But for the smoking ban, I think I would have carried on slowly developing Idle Theory, as I had already done for 30 years, tinkering away at it like some eccentric English inventor in his garden workshop. But when the war began, I joined the King’s Own Smokers. Or would have, had it been formed.
My grandfather had a garden workshop. It was so small that only one person could stand inside it. It was full of saws and hammers and chisels and nails and screws, in boxes and shelves and hooks and racks that completely covered every wall. It smelled of sawdust and glue – a glue that he used to boil up on a Bunsen burner, and whose smell I’d probably recognise today. My grandfather always seemed to have three of every kind of tool, and so he had three different vices along the front of his workbench. There was one for holding metal things, and another for holding small wooden things, and another for holding large wooden things. And he had saws to cut metal things, and little saws to cut small wooden things, and great big saws as long as his arm to cut large wooden things. And he spent hours and hours in his little workshop, boiling up glue and building piles of sawdust and wood shavings. I don’t remember anything that my grandfather actually made. Somehow or other I never saw the finished product. But I still vividly remember all the tools and the vices and the sawdust and shavings.
My grandfather also went off to war. He didn’t volunteer, so I suppose he must have eventually got conscripted. And he must have joined some brigade or battalion, and been shown how to use a rifle and a bayonet. And then he was shipped across the Channel to France, where he arrived in November 1918. I suppose he must have been assigned to some trench somewhere in Flanders. But I don’t think he ever got to fire his rifle, because WW1 came to an end on 11 November 1918. And so he was sent back to England, and to his little workshop in the garden.
I used to think that, in my own life, I’d managed to avoid being called up to fight in a war. But these days I don’t think I really did manage. Because the war I’m now engaged in fighting is another Great War, and another World War. It’s a war that’s been launched by antismokers against smokers, everywhere all over the world. WW1 only lasted for about 4 years, but this new Great War has been being fought for 100 years or more already, and will probably continue to be fought for another 100 years. And I think it’s going to become more and more bitter, more and more intense. For the past 50 or 60 years the antismokers have been winning. In fact, they think that they have more or less won the war, and that all they need do is liquidate the last few pockets of resistance. But I think that resistance from smokers is only just beginning to stiffen. And there are about 1.5 billion of them in the world.
It’s a war between two opposing visions of life. It’s a war between those people who want to live planned, ordered, ideal lives and those people who want to live free, spontaneous lives. It’s a war between order and chaos, freedom and constraint. And I’m fighting for freedom – and for the chaotic little freedom to be able to sit in a pub and drink a beer and smoke a cigarette. It was a freedom everyone used to enjoy until the antismokers took it away, because it didn’t fit into the planned, ordered, regulated world that they were set upon constructing. For theirs was to be an ideal, “smoke-free” world. It’s probably also going to be a beer-free, alcohol-free, and pub-free world. They just haven’t got round to telling us about that yet.
I don’t make plans for myself. And I don’t make plans for anyone else either. I’ve never wanted to rule the world, and if I ever did my first act would be to set everyone free of my rule. I don’t even have any clear idea of what the world will be like or should be like in the future. But the antismokers all have a detailed vision of a future ideal world guiding them and inspiring them. They know exactly what it will be like, right down to the last windmill and solar panel and smoke-free, alcohol-free, meat-free, sugar-free, fat-free, salt-free, music-free, laughter-free restaurant (if even restaurants are even permitted in their ideal world). And if they ruled the world – and they very nearly do – they’d make it into a prison in which their every command would be obeyed by everyone everywhere. Because they want to control everyone, order everyone, constrain everyone, and eradicate every trace of chaotic, untidy, dirty, spontaneous freedom from everywhere.
And it’s precisely because there’s such a fundamental clash lying at the root of it that it’s going to become such a Great War. For we’re either going to live in a planned, regulated, constrained future, or an open, anarchic, spontaneous future.
One day maybe I’ll get back to my little workshop in the garden, and go back to gluing the various bits of Idle Theory together. And, just like my grandfather, my little workshop has got three of every kind of tool: I’ve got at least 3 computers. But, unlike my grandfather, I’m a fairly early irregular volunteer for this war, and I suspect I won’t ever manage to get back home. I’m probably going to spend the rest of my life fighting the antismoking controllers in the new Great War.