I used to smoke quite a lot, as did my father-in-law. He owned an office building and I had a top apartment as my first studio, and his own offices were ground floor. He used to come on up and see me now and again, just to see how business was going - save his daughter's neck, more like it - and he thought he'd like to stop smoking. I thought about that, about the way I used to light one just before starting a long run of prints that I couldn't stop working with with wet hands... so those cigs would burn right down to my lips, fill my eyes with tears of both smoke and pain, and then I'd finally poison myself with developer/fixer fingers when I couldn't take any more. Then the long time spent spotting ash marks on those bloody prints from the same messy cloud at the enlarger...
At the same time, my wife's uncle died of throat cancer.
I noticed that I used to get regular sore throats; I'd stop for two weeks or so and feel fine. Then I'd start the entire cycle all over again.
My father-in-law's wish to stop seemed a good idea. We made a bet for more money than I wanted to lose about who'd give up first. We both kicked it!
Drinking. I hardly drank at all in Scotland - it was too risky because as a one-man-band, I was as vulnerable as a taxi driver to the result of losing a driving licence. But, once we came to live in Spain, it all changed. That was totally inevitable because of the social life out here. G&Ts became very pleasant to have at around 11am with something nice to chew; invitations to pre-lunch cocktails would wipe one out until late afternoon. And I was supposed still to be working. We eventually gave up the social whirl but still killed a minimum of a bottle of chilled white every lunchtime and the best part of another at night. As one would, when one could... could, because along came a heart attack and I was told that a single glass of red, which neither of us liked much, was my limit because of the effect of alcohol on the heart. Apparently, the red contains anti-oxidants that help cleanse the blood, but more than one glass goes the other way and causes more direct problems than it solves.
Coffee. That, too, was limited to a single cup a day. Until my next attack, I obeyed it all religiously. Then, after that, I lost my wife, and now, though I still stay within the restrictions regarding wine, coffee – decaffed – has become maybe four cups a day minimum. And I’m not giving it up, either. Why? Because I feel precious little wish to knock myself stupid with alcohol and lose even more of the day than I do now to housework, but as far as the coffee goes, it takes me out into local café/bars and life. I see and chat with folks on a superficial level and as best I can in Spanitaliano and we get along just fine. If I take that away from the total act, then I may as well save everybody a lot of time and let the kids inherit tomorrow.
But Fred, the body is always changing. My wife seldom ever had even a cold – but that didn’t save her. I was always sniffing in winter, but the worst flu’ I ever had was after I was shamed into having an anti-flu’ jag one year! Never again! Light heads?… join the club; fainting in restaurants? - I have a record now. Hard to hold focus when using a viewfinder? Talk to me.
And you know what - losing my wife stopped me having any fear of death. I still fear pain and possibly being incapacitated, of course, but when your life’s already pretty well effed’ why would you care anymore?
In the end, the older I get, the more I believe that it’s all mapped out for you before you pop out into this world. I look around at some of the useless people that I know who have become so successful, and I see no other explanation.