Tuesday, 8 March 2016

smoke filled rooms

See you in Heaven or next time whichever's first
I ain't USDA prime God knows you seen worse
Just tell Saint Peter at the Golden Gate
Can I get a beer, can I smoke in here?

Ten years ago we were in in Kinsale just outside Cork. We were there to celebrate my good friend John's fiftieth birthday. After a day of travelling and before the other families were going to turn up the next day, John and I slipped out to the nearest local bar for a drink.

It's a late Saturday evening in a busy Irish bar with a roaring fire, we had a pint of Guinness each but there was something missing. Every so often a few people hurried out into the cold night air and huddled together in the tiny back yard. That's when John nailed what was missing. People had to go outside to smoke. In fact, in Eire people had been going outside to smoke for three years by then. In the UK we were a year away from the ban becoming law.  In Eire the ban started on 29th March 2004. Here in the UK the ban started on 1st July 2007. They also have a ban on smoking within 3 metres of a public building.

Now, it was quite a revelation that evening. We noticed how much more pleasant the ambience was. We'd both been going to pubs for all of our adult lives - in fact, most of our teenage lives too. John had worked in a pub and I had spent a lot of time in pubs because my parents used to look after the White Hart in Stevenage High Street whenever the landlord went away. So for at least two weeks a year for many years I had spent time in a smoky atmosphere. That hadn't bothered me much as both my parents smoked as did my sister.

Flash forward ten years and we have become used to people not smoking in bars, restaurants or anywhere really. Well, except for the doorways of anywhere you're trying to get in or out of. Still, this isn't an anti-smoking rant as such. Two weeks ago I was in Austria. Now, Austria is a foreign country, and, like the past, they do things differently there as L. P. Hartley was wont to say.

Having spent the last nine years avoiding smoke in public spaces, it was a shock to find out that they still smoke indoors in Austria. I've been to this same hotel many times over the past twenty or so years but the last time I went there was about 2009 when I took a group of students on a ski trip. My mind, like the bar, was a bit hazy. Having travelled there with the feeling of a cold coming on anyway, I tried to avoid going in to the bar as much as I could that week. As did quite a few others. The biggest problem for most of us appeared to that the smoke aggravated our throats. One friend of my wife's didn't have a cold but had a right stinker by the end of the week. Talking of which, the smell permeated the whole hotel. Now, it's a family hotel so there are a lot of children that stay in it. I think most of us came away from a healthy pursuit in an alpine region feeling that we'd been set back a few years. As I gave up smoking on 31st January 1980 that was quite a jolt to my system.

A remarkably well-stocked tiny bar at the top of a mountain. Everyone's outside because the smokers are inside!

The view from that little bar.
Through diligent and extensive research (I looked it up on Wikipedia) I discovered that Austria has technically banned smoking in public places - except in many bars and restaurants. Now to me they are the very establishments where it should be banned. Evidently many bar owners such as mein host Walter have tended to ignore such frivolities as the law. However, as from May 2018, smoking will be prohibited everywhere except (wait for it . . . ) in bars where they are going to be allowed to have a smoking room (non-serviced). Maybe I'll go back in 2018 to check it out.

As I said, this isn't a diatribe or a rant, just a statement really. It is surprising how quickly most countries have taken to banning smoking in public places. The map on Wikipedia was interesting and I checked up on Cyprus as we were there back in October. I seem to remember that people did smoke in hotels and bars but, as Wikipedia comments, the results of the ban have been "variable" at best. When the ban came in back in 2007 I remember all sorts of arguments and concerns about the impact it would have on businesses but it would seem that generally throughout most of the world it's become an accepted fact of life. I guess the paint manufacturers had to stop making that particular shade of tarry yellow that must have sold in huge quantities through most of last century.

I do wish that people who do smoke wouldn't stand right in the doorways of shops smoking though.