I WAS a big smoker in my day. As a teenager, I started out on Consulate Menthol Flavour (“Cool as a mountain stream”) because I was convinced their minty essence would mask the smell of smoke on my breath, in my hair and woven into the pattern of my Fair Isle jumper.
My folks weren’t fooled for a minute but they confined themselves to heavy sarcasm: “Smoke any harder and you’ll burst into flames.”
When I got a Saturday job and could afford to buy my own, I chose Player’s No 6 “coffin sticks”. They were cheap and nasty and I had to cover the smell with lashings of Hai Karate aftershave. At university I smoked all day. You could smoke in the library in those days. We stubbed our Gauloise and Gitanes out into the wee foil tins that Mr Kipling’s cakes come in – courtesy of the university.
It was a shock to my system to discover that smoking wasn’t good for you. Suddenly all the ads had warnings on them. Even more suddenly, all the ads were banned. One day you could light up on the top deck of the bus, next day only up the back of the bus and finally you couldn’t smoke on the bus at all.
That was nothing compared to Scotland’s outright smoking ban. Alcohol’s bosom buddy was banished to the pavement outside the boozer. In mid-sentence, two of your pals would exchange conspiratorial glances and disappear out the pub door into the slanting sleet for a smoke.
Trouble is, when the hardcore smokers took themselves out on to the street, they took their trash there, too. Most bars have an ashtray screwed to the outside wall. Most smokers don’t bother using it. They do what I used to do and flick their butt onto the pavement or grind it to death under a stiletto heel.
Smokers are the worst for litter. Four out of six cigarette butts never find their way into an ashtray. Cigarette ends are the commonest item of litter in the world. Calling them “litter” is kind. They are toxic waste. According to New Scientist magazine: “One cigarette butt leaches out enough toxins to kill half of the fresh or salt water fish exposed to them.”
In Scotland, you’ll get an £80 fine if they catch you thowing your fag-end on to the pavement. So go ahead, smoke yourself to death. But don’t be a tosser.
Stop laughing at the back, it’s just knackered
On Sunday evening they settled me into the launch position and made comfortable. They put plugs in my ears. Reassured me we’d stay in radio contact. There was no countdown. No sudden acceleration. I slid smoothly forward into the narrow white tube that would cut me off from the world. Overhead, lights slipped past my eyes. I couldn’t move. We stopped. Bam-bam-bam-bam-bam! I was hammered from all sides by industrial noise, like a grindcore gig in an armaments factory. Beams of pure energy passed through my body. I closed my eyes, breathed in deeply, breathed out slowly. One thought bubbled to the surface of my mind: would Hibs score enough goals against Queen of the South to come second in the Championship and avoid a play-off with Raith Rovers (they didn’t)?
If you’ve ever had an MRI scan, it’s not an experience you’re likely to forget. It’s not painful but it is surreal. Giant magnets and radio waves bombard the tiny protons in your body, revealing their location and turning them into a composite picture.
It’s the best way for doctors to get a really detailed look at your insides because it shows up far more than an X-ray can. They’re often used to diagnose complications in the brain and the spinal cord.
In my case, it’s the spinal cord. I’ve had a knackered back since I was 14. Life’s taken its toll, too. There was a sledging accident, a scuba diving accident and finally a skiing accident that put me out the game for 18 months.
My last MRI scan was about 20 years ago. I was called into the clinic and the orthopaedic consultant put this beautiful coloured transparency onto his lightbox. It looked like a piece of stained glass. I was in awe. “So what can you see, doctor?” I asked him. “Well Mr Farrell,” he said, tapping the picture with his pen, “your back’s f****d.” I burst out laughing. I could have told him that myself.
He went on to explain that two of my discs were “degenerate”. He hasn’t seen the rest of me, I thought. They couldn’t operate, there was no easy fix. “You’ll just have to exercise for the rest of your life,” he said. He got down on the floor. “My back’s f****d, too,” he said. “This is what I do.” For the next 30 minutes he went through all the stretching and twisting he does every day to prevent chronic back pain. I still do those exercises – but not as regularly as I should. That’s why I’m now plagued with sciatica in my left leg. It’s a nerve pain, like shingles, so once it gets embedded it’s hard to shift. The doctor can give you pills but they just mask the symptoms.
The only positive thing you can do is visit a physio – I went to Physio + Pilates in Howe Street – and get them to teach you the stretches and repetitions you need to do to make the pain go away. The worst thing you can do? Sit on the sofa or lie in bed. If you do that, everything will just seize up. You need to get yourself moving. Walking’s a good way to get the blood circulating round the discs. It’s good to get the weight off, too. A dodgy back can’t support a big belly especially if your tummy muscles never get
Finally, a thank you to the lovely NHS staff who worked their Sunday to put me through my scan. I wouldn’t wish a bad back on anybody – except perhaps Jeremy Hunt.
Dare to dream like Leicester
How appropriate that Leicester won the Premier League at Chelsea where their manager Claudio Ranieri was once so shabbily given the heave-ho. who’s laughing now, eh? who says nice guys don’t win stuff. And they don’t come much nicer than Ranieri. If Leicester can win the Premier League, there’s no reason Hibs can’t win the – no, let’s not go there.