This morning I’ve been reviewing the events of the last few days, during which smokers have been meeting up in the Smoky Drinky Bar.
I’ve been reminded once again of one of the last occasions when smokers met up, at Stony Stratford, and comparing that occasion to this. At Stony Stratford, Dick Puddlecote organised a protest against a proposed street smoking ban in the little town. Some 200 people arrived, mostly by car. I myself drove 150 miles to get there. We listened to speeches by Dick Puddlecote and Nigel Farage and maybe even the town mayor. And then, because we had met up in a pub, we all bought drinks and milled around chatting indoors and outdoors. And then after a few hours, little by little, all concerned climbed back into their cars and drove away. The town smoking ban was not enacted, and the councillor who had proposed it subsequently lost his seat.
As I saw it, smokers from all over Britain had come together briefly in a small army to fight a battle. Ever afterwards, I’ve dreamed of bringing together smokers from all over the world to build a huge (and invincible) army to defeat (and utterly annihilate) Tobacco Control.
Last Saturday, 17 June 2017, in the Smoky Drinky Bar, I took a small first step towards that goal. I managed to get 10 – 15 people from all over the world, in Britain, USA, Australia, and New Zealand, and elsewhere, to meet up and drink and smoke and talk just like we did in Stony Stratford, but in a virtual pub rather than a real one.
I think that it was technically a great success. We could all see and hear each other perfectly well. If there were any technical problems they were mostly due to people having old or slow or small computers or mobile phones. Sometimes people appeared upside down (although I never saw it myself).
It was also socially a great success. Just like at Stony Stratford, although complete strangers to one another, all concerned got along very amicably. They all had something in common with each other: they were all smokers, and they had all shared the experience of being exiled from their pubs and cafes and clubs to the outdoors. Americans and Brits and Ozzies and Kiwis all got along wonderfully well.
And politically it was also a tiny success. At Stony Stratford, the political goal had been to prevent a street smoking ban. It was only incidentally and secondarily a social occasion. But in the Smoky Drinky Bar there was no singular political goal: it existed purely to bring people together. And that it succeeded in doing in a very small way. As a result of the Smoky Drinky Bar, some 20 or so people now know each other a lot better than they did a week ago. They know what they look like, and sound like. They even know what they wear and what they smoke and even how the insides of their homes are decorated.
There was another small political success in the Smoky Drinky Bar, which was that it managed to subvert the smoking bans that had driven smokers out of their bars and cafes, by creating a virtual online bar in which they could smoke and drink just like they had before. Smokers may no longer be able to meet up in real bars, but they can now do so in virtual bars. And the experience is almost as good. And this marks a singular defeat for Tobacco Control: as smoking is being denormalised in real bars, it is now being renormalised in virtual bars.
One important difference between Stony Stratford and the Smoky Drinky Bar is that the former was a one-day, once-in-a-lifetime event, while the Smoky Drinky Bar is – just like a real bar – an enduring venue. It will continue to exist as long as I continue to pay $12/month for it to be hosted on appear.in.
And we are therefore now in uncharted territory. I don’t really know what happens next.
It’s possible that, with too few customers to chat to one another, people will slowly drift away from the bar, because nobody is ever there. It may not achieve “escape velocity”. Depending on how it’s calculated, I estimate that there needs to be a base of anything between 80 and 2,500 regular visitors if there are always to be a few people in it at the same time purely by chance. And at the moment we only have between 10 and 20 people. And some of these may have looked in just once, never to return.
It isn’t possible for me, as the landlord or patron, to spend my entire time in the bar. I have other things to do. And so I’m now thinking of making a regular appearance in the bar during a restricted period during the evenings (after 7 pm) in the UK: a sort of Happy Hour. This seems to have been the peak period for visitors over the past few days. This should allow Americans and Brits and Europeans to meet fairly easily, at least if they want to talk to me. It’s not so good for Kiwis or Ozzies, however.
It is of course possible for other people to arrange among themselves when and where they’d like to meet up. The singular merit of the Smoky Drinky Bar for meetings is that the premium site is supposed to be able to accommodate 12 people at the same time, while the free sites can only accommodate 6 people (although only 3, in my experience).
And people may just pop in from time to time, just to see if there’s anyone there. But if they just look in, and immediately leave when they find no-one there, the chances of ever encountering anyone will be vanishingly small. My advice to such casual visitors is to stay in the bar a while and see whether someone else comes in.
One disadvantage of the bar is that it has, so to speak, only one table. Everyone who enters sits around one table together. And since, in my experience, most conversations work best with 2 – 6 people, it may all get rather difficult when there are 12 people sat around the single table, although it may be possible to arrange separate conversations by selectively muting other participants. But eight people is the most I’ve seen so far.
Anyway, the Smoky Drinky Bar has been quite successful so far. It is going to be around for the foreseeable future, and we may see it evolve in a variety of different ways.