Blue peacocks rise from the ashes
I knew there would be side effects to stopping smoking. But I hadn't expected peacocks.
I learned to smoke in 1973. Cigarettes went nicely with flared jeans and long hair. In the years that followed the hair's gone west and the jeans have gone straight, but the smoking's gone on going on. Until just 13 days and two hours ago when I stubbed out a habit that had lasted four decades and approximately 400,000 cigarettes.
Even after so short a time, there's already been a marked improvement in the dog's fitness. Because whenever I want a cigarette, I take him for a walk. Up on the hills communing with grass and sky I can forget about cigarettes for minutes on end.
On my second day of smokelessness we were powering up one of the steeper tracks and I was lying to myself about how well I was feeling. We rounded a bend by a stand of pines and there on the track not 10 yards ahead of us was a bird. It was startling blue and had a tail like a wedding dress. Either it was a peacock or I was hallucinating. And if I was hallucinating so was the dog. He charged at the peacock.
If you'd asked me that morning whether peacocks could fly I'd have guessed they could probably glide a bit. I'd have been wrong. With a squawk and a clatter of wings the beast took off vertically, like one of those choppers that were swarming all over Vietnam when I was learning to smoke.
Ten seconds later it was perched 20 foot up a pine tree looking down at the dog while I was looking up at it and thinking. What I was thinking was how much I wanted a cigarette. But I knew what to think about thinking that. Allen Carr had told me.
Allen Carr wrote The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, which has sold 14 million copies. A friend of mine's got three of them. Part of the attraction is the front cover. "DON'T STOP SMOKING TILL YOU'VE READ THIS BOOK", it says. "Perfect," thinks the smoker. "I'll read one sentence a day."
Mr Carr said the addiction was more psychological than physiological. The urge to smoke was the desperate ploy of the nicotine monster. The trick was to enjoy watching the monster die. I could speed up that death by grinning like Julie Andrews every time I felt a pang and saying to myself: "Yippee, I'm a non- smoker." Somehow I haven't managed that. I sing instead. I sing the first two lines of a song recorded by Matt Munro in 1966. Quite what the peacock made of "Born free, free as the wind blows" at high volume on the Port Hills at 11 in the morning, I can't tell you.
What I can tell is that is that four smokeless days later I was traipsing up a different track. Thanks to my new pink lungs I was a couple of lengths ahead of the dog when I spotted a flash of blue. I froze like Captain Scott. Surely it couldn't be another peacock. It wasn't. It was two peacocks. I've been walking these hills as a smoker for twenty- something years and in that time I've seen a sum total of - pause while I reach for the calculator - gosh, no peacocks. And now in one week of non-smoking I'd seen either two or three.
I've stopped smoking for two reasons. Peacocks are not one of them and neither is longevity. Money is. I'm $300 richer already. The other is convenience. The authorities are making it so hard to smoke. And they will be making it harder still and more expensive.
Sunday was my toughest day yet. It was hot and I was wilting. I was down in my study pretending to work but thinking about smoking. The psychology of tobacco is subtle. Somehow it has commandeered all the good times. I was remembering a tree by a river and a bottle of port, a railway station, a misty canal bank, a bedroom with rose pattern wallpaper. And I knew what brand of cigarettes I was smoking on each occasion.
Then the dog barked. And kept barking. Grateful for the distraction I emerged into the heat and followed the dog's gaze up the hill. There on the fence at the back of my paddock was, well I wasn't sure I believed it. The buggers have found out where I live.
I hope they're the blue birds of happiness. I took a photo in case the psych ward didn't believe me. Mr Carr says it gets better after three weeks.
The Southland Times