I gave up smoking just like that. One day I simply looked at my dissipated reflection in the bathroom mirror and told it: ‘No more cigarettes!’
‘Wow!’ said Fag Ash Bill outside the pub the other evening as I recited my story. ‘I do admire your resolve, Dave.’
I shook my head. ‘Let me finish my tale, Bill. Yeah, I WAS proud of myself until my bedroom alarm clock woke me up and it slowly and horribly dawned on me that I’d dreamed the whole damned giving-up-the-fags episode. Yes, my friend, I was still a smoker.
‘It had all been so real, Bill,’ I went on. ‘I really thought I’d packed in the weed and I felt so happy. Even Mrs S was smiling at me in my dream.’
I was still shaking my head in disappointment and Fag Ash Bill started to shake his head, too, in sympathy. So there we stood, two figures on the pavement, both shaking our heads.
‘Are you two auditioning for Britain’s Got Talent?’ chuckled Fearful Phil as he passed us on his way into the pub. ‘What have you come as? A new dance duo called The Headbangers?’
‘Take no notice of him, Dave,’ said Fag Ash Bill. ‘Fearful Phil has no idea of the anguish and torment involved in fighting an addiction. I figure that guy hasn’t got the intelligence to be emotional.’
He placed a comforting arm around my shoulders. ‘Look at me! Look at me!’ he commanded, triggering a thought in my head that I’d forgotten to record that day’s Jeremy Kyle Show.
‘Sometimes,’ said Fag Ash Bill, ‘the hidden psyche kick-starts one’s resolve to terminate a particular vice. That would explain your bathroom mirror dream.
‘I could certainly help you in that respect, Dave,’ he went on. ‘It would require several consultations but let me assure you that with my expert proficiency and proficient expertise I could rid you and anyone else of their tobacco addiction for good.’
I thought this over for a while. ‘But Bill,’ I eventually pointed out, ‘You are neither a psychiatrist nor a hypnotherapist by profession. You are a painter and decorator.’
Fag Ash Bill sniffed. ‘Yeah, well,’ he said, obviously disappointed with my reaction. ‘I was only trying to help.’
He removed his comforting arm from around my shoulders just as I placed MY comforting arm around HIS shoulders.
‘Are you two auditioning for Britain’s Got Talent?’ chuckled Indoor Lou as he passed us on his way into the pub. ‘What have you come as? A Russian dance troupe?’
‘Take no notice of him, Bill,’ I said. ‘I’m afraid Indoor Lou has the same twisted sense of humour as Fearful Phil.’
I watched Fag Ash Bill light up his umpteenth cigarette since we’d started chatting on the pavement and commented: ‘Bill, if you are indeed an expert in curing addiction, how come you’ve smoked like the proverbial chimney ever since I’ve known you?
‘I mean, it’s not so much “Physician heal thyself” as “Painter and decorator renovate yourself.”‘
‘Ah!’ said Bill, cheering up again. ‘That is because I am neither tortured nor even mildly stressed by my habit. I find smoking therapeutic and would never — excuse the expression — dream of giving it up, whether or not I was standing in front of a mirror.’
I shrugged. ‘Well, each to his own, Bill. Anyway, I’m going into the pub now. Pity you can’t join me what with the indoor smoking ban.’
We shook hands and parted but Fag Ash Bill suddenly called out: ‘Hang on a second, Dave. Why do you never come outside and smoke a cigarette with me?’
‘Because I no longer touch tobacco,’ I replied.
‘Since when?’ asked Bill.
‘Since July 1st, 2007. I gave up when the smoking ban came in.’
‘So how come you had that dream that you’ve just told me about?’
‘Oh, I had the dream back in 1997.’
‘So, Dave, why have you never mentioned it to me before tonight?’
‘Because, Bill, you’re not allowed in the pub anymore and thus we rarely get to chat together. However, I still regard you as one of my finest friends.’
Fag Ash Bill scratched his head. ‘This conversation is becoming surreal,’ he muttered. And he lit up two cigarettes to compensate.
As I approached the bar, I could hear the regulars in deep discussion.
‘I telling you, I’m correct,’ Indoor Lou was insisting.
‘And I say it can’t be done,’ Fearful Phil declared.
‘What’s going on, fellas?’ I greeted my pub mates.
‘Shhh,’ said Daft Barry, raising a finger to his lips. ‘We don’t want Dave the barman to hear what we’re saying. Indoor Lou says that to turn a 2p piece into a 10p piece, all you have to do is cover it in silver foil.
‘But Fearful Phil says that once the coin is handled by the gullible recipient, the silver foil will peel off. Whoever is right, we still need enough coins to raise the price of a round.’
I scratched my chin. ‘Well, when I was at school we would sneak into the chemistry lab and coat the old penny pieces with Milton’s Reagent. The chemical reaction would turn the bronze coins into silver half-crowns.’
‘Wow!’ my fellow pubsters chorused. ‘And where would we get this Milton’s stuff from, Dave?’
I scratched my chin again. ‘Haven’t a clue,’ I said. ‘Maybe we’d better just settle for visiting the sweet shop and purchasing enough chocolate bars to provide us with sufficient silver paper to wrap several layers around our small change and tap washers.’
‘I’ll go,’ volunteered Daft Barry and then added as an afterthought: ‘But I’ll still need money to buy the chocolate bars.’
There was a silence before the oldest member of our group, Ol’ Red Eyes stirred into semi-wakefulness on the floor, opened one peeper and croaked: ‘Idiots! We have NO money! That’s the whole flaming point!’
Ol’ Red Eyes licked his dry lips. ‘We’re all doomed to death by dehydration,’ he announced before sinking back into restless hibernation.
I thought about the absent Fag Ash Bill, pacing alone on the pavement under a cloud of cigarette smoke, and mused: ‘The poor guy. He doesn’t know what grown-up fun he’s missing in here.’