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12th December 2009

What happens when you ban things.

At the Smoky Drinky place last night, we put away rather more than the government's made-up guidelines for consumption. Let's just say there were two bottles of whisky per three people, and none was left. I managed to find my way home around 3 am, was overcome with the munchies, dealt with that by means of a couple of these heated up with butter on them, and then slept until 2 pm. I am fully recovered now, and I put that down to all the whisky being of good quality. None of that own-brand toilet cleaner rubbish at the Smoky Drinky place, oh no.

Imagine how much we'd have spent in the pub if we were allowed in there. We're all smokers so we have been banned. Not by the pub. By non-smokers who have never visited these pubs and who still don't. So we've set up our own socialising method. It can't be licenced premises because if we do that, it immediately becomes subject to the smoking ban. We cannot allow people to come in uninvited because then it becomes 'open to the public' and again, here comes the ban. We can't even call it a club. It's the Smoky Drinky place and that's it. No staff. No sign outside. No membership.

A public house, once upon a time, was just a house. Someone brewed their own beer, let anyone into a room or two and sold it. That didn't require a licence at first. The licencing was originally applied only to spirits. Anyone could open a beer-house, any time, no licence required unless you were selling gin or whisky.

That seems to be happening again. This time it's not beer or whisky or anything that's being sold. No money can change hands within a Smoky Drinky place because that would make it business premises and as we all know, smoking is not allowed on any business premises. The principle, however, is the same - people gather to socialise, drink and smoke within a private premises. It's a smoker's speakeasy.

It was bound to happen, and it's bound to continue. When booze is priced into the rich-only bracket, the Smoky Drinky place will invest in homebrew facilities. We'll buy a little bit each. Illegal stills will pop up and I, for one, will have no idea where, nor will I remember where that old copper tubing went that I used to have in the shed. Soon, the little old lady next door will be cooking up those butteries for us, once the health nazis have managed to take them from the baker's shelves.

Many of the Smoky Drinkies buy their tobacco from non-tobacconist sources. The health warnings can't scare us if we can't understand them and the prices are much better than the legit stuff. This sort of thing has become far more common since the smoking ban and the socialist ban-brigade will howl about the lost revenue. Tough. You banners are demanding that people pay you to persecute them so it's no surprise smokers no longer care about the legitimacy or otherwise of their source. It's not the money as such. It's the use it's put to. All that tobacco revenue goes into schemes to tell the people paying the revenue that they are scum. Why the hell would you pay someone to treat you with utter contempt? We don't all aspire to be gimps, you know.

Pubs need customers. The customers don't need the pubs. It's a convenient place to socialise, it's a place to have a couple of beers someone else has gone to the trouble of brewing, a good place to try out one glass of a new whisky before committing to the expense of buying a bottle. Someone goes to the trouble of seting up a place where all are welcome to relax, so we use that. Smokers are no longer welcome - again, not the decison of the landliord, but of the Righteous who demand he runs his business their way. Therefore Smoky Drinky places are appearing that do the same job as pubs used to. Cheaper - a bottle of good malt costs less than a night out. Friendlier - nobody is demanding the places are run a particular way, indeed they are not 'run' at all. Above all, nobody is forced to go outside in the cold.

Beer is easy to make. As the pubs die, new informal ones appear in which no cash changes hands, no licences are required and there is, at first, no public access. Technically there is no public access to a pub at the moment anyway. It's private property. If the landlord doesn't want you in there for whatever reason, he's not legally obliged to let you in. So it's not that different anyway, other than the smoking part. Yes, it's easier if someone else makes the beer for you, better if someone else takes the risk of a bad batch and simpler if someone else stores it. However, it's not hard to do it yourself and as drink controls tighten, more will do so.

Whisky is not so easy. Aside from the fact it's illegal to make your own, the risk of introducing dodgy contaminants is much greater than with beer, and tyhose contaminants are concentrated by distilling. Then there's getting hold of the oak casks and waiting at least eight years until you can drink the stuff. It'll take longer, but as long as those controls keep tightening, the illegal stills are inevitable.

As it stands, the Smoky Drinky place has no dedicated fixtures and fittings. No bar. No optics. No pumps. The entire group can move to another Smoky Drinky place at the drop of a hat. It cannot be formally banned because it doesn't formally exist. Last night it was in one house, another night it might be elsewhere. Even when the beer-brewing starts, that won't hold it down. The equipment can be in one house for one batch, another house for another and made-up batches will be small and mobile. Next summer, we are considering designating one of the local stone circles as a Smoky Drinky place but that will require tents. Nobody is going to agree to drive home afterwards.

There will be attempts to put a stop to this. Not for any real reason at all, but because we are smoking indoors. Even though we are in a place no non-smoker is going to visit and indeed is unlikely to be allowed to visit, the fact that we are smoking in comfort is enough to set Righteous eyes a-swivel. There is no reason to stop the Smoky Drinky places other than pure spite. As has become evident, pure spite is what drives the entire anti-everything brigade so they are bound to try. They will fail.

It's what happens when you ban things. People do the banned thing anyway. Ban smoking in public places and private businesses and we'll find somewhere you can't control us. Ban smoking in private homes and we'll buy big sheds. Ban smoking in those and we'll chip in to buy an old minibus or a camper van, SORN it and leave it in the garden. There is always a way.

The smoking ban is killing pubs. I can't do anything about that. Non-smokers who claimed they'd go to the pub if we smokers were ejected were, it turns out, lying. I can do nothing to save the pubs because when I visit I have to stand out in the cold to smoke, and the last couple of nights have been extremely cold. Electrofag is handy in that respect but some pubs are so scared by the ban they won't allow even that. If I have to go outside anyway, I might as well smoke a real one. The Righteous are moving to ban Electrofag too, even though it produces no smoke at all.

So I'd be surprised if these informal smoking clubs don't start popping up everywhere. Perhaps they already have. Naturally they don't advertise their existence. They don't need new members because they aren't run for profit and the last thing they need is the anti-smokers tracking them down, although even if they do, the Smoky Drinky place will just move.

The Righteous can't win this one. Ban tobacco from sale if you like. There wasn't much around last night that was bought in this country anyway. If we have to get it under-the-counter in shops and be made to feel like we're buying something dirty and dodgy, why not simply buy the dodgy stuff in the first place? It's cheaper, it doesn't include a donation to people who want to beat us up, and the seller doesn't look at you as if you have a dildo sticking out of your ear.

Ban beer and we'll make our own. There are recipes that need no hops. Bread yeast can be used as a starting point if beer yeast is banned and successive brewings will yield a fair to middling beer yeast in no time. No, Righteous, you can't win that one either.

Destroy the pubs and we'll gather in our homes. You can't stop it, Righteous, and you can't sit at a nearby table and listen in because you're not invited. You have no idea what we're talking about now, no idea how many of us are gathering and no sense of the mood of the gathering. Although if there were such a thing as an intelligent Righteous, they could guess.

Finally, for all those socialist utopians who are waiting for the likes of me to die, to be replaced with the drones they've created and nurtured through school, take a look at this. Schools ban snacks, kids buy snacks, take them to school and sell them at a profit. Even when one is thrown out for selling this evil contraband, the trade continues and always will.

It's what always happens when you ban things.
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