In his heyday, Bob Hocking played all the sports and even had a stint as professional goalkeeper for Swindon Town Football Club and Bristol City.
But the 67-year-old, from Blunsdon, now struggles to walk after suffering a massive stroke and is urging people to kick the habit of smoking, which he was hooked on for years. Besides taking a huge toll on his health, the addiction also forced him to give up the courier business he built up from scratch with his wife Ann.
Bob wishes he could teach his six grandchildren how to play football but ill health means he needs help with most daily tasks and relies on Ann’s support. Although mentally very alert, his speech has also been affected and he struggles to talk for long periods.
But there’s one piece of advice which is loud and clear in his voice: “Don’t do it. Don’t smoke – stop or don’t even start.”
Bob knows only too well he has learned the hard way and is probably paying the price of his 20-a-day routine which went with the territory of drinking and socialising. He said: “In those days, it was far more common and acceptable. I didn’t really think about the damage it was doing – I was invincible of course.”
Bob started his career on the pitch with Swindon Boys, then played for Swindon Town from 1965-66 before moving on to spend the next season at Bristol City, followed by a stint at Derby County. He then joined the Navy, serving as an electrical engineer for 11 years, and sport continued to play a big role in his life. He added: “I played football to a pretty high standard in my teens and loved it. In the Navy I remained very active and played all sports – football, hockey and rugby. It was immensely enjoyable and in later years I moved onto golf, darts and snooker when I became involved in the Rotary Club”.
“I started smoking in my late 20s and carried on until the wake-up call when I hit 60. It has changed my life beyond recognition – in fact to be honest I’m lucky to even be alive.”
Bob’s memory of that fateful day remains a blur, but Ann, aged 69, can still recall it in vivid detail. She said: “He had been in hospital a couple of weeks earlier – the arteries in his legs were blocked and he needed to have stents put in. Then one Sunday morning he looked very grey and clammy and said he didn’t feel at all well. I took him straight to hospital and that’s when the nightmare really started.”
Bob had suffered a bleed on his brain and was unable to walk or remember anything for weeks. The rehabilitation process, with uncertain prospects of recovery, took months. “It was like a black hole – I didn’t think I could cope or ever get through it. He was a complete shadow of his former self – one minute laughing, the next nothing,” she said.
“But over time we’ve built up, and he has had tremendous support from Headway, which has really worked wonders with his memory, and the cardio class at the Grange Leisure Centre has been brilliant for mobility. He can now stand up and do some of the exercises, which is a massive leap forward.”
A close friend through his Rotary Club contacts also helps with physio and the couple’s quality of life has slowly improved.
Ann said: “Bob still can’t walk properly, but we have a luggie now rather than a wheelchair which makes it easier to get around. Meal times are also a challenge because he can’t feel one of his hands. Life is very different – but you have to carry on and make the best of things.”
Bob thinks the hardest part is not the physical pain but the boredom. He said: “I just sit for hours on end – watching TV and reading, when I’d love to be up and about – playing with the grandkids or just pottering around. Without having Ann, I don’t know where I’d be. But I do know if I had my time again, I’d never have smoked that first cigarette which has led to all this. If there’s one good thing which can come out of it, maybe others will quit before it’s too late.”
Receiving professional support significantly improves people’s chances of successfully stopping smoking.
Cllr Brian Mattock, Swindon Borough Council Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care, said: “Tragically, smoking not only prematurely kills one in every two smokers, but it can also have a devastating impact on health and really damage quality of life. Bob’s message encouraging people to kick the habit is very compelling and hopefully will resonate with lots of people who are at the back of their minds concerned about the future consequences of this highly addictive habit. Lots of free support is available to help you quit and hopefully enjoy many happy, active years with your loved ones – by getting professional help you’re more likely to succeed in your goal.”
For free one-to-one advice and support, contact the Swindon Stop Smoking service on 0800 3892229 or 01793 465513, text 07881 281797 or email email@example.com
Pharmacies and GPs also offer free support to stop smoking.
Pictured: Bob in his footballing days and with his wife Ann
Facts and stats
The number of adults in Swindon who smoke has declined by 2.1% between 2012 and 2013. But there are still an estimated 32,500 smokers in the Borough.
Statistics on the prevalence of smoking were not routinely collected when Bob began smoking in the 1960s. However, in 1974, 51% of men in Great Britain smoked compared to 22% today.
Smoking will claim the lives of some 300 people in Swindon this year alone.
Evidence shows you’re 4 times more likely to successfully quit if you get professional help.
In Swindon in 2013/14, 1,279 smokers were helped to quit by Swindon Stop Smoking Services.
Stopping smoking greatly reduces the risk of having a stroke.
The benefits of stopping smoking start straight away – within eight hours your blood carbon monoxide levels drop and your blood oxygen levels increase to normal levels. Within 24 hours, your risk of a sudden heart attack falls and within a year your risk of coronary heart disease is half that of someone still using tobacco.
Victoria Tagg (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Communications & Insight
Swindon Borough Council
Tel: 01793 46 3113
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