I'm pretty sure I ought to be asleep right now.

Last time I flew back home from way out west, across the Atlantic, I spent a good, healthy, 15 hours in quiet slumber the following night. Last night, I managed less than five hours sleep. And that's after being awake for almost all the preceding 36 hours, and travelling for half of it.

I have a theory, though, for why I couldn't get to sleep so easy last night, and why I was, unusually, up and about feeling plenty spritely before my alarm had had chance to rouse me.

As I mentioned before, I've quit smoking.

Yup, after nine years of morning nicotine rushes and smoking room banter, it's all over. Never again will I feel that glorious goodness that a cigarette can bring. Well, I say never, but you and I both know that sometime I will slip up. There's no such thing as the last cigarette, and I should know - I've already smoked two of them.

Before going away on holiday, P and I agreed that I would give up smoking when I returned home. I suggested that my last cigarette should be smoked before getting on the plane for home. The plan was hatched, and so it was that in the early hours of April 1st, I smoked my last 'home' cigarette, huddled in the pen with my fellow addicts (and I mean pen - Gatwick departure lounges feature central pens, metallic and sleek, with windows offering views in all directions, a central extractor fan, and automatic ashtrays that you just drop your lit fag into when you're done. It's actually quite pleasant and civilised, except for the feeling of being watched and looked down on by the clean non-smokers all around.

On holiday I smoked more than I have done for ages. With little else to do, and drinking every night, I was pushing 20 a day for the first time in ages. (I settled at 13-14 a day at home), but at £1.25 a packet, and knowing they were my last, I wasn't worried, just coughing a little. Part of me wanted to smoke just as many as I could, in the way you indulge yourself when you know something is about to be taken away for good. I had yet another reason for not wanting the trip to end.

P hates smoking. Quite a few other people I know hate smoking, and I can understand why. I've even hated it myself from time to time, and not just because of smoke-throat and fag-phlegm. Cigarettes burn hot, they hurt if not handled carefully, they smell, they make me smell, and despite the fact that I can look damn cool smoking (nine times out of ten, P interrupts me, smoking just looks gay) I suspect they do not, on average, bring the women flocking. On the other hand, big fat cigars... no, no, that's no good either. Women smoking big cigars, however. Mmm. Interesting.


I don't hate smoking. Not yet, anyway, although I have already had my first post-giving up pious moment, informing a young gentleman at the airport that he was lighting up in a no-smoking zone. And tutting slightly. Heh.

I meant to tell you about the last cigarette.

The last cigarette, Part I.

My first last cigarette was smoked at La Romana International Airport, on the south coast of the Dominican Republic, to the left of the (outdoor) check-in desks, just outside the departure lounge. The departure lounge at La Romana is a no-smoking area, so unless you pre-book a slot in the VIP lounge (you can become very important by paying about US$30), you have to be prepared for a long wait for your next smoke, with little in the way of shopping or eating to distract the mind. I enjoyed my first last cigarette, tinged though it was with a certain sadness of what will no more be.

Luckily, on stubbing out the last cigarette, I kept the packet (well, you never know) and lighter, even though I wasn't expecting to be getting off the plane during the drop-off at Jamaica on the way home.

The last cigarette, Part II.

My second, and so far final, last cigarette, was an altogether different experience. On arrival at Montego Bay, Jamaica, all passengers had to leave the plane. I took a blue 'Transit' card, and headed off for the transit / departures lounge. Leaving P with the bags, I set off to find water, the obligatory Stoly, and, apparently not quite ready to have quit just yet, the smoking lounge.

I needn't have bothered following the signs. Our plane turned out to be packed with nicotine hungry Brits in search of a fix before the eight and a half hour flight home. For a while, I was one of them. We filed down some stairs, along, up some stairs, and into the bar.

I lit up, and savoured the taste of my last cigarette. Marlboro, full strength, just like my first cigarette. I didn't smoke them any more, but to complete the circle, I had bought one last pack of the reds. I looked around, and immediately hated all that I saw, heard, and smelled. Fumes billowing from every mouth and white cylinder, polished nails clutching lighters, packets, and Embassy No.1s, gargoyles all around me, visible (barely) through a dusty, choking haze. Conversations I didn't want to listen to, people I didn't want to see, contaminants I didn't want to breathe. I wanted to be anywhere but here, longing to enjoy my last cigarette, but I knew that this was how it had to end. I stubbed out the foul Marly, dropped it into one of the heaving ashtrays, took one last look at the packet it had lived in, and dropped it alongside. Its remaining, unsmoked, contents would make a nice surprise for one lucky punter, I hoped.

And walked calmly, briskly, away from the scene.

So, Montego Bay, Jamaica. That's where theboy quit. Around 7pm, local time, Tuesday 15 April, 2003.

All that was some 36 hours ago. It feels like a whole lot more. I didn't have a cigarette when I got off the plane, I didn't have one when I got home, I didn't have one before I went to bed, or one when I woke up. I didn't have one on my way to work, or when I got to work, or mid-morning at work.

And I'm not having one now, after lunch.

And I won't, oh god it won't be easy, be having one next time I go out for drinks.

What I will do, though, is find out exactly how to go about this giving up smoking business, so I can get through it without losing the plot, my nerve, or friends.

So long, Marlboro, so long Philip Morris, so long Altria.

Hello good clean livin'.