As I was writing last night about pill poppers, I remembered a conversation I’d once had with my father many, many years ago.
We were living in the Gambia in West Africa. And I was six years old. And we were talking about food, and I’d just declared that in the future food would come in the form of tablets. And my father asked if I was really sure about that.
“Wouldn’t you like there to be big plates of eggs and bacon and sausages and beans and toast?” he asked, conjuring up the image of a sumptuous dish.
“No!” I replied very firmly, shaking my head vigorously. And my father looked surprised and disappointed. Because my father loved food, and he particularly loved eggs and bacon.
But then for me, at age six, eating was just a chore. I had better things to do than sit at a table eating, particularly if a lot of the food consisted of vegetables that I didn’t like: I had important games to play outside in the garden with my battleship fleets.
For me, eating was something that had to be done, and the sooner it could be got over and done with, the better. And in many ways, 62 years later, my attitude to food remains much the same. I want fast food. And if I’m cooking for myself, I want the cooking done in 15 – 20 minutes or less. I’m no sort of gourmand. I don’t linger over my food, savouring each mouthful, or anything like that.
And I was thinking last night, after I’d posted up The Pill Poppers, that maybe antismokers had a similar attitude. They didn’t enjoy food. And they didn’t enjoy drink. And maybe they didn’t enjoy anything. When they went to a restaurant they just wanted a plate of edible food placed in front of them as quickly as possible, for them to eat as quickly as possible, so that they could leave as quickly as possible. And they didn’t want to have to endure music tinkling in the background, or anyone’s conversation, or (least of all) anyone’s smoke. And they had the same attitude to any bar or cafe. They went there to get something non-alcoholic to drink, and they wanted it as quickly as possible, so that they could drink it as quickly as possible, and leave as quickly as possible. For them restaurants should just sell food, and bars should just sell drink, and that’s all they should do.
But when I go to a bar, I usually want to stay as long as possible. I want to listen to the music, and hear snatches of conversation, and catch the odours of food and perfume and smoke. And I’ll linger as long as I possibly can over a beer and a few cigarettes (or at least I used to). And I won’t want to leave. Because I don’t actually go to bars to drink. I can do that at home. I go for the companionship and the conversation and the music and the pool games and everything else. The drink is almost irrelevant.
In many ways, what the antis are doing is to strip pubs and restaurants down to their functional minimum. Once they’ve got smoking banned, they’ll next want alcohol banned, and music banned, and conversation banned. They’ll ban everything which is irrelevant to the core function of pubs and restaurants – selling food and drink. In one essay by Michael Siegel, years ago, he mounted exactly this argument against smoking in bars and restaurants. The core function of a bar or restaurant, he wrote, wasn’t to provide a smoky atmosphere, so why should it be allowed? At the time I remember thinking that the core function didn’t include music or candles or conversation or newspapers or chess games, so why should they be allowed either? But he was solely fixed on smoking.
The antis strip away the unnecessary. And that’s why modern architecture is devoid of ornament. It’s not part of the core function of a building to have caryatid columns or elaborate friezes showing prancing horses and gods and heroes – so it’s all stripped away by the architectural modernist antis, who’ve been in command for 100 years.
But when all the inessentials have been stripped away, the end result may be strictly functional, but it’s usually also cold and barren and heartless. Maybe there isn’t any “core function” of anything? Maybe everything is multi-functional? Or has no “function” at all?