No smoke king

John was overcome by the familiar sense of resolve that had gripped him on the first of January every year for the last five years. He simply had to stop

Peter Edgerton
PETER EDGERTON

An impish winter wind whipped in over open sands and across the promenade. John turned up the collar on his coat, hunched forward, shoved his hands into his pockets and strode back towards the cottage where his wife Bernadette and Jack, their eldest son, were preparing an evening meal for the family's New Year's Day celebration.

As he walked home, John was overcome by the familiar sense of resolve that had gripped him on the first of January every year for the last five years but this time he was more determined than ever to succeed. He simply had to stop.

It didn't help his cause that Bernadette smoked a packet a day and, even though she would make the effort to step out into the front garden if the weather was sufficiently clement, simply hearing the click of the lighter or catching sight of a waft of smoke drifting over their pristine flower beds was often enough to lead him into temptation. He'd actually made it through to February last year but then just wasn't able to resist one afternoon when he caught his wife surreptitiously lighting up on the landing, while a relentless rain storm battered the windows outside.

It wasn't just at home that John had problems, either; his friends down at the Dog and Duck were being brutally honest with him lately, especially David the village doctor. In fact, David had brought it up when they'd met for a drink just before Christmas.

"I'm not really asking you any more, John. I'm telling you. I'm at my wits' end and, to be honest, it's beginning to damage our friendship. For five years solid you've been talking about it. Please, please, stop now - for your own good and the good of our relationship."

"OK, I know, David, I know. I'm sorry, it must be so annoying for you. You've told me so often but, really, I just can't help myself. Mike and Terry are a pretty disgusted with me too, I think."

Indeed they were.

As he turned the key in the lock and pushed open the front door, John caught the first tantalising smell of the family's traditional New Year's Day feast - beef casserole. Jack was a dab hand with his mother's recipes.

"Crikey, it's bitter out there. How long until dinner?" Neither waiting for, nor expecting an answer, John took of his coat, flung it over an old kitchen chair and kissed little Amy on the top of her head before pouring himself a large glass of white wine.

"Where's mum?"

Jack hesitated. "She's, er, she's -"

Just then, Bernadette came running downstairs, looking vaguely guilty and smelling strongly of Benson and Hedges' finest. Clumsily, she tried a distraction tactic.

"Grub's up in five minutes. Wash your hands everyone."

John stepped towards her, smiling mischievously. "Can you give me one of those little beauties, please? I really can't resist. Just this once."

An exasperated cry of "Oh, dad!" rose in eery unison from the two children but they'd seen enough by now to know that their plea would be in vain. John took the packet from his wife's hand, slid out a cigarette and tapped it on the table, before raising it up very slowly towards his lips.

"You see this, everyone? Well, as you know, I haven't touched one of these things in over five years now and I have to tell you again, it's the best thing I ever did. I feel so much better for it, both in body and in mind." He turned to his wife. "Bernadette, love, you really need to give up this year, too. I'll help you. Oh, and as for David, I've told him a thousand times he really has to stop smoking but now he just gets defensive and annoyed. It's really not that hard - let me tell you again how I did it...'"

By now Jack had left the room and Amy was colouring her book with such fervour that she'd all but shredded one of its pages. Meanwhile, Bernadette just stood there, shaking her head in disbelief.

When would John finally find the resolve to stop telling everyone at every opportunity about giving up smoking five years previously?