Ten days after Rebecca and I gave up smoking, I think it fair to say that, even in this house, relations have been more genial. The atmosphere after dinner, when the pangs are at their fiercest, suggests a catholic pub in Glasgow in the hours after Celtic have lost heavily to Rangers. "What are you looking at?" Rebecca asks when I glance towards her, hoping to gauge from her features that she is suffering more than me. "Nothing. Care to make something of it?" "Oh yeah? And what if I do..." And so it goes on, in classic Govan style, albeit that where Rab C Nesbitt would have offered me "Outside" my wife offers a wintry "Goodnight" and floats icily up to bed.
Although the physical craving begins to fade as the nicotine works its way out of the bloodstream, such is the psychological torment that only the operation on my deviated septum on January 28 keeps me going. Major surgery is particularly perilous, it goes without saying, for the heavy smoker.
The third worst thing about giving up smoking (after not being able to smoke, and the guilt at leaving former brethren to fund what remains of the NHS on their own) is the unmasking of symptoms that were suppressed by the chemicals. Today, for example, I'm suffering not only mouth ulcers, throat soreness and tongue inflammation, but also an infuriating tickly cough from somewhere deep in the chest that comes on late at night and prevents sleep.
In Tesco I bump into Dr Beverly MacDonald, whose small ops clinic I hope to attend (to have the spot on my nose frozen off with liquid nitrogen), if I come through the septum operation. She asks how I am - something she instantly regrets, to judge by the flash of panic that illuminates her eyes. I mention the cough, and ask if she thinks it might be emphysema. She says that at my age it is unlikely, "but if it's troubling you, come to the emergency clinic tomorrow". Emergency? You know something, doctor, don't you? Assuring me she knows nothing, the doctor points her trolley towards table sauces and is gone.
I wish I had gone to the emergency clinic. All the time, the source of the tickle feels deeper in the lung. With every breath more coughing ensues. I begin to fear mesothelioma, a terminal tumour of the chest cavity. I check my proof copy of the Bloke's Diagnose-It-Yourself Guide to Health, an excellent new reference book (my physician Sarah Jarvis , who is writing the "girlie version", tells me it is published this week) but one aimed at men with less specialist knowledge than myself. There is no word about it.
Marital relations take another dive when Rebecca catches me rooting through her bag. "You're searching for my address book, aren't you, to ring Sarah Jarvis?" Reluctantly confirming this, I point out my fears about lung cancer. "For God's sake," she says, "you know I've got exactly the same thing. Does the fact that we've got the same cough at the same time suggest anything?" "You think you've got mesothelioma too?" Sullenly, she dials the doctor to arrange my usual Monday slot at 6.20pm, and then retires to the top of the house.
At the Grove surgery, some organisational fiasco causes Dr Jarvis to summon me at precisely 6.20. After she expresses amazement that "you do not have, or claim to have, this nasty flu", I present my symptoms, perform coughs, allow her to listen to my chest and state the diagnosis. "Mesothelioma?" she says. "But you get that from exposure to asbestos. Have you been exposed to asbestos?" "Yes." She looks up sharply. "When?" she says. "In chemistry, when we were using a Bunsen bur..." "It's a cough," she says, "probably brought on by giving up smoking." Dr Jarvis is pointing to her door. "Out," she says. It seems a good moment to excuse myself, and head back to the clean but cool air of the marital home.