Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Friends & Family

Sorry I’ve been absent for so long dear reader, but August has been a bit hectic one way or another. 

This story’s going to ramble a bit I’m afraid.  Stick with it though – like the late bus home from the pub at three in the morning, I’ll get you there eventually.

July 2005

At the beginning of July 2005, I decided to join one of the gyms close to my office, since at the time I lived 25 miles outside Glasgow.  As a smoker, you might think this slightly strange or unusual – my parents certainly did.  I had a motive though: I wanted to give up smoking and felt that being a member of a gym was the best way of guilt-tripping myself into doing that.  I also had another more serious motive: in early 2005 my father (a pipe smoker) was diagnosed with throat cancer and was receiving regular bouts of both chemo- and radio therapy.

At the risk of straying off-topic slightly, if you’re looking for a good chain of gyms run by a well-known company, I honestly can’t speak highly enough of Virgin Active.  Anyway, as usual I digress.  When I first joined the gym, I had an induction with one of the personal trainers.  We talked about my goals, my lifestyle etc and I told him that I was a smoker, and that I wanted to get fit.  I told him that at the present moment, I couldn’t run for a bus!

A couple of months later, I hooked up with my girlfriend, and instantly had another good reason to quit smoking: she’s asthmatic and the smoke used to affect her quite badly.  At this stage, I was staying with my parents and decided that I would no longer smoke in the house.  Dad had quit smoking pretty soon after he was diagnosed, so it seemed a bit insensitive to smoke in the house, and it made life easier for Cat when she stayed over.

Now, I discovered two things about myself in the months after I joined the gym.  The first one was that I actually enjoyed physical exercise.  Don’t get me wrong, I have no desire to turn myself into some muscle-bound iron-pumper who spends all of his spare time in the gym.  That said, I did quite like how I was starting to look, but anyway.  The second thing I discovered was that I actually have very little shame or guilt, therefore using the gym to shame me into quitting smoking clearly wasn’t going to happen.  So, time to go speak to my GP.


Time for another diversion: about 11 years ago I got my doctor to give me a prescription for a new Nicotine Replacement Therapy called Zyban.  The company I work for provides a lot of smoking-cessation counselling services so I'd had access to most of the available information about the product.  I’d also heard one or two horror stories, and been treated to someone lecturing me on how the drug didn’t actually beat the addiction or break the habit but merely fiddled with the parts of the brain that control addiction yada yada yada.  So, I spoke to the doctor and he gave me my first prescription.  For those of you who don’t know, the way the drug works does indeed meddle with the serotonin levels of the brain.  My limited understanding of biology leads me to believe that addiction is triggered by low levels of serotonin in the brain, which Zyban helps to raise.  At this particular stage in my life, as readers of my other blogs will know (see Helensburgh and taxis) I was working two jobs and holding down a part-time college course.  That was all fine but the problem is that because Zyban was originally developed as an anti-depressant, you have to be very careful to make sure that you follow the dose.  A single course of Zyban lasts for about 30 days, and is taken at a rate of one tablet per day for the first three days, and then two tablets per day thereafter until the end of the course.  To make it more complicated, the two tablets should be taken a minimum of 8 hours apart.  I could handle that fine, until Saturday night came around – I’d be out working and suddenly realise at one or two in the morning that I hadn’t taken the tablet the previous night.  To cut a long story short (oops, too late), I eventually went into melt-down, and went ballistic at my then wife in front of my young son.  So, the tablets got dumped and I ended up back on the cigarettes.  You might be interested to know (if you don’t already) that when taking Zyban, you don’t actually make an effort to quit smoking- it just happens believe it or not.

The GP Visit

When I went to the doctor in October of 2005, I asked her for a prescription for Zyban, having already spoken to the people closest to me and warned them of the potential side effects.  The doctor started to explain the various ins-and-outs of the drug, but stopped when I told her all I knew about it, including how I understood that she had to check my blood pressure because of the small risk of pressure increase as a result of the drug.  So, she checked my blood pressure (120/80, go me!) and gave me my first prescription.  I’d told her that I was going to be going on holiday, so would start the course when I returned which she approved.

The Tablets

Once I’d returned from my holiday (Tenerife in November is excellent for a nice quiet relaxing holiday) I started taking the tablets as instructed.  I also made sure that after the first three days, I always had plenty of alarms and things set to remind me to take the night-time tablet.

Christmas 2005

That Christmas was slightly unusual, in a number of ways.  My sister and future brother-in-law had suggested a few months previously that they would like to organise a big family Christmas, which would involve the two of them plus me, mum & dad and Iain’s parents.  I was on-call that year so I was happy to drive up to their place on Christmas morning, having seen my own children the previous night and delivered their presents to them.  Cat was having Christmas with her parents, since it was the first time in a while that her father had been home for Christmas – I should explain, Cat’s father served in the Royal Navy whilst mine served in the Merchant Navy.  Although they’re quite different, there are a number of similarities, them not being around for Christmas or other family occasions being just one.

Despite dad’s illness, Christmas day that year was amazing.  Christine (my sister) did all the cooking, despite numerous offers of help from both mothers.  We all just had a really nice day.  It’s the most sober Christmas I’ve had in a long time, but that wasn’t a problem.  We stayed with Iain and Christine that night, and drove back to Helensburgh the following day, which neatly coincided with me coming off-call.  Still taking the tablets, still great :)

New Years Eve

New Year’s Eve can usually only be described in one way here in Scotland – messy.  That year, Cat & I were meeting with friends and going out drinking in some of our old haunts in Helensburgh, a trick made slightly more complicated by the fact that a lot of the bars in the town charge an admission on New Years Eve when they wouldn’t at any other time of the year.  Anyway, we were out until the pubs closed, although Cat headed back up to her parents’ home just after midnight because she was finding the smoky atmosphere in the pub a little hard to cope with.  I think I staggered into Cat’s parents’ home at about three in the morning, absolutely hammered.

New Year’s Day

If New Year’s Eve is a messy night in Scotland, New Year’s Day tends to be a day of quiet reflection, usually caused by a large intake of alcohol the previous night.  The 1st of January 2006 was no different for me, and I think it was about 7 o’clock that night before Cat (and especially me) could face going outside.  By the time we did go out, it was icy cold outside and very foggy.  That didn’t stop us walking nearly 2 miles and ending up in a hotel along the waterfront in Helensburgh for a much-needed hot chocolate.  Ok, so we got a taxi home, who cares?  Now, it’s worth noting that I didn’t have a single cigarette from the moment I surfaced at lunchtime.  I did however have one at about 9:30 that night whilst perched on Cat’s parents’ front doorstep.  Cat still jokes that she’s never seen anyone turn green quite as quick as I did that night.  That was the last time I smoked a cigarette!  The tablets had worked, I just needed to finish the course.

They say that the first thing you regain after stopping smoking is your sense of smell.  I’m not usually much for what “they” say, but on this one, “they” are spot-on.  When I walked into my bedroom sometime on the 2nd of January, the first thing that hit me was the smell.  Bearing in mind that the room had been largely smoke-free for about four months, it was still rank with the smell of stale cigarettes.  So, time to get cleaning!  After a few days of concerted cleaning, and camping at Cat’s place so I could leave the bedroom window wide-open in January, the room was not only tidy, but odour-free.

March 2006

The weekend after my birthday, we had a sudden and (I think) unexpected fall of snow.  I’m not generally a big fan of snow – it’s nice enough to look out at if you’re standing with a hot beverage looking out of the window and thinking how pretty it looks, but I really am not a big fan of driving in it.  Anyway, on the Saturday morning we woke up to be greeted by a heavy fall of snow, and dad going nuts downstairs because he was unable to get out and about with his zimmer frame.  So, I went outside to start clearing the path and driveway so that he could get out, and I could go pick up the kids.  Incidentally, at this point Cat and I had been dating for six months and she hadn’t met the kids.  Dad was very grateful for my efforts, and the snow (and sledges that Cat produced) proved to be a great ice-breaker (no pun intended). 

August 2006

For the life of me, I can’t remember what I’d been up to on the night of Friday 18th August, but I know that there was an heroic quantity of alcohol involved, which meant that when my mobile rang at about 8:30 the following morning, I was always going to ignore it.  Once it had stopped, I checked it and made a mental note to call my sister back later on.  Just as I put it down again, Christine rang for a second time which is very unusual.  She told me that dad (currently in hospital in Glasgow) had taken a bit of a bad turn, so would it be ok for me to go home and run mum up to the hospital.

When I got home, mum and I had a cup of coffee and then I drove us to the hospital.  Mum talked for most of the way – I needed all my concentration for driving so I was quite happy to let her ramble, but I noticed that she was telling me stuff about how they’d first met which I thought was a little bit odd. 

Iain and Christine were already at the hospital when we arrived.  Dad was in quite a heavy coma, so there was no possibility of communicating with him.  After a short while, one of the doctors came out and asked if she could have a word with mum, so I accompanied them into a small office next to the ward.  I swear I never saw this coming, but the doctor told mum that dad was unlikely to recover, and it was now merely a matter of time before he lost his battle with cancer. 

Later that afternoon, George Henderson passed away, surrounded by all those who loved him.  He was 63 years old, but could have been mistaken for ten years older.

September 2006

Weddings are a time of great happiness, especially when you’re related to one half of the ceremony, and a good friend of the other half.  For all of that happiness though, this particular occasion was tinged with a lot of sadness.  It had dawned on me about six months previously that dad may be incapable of walking Christine down the aisle, and it had always been my intention to talk this over with him and tell him I was happy to step in if he couldn’t do it.  Well that conversation never took place, but I think I did what dad would have wanted anyway.  Oddly enough, a few weeks before Iain and Christine got married, Iain’s dad and I had a conversation one Sunday afternoon whilst watching Iain’s brothers band (Ernest) playing.  During that conversation, he offered to walk Christine down the aisle, if I didn’t feel up to it.  I politely declined because the offer was meant in no way other than a kind gesture.

So, the day of the wedding, I walked my beautiful sister down the aisle while Cat filmed it.  Later on, I also gave a speech in place of the father-of-the-bride speech.  Probably not my best speech, but I think the last time I spoke in public was at my own wedding ten years previously!  Give me a microphone and a karaoke backing and I’m fine, but I’m not an orator.

September 2007

In about June of 2007, I did a really crazy thing which was to sign up to run a 10-kilometre road race to raise money for The Beatson Oncology Unit, where dad had been treated and looked after so well.  Now, I’m not a runner, although at over 6ft tall, I probably should be.  So I trained, and I got sponsorship, and I don’t mind telling you I was more than a little bit pleased to finish the race in a time of 1 hour and 18 minutes.  I don’t remember much about the rest of that day to be honest.  I do know that there was alcohol involved though!

September 2010

Last August, Cat and I decided to purchase a couple of bikes.  We both live within four miles of Glasgow city centre, and our respective work places so it seemed like a good idea.  If I’m honest, I’m very definitely a fair-weather cyclist, so the bike didn’t really get used much between the end of last September and the beginning of April this year.  However, somewhere along the way Cat and I decided that it’d be fun to take part in the Pedal For Scotland event.  This annual event is actually three separate rides, one for families and youngsters, one for all-comers and one for keen cyclists.  Cat and I (and latterly my son Tony) have signed up for the all-comers event which covers 51 miles between Glasgow and Edinburgh.  Incidentally, if you’re interested in sponsoring us, you can either donate to Maggie’s Cancer Care, Alzheimers Scotland or the Scottish Association for Mental Health.


First of all, if you’ve managed to get to the end of this blog then thank you for sticking with this.  I want to finish now, but I want to make a few points before I do:

  • Please cherish every contact you have, be it parent, sibling, workmate, close friend of even just drinking buddy.  I’ve lost various people in my life, some of them to illness, some to suicide and a few to old age.  The older I get, the harder I find it becomes to accept the death of a loved one.  It’s even tougher if you didn’t see it coming, and perhaps didn’t get to tell that person how you feel about them.  It’s been four years now since dad passed away, but I still find myself wanting to talk to him, to tell him how things are with me, talk to him about the kids, etc.  Don’t get me wrong, mum’s still around but I never really had a lot of father & son time with dad, and I regret that so very much.
  • I’m never going to be the guy who sits and tells you that smoking is bad for you, or that sh*t will kill you.  It’d be hypocritical for me, a reformed smoker, to lay that one on anybody.  That said, that shit probably WILL kill you, so if you do smoke and I’ve struck a chord, you know what to do.
  • If I, as a reformed smoker, can take part in a 10-kilometre road race or a 51 mile cycle, anybody can.  If you are thinking about doing it but think you’re unfit, or are daunted by the distance, you should stand up and give yourself a good shake.  I try and attend the gym regularly, and I enjoy my cycling but I’m still not some muscle-monkey for whom that stuff comes easily, so if I can do these things, anybody can.

Mostly for dad, but for me too.  Sleep well.