I experienced the smoking ban, when it came, as dispossession. Once (in fact the day before) my local pub had been mine, and I was greeted by name every day, very often with a pint of lager waiting on the bar for me as I walked in. I even had my own table, where I was accustomed to sit, newspaper spread before me.
And then one day I was dispossessed. The pub ceased to be my pub, and became other people’s, although the other people never came. Thereafter I always sat outside, like a man dispossessed of his house, but still sitting on its doorstep.
And, ten years later, I still feel as dispossessed as I did on the day that first found myself sitting outside my local pub.
But this sort of dispossession must be a very common experience. One day you’re the owner of a house, and the next day someone else is living in it. One day you’re a trusted manager in some company, and the next day you’re fired. One day you’re the president or prime minister of some country, and the next day you’ve been ousted. It happens all the time.
Brexit was a dispossession. The EU was dispossessed of Britain, and many Britons felt dispossessed from the EU. But it was also a repossession. “They took back their country,” said Donald Trump approvingly, as he watched from Scotland. And that was also quite true.
It’s the same now in the USA. Donald Trump no doubt sees himself as repossessing America for the Americans. But at the same time the US left-liberal establishment has felt dispossessed. Particularly since they thought it was their country, and that Hillary Clinton was going to be its next President. It was “her turn,” just like Bill Clinton said. She fully expected to be President. She felt entitled to the Presidency.
Half of America is feeling just like I did on 1 July 2007, sitting outside the River: dispossessed.
There’s another dispossession about to take place, I believe. And that is that alarmist climate scientists are about to be dispossessed of NASA, the EPA, and other organisations which they took ownership of some 20 or 30 years ago. They’re all going to find themselves sitting outside, dispossessed. They’ll complain just as bitterly as any of the other dispossessed. They’ll say it’s the beginning of a dark age in which Science has been subverted.
I suspect that one day the healthists and antismokers in the medical profession will also find that they have been dispossessed of their status. They took over the profession in the 1980s or 1990s, and they no doubt think that they own it. But one day they’ll find that their desks have been cleared, and the contents stuffed in cardboard boxes, and left outside the door for them to collect. And as pubs and restaurants fill up again with smokers, they’ll complain that it’s the Death of Medicine.
Pablo Picasso was Spanish, but after the Spanish civil war he never returned to Spain. He lived for most of his life in the south of France, not far from Spain. And most likely he felt dispossessed, as did many of his fellow countrymen. They had become exiles from their home country. There are exiles of this sort all over the world, exiled from one country or other, very often with old flags of a lost country hung above the hearth, surrounded by mementos of a lost era.
Most likely, every time any political party loses power, the losers always feel dispossessed. And the winners are the dispossessed who are gleefully repossessing their rightful possessions. For in the matter of possession, someone is always being dispossessed as someone else repossesses. For every winner, there is a loser. Or for every loser, there’s a winner.
Except in the case of smoking bans, the dispossessed smokers were not replaced by a new breed of non-smokers gleefully repossessing what they had once been dispossessed of. The River’s smoking clientele were not replaced by a non-smoking clientele. The River instead became a restaurant, with its bars and stools as surplus to requirement as the altars and chapels in a church which has been converted into stables. It may as well have become a bowling alley or a snooker club.
All life is perhaps a cycle of dispossession and repossession. One day one flag is raised on the flagpole, the next day another.
There used to be a time when English football ruled the world. But it’s been 50 years since England won the World Cup, and England’s flag waved above the stadium. 50 years on, England fans still feel dispossessed.