Smoke Swap DAY 1 – Perry – Shoreditch
Listening to: – Hella Dare you to Smoke – Gorillaz v No Doubt – Party Ben
Emotion – Drained
‘Ciao bella’ I kiss Katie goodbye and wonder off in the direction of the station to catch my train home.
‘Take care of yourself. I’m worried about you’ she says. I walk off into the crowds of obscurity. You’re worried about me! I’m worried about me!
Rewind the clock five hours earlier and I meet Katie in a coffee shop in Old Street and head off for a spot of lunch. Thai if you want to know.
After lunch I give Katie a crash course in camera operation and we talk about starting and stopping smoking. Today the mad idea turns to reality.
We meet the crew and head in the direction of a newsagent to buy cigarettes. As this is Smoke Swap and I don’t want to burn my own money I suggest to Kate that she has to hand over her money that she would spend on cigarettes over the next two weeks. We calculate it’s going to cost about forty UK Pounds Sterling and as we don’t carry that kind of cash on us we have to leg it to a cash machine.
We head back to the newsagents and like two kids in a sweet shop we purchase 14 packs of ten cigarettes, one for each day. This is like some perverse pick ‘n’ mix.
This little symbolic act costs Katie £43.00. As she usually buys a pack as she needs them she realises how much she wastes on this habit of hers.
Armed with a couple of handfuls of cigarettes we head towards the studio were we are going to start/stop Smoke Swap for real – not long now.
I’m feeling higher levels of anxiety, knowing soon I’ll have to light up. My bravado is slowly ebbing away.
The cameras are rolling. I look across at Katie and she looks relaxed and at home where I feel like a complete fraud. I’m not comfortable in front of the cameras and feel naked and exposed. There is no-where to run and no-where to hide. Soon I’ll disappear into a puff of smoke. Oh shit, what have I gone and got myself into…
We exchange stories about cigarettes in our lives up to this point.
I can’t put it off any longer. I hear myself using a thousand words were one would suffice but it’s no good, I can’t put it off anymore. It’s time to loose my Virginia tobacco.
Katie and I choose our branded drug of choice. It is easy really. Kate used to smoke them and I used to market them… Marlboro Lights (No mention of ‘Light’ on the pack since 2002, Kate notices this for the first time. In the industry we renamed them Marlboro Gold). She takes her last cigarette and places it between her lips. She presents the flame from the newly filled Zippo lighter to the cigarette and slowly inhales the smoke for the last time. She then reluctantly hands it over to me.
I’m such a dork, I’m not even sure how to hold it but suck on it all the same. The smoke gets in my eye. I inhale and exhale. To my surprise it goes down relatively well but it’s not natural to me to take the smoke down and I really have to concentrate during the whole process.
I repeat the action again but this time I start to cough and my heart starts to race. On the third pull now and I’m feeling light headed and now my legs feel as though they could buckle. Thank f**k I’m sitting down.
I’m talking bollocks, ten to the dozen with a heady mix of adrenalin, nicotine and fear.
There it is, I’ve done it. I’ve smoked my first cigarette. It wasn’t behind the bike sheds. I didn’t have to buy a packet of mints to disguise my odious breath from my parents and I don’t have to do this again.
Fifteen minutes later we are posing for still photographs so I light my second cigarette. I sit by the window nonchalantly flicking my ash out of the window.
The reality of it all is I’m holding on for dear life as I don’t want to faint and fall out the third floor window to the ground below. We all know smoking kills but today isn’t a good day to die. This isn’t good. It isn’t good at all.
I’m burning up. My face drains of colour then I break out into a sweat. I dare not move, my legs have turned to jelly and I’ve shut up talking. The dialogue now is all in my head. ‘Don’t be sick, don’t be sick’ I repeat over and over again internally. You don’t have to be in the medical profession to see I look what is commonly described as ‘F**ked!’
What is this? I’m supposed to be free, a rebel without a cause, a real man. That’s what seventy years of marketing has sold me but here I am, sick and quite on a sofa feeling like a weak and worthless individual. I’m embarrassed and distressed. I sit quite still but for the party in my guts. This is one party I don’t want spilling out onto the streets of East London. I remain in the same position for over an hour occasionally taking small tastes of cold water.
Smoke Swap is going to be tough. I’ve really underestimated what I was taking on. I know the body is very adaptable but I question myself why would I want to subject it to this misery every day. I must be f**king mad.
So I find my way back home and to bed. I can’t face another cigarette today. I’m up at 3:30am to catch a plane to Italy. Hopefully the Tuscanny sun will shine on me and tomorrow will be a better day.
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