Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Smoke without fire

I have what could reasonably be described as conflicting opinions on smoking. On the one hand, I've never smoked in my life. My g/f and I don't allow people to smoke in our house, banishing them to the garden if they want a ciggy, and if it were up to me everybody would give up smoking completely.

On the other hand, I can't stand the smoking ban. Don't get me wrong, I see the benefits of course, and suspect I hardly need to go through them fully here – the lack of stink on one's clothes/hair, the removal of the effects of passive smoking from the pub's employees and punters etc etc. But it's not that I have a problem with. Firstly, there's the fundamental nanny-state mollycoddling in banning an elective and legal activity, which should not be up to government. I just don't like that on a fundamental level.

Secondly there's the sort of smoker/non-smoker apartheid which has developed as smokers huddle outside pubs, indulging their habit in all weathers while the non-smokers either have to come outside and breathe their smoke anyway or abandon their conversation while they remain inside. Then there's the smell – pubs now smell of farts and sweat, which cigarette smoke used to mask rather effectively.

Now it seems that even e-cigarettes are coming into the line of fire of certain health groups. I think they're marvellous things, and I've never used one. My partner's mother, a committed smoker all her adult life despite a heart attack and two hospitalisations for breathing difficulties, had just these past few days managed to get off real cigarettes completely by using them. Eight days without smoking when she'd previously been singularly incapable of giving up.

They smell of warm candy floss rather than smoke. They contain no tar. There's no risk of passive smoking – they emit water vapour, not smoke. They allow people to stay together inside. In theory at least. (Recently a workmate of mine was told by an All Bar One manager that it was 'company policy' that e-cigs are forbidden in their bars. I can find no mention of this on their website or within their corporate communications – he and his companions chose to leave, taking their business with them. I just don't understand that attitude. The pub trade in Britain is in crisis, you'd think they'd welcome something which encourages people back inside.)

It also appears that the BMA is not taken with them. Despite Professor John Britton, the Royal College of Physicians' tobacco advisory group leader, pointing out that nicotine itself is no more hazardous than caffeine, the BMA want them 'heavily regulated' because they 'don't know they're safe'. There's also a concern that they could 'legitimise something that looks like smoking'. Well smoking real cigarettes is already confirmed as unsafe, hugely so. It also looks exactly like smoking, and is legitimate. So what would they rather have, in the absence of being able to simply make everybody stop completely?

I was, I'll confess, unaware that they could be legally sold to kids – that certainly should be regulated because anything which plays a role in starting children smoking should most wholeheartedly be discouraged. But most adults – almost a million in Britain already, apparently – buy them, I strongly suspect, as part of an effort to at least cut down on the real thing. That has certainly been the empirical evidence I've seen – plenty of my workmates now hardly smoke real fags at all, and a few have stopped altogether, thanks to e-cigs.

If a real hard-core smoker like my g/f's mum can give up because of them (and one of her friends now wants to try to do the same thing, having seen her success), then anybody can. You'd have thought the BMA, and others like them, would encourage something like that.

Monday, 25 March 2013

What happens in Dublin...

I'd like to tell you a little bit about the city of Dublin, where I spent a fun couple of days this weekend just passed. Regrettably, I can't because apart from a restorative circuit of St Stephen's Green on Saturday lunchtime, I saw precious little of it which wasn't the inside of some drinking establishment or other.

I don't think I've been so thoroughly (or pleasantly) soaked in alcohol for a very, very long time, and in the true spirit of stag and hen affairs, what happens in Dublin stays in Dublin. (Either that, or my memory of the thing is inexplicably patchy. One of those two things is definitely the case). I can tell you bits of what I do remember, though.

We were, by any measure, a civilised bunch. Not for this intrepid eight the cringeworthy shame of humiliating the stag in a mankini or some other sartorial horror. Indeed we were described by one of the musicians playing a pub we visited as, "...the best-behaved stag party in Dublin." I recognise that this would be a source of shame for some stag groups. Not for me. I've always hated sort of shit and have no desire to see even a good mate's bare arse on even the most ribald of weekends, let alone parade it though the streets of an unfamiliar city and then try to gain access to a pub.

So, gain access to pubs we did. Without any difficulty at any one of them, on account of the fact that even shit-faced we were a civilised lot. I was then, once inside, faced with the task of making up for the years of lost 'real' Guinness drinking I'd inflicted upon myself by never having been to Ireland before. I can report, dear reader, that I did my best. We all did. The Guinness is indeed different, though not as much as some would have you believe. But nowhere was it served badly, nowhere did it have that metallic tang it acquires if it hasn't been cared for correctly, and nowhere did it taste better than in the 360-degree Dublin panorama that was the bar at the top of the brewery.

I congratulate the eight men, good and true, who did their best to drink their own weight while at the same time not descending into that awful Brits-abroad stereotype. Good luck with the forthcoming wedding, Mr M. (Don't tell anybody I said this but he's batting well above his average there).   ;o)

I look forward to seeing all of you again on April 20th.

Edit: I've just had a flashback of one of the more vivid sights of the weekend. A lad sitting on the stone steps of one of Dublin's grander buildings, being copiously sick into his own hand, while his killer-heeled girlfriend kicked him repeatedly in the ribs. Oh, Dublin in the spring...

Thursday, 21 March 2013

3 into 1 does go, sometimes

I have, to say the least, been indolent in my blog entries lately. But there's nothing like a bit of self-indulgence to prompt a renewal of effort. I should warn you that if you find self-congratulatory back slapping nauseating, look away now.

I have, in what I hope will also be sufficiently energising to renew my efforts at writing fiction, sort of been published in print for the first time. I say 'sort of' because I am only one of twenty writers published in this book, and a very long way behind some of them.


Some time ago I entered a competition organised in an effort raise money for The Arthrogyposis Group, in which the idea was to write a short story which linked a black queen chess piece, a bunch of flowers and a ten-pound note. I entered and, already to my considerable delight, won fourth prize. This brought a very welcome two hundred spondoolies which I banked and spent some time ago, but much more gratifyingly the promise of an actual printed, tangible book in which my story would appear.

It had originally been planned for Christmas but, and this is something I understand all too well after spending 20 years as a print buyer, things were evidently rather delayed. This evening, when I got home from work, there was an envelope containing said document, entirely unexpectedly. I can't tell you how pleasing this is. Anyway, enough of the patting of my own back.

Should you feel sufficiently interested to buy the thing, you'd be supporting a good cause. And I'd be extremely flattered. For God's sake don't feel obliged, but it's available from here for a tenner including the postage if you feel like it. Just promise not to compare the winner too closely with mine - it's an absolute lesson in just how far I've got to go before I can consider myself a writer.