I bought a painting a few months ago. It’s very unusual for me to buy a painting. I think the last time I bought a painting was when I was on holiday some time in about 1988. I tend to buy ‘useful’ things. Things that I can use. Like food and books and computers and whisky and tobacco.
It was a little watercolour painting, maybe about 9 inches square, of a very English country church surrounded by autumnal trees. It was in the window of a charity shop, lit by direct sunlight which brought all its colours to life – greens, browns, reds, yellows, blues -. It was a rainbow of a painting. And it was clearly the work of an accomplished watercolourist. It takes great skill to paint this way. I’ve tried and I just can’t do it.
And it was beautifully framed behind glass. And it was only 20 quid. And it really needed to be rescued from the bright sunlight shining on it.
So I bought it right then and there.
I was thinking about it today, and wondering why I’d bought it. What was I doing, strolling slowly along a street, looking in shop windows on a sunny afternoon, when I normally march briskly past with my eyes fixed in front of me?
And then I realised that the charity shop was just a few yards from one of the pubs I’ve come to frequent, and it all fell into place. I’d obviously just had a long slow pint at the pub, sitting outside in the sun, smoking cigarettes. And I’d come away from it feeling relaxed and cheerful, perhaps even slightly expansive. And I’d sauntered slowly up the road, in no hurry at all, until I’d chanced upon the painting. And if I hadn’t been into the pub and had a drink and a smoke, I wouldn’t have bought it.
People talk about the economic costs of smoking bans (if they admit there are any costs at all) as if they fall solely on pubs, as smokers like me desert them. But it’s much deeper than that. Smoking bans affect all trade. Because happy thriving pubs are full of happy, expansive people who will not only buy a few pints for themselves and their friends, but who will carry on doing the same once they’ve stepped cheerfully back out onto the street. Such people will buy all sorts of other things as well. They’ll buy flowers and presents and postcards. And paintings.
And they do so because they’re feeling happy and outgoing.
It was why I’d bought my first painting while I was on holiday in 1988. I’d probably come out of some pub or restaurant feeling rather mellow, and encountered it in much the same way. And it’s also why I always come back from any holiday anywhere laden with all sorts of things that I’d never normally buy.
Pubs and cafes aren’t just places where people go to refresh themselves. They’re centres of happiness and contentment. People go into them feeling thirsty or tired or anxious, and after a beer or a coffee or two, they feel a lot better – and a lot more inclined to stick around and spend money.
Or at least they used to be centres of happiness and contentment until the smoking ban came along. Now they’re much emptier. Non-smokers may enjoy them more, but smokers like me find no happiness or contentment inside any of them. And that means that we don’t spend inside them, and we don’t spend outside them either. We buy whatever we went out to buy, and then we go home, because there’s no longer any pleasure in going out, and we just want to get the job done as rapidly as possible.
And I’d guess that happy smokers and drinkers probably spend outside pubs 10 times what they spend inside them. And maybe happy fat people spend 20 times more (and it shows, bless ’em!). And the economic loss from driving away smokers doesn’t just fall on pubs, but on all the shops and businesses that surround them.
And since smoking bans have made shopping a largely unhappy experience for the 20% to 25% of the population (sometimes much more) that smokes, nobody should be too surprised if sales of everything dip by something like 20% or 25%. Probably not as much as that, because after all I still go shopping. But I’m very definitely not a happy shopper these days.
And since smoking bans have been multiplying in the USA and Europe, perhaps it might help explain this:
The UK could be facing “the most serious financial crisis” ever seen, the governor of the Bank of England has warned after unveiling a surprise move to pump £75 billion into the ailing economy.
Sir Mervyn King’s stark comments last night that the economic crisis could be worse than the Depression of the 1930s came after the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted to boost its quantitative easing (QE) programme – effectively printing more cash – from £200 billion to £275 billion and hold interest rates at 0.5%.
George Soros: “Financial markets are driving the world towards another Great Depression with incalculable political consequences. The authorities, particularly in Europe, have lost control of the situation.”
A Depression is something during which people stop spending. And “depression” is actually a very good word for it. In a depression, people are depressed. They aren’t happy and outgoing and free-spending. Is it because they’ve got no money that they’re depressed? Or is it because they’re depressed that they won’t spend any money?
In my case, it’s very definitely the latter. I’ve got quite a bit of money that I could spend. But I don’t spend it. Because I no longer enjoy going shopping. And I no longer enjoy going to pubs and restaurants and cafes. And I no longer enjoy going to museums and art galleries and theatres. I’ve become an outcast in my own land. The only place that I enjoy being is at home. And all because of the smoking ban. There is no other reason.
It’s why I bang on about the smoking ban every day. It’s a dark shadow over the land. A shadow which extends everywhere, and over everything, and from which there is no escape.
And if we’re about to enter a global Depression, all I can say is that my own personal Depression began years ago on 1 July 2007, when – overnight – Britain became a horrible and depressing and unwelcoming place. If the world is entering a Depression, it will have just finally caught up with me, four years later.
And should anyone seek my advice as to how to escape from that Depression, well, my advice would be very simple. And it would be to…
Well, it’s so bleeding obvious really, what I would say, that I can’t be bothered to say it.