Smoke Gets in Your Arse
As Kirsty MacColl sang in the legendary Fairytale of New York: "Happy Christmas your arse, I pray God it's our last." Fag?
Moving from Hong Kong/China to Mallorca it appears I have fallen out of the ashes and right into the other ashes, fag wise. Everybody smokes. Well, not exactly everybody, but it seems there are a higher percentage of smokers here than in Hong Kong and China because here women smoke too whereas in the Chinese world they haven't quite caught up.
Christmas always reminds me of the joyous fact that I don't smoke anymore. A few days ago it was eight years since I took my last drag on those smelly twigs, and I haven't looked back. Some ex smokers say they never stop dreaming of cigarettes, calling getting rid of them "giving up" as if it was a sacrifice, but apart from a few fleeting seconds in the beginning where the mental habit manifested itself, I never thought of cigarettes again.
Over the years I had stopped many times, then started again. I never saw myself as a "real" smoker, but thought I needed fags as a crutch because my life was so difficult. It took me years to realise that my life was so difficult because I smoked. Yes, yes, only when drinking, but that was more than enough. I could easily put away a packet of Marlboro Lights (lights! So healthy!) in an evening. The alcohol and nicotine evened one another out, to enable me to drink more.
I started feeling heart palpitations and pains in my leg, but would I stop? My mother died of lung cancer and that frightened me, so I needed to comfort myself with my good friends Fags. One day I just got down on my knees and cried, praying to God: "I can't go on like this! Please let me never want to smoke again." Three weeks later, the 20th of December, I went on a Christmas trip to mainland China with two non smoking friends, and from then on I have been free! If I hadn't been a Christian before, I certainly was now. If God can make me stop smoking without pain, what can't He do?
Ordinarily, of course, mainland China would be the worst place in the world to go if you want to stop smoking.
China and smoke are like... lips and teeth. One can exist without the other but it’s a miserable existence, cold and full of longing. Cartons of cigarettes is a currency, frequently handed out, gift wrapped, at special occasions, like your child's kindergarten graduation. Guys light up as they walk into lifts. Restaurants, shops, taxis, massage parlours; no place is off-limits for the Chinese fuming male.
Once, on an already full overnight sleeper bus from Dandong to Beijing, the driver started letting on stray people without official bus tickets soon after departure until every square inch of the bus was full of people, mattresses, blankets, sheets and pillows, presumably of the cheapest material available. The staff’s hull on the Mayflower would have been like a ballroom in comparison. And all the men smoked, maybe to allay their fear of death as the overfilled bus careened all over the road for ten hours.
I spent the night in a state of hyper alert, terrified of perishing in a fireball. That’s when I decided to stop smoking, again! And only seven short years later, I did.
So now I'm the one sitting alone at bar tables while all the other people are out in the street, smoking. I would say I miss the camaraderie, but feeling smug makes up for it. That, and waking up the next morning happy and free.