One day after my 68th birthday in early May, I made a momentous decision. After a lifetime of puffing away on an average of 20 a day, I would give up smoking.
My family is delighted and, frankly, astonished that I've lasted six weeks with no lapses and only the help of a vape and the occasional square of Nicorette chewing gum. That's at work because, for some reason, vaping is banned in indoor public spaces.
I think I've been a nicotine addict my whole life. One of my greatest pleasures as a small child was to sit between the knees of my father or grandfather, hold their hands and sniff their yellow, nicotine-stained fingers.
They were both addicted to untipped Park Drives, so the scent was powerful. I loved it. I associate it with comfort, security and love.
My mother and grandmother naturally disapproved, considering smoking an acceptable evil in a man, but a disgusting, inelegant habit in a woman.
It was in defiance of them that I stole my first cigarette from my Dad's packet around my 16th birthday. It was revolting. I coughed. I choked. I felt dizzy. I was sick. It should have put me off. I was determined to persevere.
I don't think any of us had the faintest idea of how dangerous to our health smoking would prove. It was everywhere. We would go to the bowling alley and pause for a fag between games. Behind the bike sheds at school, it was the cool kids who had a quick drag during break. At the cinema, we would sit in the back row and smoke throughout the movie. We would watch old films on TV and see famous and beautiful movie stars using cigarettes as a sophisticated form of communication.
My favourite was Now, Voyager as Bette Davis and Paul Henreid say: 'Shall we just have a cigarette on it?' He lights two and hands one to her, then she utters the immortal, romantic line: 'Oh Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon. We have the stars.'
Seduced by the sophistication of it all and with no restrictions on when and where we smoked, apart from home and school, we quickly became slaves to the evil weed, always longing for the next fix and sneaking off at every opportunity. It wasn't even beyond our pocket money.
I don't remember the exact price, but we found that if we packed in the habit of a bar of chocolate and a bag of sweets after school, we could easily afford a pack of ten — and the risk of putting on too much weight was dealt with at the same time.
I gave up three times.
First was in 1982/83, when I became pregnant with my first child. It wasn't hard at all because I seemed to respond instinctively and reject anything that might do harm to a growing foetus.
I couldn't stand the smell or taste of tobacco and my favourite tipple of dry white wine made me feel sick. My body became a temple of healthy eating and exercise. Yoga was often advised as a good way of preparing for the physical effort of the delivery room. It was. I doubt I've ever been fitter and the birth was a relatively trouble-free event.
Edward was born in the late afternoon and his Dad stayed with us until 10pm — and then, left alone in a single room with my son snuffling in a see-through plastic cot, rather reminiscent of a large fish tank, the panic began to set in.
What did I know about looking after a baby? How would I change a nappy when it needed to be done? How could I live a relaxed and normal life with this overwhelming feeling of love and responsibility? I couldn't sleep.
A kind and thoughtful midwife popped her head around the door. 'Come with me,' she said. 'We'll pop into the day room and you can have a cup of tea with the night staff. Your baby's fast asleep, we'll leave the door open and you'll hear him if he cries.'
I followed her gratefully and sat down with a group of nurses. All of them were smoking. How times have changed. One of them handed me a cup of tea and held out her packet. 'Here,' she smiled, 'have one of these. It'll calm you down.'
I took it. She lit it. I smoked it halfway down and then came to my senses. 'Oh no!' I squeaked. 'I don't smoke!' I stubbed it out, but the damage was done. I was a smoker again.
My body did me another favour when I became pregnant four years later for the second time. Cigarettes and wine made me feel ill, so again my little foetus was protected from any damaging poisons with the minimum of effort from me.
This time, the birth took place at home. A close friend, also a smoker, had agreed to come over to take care of my older son while the delivery took place upstairs. They came up when they heard the first cry. I had a quick bond with the baby, gave him a bit of a feed, handed him over to his Dad and his brother and went downstairs for a fag with my mate. I just couldn't wait.
My third attempt to quit was motivated by maternal guilt. I really felt ashamed that my children were being raised by a mother with such a filthy habit and a growing awareness that she was putting her health at risk.
I discovered there was a man called Allen Carr who claimed to have developed an 'Easy Way' to quit. He wasn't too far away, so I booked myself in to one of his sessions and sat in the sitting room of his home with other desperate smokers. The fireplace was full of discarded packs and we were all required to smoke to our hearts' content.
We were lectured on risk, the power of nicotine addiction and the influence of advertising. Then we had to close our eyes, repeat in a manner that we seemed to have been hypnotised to say, 'Thank you, but I don't smoke!' and then throw our packet with the remaining cigarettes into the fireplace.
I left convinced I'd never smoke again. When I was offered a cigarette I intoned the mantra, almost without thinking: 'Thank you, but I don't smoke.' I lasted for two whole weeks. One day at work we hit a sticky patch. I was rushing around trying to finish a job against the clock, getting increasingly anxious. When I emerged from the studio and arrived back at my desk, I found a packet of cigarettes and a lighter and the programme assistant saying: 'For goodness' sake, start smoking again. We can't stand you in this state.'
And so, through breast cancer and bi-lateral hip replacement, I went on. I knew I shouldn't be smoking when I had cancer, but there's a strange kind of camaraderie that takes place among smokers, even in a group of women who are all pretty much in the same state apart from some have it in the breast, others in the ovary, the bowel or the uterus.
We would gather in the dining room on the ward in the hospital, pick at the food and then someone would say, 'Behind the bike sheds, girls?' and off we would troop, some in wheelchairs, some carrying their drips or their drains and we would seat ourselves on the wall outside and puff away, hoping our consultants wouldn't pass by and tick us off.
When the hip replacements happened, I was desperate to be mobile again so that I could take myself outside. On my way back to the ward on the second day after surgery I bumped into the senior nurse who'd been taking care of me. 'Been for a fag?' he grinned. 'Don't worry, I always know the smokers. They're always the first to be up and about. I get it. I'm a smoker myself.'
I never underestimate the sheer power of the nicotine addiction. It flies in the face of all good sense and advice about its impact on the lungs, the heart and the arteries.
My father was supposed to have given up in his early 50s — at the insistence of my mother, as knowledge of the health risks became indisputable. She believed he had, but I knew the kind of subterfuge a lifelong addict would employ. He popped round to see his friends, Eric and Mary, often. Both smokers. His dog had the most frequent and longest walks in canine history. He always had a couple of packs of Polos in his pocket.
At the age of 80, and only six months after the death of my mother from Parkinson's disease, my Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer.
He spent two weeks in the local hospice, was cared for brilliantly and virtually the last words he spoke to me, apart from telling me he loved me, were: 'You haven't got a fag on you, have you love?' I've felt guilty ever since for denying him a last moment of pleasure.
So, at last I've quit. I won't be asking for a last one on my death bed. But was it fear of terminal cancer that brought me to this point? No.
I recently spent a lot of money on dental implants. Good teeth are vital to someone who speaks for a living.
Smoking damages the bone into which they fit and can cause failure of the implant. The dentist said: 'Quit.'
I have obeyed!