Wednesday, 27 January 2010
It's at the turn of year when folk try to alter their habits, by making resolutions to stop smoking, drinking, or lose weight, and even as early as now, in the last stages of January, most of them will have fallen back into their old ways, but it took me back to a time in my life when I was a heavy smoker.
I smoked anything from sixty to eighty cigarettes a day, took my chance to have a good drink when the opportunity arose, and ate heartily at each meal.
I never put on much weight as my calorie intake was burned off quite easily with the hard graft of my work, and the reason I smoked so much was down to the hours we worked, spending most of my time on deck, risking life and limb, with very few hours sleep, hence the excuse to have a good dram whenever we could.
"Well,if we really needed an excuse that could have been it." lol
Never, at any time did I ever think of giving up any of my vices, including some I haven't mentioned here, and as far as cigarettes were concerned I always made sure I had more than enough when we set off on a trip, which is more than can be said for some of the shipmates I sailed with.
The incident I am writing about happened when I was crewing on a boat called the "Boy Peter," and we were fishing in "The Minch," a stretch of water separating the Outer Hebrides from the mainland, of the west coast of Scotland.
It was only our third day at sea, and two of the other crew had already run out of cigarettes, so knowing what it was like to go without a smoke, I gave them a cigarette now and then to tide them over until we landed in Mallaig, the main problem was that the fishing had been poor so we did not know how long it would be before we caught enough fish to warrant a landing, and the skipper being a non-smoker, was only concerned about making it a profitable trip, and didn't care either way whether we ran out of cigarettes or not.
With me helping the boys out of their predicament, my normally plentiful supply was nearing its end too, and I was becoming very concerned, because it was a long time since I had run short of cigarettes, and it might be a long time before we could purchase any more.
As luck would have it, after a four hour tow during the night the net came up with a large haul of dogfish, (about a hundred boxes.) I say came up, but that is the wrong term to use when speaking about dogfish, as they are so heavy in the net that it sinks as soon as you stop towing the net to the surface, unlike white fish that float the cod end.
We were rigged up for such an event as it was prawns we were fishing for which also are heavy in the net, and with a dog rope attached to the cod end (no connection to dogfish we were working with) we began to bring the fish aboard. During this time the skipper was in touch with the office ashore, to try and find out what the market was like, and when the word came back that it was favourable, we knew our cigarette famine was only going to last for another six hours, because as soon as we emptied the net we would be heading for the market in Mallaig.
An order was relayed ashore to have a carton of cigarettes (two hundred in a carton) waiting for us on our arrival, so with a bit more piece of mind I shared the remaining cigarettes with the crew, but even then, they were finished an hour before we reach land.
It might not seem long an hour, but when you are used to smoking a cigarette every ten to fifteen minutes, the withdrawal symptoms are not long in kicking in especially when you know you have no choice but to wait.
It was a more than welcome sight when the harbour at Mallaig came into view, and being smart I jumped ashore first to moor up the boat, leaving the other two aboard to complete the job, but as soon as I hit the quay the skipper was told to head for the ice factory where we could fill up, before we landed our catch.
The cigarettes had been left on the seat of the oil lorry, and gasping for a smoke I grabbed them, opened the carton, ripped open a packet, and realized that the craving had already gone,
I turned round triumphant, lifting the precious tobacco in my hands above my head to show the boys, who were stranded at the other side of the quay, below the ice chute filling ice, and lit one up blowing smoke as if it was giving me great satisfaction, but the truth be told, I never enjoyed that first cigarette.
It was an anticlimax, the desperation,the expectation, then having two hundred cigarettes in my hand, and having a smoke as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Not so for the other two who were shaking their fists at me, joking, but all the time jealous of me standing there with the only thing they craved right at this minute.
I often think about that moment in my life, when cigarettes meant so much to me, and how my body seemed to turn against them years later.
It was one evening, sitting watching the TV at home, that I seemed to take an instant dislike to tobacco, with even the smell of it turning my stomach, and the ashtray that never left my side, looked filthy, and disgusting.
There was no other explanation, than my body telling me it was time to stop, as I never had any intention of doing so, even though I used to get up in the middle of the night gasping for breath, and had reduced my nicotine intake by trying weaker tipped cigarettes.
This was the man who would not leave the house with less than forty cigarettes in his pocket, and a full lighter, would never have ventured to sea without three hundred cigarettes in his kit bag, and now at this moment, the thought of one made me sick.
For the first time since I started smoking, at the age of fourteen, I was without a cigarette, as instead of what most folk do when stopping, keep some handy, just in case, I gave a packet and a half away, and never bought any more.
I did worry how I would cope when I went to my local bowling club, where I drank on a Saturday night, on how I would survive the evening drinking and not smoking, as the cigarette was never out of my mouth during these occasions, although on saying that, they were seldom out of my mouth at the best of times, but at the club I sat in a company who passed their cigarettes out constantly all night.
Strangely enough the night passed without me wanting a cigarette, and I enjoyed my evening every bit as much, but what is more to the point, I have never smoked since, and that was almost twenty years ago.
My lungs are in much better order, and I never need to go to the window to inhale fresh air into them, but there are the odd occasions when a cigarette would be very welcome, although I know I will never go back to my old ways, (Well smoking anyway) as I know how severe the consequences would be now, and I will never need to fear being stranded at sea without them, not counting the fact that I no longer go to sea either, the difference being, the sea is in my blood, and the yearning for that will never go away.
(Above is a picture of Mallaig harbour)