My wife's heard all the excuses -- now it's phase out the cigarettes or else...
Published 05/01/2014 | 02:30
The annual January campaign to persuade me to quit smoking is well under way.
In fact, it has already gone from Phase One (badgering) to Phase Two (emotional blackmail) and may well go to Phase Three (physical restraint) before the month is out.
Phase One began weeks ago, and was pretty unsophisticated. "When are you giving up?" my wife would ask at regular intervals. She also referred to me as an "addict" and "substance dependent".
I happened to mention, just for something to say in response to these remarks, that nicotine is very addictive. In fact, one study showed that it is more addictive than heroin. It was at this point that my wife deployed her master strategy: the if-I-can-do-it-so-can-you approach.
"I was on heroin at one time," she announced. "But I managed to come off it. Cold turkey. It was tough, but I did it."
I looked at her. It's possible, I thought. I mean, we didn't meet until we were both in our 30s. She hung out with a pretty arty, Bohemian set.
I tried to imagine her in the bicycle shed of Loreto Bray with the rubber tourniquet between her teeth and a syringe in her hand.
A nice, convent-educated girl like her, with a mother distantly related to royalty and an uncle who was something high up in Marks and Spencer.
Still, you never know. Surreptitiously, I checked her arms for track marks. There was silence for a few moments, but she couldn't keep a straight face any longer.
"You didn't really think I was a heroin addict, did you?" she laughed. I laughed along nervously. I mean, how well can you ever know anyone?
Phase Two is more subtle. It involves references to a future in which I play no part, and sometimes involves our eight-year-old daughter.
"I wonder when Grace will get married," my wife might say. "Maybe she'll get married in her 20s. Or her 30s." Then she will pause. "Of course, you won't be around then." On other occasions she might ask me what I want done with my ashes or suggest a visit to St Luke's cancer hospital down the road.
"I don't like the sound of that cough," she says with mock-concern. Other terms she uses are "chesty", "bronchitic" and "hacking".
Her mind games are as nothing compared to the games we smokers play with our own minds.
We think we'll cut down, or switch to a lighter brand, or only smoke after lunch, or with a drink, or we'll only smoke other people's cigarettes.
Or we'll quit when some other event occurs, or when some problematic aspect of our life is sorted out.
Or after the holidays, or when Leinster win the Heineken Cup.
Or when hell freezes over.
We think we have addictive personalities, and that we could be addicted to worse things than nicotine. (Such as heroin; see above).
We conjure variables and contingencies and intertwine them endlessly so that our quitting smoking becomes dependent on a sequence of events so unlikely that we can puff away in comfort for years.
We cling to stories of 90-year-olds who smoked every day of their lives. We register photographs of celebrities smoking and draw validation from them.
We retell the one about the man who quit smoking only to die of a heart attack while jogging, and recycle internet rumours that Allen Carr -- author of the bestselling how-to-quit book -- was a secret smoker.
The story I particularly like is the one about the inveterate smoker who lit up in the waiting room of the Eye and Ear hospital on Dublin's Adelaide Road.
The matron burst into the room and began to upbraid him strenuously. "Do you not see that sign!" she shouted at him.
He took a languid pull on his cigarette. "If I could see that sign, I wouldn't be here," he replied.
Oh, hold on. I see my wife coming towards me with a length of cord and a chair. Phase Three is about to begin.