As I run the office for Freedom To Choose I receive many letters from individuals and publicans alike, like Eileen Earnshow, an 82 year old retired BBC librarian forced out onto the cold streets surrounding her local library or Sue Hunter, licencee of the Nag's Head in Leeds who says, "four pubs around her are closing every week."
I am not the only one at F2C who hears from the public at the sharp end of this wretched smoking ban, my colleague Phil Johnson, (Pubs & Clubs liaison Officer for F2C,) relates this story told to him by a relative of the people concerned in the story below. These are real people and real events.
Over to you Phil:
In times gone by there was a thriving hub of the community-the local pub. No surprise there then! For years the pub serviced the needs of the rather large community surrounding the building, Thursday nights saw a steady trickle of newly paid workers, eager to regale each other of the weeks activities workwise-thus far. Fridays were normally a day of arduous toil for these hungover grafters.
Friday night was 'lift off' night as all habituees had been paid, drinks flowed, happiness reigned, cash tills rang constantly and 'Beryl' (identity protected) was oft seen to disappear upstairs to bury another £200 in the safe.
Saturdays was a similar story with the exception that 'Beryl would shut on time but still be open, if you see what I mean ;-) .
'Harold', 'Beryls' other half, was a mountain of a man with not a violent bone in his body but nobody messed with 'big H'. It was an unwritten law of the district, he had the total respect of the local community. Any sort of problems and Harold was the man to talk to, the font of all knowledge, a quiet but very intelligent man of the world.
As a busy community pub on the outskirts of a city it was not uncommon to be turning over £14K-£15K per week. The food side consisted merely of filled cobs & rolls at dinner times and the true benefactors of this very busy pub was the Chinese takeaway over the road. 'Beryl' was quite happy to allow her patrons the luxury of availing themselves of the outside seating to eat their foil wrapped meals whilst enjoying their beer as well. All in all a most convivial hostelry where the licensees knew the value of good customers.
The couple had run the pub for some 20 years, enjoying well deserved holidays abroad or here in Britain, always being welcomed home by their vast army of customers. Life was good. But then something happened that could not have been foreseen, something that ripped the very heart out of this social juggernaut of a hostelry.
The total workplace ban that engulfed the country on July 1st, 2007 made a mockery of this thriving business.
'Beryl', undaunted by this development simply moved the smokers into the back bar where there was always a door to the garden open-for easy escape one can only assume! It was quite noticeable that the front room was somewhat lacking in custom for the majority of the customers smoked.
All signage was prominently displayed as per the law, EHO's made appointments and checked that all was in compliance with this wonderful law, the law that promised millions of new customers to each and every hostelry in the land!
As summer turned to autumn and then to winter, Beryl & Harold saw turnover dropping like a stone in a pond. They decided to put on acts at night, pub quiz night was inaugerated & curry nights started (in a pub that had never bothered with food!). All this endeavour was to no avail. Takings still dropped. Worse was to come.
One of the few non smokers that used the pub informed the Environmental Health dept that smokers were still smoking in the back room of the pub and as an upstanding citizen of the land (and a non smoker!) this blatant lawbreaking must be stopped. The inevitable visits started, with the inevitable threats of pecuniary disembowelment via the courts-warnings were issued. They had no option but to stop the smokers using the back room.
Beryl became pale and drawn. Harold withdrew into himself, still a mountainous man but now terse, short tempered and not a man to be messed with in any way, shape or form.
Now, 15 months into the ban, the pub was struggling to turn over £2K per week; times were bleak but the non smoker who now enjoyed his dinner time ritual of 2 pints in splendid isolation at the bar considered his 'smoke free lot a happy lot'.
The stress became too much for Harold. He became very ill, visited the hospital for routine investigation and never returned having suffered a massive heart attack during the investigative process. Beryl was beside herself with grief and the brewery shut the now failed pub.
Beryl now lives on her own in a tiny council provided bungalow on whatever meagre benefits the state afford her. The pub now stands alone, graffiti adorned boards cover every window and doorway of this once thriving community pub. Redevelopment awaits this once proud monument of our social structure.
As for the hoardes of people who used this once proud establishment, well they have found a new game to play: it's called "garden hopping"!
The rules are very simple. Whoevers turn it is to host the weekend relaxations of drinking and smoking goes to the local ASDA and fills the car up with cheap booze. Many have already constucted drinking shelters (90% enclosed I might add) in their back gardens with tables, chairs and ashtrays in abundance. In fact a couple of them sport the ashtrays from the once vibrant hub of the community!
Every weekend they enjoy themselves the way they have always enjoyed themselves and will continue to enjoy themselves in the time honoured way of the working man.
The government may have changed the rules to suit the anti smoking brigade but what have they actually achieved in doing so? People have adapted to a different way of relaxing with pint & fag. People have shunned the pubs causing great distress to the pubco's-but so what! Had the pubco's had any balls in the first place they would have stood up for themselves against this so called healthism, the healthism that is set to save millions of lives yet certainly cost Harold his!
We had an establishment here that was turning over good money, week in, week out, yet it is now gone forever (as has Harold) just so that the big pharmaceuticals can make even more money on the back of the most carefully crafted piece of propaganda this country has ever witnessed.
The law cannot be proven to have saved one single life but the stress caused by this law has certainly caused a death!
The irony of this sad, but truthful tale, is that the ignorant non smoker is now complaining about his local pub being shut. The good news however, is that he has never been invited to any "garden hopping" events-nor ever will be. He is the new leper within the colony for he is shunned by all that surround him, so in a weird sort of way there is justice in this miserable control freak country of ours!
As told to Phil Johnson, Pubs&Clubs liaison officer for Freedom To Choose.