‘I have a present for you’, she trills brightly, and with a flourish places a small plastic bag on my upturned palms. ‘I think it’s time, don’t you?’, she says smiling.
I take it out of the bag. It’s a book in a glossy white cover with even glossier salient writing. The title makes my heart sink: ‘QUIT SMOKING TODAY without gaining weight’. Beneath the writing is a picture of the author, peering smugly at me behind designer frame spectacles. His arms are crossed challengingly, lips slightly pursed which could be interpreted as either a faint smile of encouragement or the admonishing and disdainful look reserved for the inferior, the addicted.
I recognise him as Paul McKenna, the hypnotist, and the image of otherwise ordinary folk on all-fours lifting a leg and barking like dogs on a stage for the benefit of a TV audience immediately pops into my head. Attached to the back cover is a hypnosis CD. I look up at her pretending not to understand. Like the author, she has her arms crossed too, but more defiantly, a look which tells me this is a non-negotiable deal.
‘I don’t need a book to quit smoking! I’ve done it before without it. All I need are nicotine patches’, I say, and can’t hide the childish pleading tone from my voice. ‘I got some of them too. Two weeks’ worth to get you going’, she says and tosses the boxes in my direction. She spins on her heels and leaves the room.
‘Fine! But if I turn into a big elephant it’s your fault!’, I shout pathetically towards the hallway, but she’s pretending not to listen. The cat gives me a dirty look and follows her out, letting me know in which side of the political divide he stands.
A pretty ungracious response then to what is clearly an act of love and concern for my wellbeing, and I know it. The nicotine talking, I console myself. What is it about addictive substances which places a little devil firmly on our shoulder and immediately promotes him to chief PR advisor? In no time he has taken us over, dictating his own agenda, turning us into his PR people. Yes, I have become the servant of that devil, the creature from the black lagoon, shuffling words and cut-throat razors and hiding the rusty blade up my sleeve.
The left side of my brain races to all exit points, frantically searching for adequate excuses to keep feeding my addiction, while the right side knows I have no concrete argument against it. Nothing that would stand up in court, anyway.
I picture the courtroom. Speaking for the prosecution is none other than the unctuous P. McKenna QC himself:
‘My lord, the defendant claims that quitting his beloved cigarettes is an impossibility at present, on account of it interfering with the thinking processes involved in the writing of his blog’, the last word uttered with half-shut eyes and the mouth of someone who has just found a pubic hair in his sandwich.
‘A blog? And what, exactly, is a blog?’, enquires the judge in puzzlement.
‘It appears, my lord, to be a curious modern phenomenon, in which ordinary members of the public regularly publish their daily thoughts into an online journal.’
‘It sounds dangerous’, says the judge, suddenly interested. ‘What sort of things do they write about?’
‘In the case of the defendant, my lord, mostly gibberish. But generally it can be anything at all, ranging from rantings on the Iraq conflict to their pet’s favourite food’, says the well-informed P. McKenna QC.
‘In that case’, says the judge reaching for the black cap, ‘given the aggravating circumstances which you describe, I have no option but to sentence the defendant to a life without cigarettes. Take him down.’
I look at the book dismally. Damn you, Paul McKenna. Couldn’t you have written a book which hypnotises people into ignoring my unsociable habit instead? I check my packet of cigarettes: only one left. I light it, grimly.