I occasionally get talking to people in pub gardens. And yesterday was one of those days. I got talking to some people who I’ve occasionally talked to before. One of them had even completed my ISIS smokers’ survey years before.
They were all sitting out in the pub garden with drinks and cigarettes. And when I joined them they were talking about plastic bottles floating around in the world’s oceans. All of them seemed to be agreed that we humans were driving the world’s whales to extinction with the millions of plastic bags and bottles we’d deposited in the sea. One of them said that a whale had been washed up somewhere, and found to be chock full of plastic. All seemed gloomily agreed that we were destroying the world.
I demurred. I said that whatever us humans did, this world would continue to exist for a lot longer than we ever would. And I wondered out loud where all the plastic bottles were coming from. One of them said that they were being dumped at sea by ships, rather than brought back to land.
The conversation rambled on into other topics, And it eventually got round to Trump and Brexit. All conversations always eventually arrive up at Trump and Brexit. And by then a couple of the others had wandered off somewhere, and there were just two of us left talking.
I said that I liked Donald Trump. And that I’d voted for Brexit. She said she didn’t like Trump. She thought he was an “egoist”, and only out for himself. And she hadn’t voted for Brexit, and thought Britain would be “stronger in Europe”. I agreed that Trump was a bit full of himself, but I couldn’t stand Hillary. She said she couldn’t stand Hillary either. Nobody liked her. And I said that Europe was going to break up. And she agreed. The whole thing was falling apart.
She also wasn’t bothered by immigration. “Would you stop people coming to England?” she asked. “Sure,” I said. “Why should we let absolutely anyone come in?”
In short, we completely disagreed about almost anything. But, sitting drinking and smoking, it was a perfectly amicable disagreement. And it’s always more interesting talking to people who you disagree with than it is talking to people you agree with. And she was interested too. She said she could talk to me for hours.
She asked me what TV I watched. I said I didn’t have a TV. I said I’d stopped watching TV a long time ago. I’d also stopped reading newspapers. I said that after the UK smoking ban, I’d changed completely. I said I used to be a bit left wing, but that had ended with the smoking ban. I said I had been quite pro-EU, but that all ended with the smoking ban too. I said I’d changed completely. I’d been turned upside down.
She listened attentively. She said that her father had been a communist. He’d even been to visit the Soviet Union in 1929. I think she said this in order to establish that she belonged on the political left, although I also felt that if you are a communist you probably don’t spend half your life sitting in pub gardens quaffing very large glasses of iced white wine, smoking cigarettes, and talking about whales.
It’s very unusual for any of these pub garden conversations to arrive up at the smoking ban. Trump and Brexit are pretty much standard topics of conversation. Maybe whales and plastic bottles too. But the smoking ban is something that nobody ever talks about. Perhaps because that’s the reason they’re all sitting outside in the first place, and it’s unmentionable.
And in these conversations I don’t usually mention it either. I’m quite happy to talk about plastic bottles and Donald Trump and the EU. But odds are that anyone who talks to me for an hour or so – and by this time we had been talking for an hour or so – will find the smoking ban getting a mention. People talk about whatever’s on their minds. And the smoking ban is something that’s always on my mind, like a stone in one of the shoes I’m wearing.
She didn’t say anything about the smoking ban. But I knew that it had almost certainly affected her adversely. For that was one of the principal findings of the survey: smokers were adversely affected by it in all sorts of ways. That’s pretty universal. But it’s also pretty universal that they don’t talk about it, even if they’re only sitting outside talking because of the smoking ban.
It’s a strange non-topic of conversation: smoking bans. And I think it’s because it’s a non-topic of conversation in the mainstream media. They never discuss it. And this is really why I don’t watch TV or read newspapers: they never talk about the one thing that really, really matters to me. So why should I listen to them?
After all, if they were all talking about plastic bags and bottles, it was probably because there’d been something on TV about whales full of plastic bags and bottles, and about how we were exterminating them, and how we were destroying the whole planet with our selfish, greedy consumption of all the stuff that comes in plastic bags or bottles, and we should be ashamed of ourselves. That’s standard stuff on BBC TV these days. And everyone ends up feeling ashamed and apologetic. And not just ashamed and apologetic about plastic bottles, but also about more or less everything else, including the carbon dioxide they exhale with every breath they take.
But I don’t watch TV. So I feel no shame.
Anyway she seemed puzzled what I did if I didn’t have a TV. I said I was very busy with all sorts of things. I said that I was working on a theory of ice ages. She took that in her stride without batting an eyelid. I guess she realised that she was talking to someone who didn’t think like she did at all: just the kind of guy who’d be interested in ice ages. Whatever next, huh?
But by then I’d given her a lift home, and was dropping her outside her house. “Doesn’t all the ice just melt anyway eventually?” she asked, as she got out of the car.