ETCETERA / Home Thoughts

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MY HOUSE is not an altogether happy house this week. A certain tension can be felt in the air; squabbles and spats are breaking out all over the place. The reason, I think, is that my husband is giving up smoking.

It all started when he put his back out: he was in bed for two days, unable to move, so he couldn't actually get to his cigarettes. Then, when he was better again, he decided that he might as well stop smoking. The back crisis was a sign, he said gloomily, that something even more terrible might be about to overtake his body. Lung cancer, for example.

For the next few days he looked like one of those scarey advertisements about the dangers of heroin addiction: he poured with sweat, he scratched, he had strange mood swings (from irritable to irrational to downright horrible). But I felt sorry for him, too. It was probably easier to be one of those teenage junkies you see on the telly suffering the agonies of cold turkey: at least no one expects them to pretend to be Captain Scarlet at 7am.

Clearly, he needed help (so did I). Nicotine patches, I thought, might be the answer. I bought him a week's supply, which at almost pounds 16 seemed exorbitantly expensive (can each patch really cost over pounds 2?). But they seem to solve some of the problems: he has stopped sweating, and scratches his patch instead of his body. But he is still rather grumpy.

The packet of patches also contains a dinky little advice booklet, which I read dutifully. ('Your family care about you so they will be very happy that you are trying to give up smoking. So tell them, and ask them for their support.') OK, OK, I'm being supportive. I make him cups of disgusting green tea (he's given up coffee as well as fags, because he says caffeine makes him want to smoke even more); I encourage him to watch the World Cup instead of changing nappies. What more could a man ask for?

The thing is, I could do with a bit of support myself. It's dispiriting living with someone who is so desperate for a cigarette that he is reduced to sniffing his nicotine patch in the morning. So I decided to ring up the handy nicotine patch helpline, where your calls are supposed to be 'answered in confidence by professional counsellors'. At last, I thought, I can have a real heart-to-heart with a person who understands my problems.

It was a struggle waiting all through the weekend to ring the helpline, I can tell you. (And why is it closed for the weekend anyway? Are you expected not to suffer on Saturdays and Sundays?) But I managed to contain myself, and at 9am on Monday morning I dialled the number, full of hope and expectation. It was a terrible disappointment. There were no professional counsellors on the line, just a recorded conversation between a couple of characters called Sue and Martin. This was not very satisfactory. Sue told Martin, who was a counsellor, that she had just given up smoking, and she couldn't have done it without her nicotine patches. Big deal, I thought. What about Sue's husband? How did he feel? I know how I feel. I'm so tense that I'm about to start smoking for the first time in my life, right now.-