smartphone. This is the world. We are alive in it. We cannot keep its pitfalls at bay, nor experience its delights, by essentially attempting to watch it on television while we are walking through it. Fools.
- Sirens. Why so many, why so loud? Why so little mention of acute smoking cessation noise-related sensitivity? Where’s the fire? Not caused by my discarded cigarette butt, mister.
- And speaking of smoking cessation: what crazed idiot dreamt up that piece of quasi-medical jargon? Before the present emergency, as Eamon de Valera used to refer to the Second World War, I had never heard the phrase. One gives up smoking. One may, I suppose, kick the habit. I allow quitting. Cessation? For God’s sake.
- So some sleep would have been nice: a few hours off, a bit of oblivion to pass the time until I felt a bit better. Though obviously, I’m grateful for the opportunity to lie awake in the small hours, reflecting on the error of my ways and the emptiness of the days to come.
- Guy in the tiny, elderly sports car in front of me in the Limehouse Link tunnel on Saturday afternoon, when I was driving home from taking my 74-year-old father to his school reunion: I appreciate that your car is a collector’s item, that it is raffishly distressed, that you exude bohemianism, that it is just totally uncool of me to care that you nearly hit the side of the road because you were fiddling with your satnav and or indeed that you then pulled off into a petrol station without indicating, causing me to brake sharply. I appreciate all of that, but perhaps what you don’t appreciate is how close I came to pulling into the petrol station behind you and making a citizen’s arrest. Just don’t push it, that’s all.
- Bizarrely, I am a little less angry than I usually am with Coldplay. I know. Weird. I don’t make the rules.
- Legislators: please don’t begin to think for one moment that I’m doing this because you have made it virtually impossible to smoke anywhere whatsoever, or because I need to take out a third mortgage to fund my habit, or because your latest wheeze (pun entirely intended) is to make it illegal for a supermarket to even have a packet of smokes anywhere that we might be able to see it, lest a non-smoker be so entranced by the beauty of the tobacco display that they immediately buy a carton of 200 and, within five minutes, are a helpless addict. All the above restrictions and inconveniences simply act as enticements for me to carry on and, believe you me, I am already struggling with the fear that it may seem to the outside world as though I have capitulated to the man. I haven’t.
I haven’t responded to nagging or health warnings or price hikes or peer pressure. I’m not frightened or ashamed and my anger is temporary. I can say only that what I’m sure an expert would call my identification of cessation commencement point is mysterious to me. And thank God: if I end up spending the next ten years mapping out that gnarly little mind-map it will, at least, kill some idle, non-smoking moments.