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Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Observations on the smoking ban by Frank Davis

I readily admit that I do not have a way with words nor am I a literate blogger but I do try to learn from more seasoned bloggers like Dick Puddlecote, Leg-iron or Old Holborn et al. So it was like a breath of fresh air that I happened across a fellow blogger, new to blogging in his own right. This erudite blogger is Frank Davis.

I feel no shame about reproducing his blog entry entitled Hanging on in Quiet Desperation as he has put into words what I couldn't when refering to this evil smoking ban.

Here is Frank's story:

Hanging on in Quiet Desperation

It wasn't that I encountered nobody who looked forward to the smoking ban. At one bar, when I asked if anyone was looking forward to it, the old man beside me said, "I am." He had, it emerged, been waiting for 60 years, ever since as a soldier he'd had to endure watching films in smoke-filled cinemas in North Africa. But when I left, I realised I'd neglected to ask on which side he'd been fighting.

Nobody at the River wanted a smoking ban. But nobody complained about it either. Most people seemed to see it as just another impending fact of life, just like any other fact of life. It was something to take in one's stride. Some saw it as an opportunity to give up smoking. The landlord of the River was one of these, loudly declaring that he was going to stop smoking when the ban came into force. Magnanimously, he was going to set up a large covered area outside for the smokers.

"It'll be no bother," another customer told me brightly. "You'll just nip outside for a quick fag now and then."

Others were not so sanguine. Some of the older people said they'd stop coming. As for me, I couldn't see myself enjoying any more afternoons of quiet contemplation inside the River, sans cigarettes. But I really didn't know how I'd feel about it.

In the months leading up to the ban, the River's landlord started gradually closing down the large smoking area, and shepherding the smokers into a smaller bar. Evicted from my familar seat, and with too few bar stools for the throng, I started taking my pint outside to a table by the river.

The day the ban came into force was rather unreal. Everyone was outside. And once inside, it felt like I was being watched, and the welcoming landlord and his staff had become law enforcers. The No Smoking signs plastered everywhere may as well have said No Smokers. I felt unwelcome.

"It's not a free country any more," someone said to me outside.

"There's nothing that can be done about it," said another. "Except to wonder what they'll do next."

They. They were the faceless powers to whom there was no appeal. They were the MPs to whom there was no point writing.

"There's no point. Nothing's going to change. They don't listen."

And I started to feel angry. Angry at the ban. But also angry that nobody was revolting. And angry that I was myself so docile.

But what could be done? I think that if it had just been that smokers who flouted the ban were liable to get a £50 fine slapped on them, more would have been encouraged to revolt. Some were certainly angry enough. But the law would also punish landlords in whose pubs smoking was discovered to be fined £2500. An individual smoker who dared to smoke inside would be making his landlord liable to a far heavier fine than he. It was a sort of collective punishment. A bit like punishing partisans by shooting entire villages. Only this wasn't Oradour, but England.

I never had another drink inside the River. On dry and windless or sunny days, I'd buy a pint and sit outside by the river, like one expelled or banished. My sense of being a member of a little pub community began to die. I no longer felt at home inside the pub. I no longer lingered to chat and pick up the local news. I no longer nodded to familiar faces. I'd buy my pint, and head straight outside. The once welcoming pub had become an unwelcoming place. And when winter set in, and it became too cold to sit outside, I ceased to go at all.

Months later I encountered one of the River's non-smoking regulars.

"We never see you at the River," he said. "Have you been away?"

"No. It's just that if I can't have a cigarette with my pint, I don't want to go."

"It's a bad law," he sighed. "They ought to change it. The bar's empty these days. A few nights back, when I went in, I was the only one there."

And I began to encounter strange denials of reality.

One day the following summer, I'd walked into the River, and ordered a pint, but the barrel needed changing, and the barmaid said, "Would you like me to bring it to your table?"

"And where am I sitting?" I enquired.

"Why, where you always sit," she said. "On the table in the corner."

"I haven't sat inside this pub for a year or more," I replied. "I always sit outside now. Had you not noticed?"

One afternoon I encountered some of the regulars sitting outside, and joined them in conversation. They were talking about the numbers of pubs that were closing. They listed five or six pubs that had closed.

"The smoking ban?" I suggested.

"Oh no, " they replied. "It's got nothing to do with that. It's the bad weather. And nobody's got any money. And there's the credit crunch."

I mentioned one pub that I knew was still open.

"That one's doing really well," they said.

"Why's that?" I asked.

"Because it's got a large covered smoking area."

The landlords I spoke to were uniformly upbeat, and strangely oblivious to what was happening in front of their noses. One afternoon I dropped into a little town pub which I knew quite well, and which would usually have had a dozen customers or more on its bar stools and its tables. It was completely empty.

"A bit empty today," I remarked to the landlady as she filled the half pint that I intended to gulp down before leaving.

"It's always been like this at this time of day," she said. "It fills up at night."

No, it's not always been like this, my lips would not say, as I felt for loose change in my pocket.

It was as if all concerned were in complete denial. The pub had always been empty like this, when it had not been. The smoking ban was not the cause of pub closures, but was the reason why some pubs thrived. And I had been sitting at my customary table for an entire year, when I had not been. It was always possible to pop outside for a quick drag, even when it was impossible.

All concerned had just bitten their lips, and tried to make the best of the new situation, about which nothing could be done anyway. The customers had kept soldiering on uncomplainingly, hanging on in quiet desperation. And because their customers weren't complaining, the pub landlords did not complain either. And because the landlords weren't complaining, the pubcos that ran them didn't know what was happening. And they put their catastrophic collapse of sales down to the weather, or the credit crunch, or the fact that nobody had any money. Anything but the smoking ban, which had been declared to be a great success.

When the landlady had said, "It's always been like this," I had bitten my lip and left the truth unsaid, just like everyone else in this strange conspiracy of silence. I had not wanted to shatter her illusions. I had not wanted to break the news to her that the army of non-smokers who were supposed to fill the pubs after the smoking ban were never going to arrive.

Outside the River, the landlord did indeed set up a covered smoking area. It was not large. It was a sort of tent, with seats inside sufficient for about four exiled souls. I never saw anybody sat inside it. A few months after it appeared, it abruptly vanished.


Rab C. Nesbitt said...

Excellent post. I am a smoker myself. I work nights and there is a 'lockdown' between 11pm and 6am when it is impossible to leave the building. To be honest, it can be a nightmare going 7 hours without, particularly on a stressfull shift. Dayshift are able to leave the building at any time, provided they are on as break. We on nights cannot.

Anonymous said...

Conspiracy of silence is exactly it - denial and nothing more. Until that veil is penetrated and truth allowed to enter the picture, it won't be just the smoking ban but everything that comes along with it, all part and parcel of the game plan to destroy the nation and break the will of the people for ever increasing takings of liberties until eventually there are none left. It's a quite sad yet very realistic description of what has happened - complete denial and a bit of a game really, everyone pretending the truth is a lie, the lies all true. That's probably why they picked on smoking thinking it would be the easiest division to pull off and result in the self-destructive silent conspiracy that followed. Very sad, very destructive, very much nothing to do with smoking or health but to do with destruction of the nation-state, and the powers at the top, know it.

Anonymous said...

Wait until all these 'uninterested' parties get the next load of regulations on the list.
1. No more than 3 drinks served in any one evening to each customer.
2. Drinking must take place while sitting down.
3. No drinking outside any pub.
4. Anti drinkers calling for even more warnings and price rises.
etc. etc.

Then 'they' are coming for the 'fatties'

Mr. Mojo said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I have been observing the same thing in Slovenia. Only it's worse here. The fine for the establishment is set to up to 33,000 EUR. The government doesn't even need health inspectors to enforce the ban. The bar owners are so scared shitless that they would rather chop your head off than let you have an illegal smoke.

I also noticed the denial and the giving-in trend. People freezing their asses off, sitting under a gas heater in the middle of December stating that "at least my clothes don't smell of smoke anymore". Pathetic.

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