It’s been sunny in England for the past few days, and each day I’ve taken the opportunity to find a pub garden in which to sit with a beer and a cigarette.
I was thinking about how, in their lives, people get caught up in political events of one sort or other. They get caught up in wars and revolutions and famines and droughts. But I didn’t get caught up in anything like that. I’ve never been in fear of losing my life. I’ve never been a refugee. I’ve never been homeless or penniless or even hungry.
I’ve been lucky. I’ve had a very easy life.
The biggest political upheavals I’ve been caught up in have both been… smoking bans.
It’s quite amusing really.
And yet both of them brought considerable social upheaval and division.
The first smoking ban was the pot smoking ban which my generation started flouting in the 1960s. I don’t know quite how it happened, or why it happened. But I arrived back in university one day to find my friends sitting round giggling. While I was away they’d somehow got hold of some pot, and they were all smoking it. I was horrified, and, at least to start with, refused to touch the stuff.
But everything changed after that. And it never really ever quite went back to normal. Because fairly soon people were being arrested and charged with possession, and fined and sometimes even sent to prison. And a whole bunch of intelligent middle class kids had become long-haired outsiders with their own subculture, deeply estranged from the “straight” culture around them, in which they’d grown up.
There followed all the psychedelic music of the era, and psychedelic drugs to go with it. It was a strange and turbulent time in which to live.
I suppose that I gradually got sick of the subculture’s mysticism and irrationality and cultishness. And 10 years later I was back in university, working in research, building electronics, and writing computer programmes. I’d returned to classical reason, and to “straight” culture. I’d returned to normality.
And most of my university friends did the same. I’d run into them a few years later, and they’d got married and bought houses and were holding down jobs. The social divisions that had emerged in the 1960s gradually healed over.
Yet the subculture never died. It’s still around. There are lots of people still smoking pot. A fair number of my fellow computer programmers more or less swore by it. I’d guess that about half the country smokes pot (or has done so at one time or other), and has been continuing to do so for many decades. It’s endemic.
But I pretty much returned to beer and cigarettes. And mathematics and reason.
Which is where we get to the second smoking ban: the tobacco smoking ban. And once again I found myself an outsider, and deeply estranged from the newly-antismoking main culture around me. I seek out fellow tobacco smokers these days like I used to seek out fellow pot smokers back in the 1960s. There are many, many parallels between the two periods.
Not the least of which is that they both centre on legal prohibitions on smoking the dried leaves of a plant.
You’d think that people would have better things to do than become fixated on something so utterly trivial, so utterly unimportant, as smoking.
But some people can manage it. They really are quite incredibly small-minded.
Which reminds me that my latest batch of tobacco plants has emerged in the sunshine of the past few days. That’s another parallel. I used to grow pot back in the 1970s. But that was then. Now I grow tobacco.