Charles Spencer

Social outlaw

It’s the morning of 2 January as I write, and I’m gloomily contemplating my New Year’s resolutions. Actually, gloomily is hardly the mot juste. I’m having a complete jelly-livered panic attack about them.

It’s our family custom to go to the Pilot Boat pub in Lyme Regis for lunch on New Year’s Eve, and to discuss the coming 12 months. It was at the Pilot Boat that we first decided to get a cat, and I now can’t imagine life without Nelson. He’s just greeted me on my solo return from Dorset with a combination of excitement, purring affection and just a suspicion of reproach in his eyes that moved me to tears. Ever since Nelson came into our lives, I’ve wanted to get a dog, too, and each year at the Pilot Boat my wife and son firmly veto the suggestion on the grounds that it’s impractical, Nelson would be furious and Mrs S. would end up doing all the walking. Yet I ache for a dog as I once ached for a drink.

But our individual resolutions are the main items on the agenda, and this year we came up with about half a dozen each. The two that are giving me so much grief are, firstly, to stop smoking before my 51st birthday on 4 March and, secondly, to spend less on CDs.

I had my first cigarette when I was eight, became a confirmed addict by the age of 14, gave up briefly when I left university, but became a 40-a-day man when I got my first job on Fleet Street. Then, in 1997, I somehow managed to quit and I stayed stopped for more than three years.

The problem was that at least partly as a result of giving up smoking, my already heavy binge-drinking crossed the line into full-blown alcoholism, as drink came to replace many of the little rewards and consolations previously afforded by cigarettes.

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