Puffing and Panting.

Puffing and Panting.

When I was only a young boy I made a promise. I promised myself that when I became an old man I would take up Pipe smoking.

I grew up in the days when everybody smoked cigarettes. Even the non-smokers had the occasional puff when in the company of a pro. You could always spot the amateur. They held the thing differently. They blew the smoke out with less class than the pro. They stood out like a sore lung.

I had smoked a whole lot of cigarettes since boyhood until Pancake Tuesday 2009. Something happened that day. Yet another part of me woke up.

I was driving along, radio on, sun shining, smoking a cigarette. As I reached over to stub it out a piece of ash fell onto my beer belly. That was the first moment I noticed my belly. In the seated position it was covering my belt buckle, you know. “Frankie,” I said to myself. “You Sir, are a slob.”

I brushed the ash away. My mind meandered as it often does when I’m driving. I eventually arrived to a comment a close friend had made at a Christmas reunion party. “I ran a marathon.”

Up until that point I thought Marathons (26.2 miles) were reserved for chaps who had been running since their first teeth. My friend was similar to me in that he had also smoked his best years away. I was gobsmacked when he told me but it wasn’t until that moment with the ash on the belly that the penny dropped.

The decision was instant. I had smoked my last cigarette, at the age of 38. I wanted to be like my friend. Next Christmas I wanted to be able to casually drop it in there, mid conversation with somebody, like it was Oh not such a big deal.

That’s the truth right there. I wanted people to be in awe of my athletic ability. “Gosh he must be so fit, not just a handsome face. I want him.”  Of course they couldn’t have me, could they Darling?

So later that evening, when I got home, I pulled a pair of sneakers on and crossed the road to the beach, all business. I think I made about 200 metres (meters in USA) before I collapsed. Some parts of my life flashed in front of me. I gasped for air. Eventually I caught my breath. This wasn’t going to be easy.

Over the following weeks and months I kept at it. I reached one mile. Then two miles. My first three mile run was one I’ll always remember. I tried to show off, passing two female runners. Look at me, I’m so fast. Bloody eejit! I nearly took a heart attack.

The lads at my work placed bets on whether I would see it through or not. They would donate the proceeds  to charity, which was extra pressure. But I didn’t mind the pressure. Something happened to my mindset from the time I was able to go three miles non-stop. Running after that became, addictive, enjoyable, almost easy…in a painful sort of way.

What I had called ‘pain’ before was now a mere side effect. The sense of happiness that washed over me after each run, was worth every step. I was no longer doing this for praise or awe. I was now doing this for the way it made me feel aprés run. Little worries which would give me sleepless nights now didn’t cost me a second thought. It was a grade A drug and it was free!

To cut a long story short. I did it. I ran my first Marathon in Dublin just eight months after the ash on the belly incident. If you haven’t done so, I suggest you give it a go. No matter what age you are, no matter whether you run it, walk it, wheel it, or be wheeled by another, it is one of those things everybody should and could experience. Only then will you understand the sheer joy of crossing that line.

There I go again, away off in a different direction than the one intended. My intention was to remind myself of the importance of close friends as I grow older. The thing about keeping in touch with friends, even if it is only once in a blue moon, is that they make me feel younger than I am.

Take for instance a recent wedding I atteneded. One of my best friends was tying the auld knot. After the ceremony, back at the reception, my friends and I were able to laugh and joke like we did at school. Even dancing, we owned the floor. We were all finally at an age were we realised the important things in life aren’t things. We had learned to savour moments together like this.

When I am with a lifelong friend or group of friends age doesn’t scare us. We don’t even notice it. It could be outside the Pub door banging to get in and we won’t hear it. We will be far away in Tír na nÓg, the land where nobody grows old.

Pipe smoking is an Art. The ritual of scraping out the old ash, banging it on the table, filling it with new tobacco, then striking a match, watching the flame being sucked downward. And then comes the smell. It has to be one of the nicest smells ever. Pure nose candy!

I can see myself sitting back in a lazy chair, pipe between my teeth (false or not), letting out little tiny puffs from the far corner of my mouth.

I haven’t yet reached pension age, but I will! By hook or by crook I will smoke that pipe whilst listening to my friends tell tales from back in the day.

And the young ones will be looking at me saying “Isn’t yer man fit looking, for an old timer? How many Marathons did you say he ran?”


Thank you for reading


In response to the Daily Prompt plus the Weekly writing challenge.